Monday, July 27, 2020

What is Flipped Education in a Remote Learning Environment?

So much can be said about the incredible creativity that has come out of the time students and faculty spent engaging in education online. While there was a lot of experimentation and some of it was less than ideal, these few months of online learning forced all of us to look at what we need most out of an educational experience for children of different ages. For all students, the need to engage in learning that was live, authentic, and relationship-based became paramount. For younger students, stamina had to be taken into consideration when designing videos, zoom sessions, and activities (both online and offline), and for older students, accountability, and empathy needed to be simultaneously taken into consideration when crafting each lesson.  It became a balancing act. 

Regardless, one thing became apparent.  Zoom lecturing reminded a lot of us of the "chalk and talk" days of old.  Zoom began to feel formulaic and teacher-centered.  We began to see the progress revolution that took place in education, the child-centered values we have embraced, and replaced by a lot of lectures.  The question becomes, how do we prevent this while still making sure students gain the information they need without having to "teach themselves"?

While there should not be one recipe for running a class, I have thought a lot about ways we can use Zoom to re-create in-school environments.  In school, thankfully, students are not lectured to all day.  They are not a recipient of information. Instead, students are active in the learning process.  Hence, it's essential that at any grade level, online education embrace our student-centered educational values. 

This past year, our first grade implemented Singapore Math.  After extensively training the year before, our five teachers threw themselves into learning this new style of teaching mathematics.  We found that the best way to teach online math to first graders was to create short videos providing quick how-to's.  Then, Zoom became time to work on a difficult problem together, discuss a core strategy (or many, alternative strategies to solving the same equation), or practice questions.  This model empowered the first graders to "own" their learning and created a forum for students to have much of the same rapport and critical thinking that existed when in the classroom at school. 

Imagine following this up with students submitting assignments on SeeSaw videotaping themselves explaining why they are doing a problem a certain way using a particular strategy?  Imagine kids making how-to videos showing others how to solve a problem differently. 

Now in older grades, imagine students posting comments on each other's strategies complementing them and offering alternative methods or solutions?   We just took something that could have been very passive and made it an active, engaging lesson in math and critical thinking.  We just created a classroom community, not just an assignment.

While we live in a somewhat unpredictable time, we can never abandon our passion and dedication to making education not just about embedding knowledge, but also and more importantly developing minds.  

Monday, May 18, 2020

Preventing Teacher Burnout During the Covid19 Crisis

I think we can all agree that teachers are doing the impossible.  Most of them are doing it really well.  Teachers need to be celebrated and need to know they are valued.  Whether this means dropping off food, yard signs, personalized letters, or simply making phone calls, teachers need to know we care.

So much of faculty burnout happens when teachers do not feel their work is valued.  Of course, we can all agree what they are doing is of tremendous value.  The key here in our roles as leaders is to create an environment (albeit virtually) that helps manage teachers' expectations, creates security around what we will be asking of each teacher, and enables teachers to feel supported.  Let's unpack how we can do this.

For one, we all know that there are several unknown variables that exist right now. We are not sure what September will look like.  Even if we go back, are we all going back?  Is there a hybrid approach to learning where students spend half the day learning from home and half the day learning in the school building?  What rules will we need to follow to ensure safety within our institutions?  What expects will have of teachers?  What grades will we need to hire new staff for?  Who may be leaving and who may need to change grades?

As administrators, we are trying our best to strategize ahead of time and plan for every possible scenario.  However, we also recognize we will need to be responsive to the needs of our students, staff, and families when rolling out any new plans.  This means we will be tweaking them after we roll them out.  Additionally, we will lack some of the information we usually have at this time of year to make accurate decisions about next year, so changes will have to happen later.

Furthermore, parents, if we go remote again in September or any hybridization of distance learning happens, will expect a much smoother ride this time around.  They will expect teachers will know how to use the technology needed to make students less reliant on parents.  They will expect districts will provide whatever technology is needed so they will not have to excessively print out materials for their children.  Parents will expect systems to be in place and forethought to be there.  They will have less patience then they have had.

Hence, communication with faculty is key.  It is not only important to clarify for teachers whatever ambiguity about their role exists, but also what the options could be (when possible).  Being honest, as usual, is the best policy.  This means realistically, we are talking about having a lot of frank and sometimes difficult conversations with teachers.  Whether it means telling a new hire that you probably will not know until Murphy announces about school in September which grade level the faculty member will teach.  It means talking with an established teacher about the teacher's multiple certifications and that you cannot commit to necessarily keeping that teacher on his/her current grade level, but you will try.  It means to tell teachers they may need to have more videoconferencing in the fall and that they need to work on giving feedback to students about all work submitted.

