Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Learning Journal: Day 0

School starts for me tomorrow, Monday, August 24. I am an adjunct at a local university teaching ENG101 and Children's Lit. I've been given the choice of teaching in-person, remotely, or in some sort of hybrid model at my discretion.

I'll teach Children's Lit face-to-face (f2f) because it is a small group of students and we'll be able to distance. I'll start ENG101 in person and then see as I know the classroom will not allow students to social distance and I need to be sure they all wear masks when in the classroom.

For the past few weeks I've been having conversations with K-12 teachers in a few districts, providing recorded "show and tell" videos of various strategies and technology tools. We've been talking at length about the challenges of teaching remotely and in-person, given the circumstances, fears, range of challenges, and more.

Like many educators, parents, and just onlookers, I've read numerous articles, opinion pieces, and posts and screeds on Facebook, Twitter, and in blogs. This afternoon I saw this article by a teacher in Hawai'i. Mr. Stinton's message is one of hope. And that reminded me I've read other messages of hope and encouragement. Many of them said, and I paraphrase with abandon, "It wasn't easy, but it wasn't horrible and I think we'll be okay."

Mr. Stinton suggests the same, even as he acknowledges they are all early yet in the school year. So much could happen. And yet, none of the bad stuff might happen. Everyone has to be diligent. Everyone has to be rowing the same direction.

Some friends of mine are moving their son into his university today. They are only mildly apprehensive because they felt like the university did such a good job of making adjustments in the spring when all the kids had to go home. They are confident their son will be smart about things. (I think he's a little afraid of his mom still, and that's kind of cute.)

Some other friends will also be moving their son into his university. She has some medical issues of her own and is worried about her own potential quarantine when she returns home, and she is slightly less confident in many things. I suspect her son will be fine, but I will diminish her concerns. She has every right to have them and feel them. Even so, she is encouraging her son to row with the others and follow the rules.

Mine is a small university, so my sense is that my concerns might be limited. I might not feel the same if I were teaching at a larger school and yet this morning I read about how University of Illinois has prepared for the return of 35,000+ students. UofI expects a bump based on its extensive model, and they believe they are ready unlike some other places that seemed not to make the kinds of plans necessary or have not been as adept at responding to student needs. 

I've got my syllabi ready, and my lesson plans for my first classes ready and drafted for subsequent meetings this week. I am as ready as I think I can be as I prepare to return to a classroom after a 17-year hiatus. Now I just have to figure out what to wear on my first day of school.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Expectations matter for student success: Think forward

I may be alone in this, but I do wish people would stop talking about the COVID slide. Were most students where anyone hoped they would be by the end of 2019-2020? Probably not. Some might have been, but a lot weren't. Okay. But here's the thing: if we start the 2020-2021 school year with the expectation that students are behind, we start from a position of defeat. 

I know school has already started in some places, which boggles my mind. Others won't be starting for a few weeks yet and may think there is way too much work that has to be done for remote learning to be done successfully. Well, they're partially right because there is a lot of work but lesson and unit design doesn't have to be completed for the whole school year.

There are lots of articles from individuals with far more renown than I in the education space, but a lot of us are saying similar things. I will also say this: we are missing one heck of an opportunity to transform learning if we don't begin to make some changes now. 

I've said some of these things in my videos and in some of my blog posts, but I'll highlight some thoughts because of this Education Dive article about the so-called COVID slide.
  1. Assess early, but don't go overboard. Yes, and target those assessments. For example, if I teach 4th grade, I'll look at my critical or power standards for where kids should be at the start of 4th grade. I'll give them a brief assessment based on similar 3rd grade standards or the standards that lead to what kids need to know for my 4th grade standards. That's it. I don't need to assess any further than that because it won't matter. I need to focus on first things first. I can do similar assessments for other content areas, but none of these assessments have to be long or arduous. Students will be experiencing enough stress without compounding it will assessments even they know are to indicate how far behind they are which may easily translate to how stupid they are. 
  2. Standardize online learning by which they mean standardize the platform rather than offering students a hodge podge. I'm working with a school district that is using Google Classroom for every grade but kindergarten, and I understand why. It makes sense and so, in that sense, they have standardized. However, they are giving teachers opportunity to figure out how best to use that platform for their grade levels and which other tools they may choose to use. In many districts there seems to be more grade level collaboration as well as more vertical collaboration than ever before. What a stupendous opportunity we cannot squander! 
  3. Expect varied experiences. In one household a student barely kept up with his work last spring whereas in another household a student kept up with everything. The difference? Teachers. We've all heard the horror stories of remote learning gone bad or rogue, which made sense given that last spring was mostly crisis teaching and learning. We've all heard stories of parents who have done more to engage with their children, as they've been able, to find online resources. And we've seen stories of teachers who went the extra mile (on top of the thousands of extra miles they already go for students) to help students be as successful as possible. That was then, and this is now. Everyone has learned. Parents have learned. Teachers have learned. Students, well, some students have learned. 
Many have learned more about how to make remote learning more successful, more palatable, less stressful, and, to some extent, more accessible. I think that remains one of the greatest challenges--accessibility and continuity in many households. 

I want to say this in flashing neon letters: just because students come from single-parent homes or just because students come from homes with less than others does NOT mean they haven't been learning and learning important things. What they've been learning may not fit tidily into any standards but guess what? learning and life are messy and rarely fit tidily into any standards. We cannot, however, discount that students may have been learning some powerful and positive lessons because of and through this pandemic. 

I will say this again: if we start with the expectation that students aren't where we think they should be, that they are behind because of summer slide exacerbated by COVID slide, we start school from a position of defeat and negativity. But if we start from where we are and determine where our students are and learn about them to figure out and help them figure out what they can and where they can be, we start from a position of POSSIBILITY. Then so much of what we do is informed by a perspective and an expectation of what we can do and what our students can do. We start from positivity. We start from strength. We start from a mindset of what can be and look AHEAD, not behind.