How One Teacher Is Streamlining Digital Learning

How One Teacher Is Streamlining Digital Learning

Now that distance learning is the new normal for students, teachers are making big adjustments to meet their needs. Our host shares some of what he learned in a recent conversation with Tasha Otenti, a teacher at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, about how she’s adapted her teaching style to accommodate distance learning.

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Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our producer is Sarah Guertin and our recording engineer/editor is Pat Keogh.

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A transcript of this episode is below.


Dr. Ned Hallowell:

This is Dr. Ned Hallowell, with a mini episode of Distraction. In our series during the pandemic of short episodes that relate to the pandemic, I want to talk for a few minutes about distance learning. And take advantage of the expertise of a wonderful woman by the name of Tasha Otenti, who teaches Latin at Milton Academy. Which is a wonderful private school, independent school, near Boston.

Tasha was describing to me how she’s doing this distance learning with her students. And she made many good points, but I want to highlight one in particular. Namely the difference between synchronous learning and asynchronous learning.

Synchronous learning is what you might think, it is Tasha conducting a classroom over Zoom classroom. So you see Tasha’s face and then the however many kids are in the class. And it is cumbersome, synchronous learning. Even with a small class like she has, of 12 students or so, is cumbersome. Because you deal with muting and raising hands. And it’s all very public and your faces are on the screen. And people are worried about what they look like and how they are coming across. And people can’t have a free flow discussion. It’s cumbersome, it’s difficult. A lot of kids feel very intimidated by it.

And Tasha was telling me, the synchronous sessions, where she and the students are experiencing it in real time, is mainly good as a check-in. Which is valuable, because you get to see one another. And you know, out of sight, out of mind. So you want the kids to know that the other kids are there, they’re alive and well. And then she uses it to play games. So the synchronous sessions, she only does one a week and tries to keep it on the shorter side.

And then the asynchronous sessions, as the name suggests, involve her preparing a task and setting it up. So then the student individually can access it whenever they want. So she’s a Latin teacher. So the task might be, study the first 10 lines of The Aeneid and answer some questions about it. Or translate it into English. Or it might be, master the following 20 vocabulary words, whatever the task might happen to be. But they’re relatively short, contained… It’s essentially project based learning. Which in my opinion, is the most effective form of learning. And the kids can access it whenever they want.

Now of course what it doesn’t have, is the synchronous, everybody gathered together. But that doesn’t work very well, everybody gathered together, for the reasons I just stated. And the asynchronous learning allows them to develop a new way of learning, really. And then she also does some one on one sessions for kids who aren’t getting it, who are struggling.

So you have three modalities. The synchronous learning, the asynchronous tasks, the project based learning and then the one on one sessions as needed. And that’s her way of taking this new form, that’s a real struggle for an awful lot of students. And streamlining it and making it copacetic, making it as user friendly as she can.

She’s a gifted teacher, Tasha Otenti at Milton Academy. A remarkable woman who is very, very gifted. And I thank her for giving me these ideas that I’m passing along to you.

Okay, this is Dr. Ned Hallowell, wishing you well during this pandemic. Keep your spirits up. Know that we’re all moving along, progress is coming. And take care of yourselves until we meet again.

Distraction is a project of Sounds Great Media. The podcast is recorded and edited by the marvelously talented Pat Keogh. And our producer is the extraordinarily talented Sarah Guertin.

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