I’ve learned that during this time of digital learning, now more than ever, kids need multiple opportunities to be successful. Things that would normally be taught, practiced, then assessed now need to be taught, taught, taught, practiced, practiced, practiced, practiced, assessed, assessed again.
My biggest fear during this time is that expectations from teachers are the same as they would be during our former school experience. The best way to look at our current situation is not that kids are learning from home, but that they are learning from home in a crisis.
School, in a sense, is a vacuum: administrators and teachers can control everything going on there. We dictate when things happen, where things are done, and with whom things are done. At home, are we really able to control any of these things? Sure, we can attempt to place parameters around when things are done, but those times are challenged by the distractions in kids’ homes. If we want to provide students opportunities to be successful while they are learning at home during this time of uncertainty, multiple opportunities for mastery is the way to go. Here are a few ways to allow kids to do it again:
- Flip your lessons and provide students an opportunity to view your recorded lessons an unlimited time before your synchronous meeting. During the synchronous meeting, offer opportunities to correct misunderstandings or guide practice.
- Allow multiple attempts at assessments. Most learning management systems will provide students a number of times to take assessments. Students can take assessments and learn from their mistakes in order to find the right answers. Is the goal to provide them with a grade for their effort, or bring them to an understanding of the concepts? (Hopefully, as a teacher, your goal is the latter.)
- Before assigning an assessment, use gamification as a practice tool. The great thing about this is that you can share a link to your gamified practice and students can do it in their own time. Sites like Quizizz, Kahoot, Gimkit, and Quizlet offer fun ways for students to practice content before you assess them. As an added bonus, these same sites are great tools to assess and obtain data that can be used for differentiation and remediation.
We are nearing the end of the 6th week of digital learning. This method of teaching is currently in place across the entire nation, as communities across the country are dealing with the spread of the novel coronavirus. I am posting this song because yesterday South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster closed schools for the remainder of the year. In the midst of all of the uncertainty and hope of returning to normal this school year, it seems as if the joyous and exuberant time of spring at school is merely fading away.
This is probably the best time of the year for several reasons: the weather is nicer, which means activities can be done outside; curriculum begins to culminate, which means time for memorable end-of-year activities; relationships are fully cultivated, and teachers and students have meaningful bonds that go beyond academics. This is the time of year that my friend Shasta says is the sweetest. And now?
We will spend it in front of screens. In our homes. Most likely in various states of comfortable undress.
This morning, however, I was inspired by a professional development opportunity put on by my friend, Kelli Coons. Kelli is an instructional coach in Spartanburg District 1, and during this time at home, she has put together Coffee with Coach Coons, a weekly time for teachers to come together on Zoom and be inspired through words of wisdom from each other and a special guest. This week’s special guest was Adam Welcome, author and co-founder of Kids Deserve It and the forthcoming Teachers Deserve It. Adam said a tremendous amount of things that lit me all the way up this morning. One of the takeaways I received was now is the time to let our voices be heard. Now is the time for teachers to speak up because people are listening. Everyone is either at home or knows someone at home with a child, and parents and caretakers are seeing just what we go through on a daily basis. It’s a tremendous opportunity to speak up and advocate for ourselves and our profession. This is why I’ve tried to turn the volume back up here in this blog. Secondly, he spoke eloquently and passionately about the difference between engagement and entertainment. There are so many people who have it wrong–all tweaked out about what is cute and fun and sparkly. I remember when my students would ask, “Mr. Parks, are we doing something fun today?” My response would always be, “It’s not my job to entertain you. If you happen to have fun, that is a byproduct of your learning.” Engagement is so important because it is when learning goes from being passive to active. Students are utilizing multiple senses and modalities to create new and lasting connections. My favorite quote from him might have been, “You are not on a cruise ship!” We shouldn’t be striving to provide entertainment for our students, but engaging and indelible learning on which they can build further knowledge.
So as this strange, but enlightening school year fades away, it’s important to remember just how much power we have right now. The world is looking at us to thrive outside of our natural environment. Families are realizing just how valuable we are. Now is truly a time to capitalize on this opportunity and create some lasting learning for all the lives we touch.