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‘We’re always adjusting our lesson plans’

Krystle Wagner • Feb 8, 2019 at 10:00 AM

Local educators have spent the past week making additional changes to their lesson plans as inclement weather has caused several days of school closures.

Last week, area schools closed because of the wintry conditions and sub-zero temperatures. Schools closed again this week on Wednesday and Thursday because of icy conditions and power outages.

Whether it’s for weather closures or to account for students not yet understanding content, educators are always making adjustments, said Lakeshore Middle School science teacher Amy Cahalan.

“We’re always adjusting our lesson plans,” she said.

The latest stretch of school closures is “unprecedented” and something Cahalan, in her 31st year of teaching in Grand Haven, has never experienced.

When adjusting plans, Cahalan said she looks at curriculum and the essential objectives that need to be taught. Sometimes that means some of the less-essential objectives move to the side.

When school initially had a two-hour delay Wednesday, Cahalan started adjusting her lesson plans for the day ahead. She said class time would have changed from 50 minutes to 30 minutes, which would not be enough time for completing the already planned lesson.

Of course, the entire school day was soon canceled.

Cahalan’s classes are starting a unit from new curriculum about infectious diseases and how they spread. The lesson includes students needing to determine how a pretend malady, R.A.D. (random acts of dancing) disease, can spread. They will look at how cholera spread and how the doctor tracked the source of it.

The lesson involves a lot of moving parts, and cutting down class time changes where to start and stop the activities.

The long stretch of days off also requires time to review material and try to recapture the previous momentum, Cahalan said.

Holmes Elementary School third-grade teacher Kathy Britton said they usually have a few extra days built in to alleviate some of the challenges of being out of school while still having to teach the required curriculum.

“Teaching in Michigan, we know there will be days off due to bad weather,” she said. “Our curriculum guide is flexible in that matter.”

When it’s just a snow day or two, Britton said they are usually able to pick up where they left off.

Throughout the recent stretch of days off, Britton said the third-grade teaching team has been in touch every day to discuss their changing plans. Given the “very unusual set of circumstances” with the snow days, Britton said they plan to meet in person with their lesson plans and curriculum guides to figure out a course of action.

“The fact remains that, no matter what, we teach children,” Britton said. “It is imperative for us to remember that the pacing of our teaching must be set by the learning of our students and not by the calendar ticking away during these days off from school.”

Britton doesn’t recall ever having this many consecutive snow days as an educator, but she remembers having school only three days one month when she was in eighth grade. She said her brothers carried an empty sled to a store and pulled it back with groceries.

Cahalan said she respects superintendents for having to make decisions about canceling or delaying school as they factor weather conditions and student safety.

Britton said she appreciates Spring Lake Superintendent Dennis Furton for “fighting the safety fight.”

“I commend our local superintendents for their ‘safety first’ stance,” she said.

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