[I’ve been fairly quiet here during the pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been busy. I thought that I would share a little of what I’ve been doing for the past year…]
Last March about this time, Yong Zhao, Chris Dede, Punya Mishra, Curtis Bonk, Shuangye Chen, and I launched Silver Lining for Learning. The initiative was meant to highlight interesting technology-enabled learning around the world and to spark some discussions about schooling possibilities during the pandemic and afterward. Although I bowed out after Episode 32 due to other commitments, my colleagues have done an absolutely fantastic job of keeping the dialogues going.
Below is a list of the first year’s worth of episodes. You will see that Silver Lining for Learning has addressed a wide range of topics. One of the strengths of the project is its incredible global emphasis and reach. If you want to learn from and interact with other educational innovators around the world – and hear about some really interesting learning and teaching happening elsewhere – Silver Lining is a wonderful place to start. I love that numerous guest bloggers have been willing to share their experiences as well.
The site just got a new look for Year 2, and Yong, Chris, Punya, Curt, and Shuangye do an excellent job of sparking rich conversation with their inspiring guests. I am honored to have helped launch this initiative and hope that you will subscribe to the blog and join the hosts for their weekly discussions (which also are archived for later viewing).
This summer I worked with over 150 teachers in Virginia to redesign lessons and units for deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion. We used the 4 Shifts Protocol as the framing lens for our work together. We met virtually for 2 hours every day for 4 days. We used Days 1 and 2 to become familiar with the protocol by redesigning lessons that weren’t theirs (to reduce defensiveness). I modeled how to adopt an approach that focused on ideation, not judgment, and pointed out some key considerations and ‘think abouts’ for each section of the protocol. On Day 3 they brought their own lessons. I put them into virtual redesign triads. They helped each other shift their students’ learning in directions that they chose, using the skills they had gained during Days 1 and 2. Day 4 was more of an ‘office hours’ approach. Teachers popped in as desired and asked more individualized questions about their local contexts (e.g., how to handle scripted curricula, how to use the protocol as an instructional coach). Some of them brought additional lessons for us to hack at together. I did all of this twice, the first week with elementary educators and the second week with secondary teachers (so 8 days total).
Instructional leadership with Virginia administrators
I also had the wonderful opportunity this summer to work with school administrators from across Virginia. We met virtually for 90 minutes each day for a week. The setup was similar to what I just described with Virginia educators. On Monday and Tuesday, I introduced them to the 4 Shifts Protocol but we adopted more of an instructional leadership lens, not just a teaching lens. On Wednesday, we talked about some organizational strategies, leadership behaviors, and coaching techniques – again, more of an instructional leadership focus than just a pedagogical focus. On Thursday they brought lessons like the teachers did and we practiced instructional coaching with those lessons using the protocol. Friday was an ‘office hours’ approach again, and the leadership questions and ideas that they brought to those discussions were amazing.
Innovative remote instruction with Texas administrators and building leadership teams
I worked with a school district in Texas at the beginning of the summer and was able to help kick off their annual, 2-day, in-district leadership institute. They asked me to do a short keynote highlighting some possibilities for hands-on, active student learning. I then facilitated 3 follow-up sessions over the next day and a half, working with elementary, middle, and high school administrators and their building leadership teams. I tried to connect some ideas from my keynote to the realities of pandemic-era remote instruction. I also showed and discussed multiple, concrete, age-specific examples with each group to illustrate how we can redesign instruction for higher student engagement, even during blended or online learning. All of this work was virtual.
Instructional leadership with Massachusetts administrators
I had an incredible experience with a school district in Massachusetts this summer. We spent a total of 3 weeks together, all virtual. During the first week all of the administrators in the district read Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning and engaged in a virtual book study. I dropped in each day to interact in their Canvas course shell and answer questions. During the second week we alternated between synchronous and asynchronous learning together. For instance, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of that week, we met together virtually in Zoom for a couple of hours of very robust conversation each day. I also created over a dozen mini-modules full of resources that they could explore in between each live meetup. The school leaders had lots of choice (because I’m trying to model, right?) and could investigate anything in the mini-modules that interested them. Some of the topics that they dove into were:
Workforce preparation and job automation
Skills development and college/career readiness
Educator staffing and the future of the teacher workforce
The integration of robots into day-to-day life
New literacies, including digital storytelling, AR/VR, and student multimedia / transmedia production
Instructional redesign for deeper learning, including additional leadership and coaching scenarios
Inquiry-based, project-based, and other high engagement learning strategies
The research behind deeper learning/teaching strategies and student achievement
High-engagement remote learning
PBL during remote learning
Equity considerations during a pandemic
We also had a concurrent online discussion space in Canvas where they could share their reactions, concerns, and ideas for their local schools from the mini-modules. Those conversations were very active and impressive.
