Severe winter weather caused schools in many parts of the U.S. to declare a high number of snow days this year – in some states, students have missed more than 20 days of school.
In states like Georgia, which generally doesn't experience much winter weather and may not have procedures in place to deal with snow days, teachers and administrators are scrambling to make up for lost time.
While tacking on additional school days at the end of the school year is the solution at many schools, it does not help high school teachers who prepare students to complete state-mandated graduation tests and Advanced Placement exams, the dates of which are generally not changed because of snow days. Despite the weather-related setbacks, teachers can still find ways to help their students succeed, experts say.
Thomas Berriman, assistant principal at Montgomery
Learning Academy in Troy, N.C., who used to teach in much colder Michigan, says that teachers may need to accelerate some of the material and spend class time focusing on teaching new skills. He suggests assigning work that may have been completed in class for practice as homework assignments to allow students to catch up.
"You never want to use homework as an opportunity to master new skills," says Berriman. "What you want to utilize homework for is to reflect and to practice the skills that they have already learned in your room."
But he warns teachers to not assign too much extra work.
“If you pile on the homework, they are definitely not going to do it. They are going to shut down,” he says.
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Randy Musgrove, a social studies teacher at Anthony Wayne High School in Whitehouse, Ohio, says that setting up a basis for communication is the key to minimizing the effects of snow days.
His school has taken about 10 “calamity days,” as they are known in Ohio, but he has been able to keep students up to date by using tools such as Google Docs, Twitter and Edmodo, a social learning platform known as Facebook for schools.
“I get them in the habit early on and they can check those things and expect updates along the way,” Musgrove says.
He says that even if teachers didn’t use electronic methods to keep students informed during snow days, these tools will still be useful in the coming months as the date of exams approaches.
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When students come back to school, some teachers may find that students are less focused after an extended, unexpected break.
Berriman says teachers need to be flexible with their lesson plans and encourage their students to just move on.
“You got to adapt your teaching to the way kids learn,” says Berriman. “The kids are going to respond to the way you present the material. If the kids are coming in, feeling like they are being penalized because of the weather, then that’s when they tend to react in a negative context.”
He says that if teachers and administrators work together to design creative ways for students to catch up, he doesn’t think snow days will affect student achievement.
The study concluded that school closures as a result of bad weather do not affect student achievement.
That corresponds to Berriman's observations about teachers. “Inclement weather and cancellations only impact you if you
allow them to,” Berriman says.
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