Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Lessons from Remote Learning

As we engage in remote learning, there are lots of lessons to learn. I want to apply these lessons as we move ahead into 2020-2021 with flexibility and an open mind to what might be expected.

Explicit Teaching Matters
Most students simply don't understand how to do something without explicit practice and coaching. For example, I've noticed that some children did not really understand how to use the learning menus we have been using all year at school, but now that use of those menus is critical, it's clear that I could have done a better job explicitly teaching how to use those menus so that all children understood. Those that struggle definitely needed more time to practice and more coaching. I want to remember this as we embark on the use of those menus with new classes. The lesson for the year ahead is to move forward slowly with more explicit, step-by-step practice with an eye on the learning skills and attitudes we want to foster as well as the strong working relationships we want to build. 

Responsibility Matters
Students who were somewhat irresponsible when it came to having their supplies, completing their homework, and showing up for class on time are doing the same with online learning. In school, it was a bit easier to ignore that behavior, but with online learning this behavior is much more of a problem. This demonstrates to me that it's best to notice and work on irresponsibility right away--don't just let it continue. There are all kinds of positive ways to support and coach student responsibility and that coaching is integral to student success. Thinking about next year, it will be very important to convey upfront what it means to be a responsible student with regard to both virtual learning and real-time learning. We will have to prioritize what it looks like to be prepare for lessons, be on time, participate, advocate and practice. 

Deal with Issues Sooner than Later with the Whole Team
As in the two previous descriptions, issues that weren't as worrisome in real time are exaggerated during virtual school. Families who don't respond were worrisome at school, but even more worrisome during virtual teaching because we don't have the student contact. The same is true for student issues that you may have been worried about, but now seem greater since you can't provide the daily real-time interventions that seemed to be helping out. In some cases, I wish I had dealt with some of these issues in a bigger way when we were in real time school since I see how these issues are more problematic in challenging situations like this at-home learning time. With the future in mind, I believe we have to be more proactive about issues such as these. For example, we have to anticipate that some families may need greater support with child care, parent coaching, food access, and tech support. Rather than wait until these issues become a problem, preparing resource and support lists, sharing expectations for the year ahead, and establishing strong family-school teamwork from the start of the year will be essential. 

Always Think About What Works Best
In some cases, the at-home learning has been advantageous to students. Some who were challenged by small, crowded, noisy classrooms seem more relaxed and happy learning at home. Others who were always waiting their turn as quicker, more boisterous students spoke, now are getting more words in due to the virtual learning routines. The math talk, in some cases is deeper and more targeted, given the way virtual teaching conversations occur. I want to think about these positives too and how we might integrate them into real time school. Starting the year with an explicit focus on the primary skills, attitudes, expectations, and relationship building will be essential next year. Then once we spend the first six weeks focused on that learning, we can branch out to personalize the schedule more to meet the many varied needs and interests of the students at our grade-level.

Collaboration and Consideration are Essential
Starting with the essential components of the schedule, we will have to work together first to create a schedule. Aspects of the schedule that may work best include the following:
  • Set times for faculty meetings, PLCs and student service meetings first.
  • Teams work to set times for the kind of schedule they'll need to serve the needs of all students well. This schedule, coordinated with special educators, will include finding the right mix of grade-level meetings, homeroom meetings, small group teaching, and coaching sessions. 
  • The roll-out of the curriculum will need to be planned perhaps front-loading the fall with the kinds of learning that can easily be done in a mix of at-home and at-school learning.
Realistic Expectations
My at-home learning/teaching schedule right now is a bit too intense and choppy. Thinking ahead, I want to think with colleagues about what the right mix of online student/colleague meetings, at-home practice, time for prep and student study review, and professional learning will be. If you make a schedule that's too intense, you'll burn out quickly, but if you make a schedule that's too sparse, you won't be meeting the needs and potential students hold for wonderful learning. 

Best Practices
I also want to think about best practices. As my colleagues and I forward many lessons, clearly some work better than others. Some aspects of online/real time teaching success include the following:
  • Student at-home/in-school work station with markers, pencils, paper, a computer, headphones
  • Teacher at-home/in-school work station with teaching materials, paper/pencil, tech tools, and more.
  • Consistent, predictable weekly routine so students, families, and educators know what to expect.
  • Consistent, predictable lesson routine including preparing, greeting, lesson introduction (make it sticky), discussion, practice, share. 
  • Patterns for student practice whether it be at-home or in-school.
  • Patterns for student study review and response. Feedback is essential to sustaining student motivation and development.
  • Focus on units of study with varied learning experiences including online, offline, hands-on, paper/pencil, video, reading, collaboration, games, and more. 
  • Setting goals that are motivating such as project celebrations, project share, environmental/community positive impact. . . . .
  • Patterns, protocols for family-school connections--protocols that create strong ties yet set good boundaries work best
  • Working as teams to maximize team members' strengths and needs.
There's always lessons to learn, and these are a few of the lessons to learn from remote learning. I'm sure that in time, I'll add more to this list.