Whatever you plan to say to your staff, you need a clear plan, training for the fall NOW, and a listening ear.  Teachers need time to vent and let you know how they feel about the shifting expectations, their incredibly balancing act between their private and professional lives, and what they need to be successful.

Wondering what you should be training your staff in now?

  • Learning management systems for all grade levels.  If you have one, then fine-tuning and training your staff in the plethora of ways they can be used. 
    • SeeSaw, Canvas, Google Classroom
  • Online textbooks, assessment tools, and practice websites
    • Into Reading, Prodigy, IXL, Singapore Math Live, I-Ready, etc...
  • Training on the hybrid learning models
The key here is clarity whenever possible about expectations.  

Teachers also need to be celebrated; they need to know they are valued.  Whether this means dropping off food, yard signs, personalized letters, or simply making phone calls, teachers need to know we care.  

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Thinking About Supporting Our Students When We Go "Back"- The New Normal

Governor Murphy has already said that whenever students do go back to school, it is more than likely it will not look the same as it did when they left.  In videoconferences sessions between administrators and parents from local high schools, administrators have already broached the idea of getting outdoor tents, staggering days of the week students come to campus, and start and end times.  Even a discussion of staggered breaks and lunchtimes have been reported.  This falls in line with what is already happening in Denmark as schools return.  Schools in Denmark are allowing children up to age 12 (5th grade) return.  They have strict protocols for handwashing, sanitizing, and social distancing.

I could imagine our state doing any less than this whenever we do choose to open.  I agree these measures will most probably be needed and, in fact, required by law.  Today, I want to approach the subject of how we will support our students emotionally and academically when we get back to this new normal because while each student left one way, none will be the same upon return.

Our students left us worried, but largely healthy.  The effects of the virus had not yet touched the lives of most people our community knew.  Within a few short weeks, people all around us started being rushed to hospitals, put on ventilators, and dying.  Some of those people were our students' neighbors, some their family, and even some a teacher.  The situation is scary for everyone.  Yet, our students, as either children or young adolescents, do not have the life skills us adults have for tackling the understandable anxiety and depression this situation can provoke (not to say all adults do either).  Paul Gorski, principal of Fair Lawn High school, explained that many of our students, those who were successful students before leaving may now be struggling when we return.  There are a few areas we need to focus in on in order to help our students overcome the challenges they may face when returning to school.  They are grieving.  They may be grieving:

  • family loss or physical loss of someone they knew
  • the loss of their social network 
  • the skills they no longer remember or the learning they did not understand
  • the sense of financial security their home might have had once before this crisis
  • the sense of family they might have had and emotional security that went with that before this crisis (they might not have lost a family member, but a family member could be struggling emotionally as a result of this crisis and that could impact a student profoundly)

As educational leaders, our job will be to work with teachers and support professionals to identify these students, creating plans to address the needs of these students and work with these students, their families, and our staff to implement the plans.

Some additional ways we will need to help rebuild the loss for our students is through:

  • Working with guidance staff and faculty to create for students peer support groups
  • Reaching out to parent organizations to establish parental support groups
  • Collaborating with student council groups to create peer tutoring groups
  • Developing after school/ virtual tutoring and support
  • Taking a needs assessment
    • parent surveys of needs
    • student surveys of needs
    • teacher surveys of needs
  • Crafting PD for teachers on student trauma 
  • Establishing support groups for teachers
  • Thinking creativity about the role of the school nurse and any guidance staff
  • Utilizing Assistant Principals to work with teachers to address the needs of at-risk students and facilitate much of the above

Before and after students "return," administrators can lead grade level Zooms to inform parents of the steps we are taking to support students globally (to protect their physical and emotional safety and to help remediate any areas of learning they are behind).  Administrators can also take this opportunity to let parents know how they can reach out to inform the administration of further support that they think is needed.

Either way, one of the most crucial elements of this entire strategy must hang on redeveloping and growing the relationships between the administration and faculty.  The faculty are the eyes and ears of our institutions.  They are on the ground level.  They see the children in-class daily.  While we must be present at lunch, breaks, arrivals, and at the end of the day, in the halls, and the classrooms, they will see things we cannot.  Having that connection and trust is vital to assisting all students are helped when needed.

