Learning Fast to Implement Well

Aside from teaching a doctoral course called Research on Effective Professional Development this summer, I think I would have immersed myself in research on the learning sciences anyway. Number 1: It’s how I geek out. Number 2: It makes me a stronger learning designer when working with children and adults.

The phrase “learning fast to implement well” is from Anthony Bryk and colleague’s (2015) book Learning to Improve: How America’s Schools can get Better at Getting Better. When I first read their book several years ago, I don’t think (actually I know) that I didn’t get as much out of it then as I have these past few months. I’m always looking for ways to make me a better classroom teacher, but I’m also looking to improve and hone my skills as a researcher. 

Needless to say, this book has become a good friend lately.

In light on the shifts we’ve had to make in how we approach the new year, I think teachers are going to need to learn fast to implement well. We don’t have time to take things slowly (on our end) since we have 100+ students who need us right nowIn fact, I’ve met with my department twice so far (we’re still technically on summer break) to discuss how we can use technology to facilitate learning for our students. We discussed ways to scaffold the learning for our English language learners and special education students. We brainstormed synchronous tools so that learning would be more engaging for our students. We still have ways to go, but I’m happy with our progress thus far. 

The technology skill and knowledge level in my department varies, and I think coming together early enough before the start of school was the perfect way for us to begin discussions on how we can hit the ground running as technology is the medium by which we are going to build connections, facilitate learning, and assess understanding. There will be mishaps (of that I am sure), but if we learn fast, we can implement wellthe next time around.

Please know that I am not saying that we are going to be throwing things at our students at a fast pace. In fact, I’m not advocating that we begin the school year at a sprint for us either. What I am suggesting is that we will be more effective teachers for our students if we have open conversations about what worked last spring, what has worked in the past (pre-COVID-19), and how can we take those experiences and make learning meaningful for our students now. We need to internalize the lessons learned to figure out how we can best serve our students—learn fast to implement well.

I will echo a comment from a colleague who said, “I’ve been doing this for 16 years, yet I feel as if this is my first year all over again.” Amen, brother! This is certainly uncharted territory for all of us. 

So, I was thinking about my big take-away from last spring, and I believe the best place for me to start is by intentionally creating activities around building a warm and supportive learning community. I just finished reading both EduProtocol (Hebern & Corippo, 2018/2019) books, and it’s already given me some ideas on how to start the school year by building and layering foundational skills for long-term success—more on that in another blog post.

What I’m thinking might be a good way to approach the start of the school year—and it doesn’t matter if you’re starting in-person, hybrid, or virtual—is to think of ways to bring humanity to the forefront. Think of it, many of our students have been isolated from friends since March; they likely haven’t been out playing in the summer like they used to; they have not had the same level of social interactions with peers, family, and other people (in general); they are probably freaked out about school starting up again (first day jitters don’t disappear even in the online environment); they are likely worried that they are somehow falling behind the academic curve; and they are probably thinking “Will everyone like me?”

To hopefully alleviate some of these fears, while also slowly introducing them to the technology tools and foundational skills they need, I created activities for my students based on several of the EduProtocols from Hebern and Corippo (2018/2019). In the forefront of those activities are ways that my students can build relationships with each other.  

This past spring posed a huge learning curve for me. But I am here…and ready to start the new school year. 

I am ready to learn fast to implement well

Bring it on 2020.

Reference

Bryk, A. S., Gomez, L. M., Grunow, A., & LeMahieu, P. G. (2015). Learning to improve: How America’s schools can get better at getting better. Harvard Education Press.

Hebern M., & Corippo, J. (2018). Eduprotocol field guide: 16 student-centered lesson frames for infinite learning possibilities. Dave Burgess Consulting.

Hebern M., & Corippo, J. (2019). Eduprotocol field guide book 2: 12 new lesson frames for even more engagement. Dave Burgess Consulting.

First Things First

Today I met with my department colleagues for the first time since June. We had so much to discuss from materials distribution to our learning management set-up. Revisions to our learning scales and how we assess students were also topics on the table. All of those are necessary conversations to have because we want to deliver a consistent message for the students who will be joining us in 20 days: special education, English language, and gifted learners. 

Now that we have some of our foundational routines set, I am now moving my attention to how I can support the emotional and social needs of my new students. I teach at a Title I school: Grades 7 and 8. As this is my 26th year in the classroom, I know very well the trepidation that 7th graders experience. It usually takes them one full quarter (that’s 10 weeks!) to get their bearings. They go from having one or two teachers to six teachers. They switch classes several times a day. Now add the various challenges and unknowns of technology to the mix for distance learning and you have a perfect storm a brewin’.

