Innovation in the Time of COVID

We are experiencing a unique time in education due to this pandemic. It’s a great time for us to rethink what education can look like and determine what’s most important. So many of us are trying to fit square pegs (traditional in-person learning) into round holes (distance/hybrid/hyflex/on-demand learning).

How’s it working for you all?

I’m seeing incredibly dedicated and amazing educators exhausting themselves trying to replicate in-person instruction online with the same high level of expectation that they have for themselves during a regular year. They are spending hours before and after school planning elaborate lessons with multiple tech components intended to engage students, and then creating another set entirely for those who have to work at different hours. They’re working long hours, isolated from one another, and frustrated that kids aren’t engaging in class.

I’m seeing children spending hours online in a number of meetings/classes that is commensurate with what would be expected of someone earning executive’s salary because that’s where the learning is put. Being stuck in front of a screen is becoming the norm…and I know how I feel about the multitude of meetings *I* attend in a week… I imagine kids are over it even more than I am.

I’m seeing parents and kids upset and overwhelmed because there’s just SO MUCH and it’s really difficult to determine what’s most critical, what’s a quick check, and what’s a big project that needs to get broken down. Small tasks become a never-ending to-to list that parents wouldn’t see if kids were in school because teachers are now collecting information through “assignments” that they’d typically get via conversation or over-the-shoulder observation…that damn to-do list and all its tasks are right there in the “missing work” emails that generate weekly showing all the ways their kids are failing…and all the ways they’re failing as parents.

I’m seeing families frustrated because things keep changing–going from in person to hybrid to distance and back again. There’s little any of us can do about this except wear masks when we’re out and limit time with people who aren’t in our bubble…

And I’m seeing gifted kids checking out and saying, “Screw it. Why should I bother?”

A friend says that while in a gradebook, this might look like a “lost” year in terms of learning, but it really isn’t lost. We have an opportunity to change what we’re doing. Now, that doesn’t mean we work feverishly over Thanksgiving break to recreate everything in our “classroom” and redo all the plans we’d put together. (I say this on purpose because *I* am that sort of teacher…and I know some of you are too.)

Think about how we could create an environment in which kids are engaged and learning and incorporate accountability as well as self-advocacy and ownership while minimizing screen time and OUR workload in terms of grading things and creating new learning opportunities? Here are some thoughts:

Limits

Limit the number of assignments in a week to 3 or fewer and be intentional in their assignment. Give kids options–if there are five items on a worksheet, they must do three. All of those assigned will correlate to the primary standard/s you’re targeting, so there’s no need for them to do all three. There are courses for which there will HAVE to be more, or more steps to complete a full assignment, but there is no reason that kids should be spending hours after class working on assignments that are repeats of each other all week, often one assignment can encompass multiple pieces of learning.

Set limits around the time kids spend working. If the work can’t be done in the 20 minutes of class that’s remaining, it’s too much. Ask the kids to help you gauge time they should be spending working. Get their feedback about what made it take so long or why an assignment was quick to complete.

Ideas

Here’s an easy one. Instead of assigning a Google Form quiz, see what resources you have available for self-driven learning. Do you have subscriptions to online programs like ALEKs or others that kids can utilize for a certain number of minutes each day to show progress on specific standards you’re working on as formative assessment in lieu of a quiz on top of it?

Another easy one. If you’re reading a novel or series of articles or chapters, can you create questions that allows kids to read on their own during class (staying available for questions but allowing them to disconnect) and create free-form responses and not multiple choice options for a way for them to show what they know? Yes, online quizzes are easier to grade, with either right or wrong responses, but does it tell you what they LEARNED? No–it tells you they can guess well and that there is one right answer. Why not give five comprehension questions and have kids make a FlipGrid for two of their choosing and one that you choose that requires them to connect the text to a big idea or concept that was at the center of the reading. Have them include vocabulary critical to the reading in their answers–two birds with one stone, and you spend a half hour or so a week reviewing their videos.

Innovate and Let Go

Think independent study projects that are developmentally appropriate instead of fully teacher-led lessons. “Kids, you’re going to teach class today. I’ve attached an article I want you to read and a 2 minute video to watch to our classroom stream, and I want you to review them and determine the three most important things we need to know about this topic. Let’s meet back together at 9:45 and talk about it.” Then send them off to do it. hey all might have a different part of the topic to review and some may be finished, and others might not be–there’s your opportunity for flexibility–does Josh want to look more into his part? Does Donna need more time? You might have them make a sign using words or pictures to show what they thought was the most important for other (writers, scientists, historians, mathematicians, engineers) to know and share it at the beginning of class tomorrow. Encourage kids to connect what they’re learning to the things THEY see as important…for many, YouTube, MineCraft, Roblox, and RPGs are their jam. Tie in history, science, engineering, art, language, culture, drama, music, sport, movement…

Have kids who work through content at different times and don’t attend class when it meets? Provide the recording of your lesson and the time when the kids show their responses or talk about what they learned (no…this isn’t GIVING them the material or encouraging them to cheat–it’s simply providing guidance since you aren’t there to help)…and provide them the same assignment to do and have them “turn in” a photo of their contribution, making sure you share it with the class.

Collaborate with colleagues and communicate with families and get them on board with assignments like cooking together as a family or doing chores together and writing a reflection on the experience, perhaps inviting them to share stories of family members or friends past or memories of their own childhoods. Ask them video chat Grandma CJ or Uncle Jed and interview them about their favorite recipes from childhood and then try to make them together. Report back to the classes via video or written piece to share with everyone. What’d the kids learn? More than one teacher can be in on this kind of assignment, evaluating progress for their individual standards. Math, history, interview skills, clarity in thought, cultural relevance, writing (informational, opinion, and narrative can be contained in the same piece of writing), and tech if they choose to make a cooking video, as well as perhaps a new appreciation for the people they’re sharing their bubble with, which is immeasurable. And you get to learn about your kids…and build relationships with them at the same time

There will be challenges to this, of course. Some buildings are very locked down and inflexible about what class should look like, but if you have the opportunity to innovate somewhere within that, give it a shot. Be flexible with those who are struggling with access–communicate consistently with parents about how you can help support their child and be creative with solutions. Remember too that learning isn’t concrete–it’s a process. For our little ones, some things may still need to be teacher led for a while, but giving them the opportunity to go off on their own and work is still valuable and teaches self-reliance. Quizzes and assignments often tell us very little about what kids have learned even if they can regurgitate information, but when you give them the opportunity to show it, demonstrate understanding, and think about it in different ways, you’re shown more of what they actually LEARNED.

We have a unique opportunity to change the way we look at learning right now, particularly with our gifted students. Providing opportunities for choice in process and product leads to engagement, self-advocacy, self-motivation, and reflection. There is no right way to do this, friends, but if we have to build the plane as we fly it, why not innovate a little–kids will tell us how it’s going before we crash and burn if we ask. Their feedback matters…this isn’t about us.

I have thoughts on social-emotional needs too…but that’s another post.

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