This help needs to expand to families.  Once we identify those students who need the most support, we need to go to people's homes (either physically or via videoconferencing depending on the situation) to meet people where they are at.  We will need to work closely with other government agencies and nonprofits to help families and thus our students through this recovery.  The world around us will not be the same when we "return," but it is an opportunity for us to become closer to those we care most about, our students.

There certainly are legal issues that we need to address.  Michael Rebell, Columbia University Teachers College, and Columbia Law School Professor and Executive Director at the Center for Educational Equity at Teachers College (also my former professor), wrote a telling article about the impact this crisis could have on equity and diversity in schools.  In short, he argues that it is possible that many families, especially affluent ones, may keep their children home whenever we do return.  This, he argues, could have a huge impact on who does go to school and who does not.  In the end, it could be that those who have no choice will send their children to school and those who do have the ability to have one parent at home will not.  This will create yet further divides in our system.  It could undo decades of integration.  He also worries that if teachers, many experienced and qualified who are nearing retirement age, choose to not return in the fall, this may leave many districts with less experienced teachers.  This is for another post.

The SAMR Model, COVID 19, and an Incredible Opportunity

This time in history certainly has its share of devastating events, which have already been expounded upon by pretty much everyone.  We know the unfortunate realities we live in.  Death knocking at our door, social isolation, job loss, and much more, but there might be a few positive outcomes to the largest experiment of remote learning in history.

Many years ago, I began my career as a social studies teacher.  I took over classes as a leave replacement during my second year of law school.  I was told the students needed a teacher because theirs was critically ill.  Immediately, I drew up the paperwork to switch to night school so I could teach during the day.

The students had clearly cultivated a close relationship with their previous teacher, and I knew I had to really dig deep to form a bond with them that would help them to be successful moving forward.  I also knew the bond I would have with them would have to be totally different than the one my predecessor had.  We were different people.   I guess because I knew this, I tried that much harder.  I did not even think of mirroring what he did.  I did my own thing.  At the end of that year,  I had gone to more games, attended more extracurricular activities, and made more phone calls than I could remember.  I had invested in the lives of my students, and it had paid off.  While that situation had begun as a crisis for my students (having to have a new teacher mid-year), it ended in a happier place.  I redesigned the way the classes were run to meet the needs of my students and built the relationships needed to help transform them as learners.

Much has been said about the ways students learn best.  Countless books and blog posts have been dedicated to defining 21st Century learning and expounding upon the importance of the 4 C's.  Adaptive skills are being valued now more than ever before.  Student-centered learning is all the buzz and inquiry-based education is being discussed everywhere.  Yet, for the most part, many educators and many schools still have learning that revolves around bells and clocks, lectures, and homework.  I get it because to a large degree, each of these things has value.  Yet, I wonder whether we have just hit a watershed moment. 

I liken this to the acquisition of vocabulary.  I know it sounds strange.  The more words a child knows the better he or she is able to explain the world around him or her.  Furthermore, the more deeply a child can understand that world.  Hence, the actual learning of new words changes the person.  It makes them a deeper person.  A person is capable of thinking in new ways and capable of reshaping the way they see the world.  When I first learned this, I was amazed.  Yet, as a parent and an educator, I have seen this with my own eyes and know it to be true.  The research and evidence are there.

The SAMR Model, developed by Dr. Ruben R. Puentendura, explains the intersection between technology and pedagogy with an aim to move student learning by enhancing communication and creating multimedia content creation. John Spencer has an excellent youtube video on this which I will summarize below:

The first level of technology implementation he explains is substitution.  It is simply the teacher using technology to replace something that would be done without technology, like using a google form in lieu of filling out a math worksheet.

The next level is augmentation.  In that stage, there is a substitution, but some noticeable enhancements.  An example often given is google docs being used instead of a paper and pencil essay written with the ability now to have other students "comment" on the document.  

More substantial redesigning of tasks occurs in the next phase with modification.  John Spencer gives the example of assigning a blog post rather than an essay where students are collaborating in contributing to it online and posting to an authentic audience.  The product is not an essay, but an article that is posted for anyone who can find the link to see.

This brings us to the most exciting part of this model, the redefinition.  In this phase, technology allows for tasks that were previously inconceivable.  Spencer explains how that "Same essay is now a multimedia package.  Students are able to not only research online but connect with experts through video conferencing.  They are co-writing their posts with a cohort from around the world.  They produce blog posts, videos, podcasts...."

