Archives For Snow Day

Graphic 2It’s snowing again in Connecticut.
It’s February.
No surprise.

In fact, snow days are not a surprise for thousands of school districts across the US.
Snow days interrupt instruction.
Again, no surprise.

It’s a fact that schools have requirements for school instruction days and for instruction hours or seat time. So if snow days and interruptions to instruction time requirements are not a surprise, what can educators do to be ready for the inevitable snow day?

There are some districts that prepare for snow days in advance by organizing assignments before the school day.

In New Hampshire, some districts have used ‘‘Blizzard Bag Days.” On these days, students complete assignments at home, either online or on paper. If 80% of students complete assignments, then the snow day is not added to the end of the school year. Some districts have reported that the number of students who participate in Blizzard Bag Days has risen to 90%.

As technology expands in the classroom, the use of different learning platforms can halt the disruption of learning by allowing students to participate in activities that allow them to practice skills they have been taught in the classroom. For districts that are concerned about the amount of technology in homes, many platforms are easily accessed by digital phones through mobile apps. Phone message apps that deliver assignments do not chew up the data time if the materials have already been sent home in anticipation of a snow day.

One possible argument in designing the use of technology to facilitate learning on a snow day is how to determine the percentage of students who must participate in order for the day to “count” in the school calendar. Previous attendance figures by school could be used to choose such a percentage for credit, and student work turned in or digital work submitted could be used to validate these percentages.

Another argument is choosing a method to determine how many hours or how much seat time is necessary to complete an assignment  in order to “count” for credit. The seat time argument may be less of a concern given that there are districts with students, particularly in the upper grades, who are receiving credit for core coursework on platforms with flexible seat time requirements. For example, instead of using Carnegie units (120 hours per unit) for course credit, some online platforms, such as platforms like Odysseyware, provide fewer coursework hours in grade level subject areas. Many of these online course platforms require the use of seat time waivers, with sometimes as little as 70-80 hours, to complete coursework.

Another concern may be raised by teachers who might initially interpret snow day assignments as “extra work” to prepare, review, or grade. As a former teacher, I would argue that while snow days gave me an opportunity to catch up on grading or lesson plans, I was in effect, working twice. I would work during the snow day, and then work again on the date tacked onto the school year. How many times in June, in a particularly warm and steamy classroom, did I wish that we could have kept to the original school closing date?

The Common Core’s focus on increasing non-fiction materials into all grade level curriculum means that every subject area, including “specials” or electives (art, music, physical education, computer technology, etc.) could contribute in preparing materials for snow days; core subject areas need not be the only requirements for snow day lesson preparation. Rotating responsibilities for assigning work (Snow Day #1: English, Art, Science; Snow Day #2: Math, Social Studies, Music) might be a way to ensure that students do not lose practice in the same subject area with each cancellation.

Finally, in support of snow day assignments, is the argument that practice for standardized testing, now required by the Common Core in the form of SBAC or PARCC, needs to happen before early spring test dates. Any interruption in skills practice caused by snow days, particularly in the later winter months, could have an adverse impact on student and school test results. Even at the upper grade levels, snow day interruptions pose problems for delivering Advanced Placement content, already in overstuffed syllabi, in order to prepare students for annual AP exams held in early May.

graphic 1The result is that days added in late June to meet state requirements become educationally superfluous and may place students into another meteorological challenging situation: overheated classrooms when outside temperatures climb into the 90s.

When school calendars are decided a year in advance in any of the Snow Belt States, Mid-Atlantic States, or New England, it is common practice  to add snow days to the school year. The same practice could be extended by having teachers prepare materials for snow cancellations either at the beginning of the school year or soon after the first quarter.

It’s no surprise that it will snow again next year.

Here in New England, when that first snow day comes next year, there should no surprises.

sno_ani07sno_ani07It’s a snow day here in Connecticut. The predictions were so dire (8″-11″; freezing rain) that school was cancelled the night before. I didn’t even have to wait to see my district’s name on the scrolling list of school closings on the bottom of the television screen or check the school’s Twitter account. I could turn off the alarm and sleep as long as I wanted.

