In a couple of recent posts, I said:
One of the biggest challenges of ‘remote learning’ over the past few months has been that most of the motivators been pared away. For many students, all that has been left is the uninspiring learning. Little to no interaction with classmates. Little to no interaction with caring educators. No electives, extracurriculars, or athletics. And so on. Accordingly, we shouldn’t be surprised when our students – who generally have more control and autonomy at home over their learning decisions than they do at school – simply opt out. They decide that the exchange rate has shifted and they’re no longer interested, regardless of our pleas (or punishments) to the contrary.
As we try to figure out what schooling will look like in the months to come, we need to pay attention to the motivators and demotivators that help foster student engagement. If all we’re offering students is the uninspiring learning, we’re in a heap of trouble.
Our families gave us grace in the spring when we did remote learning because it was an ‘emergency.’ If we squandered the summer by engaging in magical thinking about returning in person this fall instead of making the organizational investments that we needed to make, they’re not going to give us the same grace again. And they’ll be right. We had our chance this summer to get better at online learning. And many school systems didn’t do nearly enough.
Whether we’re face-to-face, blended, hybrid, hyflex, or fully online, we need to be thinking deeply about what our students need from us this fall. As much as we’re worried about past or ongoing ‘learning loss,’ our students aren’t going to learn if they’re not first engaged. We can’t learn things if we have ‘checked out’ of the experience!
The student who’s sitting in school at an isolated desk, wearing a mask, separated from her friends, facing forward with her feet on the floor, perhaps behind a plexiglass divider? She’s going to be nervous, scared, and feeling disconnected. She’s also probably disenchanted with her overall school experience compared to years past. Listening to teacher lectures and doing rote, low-level desk work isn’t going to help her stay engaged.
The student who’s sitting at home, trying to find a quiet place to concentrate and work, separated from his friends, juggling a variety of technologies and assignments, perhaps struggling with device / Internet access or parent support? He’s going to be anxious, confused, and feeling disconnected. He’s also probably disenchanted with his overall school experience compared to years past. Sending home low-level factual recall and procedural regurgitation work isn’t going to help him stay engaged.
All of our students deserve deeper learning opportunities, even during a pandemic. As educators, we should be designing learning activities that are hands-on, active, and applied; that provide students with a lot of voice and choice; that allow them to be creative; that foster their critical thinking and problem-solving skills; that let them share, communicate, and collaborate; that provide opportunities for them to tap into their interests and passions; that give them chances to use technology in interesting ways; that connect them in meaningful ways with outside experts, organizations, and local communities; and so on…
No one should be surprised when we start to hear families pushing back on the kinds of learning tasks we put before students this fall. We had all summer to design for something different than textbooks, homework packets, and electronic worksheets. If day after day, week after week, we push out low-level and low-engagement learning, we’re going to start losing kids left and right like we did in the spring.
Did your summer professional learning opportunities for teachers focus on technology tools or robust learning? What are your schools and educators doing to design for high engagement student learning this fall? (and maybe the 4 Shifts Protocol can help?)