As you move through the SAMR model, technology becomes more transformative.  This happens both in terms of multimedia content creation and communication.

The last part of this model is essentially what happens when a student learns new vocabulary.  Eventually, they are able to think on a different level and in new ways.  The language of technology then naturally does this as well enabling students to develop and create (and teachers to assign) work never even imaged.  The work produced is richer and requires higher levels of thinking than ever before.  In the use of vocabulary, this happens organically.  In the use of technology, it is argued this needs to be thought out and teachers need to assign tasks that promote this.  I think that might be the case initially, but eventually, I imagine it takes a life unto itself.

I would argue that is what is happening now or at least starting to, in many schools.  Using apps like SeeSaw (an LMS), students are recording themselves reading passages in languages they are learning.  They are creating live portfolios of their work.  Teachers and students are commenting on those recordings and sharing video responses, blogpost responses, and expert videos explaining how to read passages differently.  Fluency in a new language is greatly enhanced.  Furthermore, students are now working with "penpals" on Zoom from across the world to speak in their new language and gain insights into how sentences are constructed when spoken natively by fellow students their own age.  Relationships are forming that allow for cross-collaboration, a deeper understanding of the cultures that come with those languages, and a host of potential new areas. Our global society is becoming smaller.

This is happening in every subject as students are learning quickly that they have a variety of ways they can learn the material being assigned.  They can attend a Zoom/Google Meet, watch a video of their TV, log on to an online learning application or e-textbook, watch Khan Academy or the many free videos on the topic, converse on Google classroom with fellow students and teachers, cull articles online on the topic, and much more.  Students can now choose how they learn new material.  This choice could become empowering and enable learners of all kinds to potentially flourish.

Furthermore, the structure of the school is changing.  The factory model of education is finally reaching its end.  Trying to schedule classes for specific times of day for independent work seems silly for many and impossible for others. Hence, many districts have come to alternate days of the week for suggested study to give students more flexibility as to how and when to learn the subject matter.  Others are giving suggested schedules and due dates for material well beyond the time frame of the typical school day.  Some schools are learning to give suggested schedules (only setting specific times for live classroom instruction).  Students are learning to work at times that suit them.  The goal is no longer to work around a set 8 am to 3pm schedule, but rather around times that work best for quiet learning, collaboration, and/or support.   Social Workers and school psychologists are Zooming/Google Meet videoconferencing with students and parents to give them the support they need through this trying time.  In many ways, they are "entering" the home like never before.  Traditional grading is being replaced by standards-based grading tailored specifically for this situation, pass/fail options, and/or anecdotal reports.  Students and schools are now learning that a great deal of education is happening in entirely new ways.  It's scary, but it's also exciting.  

I do not believe remote learning will replace the need for brick and mortar schools and some of these changes are temporary to meet the extraordinary needs of this situation.  However, I do think some of these changes are welcome and can be here to stay.  In many ways, this pandemic and the creativity in education it has fostered can transform schooling the way vocabulary transforms the mind, and technology transforms pedagogy.  The question is, in what ways do we want it to stick?


The Value of Feedback for Students & Families in This Remote Learning Environment

The internet is replete with images of kids being ever so gently pushed onto school buses and parents practically throwing their kids out of cars in front of school buildings.  There are snappy captions about how parents will be gleeful when school resumes.  In fact, I have seen long rants about how grateful parents are for the instruction their children were getting when physically in the school building and how much harder it now is for parents to tackle remote learning because the burden of daily classroom management has largely shifted now from school to parent. 

Then, and I am sure you've seen this too, I have seen the memes about needing to get teachers a gift to show their appreciation.  The meme is usually sarcastic and instead of referring to a child's actual teacher, they are now referring to themselves.  It ends with the parent shopping for him or herself.  I get it.  In many ways, parents/ caregivers are stepping up big time.  They really are partnering with us to help their children learn in ways that they have not had to do ever before.  Sometimes, this can be really illuminating.  Parents/caregivers can learn more about their children, how they learn.  Parents/caregivers can see how their child has functioned when acquiring new information in a whole group and small group setting (they can peer into the room while their child is on a Zoom).  They can see what a child retains from a teacher's lesson to do independent work that first time afterward.  They can provide one-on-one instruction and support.

