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A conversation with Katie Martin

As always, Katie Martin has been doing a lot of wonderful work this summer around deeper learning and student engagement. I thought it might be fun for the two of us to just get together and chat. I tweeted an invitation to her and she kindly took me up on the offer.

Katie Martin Twitter exchange

Two days later we made that conversation happen and the result is below. As you can imagine, our discussion was wide-ranging and SUPER fun. I am sharing it here in case you’d like to join us. Hope it’s useful to you.

Happy viewing!

Design for high engagement this fall

Student wearing maskIn 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.

and

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?)

Image credit: Special post, Chris Schultz

See also

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. 

Magical Thinking 01

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Magical Thinking 06

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.

Magical Thinking 03

Magical Thinking 05

Magical Thinking 04

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.

Magical Thinking 07

Magical Thinking 08

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?

Magical Thinking 10Magical Thinking 12

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…

Magical Thinking 13

If all we offer is uninspiring learning, we’re in trouble

TroubleOur students come to school for a variety of reasons:

  • to see their friends;
  • to participate in electives, extracurricular activities, and athletics;
  • to interact with and get support from caring teachers;
  • to get a credential for college, career, or the military;
  • because their parents need child care;
  • because state law requires them to attend;
  • etc.

What about learning? Yes, that’s a reason too… for some. But engagement data show that many/most of our students are not coming to school because their learning is engaging. The reasons listed above tend to be much more compelling for most students than the fairly-uninspiring learning tasks that we put before them. But many students are often willing to put up with the uninspiring learning and play ‘the game of school’ in exchange for the other aspects of school. In other words: “Most of my classes may be boring but I get to hang out with my friends, be in a club, participate in music and art, play a sport, see a couple of teachers that I like…”

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.

Image credit: In case you were looking for it, Schwar

Are there any ‘deeper learning’ virtual schools?

Virtual schools… I like the concept of shifting ‘time, place, path, and pace’ very much. But I think all of the virtual schools that I’ve encountered still focus primarily on low-level learning, digitized and chunked into a digital adaptive learning system. I don’t think I’ve ever seen ‘deeper learning’ or inquiry- and project-based learning as a core tenet of a virtual school.

That said, maybe virtual schools that focus on deeper learning, student agency, and authentic work are out there! Anyone know of wholly virtual schools that emphasize rich, robust project- and inquiry-based learning; authentic student contribution to the world around them; critical thinking and problem solving; meaningful uses of technology to communicate and collaborate; and so on? If so, I’d love to hear about them!

Even though we've changed the time, place, path, and pace, it can still be low-level learning

Download this slide: .jpg .key .pptx

See also my other slides, my Pinterest collection, and the Great Quotes About Learning and Change Flickr pool.

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!