Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Some Resources To Gear Up For Uncertainty

I've been tending to my home, mental and physical health the past month and working on thinking about how I might prepare for the coming school year. 
In the face of uncertainty, I find it helpful to create tables that organize my thinking into a sort of "choose your own adventure" type format. 

The following are some tables I have made that have allowed me to think about virtual, physical, and blended strategies that I will need to have ready. 

SO... for those who are into planning... here is what I have so far: 

Recently I discovered that all of the learners in the classroom will have to face forward, so I will be going back to the drawing board to think this one through soon too. 
Don't despair, just navigate these times with as much grace and reach out to others for ideas and help!

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Questions I Should Be Asking

55 million children are not in school (Edweek). This staggering number has caused disruption to our economic system and caused society to raise a lot of questions about what schooling should look like. I, like most educators, have worried about students who don’t aren’t safe in their own home, who don’t have access to the time it will take to engage in learning, who don’t have wifi connections that will support the videos I make, who might be trying to help younger siblings do their school packets, or who are helping families make ends meet in tough economic times. I have stressed about the inequities that are in our national school system.

I have had these worries, but then I remembered the goal that I had set for myself when I went back to the classroom in 2018: To teach my students how to learn. 
THESE are the questions that I, and every educator at every level of our system in our nation, should be asking ourselves right now: Do our students know HOW to learn? What if they are learning, but our content isn’t relevant to them? Am I willing to let go of what is comfortable for the sake of real learning?

Do students know how to learn?
“What are we doing today?” was the question asked by one of my sophomore world history students, I will call him “Sam”, when the school year began and nearly every day the first month of school. I’m sure he had been asking this question to every teacher for years.  By the second month of the school year, he finally started to figure out that he already knew the answer to this question because his class was completely Project Based and our goal every day is to work towards solving our problem. By the time we left school on March 13, he was rarely asking about what had to be done because he knew that it was up to him and his group’s goals for the day. 
Sam is fairly typical of high school students I have encountered. Students expect to come to class, be directed through a learning activity by the teacher, and then repeat this process 6-7 times during the day. Then they get done with school for the day and go do whatever they really want to do. 
What have we done, or not done, in the past (insert number of years they have been in school) to engage them in learning that is meaningful and authentic so that they have the skills they need to complete coursework without our watchful eyes? 
For the class that Sam is in, I have provided digital structures throughout the course, even though I also have visible ones posted throughout my classroom, that help with daily task management and pacing the work of their project. I have used online quizzes and utilized tools like Adobe Spark, Flipgrid, Screencastify, and have trained them to be organized and maximize Google Docs to help with project management. I have emphasized personal responsibility, built in the norm that they contact their team when they miss a day of class, and pushed the cultivation of knowledge onto them as I have guided them through the process. Yet, for many of these students, what happened the past seven months in my classroom was an anomaly for their experience in school as a whole. Which makes me wonder, “Was all my effort for naught?” I ask this question because of this quote I frequently used in my basketball coaching days: “In times of crisis one will not rise to the occasion, but, rather, will revert to their prior training.” What is their prior training?  What habits and learning skills have they acquired over their years in school that they will fall back on now? 

What if they are learning, but our content isn’t relevant to them?
Students are learning right now, without me, without teachers. Being thrust into their homes 24/7 without access to the social structures we have all come to depend on is a learning experience for sure. Have we sought to capitalize on this and help them navigate all the experiences, emotions and opportunities that are before them?  How DOES our content relate to their reality? This is a great time to try out project based learning, inquiry learning, or phenomena learning models. It is also a good time to just have students journal, video blog, or develop their own demonstration of learning. Maybe we, as educators, take this time to look for how our content actually relates to what is happening in the world today so that we can be better equipped to help students see those connections and create deeper learning experiences for them. 

Am I willing to let go of what is comfortable for the sake of real learning?
If we want to see a society where people enjoy learning and pursue knowledge, then our system should embrace learning, not content acquisition. Our schools should mimic the learning that students do outside of the building. Multi-disciplinary demonstrations of learning is how we live, work and learn outside of the school building. This should be our goal going forward and we will likely need to get uncomfortable to do this. Educators will have to work together to create a curriculum that helps students connect content across disciplines and engages students in the work of the world. 