All of that work continued into the third week, and the district also folded in some assistant principals, instructional coaches, media specialists, and other building-level teacher leaders. They are working to create a critical mass of people who might be ready to begin transforming day-to-day instruction. This was an incredibly unique 3-week experience for me. I was able to pilot and try a number of new virtual professional learning modalities with this district and had some absolutely phenomenal discussions with them. I get to work with them a little more this fall and absolutely can’t wait.
I am talking with schools to see how they’re responding in the wake of this global pandemic. I invite you to join me for the Coronavirus Chronicles, a series of check-ins with educators all over.
Episode 043 is below. Thank you, Jose Gonzalez and Darleen Perez, for sharing how Bunche Middle School in Compton, California is adapting to our new challenges and opportunities. It was SO MUCH FUN hearing about your remote learning project with your students!
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.
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.
We will meet online at 2:00pm Eastern (USA) for 45 minutes every Tuesday between August 4 and August 25. Did I mention that the book study is FREE?! Our sessions will be recorded if you have to miss a date. Here is what our schedule will look like:
Tuesday, August 4 – Chapters 1 & 2
Tuesday, August 11 – Chapters 3 and 5 (pp. 41-45; elementary)
We invite you to roll up your sleeves and dive into instructional redesign with us. If we want deeper learning, greater student agency, more authentic work, and rich technology infusion, we have to design for them! Participants in this book study will leave with a deeper understanding of the 4 Shifts lesson redesign protocol and numerous tips and strategies for success in their schools. The book is only 57 pages long and thus is an easy read!
Note that the protocol begins with Deeper Thinking and Learning (Section A), followed by Authentic Work (Section B). We have found that starting with one or both of those dimensions tends to raise the level of learning for students much more than starting with Student Agency and Personalization (Section C) or Technology Infusion (Section D). Given that Julie and I are strong advocates for student agency, this may seem a little counterintuitive. The reason is because there are numerous ways to give students ‘agency’ or integrate technology that are fairly low-level. Imagine, for instance, adaptive learning software modules or a set of teacher-created classroom centers in which students have some ‘choice’ about content and pathways but the learning is still shallow rather than deep. We also can point to numerous examples of ‘technology for technology’s sake’ in which, again, student learning could be much more robust. Starting with Sections A or B helps us center our instructional work on deeper, meaningful learning.
Note also that the very first questions in Section A pertain to Domain Knowledge and Deeper Learning. Whatever instructional transformations we are working on, we should try as best we can to make sure that we’re meeting content and procedural goals, and that whatever skills and knowledge we’re addressing are focused on big, important concepts, not just trivia. This is particularly true as long as state standards, testing, and accountability mandates dominate our educational landscapes. Deeper learning work should not be contentless. [AND students also deserve some say in what they get to learn…]
In sum, while Julie and I advocate that teachers start with whatever sections and items make sense for them (and focus on just a few), we also recognize that some of the sections and items of the protocol are more transformative than others. We encourage you to lean into Sections A and B!
We have to stop the ‘holier than thou’ pronouncements about today’s kids. We haven’t seen significant evolutionary changes in children in just a few decades. Our students (or their brains) are not substantially different, they just have different opportunities. Nostalgia aside, we adults were often bored out of our minds in school too. If we had Facebook, texting, Snapchat, and other avenues to alleviate our boredom, we would have turned to them as well. Let’s quit the arrogant attitudes of moral superiority.
Banning and blocking does absolutely nothing to teach students about inappropriate or untimely mobile phone usage because it removes the decision-making locus from students to educators. Students don’t ever get a chance to own their mobile phone behavior when they are just passive – and usually resentful or bewildered – recipients of our fiats.
Many schools say that they’re trying to foster more student agency. That should mean more than fairly-constrained choices related to content. Student choice in environmental contexts and instructional tools (ahem, learning technologies) matters too.
No one – I repeat, no one – can concentrate without any distractions whatsoever for 45-50 minutes straight. Nor can they then repeat that 6 to 8 times a day. Is our goal with these ‘digital distraction’ bans to have students’ 100% attention at all times or else? If so, are we just punishing students for how our human brains work?
Maybe it’s not the phone that’s leading to students’ distraction. Distraction can result from hunger, fatigue, illness, anxiety, boredom, an overstimulating classroom environment, the desire to engage in additional research, or a whole host of other factors (e.g., frequency of daydreaming is highest during undemanding, easy tasks). Let’s avoid simplistic solutions to complex contexts.
If we involved students in the creation of school mobile phone policies – with authentic input and decision-making, including about ‘consequences’ – instead of fighting with them, we probably would be pleasantly surprised at the outcomes.
When students use mobile phones despite our bans, maybe they’re not defiant. Maybe they’re rational given the context in which they’re embedded. Did I mention that classroom management stems from good instruction?
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…