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Jeanette JoyceMarzano Research

COVID-19 changed America’s perception of the importance of skilled workers. Rapid construction of medical centers, manufacturing of complex machinery, food preparation and provision, and healthcare support are seen as critical to our continued well-being–as are the workers who make them happen. But where do these workers come from? Often, they are the product of career and technical education (CTE) coursework.

Still, despite this need, the arrival of COVID-19 has also raised barriers to CTE. CTE courses are often “hands on,” presenting a challenge for those teaching and studying by way of remote learning. While online virtual labs exist for science courses, educational software companies haven’t, for the most part, addressed CTE virtually, and not all students have reliable internet access. So how do you support a student’s learning of taking blood pressure or changing a spark plug without being in the same place and giving access to the materials needed?

While it is challenging to teach CTE remotely, supports for teachers are beginning to emerge. One of the schools we frequently partner with in North Dakota is addressing this challenge in real time. Tom Schmidt, principal of Legacy High School, said his team is finding solutions in personalized education and student choice.

“Allowing the students different options in obtaining the same educational outcome” is key, according to Schmidt.

To facilitate this, Schmidt’s staff have created choice boards. These graphic organizers provide students with diverse pathways they can choose from to learn a specific concept. Those options may range from watching a video of someone conducting a task and providing an evaluation of that person’s performance to creating hands-on “labs” where students record themselves completing a task using materials at home. In some cases, they are even given the option to create a way to complete the assignment on their own. However, the one option not on the boards is failing to complete the work.

Schmidt provided an example of choice in coursework from the school’s World Foods class. He explained that culinary arts students might choose from analyzing a provided video of a chef preparing a dish, preparing the dish themselves, adapting a recipe to accommodate given nutritional guidelines, or researching the history of the dish.

“A student chose to show the timeline of the development of a specific country’s food influence,” Schmidt said.

Students are excelling in using the boards to learn remotely. However, the choice boards don’t just support remote learning—they also foster the growth of executive function and critical thinking that will serve students well in their real-world work. The boards help students make smart choices in which tasks to complete, the time needed to complete each task, and in evaluation of the quality of work completed.

Of course, the choice boards aren’t the complete answer to remote CTE challenges. Schmidt noted that one common challenge among all departments is how to manage the kids who disengage.

The answer?

“Right now, persistence in reaching out and flexibility are key,” Schmidt offered.

Find more resources addressing remote learning in CTE on the Association for Career and Technical Education website, or feel free to contact us to discuss your CTE needs.