Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Formative Assessment During #RemoteLearning

In an ongoing effort to support Educators during the COVID-19 Pandemic Shaelynn Farnsworth and I continue to look for ways to use research-based instruction during remote, hybrid or face-to-face instruction. This week we look at Formative Assessment, how it works and why it can be a powerful tool no matter what your teaching and learning looks like. 

One of the challenges many educators face during learning is understanding where students are on their path to understanding and how teaching can adjust. Traditionally, teaching has been a one-way enterprise with the teacher dispelling knowledge for a period of time and then assessing what the students know either through a quiz or test. 

Formative assessment changes all that by providing small opportunities throughout a lesson to gauge where students are in their learning and make those subtle adjustments in the moment. There is no doubt this is easier to do when in the classroom face-to-face. Body language can tell you a lot. But also the ability to quickly and easily change instruction is just easier to do when we are are all together. 

However, now we are in the midists of a global pandemic that sees many students learning remotely and the passionate educators who teach them trying to ensure they are doing just that: learning. Formative assessment can be an incredibly powerful tool to use during this time and can become a foundation to change teaching and learning far beyond these unusual times. 

What Is Formative Assessment-There are many ways to describe formative assessment. Simply put, Formative Assessment is taking a pause in learning to ensure students are where they need to be for a particular lesson. The best formative assessments are subtle, giving teachers an overall picture of how students are learning and adapting to their immediate needs. Think of it as a GPS for the teacher—knowing where students are in their learning and where you should head in your teaching.

Formative Assessment could also look like “check-in” questions at the end of a lesson or class, offering valuable information on which direction to head next. Formative Assessments should not be graded assessments. At the end of the day, the goal is to get a pulse on what students know and how effectively the teacher is teaching the material.

But Why Formative Assessment-From the ASCD Book Formative Assessment Strategies for Every Classroom: An ASCD Action Tool, 2nd Edition, Susan Brookhart explains that:

Formative Assessment refers to the ongoing process students and teachers engage in when they:

  • Focus on learning goals.
  • Take stock of where current work is in relation to the goal.
  • Take action to move closer to the goal.

Students and teachers who are engaged in the Formative Assessment process are constantly examining how teaching and learning work as one. If we look at Hattie’s Effect Size, or practices that best move student learning forward, Providing Feedback, Providing Formative Evaluation, and Self-Questioning had anywhere from a 0.64 to 0.68 effect size. What do these results show us? These studies show us that students and teachers who engage in the Formative Assessment process learn and retain more information compared to take-home homework.

Low-Tech Formative Assessment, Remotely- Technology can make the collection of data related to Formative Assessment easier, but it’s not necessary. Especially now that many students are learning from home, it may seem counterintuitive to not lean on technology but technology fatigue is a very real thing and we need to be aware of the low-fi ways to not only continue to engage students but also understand where they are in their learning.

We’ve seen a variety of different low-tech ways to gauge student understanding:

  • Individual Student Check Ins-These can be great not only for formative assessment but also for the social-emotional wellbeing of students as well. 
  • Breakout Rooms-Formative assessment can tell us a lot about what students understand the learning and which do. Now with breakout rooms in Zoom, Teams and Google Hangouts you can not only identify what students are in need but also provide more direct instruction to a smaller group. 
  • Entry/Exit Tickets-Having a simple form that you can have students describe what they learned that day or what learning they are still having trouble with can be a valuable tool in remote learning. 
    • Entry Ticket Ideas
      • Identify 3 points you remember from yesterday’s lesson
      • The thing that has interested me most about this topic so far is__
      • Right now I’m feeling __ about this lesson because I ___
    • Exit Ticket Ideas
      • What 3 points are you taking away from today’s lesson?
      • What are 3 things you are still uncertain about?
      • What are you hoping to learn in our next lesson?

Our Favorite Apps and Tools For Formative Assessment-We’ve talked about how Formative Assessment can be done without tech. However, when we add that layer into our teaching and learning, we can do so much more. Now we can not only provide both synchronous and asynchronous types of formative assessment but we can look at mastery and data over time making it much easier to make those changes to instruction that may be needed. 

