Teaching HS Social Studies in 2020 – in his own words…

Dan Wizner is a high school social studies teacher. Throughout 2020, his school has been remote sometimes and hybrid sometimes. So, Dan has had to get creative. And his students have had to make some adjustments, too.

In this conversation, Dan describes his plan for making his class more flexible, the opportunities that having his students on Chromebooks so much have brought to the table, and how Fall 2021 might look different because of what he’s learned.

Here Dan shares his story – in his own words.

You can find the rest of our Digital Instruction Network conversations here.

Teaching 5th grade Math remotely – In her own words…

Brittany Oleszczak teaches 5th grade and she’s been teaching remotely for almost a full year now. Despite the struggle, she’s found ways to make this work fairly well for her students and her students’ parents. She’s leaned on a couple of strategically chosen tech tools, patience persistence in leading her students toward high goals, and a steady diet of realistic optimism.

Remember, a lot of things have been said about teaching in 2020 – but this is Brittany sharing her experience in her own words.

If you are interested in hearing more of the conversations I’m having with teachers, you can find the rest of the videos here.

Teaching during Covid – In their Own Words

I am the director of a regional educational support organization called REMC 13. It is a regional subgroup of the statewide REMC Association of Michigan. One of the projects we use to support our educators instructionally is called #517EdTech.

Typically, we are able to support teachers and administrators because among the team, there’s a lot of experience in a variety of educational settings. But, when covid shut stuff down in March and we went remote, that wasn’t true anymore. No one (that I knew, at least) had any real experience with remote teaching – not like this. This isn’t online teaching – that is mostly asynchronous. And this certainly isn’t the face-to-face teaching we all have thousands of hours of practice doing. No. This is some kind of third way – live, remote instruction as an routine. No one that I was collaborating with had ever tried it before. And I suddenly had very little I could do to help besides simply train teachers on how to use tech tools and brainstorm with them possible ideas (transparently adding that all of the ideas on the table were going to be used in ways that I’d never seen tried before.)

So what to do?

Well, we needed some experience from the classroom. So, we started having conversations with classroom teachers. What are you trying? What’s worked? What’s not working? What does “it worked” even mean? What has surprised you? What has definitely not surprised you?

Like, let’s call this what it is – we are doing something for the first time and there is one subgroup of people who are developing the effective skill set – I need to talk to those people. And the things those people were sharing needed to be shared with other teachers. See? That’s another thing we’re struggling with at the moment – in most places, collaboration has sunk down to almost nothing. Teachers are reporting feeling quite isolated.

So, we started recording conversations – basically like a podcast. We call it “The Digital Instruction Network”. We’ve been meeting with teachers who are willing and feel like they are being somewhat successful. We record a conversation and put it out for other teachers to hear. Our hope is that…

  • Teachers can watch these and learn a thing that they would have otherwise learned while chatting with their colleague at lunch (an interaction that has mostly been eliminated these days.)
  • Teachers can hear a nuanced perspective on these topics (that is why they are about an hour long – I’m not sure more two-minute blasts are really helping all that much…)
  • We, as a community of coaches, consultants, and analysists, can say the thing we know to be true: The teachers have done all the practicing, and thus all the learning. If there’s successful models to share, they are going to be the ones with the expertise to share them.

The conversations are mostly unedited and mostly unrehearsed. These are teachers who have been thrown into some tough situations and are doing their best to make it work. Be patient with them if they make a move that you wouldn’t have made. I know the internet can be a “quick-to-judge, slow-to-forgive” kind of place. I’m hoping we can agree to avoid all of that.

So, with that in mind, over the next couple of… I don’t know… days? Weeks? Months? I’ll be sharing out these conversations. I hope you (or those you work with) find them helpful.

If you can’t wait for the upcoming posts, you can find the whole playlist of them here.

