Tag Archives: teaching

Avoid magical thinking: ‘Design for online’ this fall

As coronavirus cases continue to increase across the country, numerous school districts are reluctantly announcing that they will be doing ‘remote learning’ again this fall. Although we had the summer to prepare for this eventuality, unfortunately we have instead seen a lot of magical thinking from educational leaders and policy makers. 

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As much as we want our children to go back to school in person, we can’t underestimate how harmful this magical thinking can be.

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We are seeing a wide variety of school schedules being proposed for the fall, even in locations that are leading the world in infection rates. Many of them center learning in person at school as the main modality, with accommodations perhaps being made for students, families, and educators who are rightfully concerned about becoming infected with a deadly virus.

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Given that every time a place opens up we seem to have a surge of infections there, centering a school’s fall reopening plan on in-person instruction sure feels like magical thinking. We aren’t providing schools with the funding or supplies necessary to keep students and educators safe and, even if we did, there are a number of other issues for which we don’t have very good answers

Many of the schools that are still planning to be face-to-face this fall will have to switch over in the next couple of weeks. It’s also likely that a surge of cases in their area will shut them back down again soon after opening. Even those that are planning to start in person – either entirely or with a staggered schedule – realize that many families are going to keep their children at home. And schools may have to dip in and out of in person, online, and hybrid modalities throughout the year, depending on what happens with the coronavirus.

This is what I have been recommending to the schools and educators that I am working with this summer:

Design for online this fall. Even if you’re lucky enough to have students in person in your classrooms at some point, use that precious time to work on technology skills, social-emotional resilience, building students’ capacity to be self-directed learners, creating classroom community, etc. Given that you have some of your students learning remotely anyway, design for online instead of asking teachers to do double work for both in school and at home. Even the kids that are sitting in front of you in class should do their learning work online – the same learning work that the kids at home are doing. It’s incredibly likely that you’re going to have to be wholly remote at some point this school year anyway. Designing for online as your primary modality allows you maximum flexibility and a more seamless transition when you almost inevitably have to shift over to remote instruction. It also protects your staff from burnout, and most communities will support you.

I don’t see any other reasonable way to do school this fall. Anything else seems like magical thinking. Magical thinking that our schools and communities will be free of the virus despite inadequate safety protections. Magical thinking that students and parents will engage in appropriate mask wearing, hand washing, and social distancing precautions. Magical thinking that teachers can operate simultaneously in face-to-face, online, hybrid, and/or hyflex modalities all year, even with scant training on how to do so. Magical thinking that the decisions that we make this summer about in-person instruction are going to somehow hold for an entire school year. And so on… 

Students and families are going to pay the price if they are in school systems that haven’t invested heavily this summer in professional learning for teachers to teach effectively online. Students and families are going to pay the price if they are in school systems that haven’t figured out how to remedy device and Internet bandwidth inequities. Students and families are going to pay the price if they are in school systems that continue to prepare primarily for in person learning and have neglected online learning.

Magical Thinking 09Magical Thinking 11I also think it’s worth considering what we are fighting for this fall. Are we fighting for compelling visions of learning and teaching in person, or just child care so that people can get back to work?

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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.

Is your school system ready to ‘design for online’ this fall and do it well?

P.S. We need to do this in higher education too…

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Silver Lining for Learning, Episode 06: Making sense of our last 4 guest episodes

Episode 06 of Silver Lining for Learning was our first opportunity as hosts to come back together and make sense of what we had heard from our first round of guests. We talked about Episodes 02 through 05 and had an enthusiastic discussion about a variety of topics. Happy viewing!

Silver Lining for Learning, Episode 04: Using COL and cool open education resources

Episode 04 of Silver Lining for Learning focused on the potential of open educational resources to foster learning opportunities for students. Our special guests on April 11 were Sanjaya Mishra, Tony Mays, and Frances Ferreira from the Commonwealth of Learning (COL), who shared fascinating stories and photos across a variety of international contexts. Happy viewing!

Silver Lining for Learning, Episode 03: Delivering education when schools are closed. Lessons from China

Episode 03 of Silver Lining for Learning occurred on April 4. Our special guests shared their perspectives on remote learning in China. Mina Dustan of the Quarry Bay School in Hong Kong and Spencer Fowler of the Dalton Academy in Beijing shared how their international schools are thinking about learning and teaching during the pandemic. Shuangye Chen of East China Normal University shared photos of how public schools and families are responding across urban, suburban, and rural contexts. Happy viewing!

