Friday, May 29, 2020

Learning at school or remotely share the same goal: engaging, meaningful education

Whether we're at school or teaching remotely, our mission should be the same which is to engage students in meaningful, empowering learning experiences. Yet, as we teach remotely, we have to think differently about what this means and how we make sure we are true to this mission.

What matters in this regard?

Similar to school as we have always known it, to learn well, you have to show up. Yes, there are always a few who surpass every expectation and don't show up, but for the most part, to learn well, you have to show up. The few assessments I've given during remote learning have demonstrated that children who don't show up, don't learn the material as well as those that do show up. Attending virtual classes, just like attendance at school buildings, needs to be a requirement.

While attendance must be a requirement, there has to be choice too. Unlike teaching children in a school building, when you are teaching remotely you are dealing with a much greater variety of student scenarios since students live in varied homes, landscapes, and family situations. That's why choice is more important than ever. For example, I taught many classes online. In some cases the time of the class was not a good fit for a family. Since I was teaching many similar classes, I could offer some choice about which class a child attends. This worked well. Yet, we won't be able to do that in all instances, but it should be a consideration as we create schedules and make plans.

Further, it's integral to have choices with regard to assignments too. Students have varying types and numbers of supplies at home, varying spaces to work with given the size of their families or homes, and as always, a large variety of interests when it comes to how, when, and what they do as they learn. Providing multiple choices with regard to student study, practice, and project learning opportunities is a good fit for remote learning and teaching.

Learning Standards and Goals
It is essential to direct the teaching we do in a direction that is meaningful for children and helpful to their overall academic growth and development. We need to keep our eyes and efforts focused in this direction and we need to work with each other to make sure that we are meeting the most essential goals. As I think of the most essential goals for our grade level, I note the following:
  • Every child is safe.
  • Every child is an enthusiastic, engaged, and confident learner. We foster positive learning mindsets, social-emotional intelligence, self advocacy, and positive academic, social, emotional, and healthy behaviors. 
  • Every child is included. We teach all children and we let all children know that they are a vital and valuable members of the team.
  • Children develop a strong foundation of mathematical concept, skill, and knowledge. They develop their strength as mathematical thinkers.
  • Children read every day and develop their ability to choose great books and read with skill, understanding, and enjoyment. 
  • Children write every day and develop their ability to write in multiple genres with skill, clarity, expression, and voice. 
  • Children gain knowledge via social studies and science concepts about the world around them in rich and engaging ways. Without a solid knowledge base, children's learning is stunted. It is essential to fill the curriculum program with intriguing, wonderful stories and information via multiple, varied learning experiences. 
  • Children have the opportunity to direct their learning, create, invent, lead, contribute, and make positive change. 
Well Crafted Learning Experiences
Learning experiences need to be engaging and thoughtful. We need to vary what we do and use the most effective tools. We have to work together as we develop our blended learning approach and maximize the strengths, perspectives, experiences, skills, and insights of the entire team to present to students learning experiences that truly make a difference and promote academic engagement, growth,  and success. It is essential that professional learning are driven by conversations and shared planning and creativity related to this.

Effective interactive and presentation tools and sites
There are many, many tools out there for teaching and learning remotely. As I look forward, I want to choose tools that work in a blended learning setting, tools that foster 24-7 learning access for students wherever they are. At present tools that work well at the grade level I teach have included the following:
  • Google Presentation: Presentation slideshows are perfect for presentations, interactive lessons, unit roll outs, and student share. 
  • Geogebra: This is a super math drawing tool. So far, I don't think that I can set up an interactive board and invite students to work on the same board with me, but I have to explore that more.
  • Google Classroom: I want to explore Google Classroom more. It has definitely been helpful in some instances, but too cumbersome in others. I will continue to explore and use this in part.
  • Google Websites: Our team is moving to virtual portfolios next year and we'll use Google websites for these portfolios. We explored this in the past and opted for the handheld books, but now with the quick transition to remote learning and all the hard copy portfolios stuck on shelves in the classroom, the switch was an easy decision.
  • Learning Menus and Class Website: These tools work especially well for blended online and offline classroom learning. We use Google apps for this work.
  • BrainPop: Our school subscribes to this and I want to use this more.
  • WeVideo: I really like this collaborative movie making platform and hope that our school system will invest in it as well.
  • Google Draw and Docs: I have been able to create a lot of good math lessons with these tools. The tools and docs are helpful for math model making. 
  • Google Meet: This is a good teaching platform, however I need to update my computer so it works better. 
  • Interactive Math Tools: There are many great tools online for math games, math models, and more.
  • State MCAS Site: This has been a great resource for math learning experience creation -- I can use the questions there as part of a lesson or to spur a class project.
  • Math websites such as Symphony Math, IXL, Track My Progress, Khan Academy, and That Quiz are all super websites for providing students with quick feedback and positive standards-based practice.
  • Google Forms are easy to use for decision trees, student surveys, student response and quizzes. The quick feedback and easy to manipulate student response data makes this a terrific tool. 
  • YouTube is a ready resource for almost any information you are looking for. 
  • EdPuzzle: This tool gives you the ability to direct students' focus throughout a video with stop times to reflect, answer questions, and think or respond to specific facts and information. 
Essentially you can see that Google plays a big role in the tools we use for blended learning and teaching. Those tools overall are great. 

Assignment Completion
During this period of remote teaching and learning, we've encouraged assignment completion, but there has been no consequence for those who don't complete assignments. Next year we'll have to share clear expectations with students and families and there will need to be some kind of incentive for students to complete the assigned work. Some students naturally complete all work. Some families support the completion of all or most work. Other students don't complete their work and other families don't support completion of schoolwork. This is a consideration the team will have to discuss.

We have to assess what we are doing to see what is working and what is not working. We need to work with colleagues and other stakeholders to dissect our efforts in multiple ways to notice what we are doing that's working and what we are doing that can be better. These assessments have to be varied and thoughtful. They must include all voices and be tied to our essential goals. We have to be careful about using conjecture rather than thoughtful assessment of the work we are doing in order to improve. 

We can't simply throw a group of people in a room and expect good work to derive from conversation alone. We need to use good processes to get at the significant outcomes and needs of optimal blended learning. Processes such as colleague circles or hosting conversations are ways to arrive at more meaningful information than to simply just expect a group of people with no thoughtful process to come up with an inclusive, substantial, and meaningful plan. No matter how big or small your group is, you need to think about the processes involved in decision making and the structures that underly the work you do. 

As we consider blended learning carefully, we'll notice that some structures have to change. Some roles will no longer be effective, others will have to be revised, and some will be overtaxed. Honestly, I do feel that the role of classroom teacher may be one that is overtaxed at this time since a lot of responsibility has fallen on our shoulders with short time and little support or needed time for essential planning and preparation. We need to think about the structures in place and how to re-think the framework that supports all that happens in schools so that the framework can well support a blended learning environment that includes online and offline education in school and out of schools. 

Every time I sit down to capsulate this grand move from teaching in a school building to remote teaching and learning, I feel like I am trying to catch 100 butterflies in a net. I can't capture all the ideas, perspectives, challenges, strengths, and needs--there's too much happening at once and it's impossible to see it from a distance since it's happening right here all around me. Yet each day, I continue to think about it and try to capture the butterflies that I can to examine what we are doing more closely in order to better the efforts to meet the goals we seek to meet. Onward.