There are many (free!) apps and tools out there that achieve this. These are just a few of our favorites:

  • Nearpod— Create lessons and sync them across devices in the classroom, with built in tools for questioning, drawing, audio and video responses.
  • Synth— One of our favorite tools built for Formative Assessment. Available on any device, students can record their thoughts and feelings on any given lesson. There’s also a questions tool where feedback can be posted.
  • EdPuzzle— Add an interactive layer to YouTube videos. Teachers can build in short questions at various points in the video to ensure students are getting what they need out of it. This is also great for data collection and seeing how students’ progress over time.
  • Flipgrid— A very cool way to post video questions and gather responses. Videos can be shared so students can see where their peers are in their learning as well.
  • Padlet—A virtual board for multimodal sticky notes. Great for tickets out the door or reflection activities.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

4 Focus Areas For Successful Remote Leading

The whole reason we are even talking about remote learning is because science tells us the way we stay safe is to stay home. Some will disagree with that decision but ultimately it can (and will) save the lives of students and the passionate educators who have been working tirelessly to provide them an education in the middle of a pandemic. 

Sure the word of the year in education has been "remote learning." 

But it's more than that. 

It's really remote leading

Teachers are having to blaze new trails, figuring out how to teach in these remote circumstances. Principals, Curriculum Leaders, Superintendents, all leaders really, are attempting to do the same while keeping everyone safe and ensuring equity and access at the same time. 

This is what leaders do. They are faced with what might seem like overwhelming circumstances that can not be overcome and yet somehow they find a way to be successful. 

Here are 4 focus areas to ensure successful remote leading: 

Focus on Empathy, Grace and Relationships-The most important thing to do in times like these is focus on empathy, grace and relationships. Many of us are under great strain mentally and emotionally. Our parents and students are no different. I want my daughters to be back in the classroom with their teachers. I think many parents feel strongly about that as well. Equally so, I believe many teachers and leaders want to be back in their buildings. But the reality right now is that it's not safe for us to do so. So we play the hand we are dealt. 

No one said remote learning or leading would be easy. If it was we'd be doing it, pandemic or not. Device access, internet connectivity issues, child care struggles, just generally staying healthy are all complications we have to handle with a tremendous amount of empathy, grace and understanding. 

Relationships are the way we do this. These relationships with parents and students, other educators, leaders, community members can all be forged online. And the time we take at the beginning of the school year to focus on these vital relationships will help with empathy and grace as additional problems arise (because they will). And if we do get back in to school buildings that transition will be that much easier and quicker with the already established relationships in place. 

Focus on Learning and Pedagogy-Hopefully, the summer provided an, albeit brief, opportunity to catch our breath we can look forward to creating learning opportunities for students that focus on a new year of learning. Many educators and leaders have never had experience teaching or leading remotely let alone trying to plan and assess in this situation. The emergency learning done in the Spring was essentially building the airplane while trying to fly it. Now we have the chance to consider the types of learning opportunities we create for students and do it in a way that honors research, strong pedagogy and ways for students to "show what they know" in new and innovative ways.

  • Students don't need hours of face-to-face video instruction. The research is clear, less is more. Expecting students to sit on video for hours will only cause fatigue and resentment to the learning process. Morning meetings, check-ins, and short videos are far more effective. 
  • We want to change learning, now's the chance. For years we (myself included) have been calling for a focus on learning soft skills, rather than the rote memorization of facts and figures. Remote learning provides all sorts of opportunities to this and you don't even need technology to make it effective. 
  • Formative Assessment has always been important. Now it's essential. With students working remotely it will be vital that we understand where they are in their learning, the challenges they face and the gaps in our teaching. If we weren't doing formative assessment on a daily basis before, now is the time to change that. Using exit tickets, edtech or just a brief video chat can all be effective at ensuring students are progressing as we anticipate and how we can refine our teaching, even if its done remotely. 

Focus on Communication-Another area that needs a great deal of attention and focus is communications. Remote learning is a complex and completely different situation than the majority of students and parents have dealt with before. Having clear and consistent lines of communication will be key to successful Remote Leading. 

