I created this poster to remind myself of the true value of education, of what it’s all about. As my first group goes into AP® exams this week, it seems important to remember that we don’t go to school to prepare for exams. We go to school to understand ourselves and our world.
This post could have been entitled “5 ways…” or “10 ways…” or maybe even “100 ways,” but the power of three is strong. It craves concision. It requires streamlined thought. It also makes it more difficult to write, but that’s a different post. Before diving into the big three, I have a message for anyone who reads this blog.
If you think teachers aren’t working, boy are you wrong.
There have been reports in the teaching community that parents and community members have questioned why teachers were getting paid during the shut down period, and they are even questioning why teachers are getting paid now that most of us have returned to the classroom, albeit the virtual one. It’s not just my community questioning it; communities nationwide have heard these questions and school boards nationwide have had to respond to them. It stymies the imagination, really, especially if you have any experience with working from home (more on that in a minute).
The facts are simple: Teachers who found themselves at home and not actively working with students did not take a vacation. Well, perhaps for a day so they could figure out how life was going to work with a full house every day. Shortly after that, however, teachers did what teachers do. They picked up their curriculum and started building an online classroom as they hoped that school would reopen. They called each other to discuss strategies and tools they could use to work with students in an entirely new way. They attended professional development webinars hastily created to help teachers transition. They joined Facebook groups of fellow teachers to share ideas, post “I miss my kids” posts, and get and give encouragement to each other. Personally, my AP Lit syllabus (a 40-plus page bear) is 90% complete now, and my summer reading materials (a 60-plus page bear) is complete. I created enrichment activities and a calendar that I shared with my students. I sent out ideas for keeping their skills sharp. I also wrote one of the most candid letters I have ever written to non-family members and sent that to my students. I would say that I was still working 50-hours a week while schools were shuttered, a *few* hours less than what I was working before. I wasn’t doing the stand-up aspect of teaching and I missed it, but I was still working as a teacher.
On top of that, of course, teachers needed to deal with family logistics, just like everyone else. In our house, we had to figure out which floor everyone was going to be on and we stressed about our Internet connection supporting a programmer, a teacher, and a college student at the same time. My friends have even more troubles, since they have more children to worry about, or they are suffering from job losses — or both. We are blessed, really, and I am thankful and grateful each day, as well as mindful of those who need help from our governments and each other.
So, how is crisis teaching different? Read on.
(1) Working from home is an acquired skill, and many of us have had to acquire it quickly.
After six years of working from home while my son was young, I have mixed emotions about finding myself working from home again. There was freedom one cannot enjoy while working in an office, to be sure, but working from home is also desperately, terribly lonely. By the time I went back to commuting to work (actually, it was to start student teaching), I was craving human-to-human contact beyond my own family. I wanted face-to-face colleagues again. I wanted face-to-face friends again. I was tired of being on video conference and dealing with Internet connectivity issues. Well, here I am again. And yes, I am desperately, terribly lonely. As much as I love technology and love to hate technology, I would go back to my classroom and remove all the tech there if only I could be with my kids and colleagues again.
(2) Crisis teaching is NOT Online Teaching, nor is it Brick-and-Mortar “put” online
Teaching online is COMPLETELY different from brick-and-mortar teaching. To my colleagues who teach in cyber charters and online campuses, I salute you. My distance/online learning experiences started in 2006 and while getting those degrees I can honestly say I worked harder as a learner than ever. My instructors worked hard to master the skills of asynchronous instruction and the “live lecture” that could go FUBAR at any moment. Most of them came from brick-and-mortar campuses and had mixed emotions about the change. I can’t blame them. It’s difficult and paradigm-shifting.
Teaching during a crisis is even more different. My friends talk about time limits on assignments, the focus on social and emotional learning, and the equity issues. Their hearts are broken for their kids, for their families, and for themselves. They can only imagine what is happening in the lives of these young people who are so important to them. Yes, these issues abound in brick-and-mortar teaching too. Being trauma-informed and culturally-responsive are so very important, no matter how you function as a teacher. In my previous teaching experiences, those issues always trumped learning opportunities, so perhaps I am more prepared than others; it was like flipping a switch.
(3) Our “Spidey Senses” are useless when teaching this way.
Observational skills are critical skills for every teacher to hone and develop. In September, you may not know your kids and be able to read their expressions or body language. By October 1, you can predict how most of them will react to something. Take the visual away and it is like September all over again. In essence, we have to develop those “Spidey Senses” required to read the room when the room is in the ether.
To connect with point number two, then, all the extra stuff that goes into explaining a simple assignment without being able to read the room makes the limitations and SEL considerations feel like tourniquets. Everything takes longer. That probably sounds counter-intuitive for some reason. Let me put it this way. Today, I woke up at 7:00 AM and worked until 2:00 PM. It’s Saturday. However, I had to do that to generate the documents I think will help my students to navigate the virtual learning room before our next conference. My classes no longer meet every day, so the students have to have instructions that can help them get started or continue assignments. I had several emails to respond to about assignments coming in late, too (What do I care about due dates? What’s more important now: your health or my due date? Please, if you do not know the answer to that by now, you haven’t been paying attention.) . Then, of course, there are the emails about professional development opportunities, AP® Exam updates (don’t get me started), and the emails from the education associations.
Tomorrow, I will probably work more, but darn it, I’m going for a bike ride. I will go to sleep tonight wondering if I explained something correctly and will have to resist the urge to rush to my computer. Issues that could have been resolved in a 30-second conversation during class now require multiple emails or LMS messages. Every time I get something wrong, I want to kick myself for wasting their time.
