Due to a shortage of bus drivers (in turn due to high COVID case count), my employing district chose to have the high school (years 9-12) do online learning for the first two weeks of January while the younger children attended school in person. The transition to online learning was not in and of itself problematic for me: I felt like I had a solid system worked out last year, I am very comfortable with technology, I already use several online tools with the students (Formative, Language Gym, SentenceBuilders.com) so they could transition seamlessly to using those at home. I generally follow the same lesson template whether in person or online: check in, present vocabulary or retrieval practice with a game, possibly a teacher-led listening, explain independent work, independent work, exit pass. Keeping the same template meant no surprises or changes in expectations.
Sounds like it should have all gone smoothly, n'est-ce pas? Well, it was fine on my end - delivering the instruction. However, a significant number of students did not participate in online learning. Illness, technology problems and general dislike of doing "Zoom school" meant that many kids did not engage for 2 weeks. So when we came back into the building, that was two weeks of practice they had lost. Fortunately, using EPI maximizes what they have learned in the time they have spent since and the rest of the month has not been a total wash, but I do wish very much that engagement had been better for ALL students. End of month assessments have indicated that the students who did not practice during the online learning period are still reading pretty well, but their productive skills are not as well developed because they haven't built up the automaticity that comes with the ongoing and repetitive practice in the EPI sequence. This is disappointing but not surprising, and I will be sure to ask the students to reflect on how they could have improved upon their writing results.
As far as a brilliant solution to the problems of disengagement and students who have missed steps in the acquisition process...I have none. I have re-introduced my rule that if a student has not done the majority of the practice work, they cannot take the assessment until they do, because I see no point in giving a child an assessment I KNOW they cannot do. That has created some guardrails to keep some students on track. Like many US educators right now, I am finding that students who spent last school year at home with complete autonomy and the omnipresent distraction of TikTok and FaceTime are not successfully transitioning back to a classroom environment. I do not blame them for wanting to maintain agency, but the addiction to social media is proving to be very harmful to them academically as well as emotionally in many cases. As the parent of a high school student, I am very thankful that I have not allowed him to start using social media on his phone, which has spared him the struggle and distraction that I see many other kids having. But I obviously cannot exert that same control over my students and their phones, nor is it my responsibility to do so, to be honest.
Anyway, I can't solve the phone addiction or pandemic-induced malaise on my own, I can only try to make learning as easy as possible in the time I CAN get their attention shifted to French. EPI makes learning language more accessible to ALL students even with lower levels of engagement, and I will continue to tweak the sequence to make it work best for us whether we are online or in person. I am hoping February will bring more energy, engagement and language acquisition for all.
Practical Tip: If you are using EPI at all and have not checked out SentenceBuilders.com, I highly recommend it!! We use it almost every class, it is a great way to set work to go through the modeling and awareness parts of the sequence, and to practice both listening and reading. I make my own custom assignments - I keep them short (less than 10 minutes) to avoid burnout and maximize their concentration. This was one of my primary tools to keep EPI going during online learning, and we use it in person as well. Perfect for setting homework or cover work/sub plans as well!