I hope that we’ve trained our students well, and I hope that they have the tools to overcome obstacles and learn. In the coming months, I think all of us will have an excellent chance to revisit what our system is actually preparing students for. 
Will Sam know how to learn and be able to continue unraveling the story of the history of the world with me from the virtual setting as I offer him choices in demonstrating learning and connect content to our reality, or will he revert to “what are we going to do today?” and wait for someone to come hold his hand through the journey? If it is the latter, then I’m pretty sure that journey ended the last day I saw him in the classroom.

Two organizations I work with frequently that provide help in shifting systems to become more authentic are:
CraftED Curriculum https://craftedcurriculum.com/
Magnify Learning https://www.magnifylearningin.org/

Also, Check out https://deeperlearning4all.org and their work in creating such experiences in our schools.

Edweek. Map: Coronavirus and School Closures. https://www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/map-coronavirus-and-school-closures.html Accessed March 30, 2020.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Educators: Rise or Revert?

When I coached basketball at Scecina, the head coach posted different quotes in the locker room as the quote of the week or game. One of those quotes had a story that went with it, and I clearly recall how Coach Burke, a lay coach who was a detective for the Indianapolis Police Department, explained how he had come across the quote. He got the girls into a huddle and started the story that follows: 

“When we train our officers on how to draw their weapon, we train them over and over again to draw and not shoot. 1000s of reps of drawing their weapon without shooting, then putting it back in the holster correctly.  Rep after rep of doing that before we move to drawing their weapon and actually shooting. There are a series of questions that we have to go through in our mind before we actually draw to shoot. It is imperative that we practice that over and over because when it matters, we need to be certain we have officers trained to make the right decision. Your quote this week aligns with that idea: In times of crisis one will not rise to the occasion but revert to their prior training.’“

Coach Burke went on to explain that this is why we drill basics over and over in practice, this is why we practiced simple things like inbounding a pass after a made shot correctly, this is why we went over plays again and again.

The past weeks have refreshed my memory of the circumstance by which I obtained this quote in my memory bank of quotes and I used it to reflect on the current crisis. What are we all reverting to?  What was our training and how has it prepared us for this moment?

Teachers around the nation are kicking into high gear and working hard to figure out how to help students learn in this new reality. The stress of a pandemic is magnified by the stress of trying to figure out solutions to problems that many of us were not trained to solve. We are great at making the best out of situations because we do that everyday in the classroom. I've seen educators across the country step outside of their comfort zones and dive into online instruction and video conferencing. I've seen edtech companies offer training and services for free to help us navigate these times. The edchats on Twitter are full of new people, seeking ways to make online learning work for them and their students.

This is experiential learning in action and we are doing our best in the circumstances. We are not great at remote education and creating student managed learning experiences because those require experience and training that we never got until now. Sadly, the majority of schools and districts in the United States do not make adult learning a priority. Many educators find themselves in a culture of compliance, not a culture of learning. I fear that this culture will cloud the opportunity we now have to do real learning about real issues for the sake of compliance and trying to make what we do in the classroom work remotely. 

What would this month have looked like if our nation had prioritized learning instead of testing in our schools over the past decade? What if we had funded our schools so that all educators could spend time each day learning about practices that would improve their instruction? 

Don’t get me wrong, educators are the people you want to go to war with, and I’m not minimizing the efforts that we are all making. I’m just proposing that, had we properly used the knowledge we have regarding how people learn and self-actualize, we might be in a less panicked mode in regards to the task of educating outside of the 4 walls of the classrooms.

I am fortunate to be prepared to work remotely, having done that exact thing for 6 years prior to returning to the classroom. I know how the ebb and flow of a remote work day goes and I have a pretty good handle on how to be productive in that space. I was trained for years in how to help students take ownership of their learning and uses technology to have students demonstrate competency. My last job included training 1000s of teachers in project and problem based learning. I know that my training is kicking in and I am grateful for that. I am not the norm though. Not by a long shot. Even with all the training I have, it’s really tempting to try to reinvent my teaching, but I believe my students will do exactly what they have been trained to do so let’s hope some of what I’ve done with them the past 7 months stuck.