Sunday, May 3, 2020

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?