However, for many parents/caregivers, they already have jobs outside of the home and simply do not have the ability to provide such hands-on support.  Others, do not have the background or ability to help because of limited proficiency in the subject matter (especially high school subjects), limited technical abilities (maybe they aren't as seasoned in Flipgrid, Glogster, Google classroom, or using library databases), etc...  Some people able to try and help, but have limited success in doing so.

All parents/caregivers are now playing a new role in their child's lives. 

So, the issue then shifts to how schools can meaningfully interpret what a student understands from what is being taught.  A student simply submitting a google form for math that is scored as 10/10 tells a teacher little about what it took to get that student that score.  Is it that the student had to watch a video of a teacher (or another person) explaining how to do that set of problems once or several times?  Did that student ask his or her parent/caregiver to help him or her?  Did that student guess?  There are so many ways that students could have derived at the answers he or she did.

Hence, it is so much more valuable for teachers to ask students how they are completing their work.  It is super valuable for a teacher to track areas students are getting right and areas they have not yet gained consistent proficiency in.  By doing so, teachers can get a window into the world of the student right now.  Hence, rather than looking to grade a research paper, I would want to give suggestions (on a google doc) on how to improve it and ask questions about what a student was thinking when focusing on or writing something.  I would want to digitally do this as a "conference" with that student.  It's the feedback that is going to move the learning forward, not grades.

When we talk about equity, this is the fairest way to help students grow regardless of whatever situation they are in.  Otherwise, we risk seriously penalizing students who do not have the privilege of a support network in their homes that can help them maintain high grades.

By grading, we are also rewarding students who might not have done work independently with grades that do not actually reflect their proficiency.  This will not help them long term when they "return" to whatever school may look like in the fall without those skills solidified.  If our goal is student learning (which I believe it is for everyone), then feedback ensures growth.  Recognizing the process of learning and helping students get to proficiency needs to be done in a way that is effective, empathetic, and equitable.  Feedback does just that.

Why Data Matters and How You Can Make It Easy to Use

I think when most people, non-educators and educators alike, think about data they worry they are pegging kids with numbers, relegating them to where they are and not where they can and will be.  I hear that fear.  I worry about that without numbers.  Kids are so much more than a grade, a score, more than their performance one day in a class.  Kids are growing, learning, and finding their place in this ever-changing and complicated world we live in.  I see daily reminders of this as I speak with children about proper communication, reflect with them on their learning challenges, sympathize with them about painful situations going on in their lives, and help them navigate the plethora of options they have on a daily basis.  I want my children (by my children, I mean my genetic kids and the 600 children I am a principal to) to take risks intellectually and try new things. I want them to learn how to grapple with and even embrace failure as an opportunity for success.  I want them to challenge themselves in all aspects of life to push themselves to do more than they ever thought possible.  I want them to understand what a tremendous gift life is and what an opportunity they have to do with it.  I want so much for each and every one of them.  And this is why data matters to me.

What is data?  I know your thinking this is pretty self-explanatory, but I actually think it is not.  Data is not just test and quiz scores.  It's attendance, it's observations and trends in behavior, it's completion and works on assignments, and so much more.  Data is numbering often, but not always.  Classical data is always numeric and measurable, but not always objective.  Non-traditional data, is observable- What did the teacher see?  What did a parent detect?  What does the school psychologist notice?  These factors are also important.  Gaining data and harvesting it is key.

Why does it matter? I believe if we utilize data effectively we can make a huge difference in each child's learning success both in the short term and in the long term.

Why do many educators, even after knowing all of this, often still resist it?

I think the case I am about to make is intuitively something most educators already know, but I think I've managed to pinpoint what is stopping many educators from using it and how it can be effectively used, to a certain degree.  Data is scary.  In fact, most educators (maybe not math teachers) don't have a solid math background and therefore equate data to using large numbers and complex equations to ascertain variables that they could easily figure out simply anecdotally.  It is our job as administrators to show teachers how data (even the kind that is gathered on a microlevel just in their class and not only on standardized tests) can help confirm their suspicions, detail specific sub-areas a student needs support on, identify groups of students that need differentiation, and so much more.  It can help teachers be more proactive and less reactive.  Other teachers have simply never used a decent SIS system that allows for data to be input the way a Powerschool system does.  (see here: or Data Director, which is more an assessment and data analysis tool.  Investing in tools that enable data analysis to be done and shared is key.