I am the first to admit that I look forward to a snow day. Like my students, I check the Weather Channel app on my I-phone or track storms on local weather channels. I deny participating in some of the rituals that are guaranteed to bring about a snow day, however, I have made the following  “suggestions” to students:

  • wear PJs inside out
  • walk up stairs backwards
  • placing a spoon under a pillow
  • yell “Snow Day” into the freezer
  • flush ice cubes down the toilet

In short, I look forward to snow days…but there is a paradox.

Because of snow days, I can catch up on work, BUT because of snow days, I will have to work “extra” days.

The end of one semester (mid-January) is directly in the path of a nature’s pile-up of snow. My desk at the end of one semester (mid-January) is directly in the path of a pile-up of papers. Consequently, snow days are useful for “clearing the deck” of paperwork.

Unfortunately, when the school year comes to a close, all snow days are added to the calendar. These make-up days will also need lesson plans, and there will be work generated during these lessons resulting in a pile up of papers.

An argument can be made that working on a snow day means working twice. By law, school has a finite number of days required, and in Connecticut the required number is 180 days of instruction. Since teachers’ salaries are designed on the numbers of days in the classroom, school calendars are designed with an estimated end date. Snow days are added as make-up days, and working on a snow day does not eliminate make-up days.

In spite of this, each snow day holds a possibility of catching up on schoolwork or of getting ahead.

Technology has only exacerbated this possibility. In the past, student papers could have been left on a desk in the classroom, safely kept away from the red pen by snow or ice-covered  roads. Now, there are a number of ways to assess student work on digital platforms. There are a plethora of ways to plan lessons or webinars to attend. There are Twitter chats to visit, and (this one is obvious) blog posts to write.

This is the paradox of snow days. To work and to work again.

Knowing this may reduce the pleasure of snow days, but only a little. A chance to catch up is a chance enjoyed by teachers everywhere.
Except in San Diego, California.
Oh, how they must suffer.

Best two words in winter? “Snow Day”.

Yes. I will look back in mid-June and see the extension of school days to meet mandatory requirements, and I will sigh. I  might question the wisdom of school administrators who would keep students cooped up in classrooms on warm sunny summer afternoons, but even then I will still admit, I love a snow day.

snowremovalThe outside lights were on all night so I could check on the progress of snow mounting on the barn roof. I could hear the town’s plows, chained tires rattling, working throughout the night. My eyeglasses were handy so that I could grab them and read the small print of scrolling school closings on the TV screen, but this morning I did not need them since my school district thoughtfully sent a robo-call.

I am not surprised that one of my favorite poets, Billy Collins, has a poem titled “Snow Day” where he expresses his appreciation of weather-induced holidays. In stanzas 4-6, he mimics the listings of school closings on the radio:

But for now I am a willing prisoner in this house,
a sympathizer with the anarchic cause of snow.
I will make a pot of tea
and listen to the plastic radio on the counter,
as glad as anyone to hear the news
that the Kiddie Corner School is closed,
the Ding-Dong School, closed.
the All Aboard Children’s School, closed,
the Hi-Ho Nursery School, closed,
along with—some will be delighted to hear—
the Toadstool School, the Little School,
Little Sparrows Nursery School,
Little Stars Pre-School, Peas-and-Carrots Day School
the Tom Thumb Child Center, all closed,
and—clap your hands—the Peanuts Play School.
                    …read more from “Snow Day”
Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (New York: Random House, 2001).

I have written about Collins’s poetry (see links below) several times in this blog for Poetry Friday. His lyrics run parallel to my experiences of growing up, so there is a sense of nostalgia, a familiarity, when I read his poems. His poetry is accessible to all grade levels, but it is his wry humor in his observations on the universal human experience that makes me want to share him with students. So much of literature can be serious, or downright depressing, that I am grateful, even a little giddy, to have several books of Collins’s poetry on my shelf ready for an opportune moment.

“Look,” I will say, “here’s a funny poem about Emily Dickinson!” or “Hey, want me to read a comic take on the elements of a sonnet?

This snow day is one more excuse to share Collins’s poetry with others- whatever the climate. And for just a day, I can pity those in those waking up in sunny Southern California who are going to school. They may have the warm sun on their toes sticking out of their sandals, but they will never know the pleasure of warm toes stretching out under warm blankets just as there is the announcement of a school cancellation….to roll over…and to hit the snooze button.

Sleep in. It’s a snow day.

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