Covid2020 has me rethinking homework…

I last taught in the classroom in 2014. From about 2010, I had developed a rather strong series of opinions of homework. The condensed version of those opinions would have sounded like this…

  • Homework exacerbates disparities in environmental effects of the student home life on student achievement
  • Homework needs to be used for re-inforcement only, not for exploration.
  • I can get a lot more out of my students in class as a learning community by using homework as a bargaining chip (and mostly being willing to eliminate it)
  • Homework absolutely shouldn’t be graded in any way.

You get the idea. The result was math classes that included almost no homework at all (which the students enjoyed, and then they liked coming to math class more, and I was able to take advantage of that, so they learned a lot…) If you have questions about where those thoughts can from, I’m happy to explain my 8-10 years ago thoughts to you. I still stand by a lot of them right now.

But, what happened this spring raised questions in my mind. Like, how prepared would my students have been for the Covid shut down? Was I simply avoiding an opportunity to help my high school students be better prepared to learn outside of my classroom? Should I have been doing more to help them engage learning more flexibly?

I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I observed Covid turn the entire school system into non-stop homework for weeks this spring (it happened in my home, too.) “Being good at doing homework” is just a series of skills and habits that need to be practiced (like anything else) and students who had 2013 Andrew would have had very little practice doing Geometry at home because I made the conscious decision to make sure they didn’t.

Maybe I was doing it wrong (wouldn’t be the first time). Maybe I wasn’t, but what I was doing worked in 2013 and now it’s Covid2020 and things are different. Possible.

Anyway, for Fall 2020, it seems to me that preparing students and families for the need for the students to have meaningful learning experiences away from school needs to be taken seriously.

The last post I made included a few of my thoughts presented in video form.

Here’s “part II” of those thoughts, which are less about how we might onboard students to prepare for digital teaching-and-learning and more about supporting the students’ needs for learning at home.

When you haven’t blogged in two years…

… it’s an odd feeling to try to restart the conversation. But, this is Covid-time and everything feels odd. So, I thought I’d write a little bit. Here’s what I’m thinkin’…

When you don’t know what’s coming (and we sort of don’t, but we sort of do…), you try to cover as many guesses as you can. Then you plan for each one of those guesses.

Now, in my professional world, I’ve spent HOURS and HOURS collaborating with people to try to do this. For the sake of getting to the point, I’ll boil it down to this: In general, we need to prepare our students for two transitions.

  1. The transition back-and-forth between face-to-face teaching and learning in a classroom and digital teaching and learning (potentially) not in a classroom.
  2. The transition back-and-forth between in-class teaching and learning supported by a teacher and at-home (or otherwise off-site) teaching and learning either student self-directed or supported by a parent.

And then, let’s add a degree of difficulty (just for funsees) – Those transitions, when fully developed, should not create any drop-off in quality for student engagement or achievement toward the relevant goals of any of the lessons.

So, there. That’s what we’re up against. How the heck are we going to pull that off? Because right now, I’d say, most of the teaching-and-learning systems don’t function that seamlessly. They are almost all most effective for engagement and learning outcomes when the students are in the same physical space with the teacher and the teacher is mostly guiding the students through a mostly pre-planned sequence of experiences.

And, at least in my location this past spring, Covid disrupted that almost entirely. Suddenly, our educational system looked like a sports team that had only ever played home games. And it turned out, our system wasn’t prepared to travel as well as we’d have liked. That’s all right. The educators around me adapted admirably and effectively in a lot of instances. But, let’s remember the experience. In my spot, we started to keep our eye on Covid about March 1. People were fully spooked by March 13th. By March 17th, everything was shut. That’s two weeks. Yes, it could happen again. And if it does, it may not give us much warning.

Fair enough. I don’t blame anyone for being underprepared for what happened in March and April. It got intense in a hurry and put pressure on many of the exact things we’d never had a reason (given our limited resources) to prepare for. Once again, fair enough. But if it happens again this school year, and we’re AGAIN not prepared, then that’s on us. So, I recommend each teacher starting the year expecting to have to make those aforementioned transitions. And onboard your students and families accordingly.

Here’s a bit more about what I mean by that.

Anyway…

It’s good to chat with you all again. I’ll share more when I feel like I have something to say.