As administrators, using data to show teachers how they can quickly and easily learn more about their students and tell a compelling story to the parents about student progress is key.

Collaborative Conference Protocol helps teachers set an agenda for a data meeting and can be found here.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

"Flipped" Classroom in the Era of Remote Learning

Right now we have an incredible opportunity.  As we work with students in new ways using online remote learning tools, we can reconsider what learning means and rethink about the role teachers play in education.  As educational leaders, we can guide our teachers toward a model that problems higher order thinking and student ownership over learning.  By doing so, we can help bring our schools fully into the 21st Century.

When I was an administrator of a large, urban high school, I worked closely with our math department to "flip" the learning.  This process enabled us to transition teachers from "conveyors of information" to coaches helping guide students through their own learning.  It enabled students to really spend time mastering skills and discussing how they could think about and in different ways about their learning.  I propose now taking this one step further, enabling students to spend the time post watching a brief teacher video lesson to really working with their fellow students and teacher during Zoom engaged in problem-based learning.

In humanities classes, this would enable teachers to pose a question or introduce a topic, give students some background on a topic, and let them explore it.  Then, students can come to a Zoom ready to engage in problem-based learning.  Students can break into groups on the zoom and work together to develop their questions, and to solve real-world problems. Of course, the end product could be something that would be added to an e-portfolio, like on SeeSaw.

Having students spend classroom time "owning" their learning rather than simply acquiring basic skills enables teachers to operate in the coach capacity helping students become thinkers and problem-solvers rather than just recipients of learning.

Now is the time to try using Flipped Classrooms with inquiry-based learning models.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Zoom Read Aloud's

As educational leaders, we have a duty to help our teachers navigate the Workshop Model within this new framework of remote teaching.  It's a challenge because much of what makes the Workshop Model successful is the hands-on approach to teaching and learning that it promotes.  It also creates a really wonderful relationship between the teacher and the student.  We all value this so much.  I love the "read aloud."  This technique encourages a love of literacy and helps students connect with teachers and classmates through reading.  When utilized correctly, students learn skills from master teachers how to use core reading strategies and skills that they can apply to their own reading to grow as readers. 

Yet, I find that often we can misuse them by either overusing the read aloud by teaching a new strategy every single day.  This is all too tempting with Zoom.  Teachers are working so hard to connect with their students and to continue to instill a love of literacy.  I am so grateful to them for their dedication.  At this point, I think we are ready to work on using Zoom in a capacity that really enables students to grow as readers. 

The core educational point of a read-aloud is to teach a strategy/skill that can then be applied by a student to his or her own text.  If we never get past simply reading a book to a child and having them fill out a graphic organizer, then we aren't allowing students to think for themselves and explore their own learning in a new way using a new skill.

Yet, it's so tempting to post a daily video of a read-aloud.  It's all too tempting to introduce a new topic quickly have kids "apply it" with the very book you read and then move on.  Yet, if you stop and do one read aloud a week, or even a few a week focusing in, honing in on one core strategy or one core skill and letting kids create the same chart you did on your easel (virtual one albeit) using their own marble composition notebook (or even white paper) with their own book, they are owning the process.  They will remember it more.   This may mean that your "daily video" that sometimes is reading might not always be a read-aloud.

I would propose you use zoom to teach literacy skills as follow:

Model a mentor text using your online easel to create your anchor chart.   Show kids in the text (highlight the ebook) where you found text evidence to support the skill/strategy you are teaching. Then, using a shorter text to involve the students in the learning experience helping you identify the skill or strategy in that shorter text that is shared online for them to see the screen in zoom.  Have them help you complete a chart using this skill/strategy. At the end of the zoom give them instructions; ask them to read a story on their own using what you taught them, applying it.  You can show them how to sketch a chart they can create in their own notebook. 

Afterward, the student can work on that as an assignment and submit it on Seesaw with an audio/audio-visual recording of their thought process when completing the chart walking the teacher through how they applied the strategy/skill to their text.

After having done this, you can spend 2-3 days working with small groups reinforcing this skill on their level in an online guided reader (like the Rigby's HMH has or the level readers from F & P, but there are MANY more).  Guided reading online in zoom enables you to work with small groups and really hear children read and specifically and directly guide their reading forward using books that are on their instructional level.  Zooming for 10-20 minutes per group can really help each learner grow. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Desirable Difficulties

An esteemed faculty member in my school, Allise Vicens, was kind enough to share a recent OpEd piece written in the New York Times.  This article emphasizes the need for girls (and boys) to practice math nightly.  According to the author, the focus on conceptual mathematics (i.e. the Chicago school of math) has been largely proven not to increase test scores, lifelong devotion to careers that utilize math, or even feelings of success in math.  Despite this understanding, conceptual mathematics persists as a popular approach to math education in the US.  The author of this piece believes that it is precisely this focus on "the fun" and the concepts that takes away from the need for students to really practice and become fluent in the language of math.