  • Pick A Platform And Stick With It- Inform parents and students the methods you will be using to let everyone know what's going on. In the classroom it might be the LMS, email or another program. For the leadership team it might be the mass notifications product. Whatever it is, use it but don't change it unless you give plenty of warning and explanations as to why. 
  • Consistency Is Key-The worst mistake I've seen teachers and leaders make during these challenging times is thinking that "we've got nothing to say." Under communication is a fatal flaw in the overall building of positive relationships. Make these communications as consistent as possible. And even if there is nothing new to share, share something. Tips, tricks or maybe a meme can be a great way to keep everyone engaged. 
  • Make It 2-Way-Situations will arise and problems will happen that will need a conversation. Choose those methods that allow for 2-way conversations so that open lines of communications can be maintained. This will make lives easier for everyone. A free Google Voice phone number is a great way to do this. You can give this to parents as an option to text or call and automatically forward the messages to wherever you like. And you can set up do not disturb hours as well. 
  • Office Hours-Both teachers and leadership teams need to set aside time to be available to answer questions, provide assistance or just to listen to students and parents. You don't have to provide time every day (unless you want to) but once a week for a hour or 2 can go a long way to building and maintaining positive relationships. 

Focus on Continuous Reflection-One of the things we learned with the first round of remote learning and leading back in the spring was that there were many opportunities for improvement. It's not that any of it was a failure. Quite the contrary. Educators and leaders did the best they could with what they had. Now that we've had some time to think we can make improvements. However, this round in the Fall will still be filled with successes and failures we can build upon for both students and parents and teachers and leaders. 

Focus efforts each day to reflect. Just as we would if we were face-to-face and not in the midst of a global pandemic we would meet with our PLC or grade level teams to discuss, digest and plan. And leaders would meet to do the same. And parents would attend conferences and we would all plan for improvement. 

Remote learning and leading demands a greater emphasis on reflection. What's working? What's not? Where are we going? How are we preparing for situations unknown? Spending time reflecting, individually, as a group, with parents, students and other leaders will be critical to success. 

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

3 Reflections and Considerations For Teaching and Learning In 2020

In March 2020 nearly the entire world’s education systems were thrown into the unknown when the COVID-19 Global Pandemic shuttered schools and teaching and learning moved to remote means. Still to this day in many parts of the world schools are shut down for the foreseeable future.

There is hope however.

In places like Canada, Denmark and Southeast Asia schools are opening back up and students heading back to the classroom. To call it a traditional space wouldn’t be accurate. Many new health and safety measures like physical distancing and mask are the order of the day.

What school will look like in locations around the US still remains to be seen. Some states are releasing guidance as to how to open safely while others aren’t taking any chances and will continue remote learning in the new school year.

There is much to reflect upon here at the end of School Year 2019-2020. And there is much to think about going into the Fall 2020. Here are 3 Reflections for the end of the school year and how we can take those as considerations into the next regardless if learning is face-to-face or remote or both.

3 Reflections and Considerations For Teaching and Learning In 2020


  • Reflection: How was my classroom community prepared when the move to remote learning was done? How did I maintain a sense of community when we were forced to be separated? What did I learn? 
  • Consideration: How will what I learned in remote learning help me to build better communities and relationships both with my students and among my students? How does the current climate of social action shining a spotlight on social justice play a role in my community next year? 

As we look at all that we accomplished this year and begin to think about next it’s important to consider the communities we build in our classrooms. Many educators I’ve spoken to said the number one thing that helped them transition to remote learning wasn’t devices or apps. It was the fact they had strong relationships and communities already in place. There was already a sense that everyone could do this together.

Moving forward, it will be even more important to build these communities and connections not only among the students we teach but with the wider community as well. Students and teachers alike are hurting right now. And we can’t shy away from the injustices that plague our communities and school systems. Kids need spaces to talk about these events, their experiences and know that the adults in their lives will fight for them.

What kind of community will you create?

Social-Emotional and Mental Health

  • Reflection: The pandemic has caused much of the education system to finally consider the emotional, social and mental health of students. What did you do? What steps did you take to ensure students and parents were ok in forced isolation? How did you take care of your own self during this time?
  • Consideration: Building off the need to create communities, how can you make classrooms safe places for students? What awareness can you raise with staff members and administration to focus on the mental well-being of all students and parents? How will you make time to ensure each student is well both emotionally and mentally but also make time for yourself? 

Let’s be honest. Quarantine isn’t fun. We might think that being at home for an extended period of time is like a vacation but after a few days it’s definitely not. And this upheaval in our lives and the lives of our students and parents put a great deal of stress on all of us. I saw it in my own daughters everyday. All they wanted to do was see their friends. They wanted a sense of normalcy. I am one of the lucky ones. Both my daughters' teachers put learning aside at the beginning and for 2 weeks at the start just called every day to talk to them. 30 mins to an hour in some cases. Just to see how they were doing. I got calls too from the school. Asking how I was holding up. It made the isolation feel less isolating.

