Remember that adrenaline rush as a kid when you heard there might be a snow day? We still get that rush as teachers, but it's tempered with the knowledge we have to adjust our plans, too.
Fortunately, the use of laptops and Internet-based learning tools have made the disruption of snow days somewhat more bearable. Digital education sites like Google Classroom afford school districts the ability to utilize virtual learning days to either conduct school while the weather is bad or to make up missed instructional time.
This is a good idea in theory, but it doesn’t always work out practically.
At my school, we missed two days recently due to extreme cold temperatures and icy conditions. One of those days was made up via a virtual learning day. The way our district handles those is we give students an assignment and they have a week to turn it in. Their attendance for that school day is dependent on them turning the assignment in, and it also goes into the grade book as a grade.
When I looked on the night of my assignment’s due date, one class had just over a 50 percent turn-in rate, while the other was hovering closer to 40 percent.
This is a problem.
In my three years of teaching, we’ve had at least one virtual day each school year. Last year, we missed over a week of school due to snow, and several of those days were made up through virtual days.
While they might be convenient, they’re not the most practical option if your objective is to maximize instructional time. In fact, little to no instructional time is spent on most of these assignments. With one less in-class day, most teachers don’t want to spend class time reviewing the virtual assignment.
These assignments often are given as busy work, and students know it. They don’t view them as important, and most of my students turn these assignments in late, sometimes weeks after the due date. Even if a student turns an assignment in late, we are instructed to count the student as present for that date, which leaves little accountability or motivation for students to turn these in on time.
It essentially just serves as a check in the box.
For schools whose funding is based on attendance, the pitfalls of virtual days are obvious. Perhaps the best method would be to require students to complete the work the day of — which many districts do — rather than give them a week to do it. The latter results in far too many students forgetting about the assignment or not prioritizing it. Part of this responsibility falls on the teacher to create an environment of urgency, sure, but it also isn’t the best method to set students up for success.
If school districts are committed to using virtual days as an option for making up missed days due to weather, there needs to be a heightened focus on urgency with the expectation that students are alert on snow days and ready to complete their work the day of, as if they were in school during those hours.