Silver Lining for Learning, Episode 02: Where (when) there is no school

Episode 02 of Silver Lining for Learning occurred on March 28. Our special guest was Sugata Mitra, winner of the 2013 TED Prize. Professor Mitra talked with us about the possibilities of self-organized learning. Happy viewing!

Silver Lining for Learning, Episode 01: Introduction and overview

Episode 01 of Silver Lining for Learning occurred back on March 21. During our launch episode, our five primary hosts and special guest talked about our hopes and desires for this initiative. Conversation was robust… Happy viewing!

Silver Lining for Learning, Episode 05: Rethinking school with Will Richardson

I was fortunate to be the primary host for Episode 05 of Silver Lining for Learning on April 18. Our guest was Will Richardson and we had a fantastic discussion about both the realities and possibilities of school transformation.

Will has been talking about how to rethink learning, teaching, and schooling for decades. He is the author of multiple books and has launched major collaboration initiatives such as the change.school, Modern Learners, and Powerful Learning Practice networks. If you weren’t able to join us, the archived video is well worth it!

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Here are some ways that you can connect with Will’s work:

Here are Will’s books. Happy reading!

Podcast – Talking with Richard Byrne on the Practical Ed Tech Podcast!

Last week my conversation with Richard Byrne went live on the Practical Ed Tech Podcast. Many of you know Richard from his primary site, Free Technology for Teachers, one of the most widely-read education blogs in the world. Richard and I have known each other for a long time. Maybe he’ll come see me in Colorado sometime. He’s an outdoorsy type – he’d love it out here!

Richard and I talked about a wide range of things, including Tik Tok, building leaders’ capacity to foster school innovation, keeping up with changing technologies, redesigning lessons with the 4 Shifts Protocol, filtering and blocking students, and so on…

Hope you enjoy the discussion. Happy listening!

F.A.I.L.W.

FAILWF.A.I.L. = First Attempt In Learning

We see this saying in classrooms all over. And I’ve never liked it… 

One reason is because we rarely seem to ask the important question of First Attempt In Learning What? First attempt in learning some rote memorization task? First attempt in learning something we put on a digital worksheet? First attempt in learning some procedure that we’ll likely never use again? [but, hey, at least it leads to the next procedure that we’ll also probably never use again!]

I understand why the allegedly-motivational saying is posted on teachers’ walls. It’s a cute way of saying to students, “Don’t give up. Keep trying and you’ll get there.” It fits in nicely with the growth mindsets that we’re trying to help students adopt. [side note: ever notice how educators are usually eager to preach about the value of growth mindsets for students but often struggle to live that value in their own work?] But maybe the reason our students are ‘failing’ is because they rightfully see that so much of the work that we ask them to do is pretty meaningless and so they simply try to opt out. It’s not that they’re struggling, it’s that they’re rational.

Which leads me to another reason: a F.A.I.L. poster on our walls doesn’t absolve our responsibility to do better by our kids. We can’t keep pretending that such a sign means anything when we regularly undercut it with uninspiring work. So what if we give students multiple opportunities for do-overs or retakes? So what if we preach about ‘resilience’ and ‘grit?’ Is allowing / requiring / forcing a student to be ‘successful’ on work that had little value in the first place the opposite of ‘failing?’

No amount of platitudes will ever make up for the hard work we need to do to transform students’ learning experiences. You know what motivates students? It’s not the cutesy laminated F.A.I.L. poster. It’s the regular opportunity to do meaningful and interesting work. The next time we walk into a classroom with one of these signs, let’s add the W and start having a different conversation…

Running back into school on Day 164

Robin Riley tweetTom Murray has been inspiring a lot of educators to think about what they can do on Day 1 of the school year so that kids come running back into school on Day 2. That’s a great message.

Can we please also remember that we want kids running back into school on Day 37 and Day 89 and Day 138? If we have a great first day with our students and then gradually (quickly?) revert back to fairly uninspiring learning experiences, what’s the point?

School culture, classroom learning climates, and student engagement are year-round issues. What could you do that makes kids come running back on Day 164? (instead of, ahem, counting down the days until the end)

Image credit: Robin Riley