So, yeah, it’s different. It’s way different.
I’m going to do something completely out of character now and publish this without too much proofreading. Why? I have run out of time. Thank you for reading and leave a comment if you like.
Be well. Be safe. Be good to you.
We study literature to study the human condition. We engage in conversation with a text, with its context, to understand where we were within our reality, or to understand where we may be going within our reality. Readers cannot escape their reality; indeed, they should not. Every time we open a text, we are engaging its now with our now.
We are engaging its now with our now. We are confronting its now with our now. We are embracing its now with our now. We are conjoining its now with our now. We are acknowledging its now with our now. We are debating with its characters. We are struggling with or connecting with its setting. We are processing its plot. We are appreciating its beauty with all its flaws. We are interrogating the narrator, even if the narrator is reliable. We are appreciating the figurative language through our personal “ah ha” moments.
Oh, those amazing “ah ha” moments. They don’t always come on immediately. For example, I had an “ah ha” moment a few years ago with a poem I read over 20 years before. We study literature to have those “ah ha” moments immediately, but also 20 years later. We study literature to pass on the lessons we have learned to others in whatever profession we pursue. I have a friend who teaches psychological wellness through movies and novels. When a client learns about Gaslight or Shirley Valentine, their lives are never the same. The more we read, the more we have to share, for we know more about…
…the human condition.
I really could not help myself there.
One of the first things you learn when studying adult learning is that adults need to know why they are learning something and how they can apply it to their lives. In other words, they need to know how something is relevant to their condition and context. It’s not only adults who need that. Humans of all ages need to know, too, why they are learning something and how it is going to change their lives for the better once they know it. It is the teacher’s job to help students establish relevance.
Please notice that I said “help students establish relevance.” I say that because teachers can’t open up a student’s head and put the information into it. Rather, they have to offer the tools by which the students deconstruct and reconstruct the knowledge for themselves. Tools include activities that are transferable, lessons that are well-organized and include materials and activities that are on point, and resources that students can explore outside the classroom. At times, we can all get lost in the details of a lesson or a unit while planning it. We generate an assessment and align it to the standards of the lesson. Then, we create these fun and engaging activities, or serious and challenging ones. In short, we do all the other things that lesson and unit planners should do, except we forget the part about helping the students answer the question, “Why do I have to learn this?”
Here are four ways you can use Moodle to establish relevance.
Take the mystery out of it by explaining the WIIFM of an assignment immediately. WIIFM stands for “What’s in it for me?” It’s an acronym trainers and adult educators use, but K-12 educators can also use it. Essentially, you are telling them what you expect them to get from the lesson. Then, it’s up to them to verify that is what they got. In my classroom, I would expect my students to challenge me if my WIIFM statement doesn’t match their experience or understanding. I would also work hard to rectify that problem.
Competencies and Learning Plans
Do you share your standards with the students? Make it easier for the students to understand what’s happening in class! Share with them the standards you have aligned to the lesson and unit. Additionally, in Moodle, you can create learning plans based on competencies (Moodle’s term for standards) that administrators load into the software. These learning plans will show the students all the standards aligned to a course and the activities aligned to each standard. Be sure to explain all of this to the students when you share their learning plan with them. Otherwise, they might think this is nothing more than a checklist, and learning plans can be so much more useful than that. For more information on competencies and learning plans, please click this link.
Use discussion forums to address the “elephant in the room,” which is the usual question about relevance. In this case, peers can help peers; we often find that peers can teach one another just as much as the teacher can, so give them this opportunity to help one another.
You can download the journal plugin from Moodle.org at this link. Teachers use the journal activity to pose a question and review students’ answers to that question, which is a great way to do a little formative assessment! Explicitly pose questions such as
- “What do you think this unit is all about?”
- “How can you apply what you’ve learned during this unit to your life?”
- “In five years, what will you remember about this unit? Why?”
What Do You Think?
Do you think these four components of Moodle can help learners to establish relevance within their own minds? Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section provided.
I have been working with the Adapt Learning Framework and Adapt Authoring tool of and on for a while now. (Follow the community @AdaptLearning to learn more about this “Ground breaking #opensource project and THE online community for #multidevice #elearning” (quote from their Twitter profile page). This post features one of the projects I created using the framework that I included in a my demo course. You can view the course at this URL: http://heatherssandbox.org/moodle331/course/view.php?id=2. Sign in as guest.student with the password =uC7U8*j when prompted.
The project focus is “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” by Dr. Martin Luther King. In my opinion, this would be a great opener to the school year for seniors in high school English, especially this year with the events that have occurred since the election and most recently in Charlottesville. It is controversial still, more than 50 years after it was first written. Students can also easily relate the letter to events either they or someone they know have experienced. Unfortunately, racism is alive and well, not only in the United States but around the globe.
Installing the software is not easy, but the community provides directions that you can follow easily. Make sure that you read the directions carefully before trying to install it! There are multiple steps involved, including installing Node.js, Git, Mongo, as well as the tool itself. You must install each program properly for the software to work.
The community provides YouTube videos that introduce the tool, so I will not “reinvent the wheel” by providing an introduction in this post. Rather, here is the first video for your viewing pleasure.
To see the “Letter” project, please click this link. I would love to hear your thoughts about it. Please leave a comment in the comments box below this post.