I think we need to have both.  I know this sounds like having your cake and eating it too, but concepts alone do not provide enough of a framework for all students to be able to extrapolate what to do in every situation.  Conceptual approaches do not account for the more concrete thinker.  Conceptual approaches do not address all learners in the classroom.   Conceptual approaches alone lack a vital element.

Anyone who wants to learn a foreign language needs to practice learning vocabulary and practice actually speaking the language.  So too, in order to perfect your math ability, you need to actually do math.  The author also explains that there is a big difference between understanding how to play an instrument and actually playing it.  While I do think there is a merit to understanding what you are doing, a stronger focus needs to be on the practice of doing.

The author also explains that focusing so much on making math fun detracts from providing students with the skills and experiences needed to practice enough to become masters in the subject. While I am all for having embedded in lessons parts that evoke curiosity, discovery, and intrigue, I find a focus on fun to the detriment of providing students with real learning experiences to be a problem with many "popular" education fads.  Ultimately, practice will make perfect and while you can certainly come up with creative ways for children to practice, not every child will find every moment of class fun.  I actually think that is a teachable moment.  ( I might suggest though that truly meaningful education provides students a love of learning that surpasses just one simple experience one day in a classroom.)

Math is not the only subject where repetition and practice matters. This year we are spending a lot of time as a team delving into our writing curriculum.  Something I have noticed is that in following the Judith Hochman approach, our school has been rightfully scaffolding the teaching of writing a five-paragraph essays.  Traditionally, third grade has been the year we teach one paragraph writing.  In fourth grade, traditionally we teach four-paragraph essays writing.  By the end of fifth grade, students are expected to have mastered the basic five-paragraph essay. The goal was for children to have a clear understanding of the concept of essay writing, but also for them to have explicit direct instruction in how to do so. 

I agreed with the approach, but I felt the specific expectations per grade level were limiting.  While I do believe there is tremendous merit to any scaffolded approach where basic skills are retaught with new skills are added on each year, I think our students can do more writing.  In looking at national and international standards, we now expect our third graders to write three-paragraph essays.  We now expect our fourth graders to write four to five paragraph essays (albiet not nearly as fleshed out as in the older years) and we now expect our fifth graders to write five-paragraph essays.  The reason for this is simple. The more students practice writing and the more they write, the better writers they will be.  The "longer" they write, the better they will be.   

Malcolm Gladwell writes about the 10,000 hour rule.  He explains that in order to be truly great at anything, to become a master, you need to dedicate 10,000 hours of your time invested in practice. Practice is not glorious.  You do not always reap immediate rewards.  It is important to teaching our students to relish in the satisfaction that will come from sustained effort.  The critical component here is that success will not always come immediately. This lesson is a glorious gift we need to give all children.  It is a lesson of perseverance. 

Somewhat related to what I have just written above is an understanding that through the practice of a discipline, the student will acquire a new language- the language embedded in that discipline.  There is a dialogue that can only take place between the student and the subject when the student has mastered that language.  It is the language of background knowledge, of the basics within that subject and understanding of how that subject functions as a whole.  Hence, it is always important when designing lessons in any subject to not only think about engagement, but engagement in what.  The "what" matters. It is what makes a subject different from another and valued as a discipline.

I have heard this debate many times in my career.  I will never forget the social studies department head who questioned why children needed to know the causes of World War II when they could look them up online.  Yes, absolutely they could, but like a foreign language there is a vocabulary of history, of civilization we want our children to be aware of (even if more broadly) throughout their lives.  As a former AP teacher, I would have found it very disturbing for my students to walk out of my class not knowing that 6 million Jews had died during the Holocaust or that the Nazis believed in racial superiority.  Simply knowing how to find something, or do something, is important, but without background knowledge, you often cannot even know where or what to look for.

Concepts matter.  They will always matter.  Concepts frame the skills and the content, but alone concepts are hollow without skills and content.  I stand for a concepts plus approach.