This focus on social-emotional and mental well-being is a cornerstone of educating the Whole Child. An exclusive focus on content and standards only builds compliant, non-thinking adults. Social-Emotional and Mental wellbeing can go hand-in-hand with content. It’s not just important for our students but for our parents and ourselves as well. Regardless of what school looks like a near constant consideration of the social-emotional development and mental wellbeing of students, staff, parents, community members and ourselves is a must!

How will you keep your students, parents and yourself emotionally and mentally well?

Teaching and Learning

  • Reflection: While we may have been somewhat unprepared for the sudden move to remote learning we did our best to ensure students were learning. How did you know students were learning? What strategies did you use that worked well? What didn’t work so well? Are students prepared for next school year? 
  • Consideration: Learning in Fall 2020 will be different from the beginning of every other school year because of how the last one completed. How will you determine where students are? What methods will you use to meet the needs of each student regardless of where school is or what it looks like? 

2020 might go down as the year that teaching and learning changed at a fundamental level. Or it might not. That choice is up to us. Teaching remotely is vastly different from teaching in a traditional classroom. While they had good intentions many teachers and leaders made poor choices when it came to moving to remote learning in attempting to replicate the classroom in a virtual space. Requiring face-to-face video meetings every day or requiring teachers to be online for the same amount of time they would be at school each day. Again, good intentions, poor execution.

We are at a crossroads in education when it comes to teaching and learning. We can keep going down the traditional path, one that has served inequality and injustices since schooling began. Or we can chart a new course. One that puts students in the driver seat and allows them time and space to empathize, create authentically, and uses these pervasive technologies for good rather than regurgitation. One where differentiation is the norm. One where students have the flexibility to explore their world, examine the topics that are meaningful to them. One where teaching and learning finally looks like it should in the 21st century.

How will teaching and learning be different for you next year?

Monday, May 18, 2020

5 End of the Year #RemoteLearning Celebration Ideas

This school year has been anything but normal.

Many educators have settled into a grove of creating the best learning experiences they can for their students while still providing some meaning during distance learning. But as the days turn longer and the weather turns warmer, it’s time to begin thinking about how to celebrate all that has been accomplished.

It might not seem like there is much to celebrate but there truly is. You and your students survived. You made it through what can only be described as the most challenging school year in decades. And while there were bumps in the road and challenges to overcome you did just that.

When schools met in person, the end of the year was filled with many activities to celebrate the accomplishments of our students. Any while we are at a distance there are still ways that we can celebrate and reflect, it might just look a little different.

Here are 5 ways to celebrate the end of the Distance Learning School Year.

Write A Letter To Your Future Self-While many have been sharing what life in lockdown and quarantine has been like through the use of social media, once we are a year or more down the road it can be hard to remember exactly what all this was like. Writing a letter to your future self can be a great way to capture what is happening right now and revisiting it later. (It’s also a great way to work on literacy and grammar skills too for our littlest learners.)

Futureme.org is a great and easy to use site that allows you to do just this and it doesn’t require a log in. Simply head over to the page and start writing. Then you tell it when you want the letter to return to you; 1 year, 3 years, or 5 years, or even a specific date. Drop in an email address. (If the kids don’t have one they could use their parents) and you’re done. It’s free to use, however there are paid plans for educators that give you a few more options and it’s only $20 bucks a year.

Want a no tech option? Pen and paper are still the way to go after all these centuries. Have the students write the letter and mail them to the school. Once you are back, stash them a way and send them next year. Or the students themselves could write them and hide them and leave a reminder on the fridge to check that special spot on a date of their choosing.

Virtual Class Parties-A lot of students and teachers have added video meetings to their daily routines. These can be a great way to connect with everyone if even only briefly. As the end of the year approaches, consider using the video for more than just teaching and learning.

Give everyone the opportunity to share. These are just ideas:

  • Sibling
  • Pet
  • Favorite Book
  • Favorite Toy
  • Something They Are Proud Of

Virtual Class Games-Believe it or not you can play games over video. My friend Nick has been doing virtual game days for his friends and families children for a few weeks now and it’s a blast! Make a theme. Questions all about disney, kid movies, sports, whatever it is. Then put those questions in a Quizizz. Then get everyone together and play!