On the first day of school, after I do the introduction to world history, I usually have my students engage in the scavenger hunt where they get to meet their peers. Did I mention that we have students from no less than FIVE elementary schools who feed into our school? Talk about starting over! But the scavenger hunt was a great way for them to stand up, walk around, catch up with friends, and meet new friends. By the time the bell rang on Day 1, I would ask my kiddoes . . . “Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?” And the majority of them would shyly nod their heads almost with a look of relief as they walked out my door to another class with a different teacher and a different set of students.

Since we are starting virtual this year, the first day of school routines have to change. And since I intentionally focused on social-emotional learning (SEL) last year, it is natural for me to continue with that since there’s so much more I need to do for my students in this current educational climate.

Aside of SEL though, I also think that it’s important to consider how to integrate culturally responsive teaching into my instructional practices. When you think about it, these students have not had a “normal” school experience since mid-March. Life for them has most likely been a series of unknown challenges, ups and downs, and all-around uncertainty. For the record, middle schoolers crave parameters and routines–even if they normally try to buck the grain.

Needless to say, students this year are starting with a completely different mindset and outlook. 

I’m sure they are exhausted. They want to be with their friends. They want some kind of normalcy (I mean, don’t we all?). But I’m not talking about making things “normal” for them in the virtual learning environment. I’m thinking that I need to tackle issues that are closer to the heart.

I recently came across an article in KQED by Amielle Major titled How to Develop Culturally Responsive Teaching for Distance Learning. She aptly writes that we need to be “thinking about what a student needs in order to have agency over their learning.”

Think about what a student needs in order to have agency over their learning.

Kids these days cannot control their environment. They cannot control what is posted on social media. They cannot influence what is presented in the news. And these things can wreck havoc on the mind and heart if one doesn’t make a concerted effort to step away from the fray here and there.

So, while my incoming students cannot control their environment, social media, or the news, they can control their learning experience if I design and offer opportunities for student agency. As we are (without a doubt) going to have to reduce the amount of content that we would normally cover, I am also thinking about how I can design my world history lessons to allow for even more voice and choice. Content is important—I know that. But so are skills. And that’s mainly what I focused on last spring. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t subscribe to the naysayers who claim that students didn’t learn during the last 13 weeks of school. My students learned self-regulatory skills; they learned how to analyze multiple causes and effects; they learned how to visually display their learning; and they learned how to be there for each other. 

My point—and I remain steadfast to this goal—is to focus on the development of the whole child. I will focus on more than just their content knowledge of world history from 500-1500 C.E. I’m going to pay particular attention to how I can better support the culturally and academically diverse group of students who are going to log in on August 24 to my world history class.

Major’s (2020) article suggests that teachers who are interested in integrating and incorporating culturally responsive teaching into their instructional practices do the following:

  • Deepen the background knowledge of students (reduce the gap by front-loading)
  • Cultivate cognitive routines to help students make connections across their learning
  • Build word wealth so that students can articulate their thoughts, feelings, and learning

Since we are forced to change how we are approach teaching and learning in the fall, I think it’s a great time to also examine our teaching practices to see how we can better support and empower our diverse group of learners. 

There are many things that need to be done at the start of any new school year. However, I think one of the more important considerations is to meet our students where they are and then work to equip them with the skills and knowledge to become empowered learners. 

And that’s how we can help close the equity gap.

Reference

Major, A. (2020). How to develop culturally responsive teaching for distance learning. KQED. https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/55941/how-to-develop-culturally-responsive-teaching-for-distance-learning

Uncharted Territory

Bitmoji Image

For many of us, the upcoming year is going to be something like we’ve never seen before. Whether starting fully in-person, cohort/hybrid model, or remote, teachers are having to figure out how to best support our students during this pandemic. We learned a lot of lessons when in-person schooling quickly transitioned to online in March. Many of us struggled with how to continue the learning process for our kids. Do we continue with our pacing and content? Should we try independent projects? How much should we assign our students? When should we schedule our Zoom or Google Meet sessions? How many sessions should we schedule? The questions were endless. And no one had any answers, as many of us were dealing with more than just want happens in our classrooms.

When the 2019-2020 school year ended, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. This summer, I tried my best to put some serious space between my professional and personal self. However, even though I had every intention to not focus on the upcoming 2020-2021 school year and what that would look like…I focused on it. How could I not? 

Several weeks ago, the governor of California provided guidelines for schools and districts. He clearly stated certain metrics that must be met in order for in-person (with social distancing measures) to resume. With those metrics, it meant that my district had little choice but to inform students and other stakeholders that the school year would begin online. 

There are a bi-jillion reasons out there about why we should return to in-person, hybrid, or remote. Everyone has a valid point. And there are no easy answers. But what I’m a bit concerned about are the various plans that educational organizations, districts, and schools are putting out there for distance/remote learning. The idea that in-person schooling can be replicated online is not possible. It’s just not. The effective instructional strategies that my district has been training us on for the past several years cannot be effectively replicated online. Holding daily Zoom or Google Meets with students thinking that direct instruction via video will have the same effect as in-person instruction is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

What I would love to see is a complete rehaul of the way education looks in public schools. Why try to replicate what occurs in-person when there are so many other ways to engage in the learning process via technology? Why bring 30 students together in a Zoom or Google Meets session so that a teacher can talk at them for 30 or 45 minutes? And why are we making students stay online while they do their work? I’ve heard that some district plans suggest putting students in individual break-out rooms (in Zoom) while they work on a task. 

Seriously?

And then while perusing my Twitter feed, my friend shared an interesting document:

While the arguments put forth here are certainly legitimate and the comments in the thread make good points . . . my point is . . . we are in uncharted territory. 

There’s pros and cons to that, I know.

However, we now have an incredible opportunity to change how learning occurs with our students. One of the benefits of online learning is that one is no longer bound by the constraints of a traditional school day (Christensen et al., 2013; Liu et al., 2014; Watson et al., 2014). Technology gives students and teachers more opportunities to make learning meaningful and authentic (Jonassen et al., 2008)—well, at least it should

We shouldn’t plop students in front of a live video multiple times a day so that they can see their teachers talk at them. Why not use flipped lessons to provide direct instruction and then give students the opportunity to choose the process or product to demonstrate their learning? For some students, this aligns perfectly with their drive for creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. This also allows for flexibility and choice for the student. For students who would like a bit more support and structure, why not simply offer open office hours (via your video conferencing tool of choice)? Or what about this? Why not schedule short webinars for students who would like live instruction? Afterwards, students can ask questions and then go off to figure out how they want to demonstrate their learning.

Children are not much different than adults when it comes to learning (Bransford et al., 2000). They know what they like. They know what motivates them. They want agency and voice in what they do. They want to engage in meaningful tasks. 

So…why not take this opportunity to use technology as a tool for differentiation? To be clear, I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing to get together via Zoom. It’s been nice to connect with friends this way. But those meet-ups occur once or twice a month for maybe an hour. However, the proposed structure that is being handed down by many districts are putting students and teachers in front of a camera for anywhere between an hour and a half to upwards of four hours a day (the total time depends on district policies). Think about it this way…would you like to sit in front of a camera for several hours a day while someone talks at you? What about working in an individual break-out room with your camera on for several hours? 

Don’t get me started on the bandwidth or data issues that this poses for many of the families who are already struggling financially. 

My point is, since we are in uncharted territory…why not break the chains of the traditional school model? Why not consider ways that technology can be leveraged to offer students more opportunities to master important skills (e.g., reading, writing, listening, speaking, digital) in a different format? The research-based best practices for online learning can and do work. We just have to be willing to not just think but work outside-of-the-box.

References

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and schoolhttps://doi.org/10.17226/9853

Christensen, C., Horn, M. B., & Staker, H. (2013). Is k-12 blended learning disruptive? An introduction to the theory of hybrids. Clayton Christensen Institute. https://www.christenseninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Is-K-12-blended-learning-disruptive.pdf

Jonassen, D., Howland, J., Marra, R. M., & Crismond, D. (2008). Meaningful learning with technology (3rd ed.). Pearson Education.

Liu, M., Scordino, R., Geurtz, R., Navarrete, C., Ko, Y., & Lim M. (2014). A look at research on mobile learning in k-12 education from 2007 to the present. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 46, 325-372. https://doi.org/10.1080/15391523.2014.925681

Watson, J., Pape, L., Murin, A., Gemin, B., & Vashaw, L. (2014). Keeping pace with k-12 digital learning: An annual review of policy and practice. Evergreen Education Group. https://www.evergreenedgroup.com/keeping-pace-reports