Scavenger Hunt-It might seem like a scavenger hunt can’t be done on video but guess what? It can! I got this idea from the Bon Appetit YouTube Channel. All their chefs are cooking from home and they went head to head to find weird and wacky items and ingredients in their kitchens.

Create a list ahead of time of some off the wall things you want the kids to find. (You don’t have to make it a race, although for older kids that could be fun to watch!)

  • A CD, the older the better. Or a record (Do kids know what those are?)
  • The oldest thing in their home
  • Something you haven’t used in a year
  • Create a wacky outfit

End of Year Video-A video compilation is another creative way to end the school year. You could use Flipgrid and give each student an opportunity to record a brief video on their thoughts and feelings about this school and share what they learned or what they hope for the future. I like Flipgrid for this because kids can choose if they want to use video or just audio.

You could also get parents involved. Send them a list of questions and have them briefly interview their student but secretly. Then share them with everyone.

No video? No problem. Use pictures. Animoto is great for this! Upload your photos, choose your transitions and sound track and you’ve got a professional video to share privately with just families or publicly on social media.

Monday, April 20, 2020

10 #RemoteLearning Ideas...No #Edtech Required

Remote Learning...

What the we as the the collective group of educators need to realize is that no matter how well we plan lessons and learning in virtual environments it just won't be enough for our most vulnerable learners. Nor will it meet the differentiated needs of our students with special needs.

Instead of focusing on the Edtech tools and ways to keep learning going (which is a valiant effort) let's instead look at the (perhaps more important) non-edtech ways to encourage learning and creativity during these times of isolation.

Here are 10 Remote Learning Ideas that require no technology. A few you might need to download instructions or a worksheet. But the vast majority only things you already have around your home, some space to move and time.

10 Remote Learning Ideas, No Edtech Required

Read- Reading is foundational to all learning. At the top of any learning list should be taking time to read. Adults and kids should be reading daily. 15-30 mins is all you need to keep your brain flexible and moving. And it's a great family activity. It can be challenging if you don't have any books at home. See if your kids school is letting you check any out or look up where a Little Free Library is closest to you.

Writing and Reflection- Writing is reading too. Keeping a journal of what is happening every day during these times will be a fascinating way to look back upon. Sure, you might be sharing on social media every day but social media comes and goes. Paper will stick around for a long while after they are gone. Writing, like reading keeps the mind malleable. So keep a journal, record your thoughts, or even just write a story.

Living History Project- For many kids they may not realize they are living in a historic moment that is unfolding before their eyes. A great thing for kids to do that requires zero technology is to interview themselves and their family members in their home about what is happening. If possible you could take this a step further and interview family members in another location over the phone. This could be part of a larger project where kids interview family members about other times in their history and compare what it was like then to now. The Living History Project is a way for kids to understand where their family has been and make a deeper connection to those stories that might be lost forever if we don't capture them. If you need ideas StoryCorp can help.

Learn an Offline Skill- During this period of physical distancing I have been occupying my time learning to be a better cook. (Thanks BA!) It was always something I wanted to do with my daughters but never had the time because of my traveling. Now is the perfect time to learn a new skill you always wanted.

Learn To Code...Yep, Code- Coding involves a great deal of mathematics, logical and algorithmic thinking. And you might think coding is an exclusively online activity. However, it doesn't have to be. Code.org has an awesome collection of coding fundamentals that require no technology. (It does require internet access to get to the lessons, however). The basics learned, while fundamental to coding and can be used far beyond it.

Explore Nature- Being stuck inside can be a drag. (It is a good idea thought. We all need to stay healthy!) In the northern hemisphere we are undergoing a change into spring. And with it brings a whole host of changes. Get out in the backyard, front yard or where ever close to home to see what is changing. Record how many insects you find. Chart the growth of plants each day to see which ones grow the fastest. If you have a camera, take pictures of all the birds you see. Get out and explore nature around you!

Practice Mindfulness- It's important during these times when schools are closed and physical distancing is the norm that we keep mental health top of mind. Kids can feel the stress of the adults in their lives. Mindfulness can be a way to relieve some of that stress while building mental toughness. There are loads of apps that teach guided meditation but you don't really need any of those. Sitting quietly and comfortably for 10, even 5 mins a day while focusing on deep, rhythmic breathing can help bring focus to the mind while providing a center for the rest of the day.

Become A Maker- We traditionally think of makerspaces as places filled with lathes and 3D printers. Being a maker is exploring the edges of your creativity. But you don't need any fancy equipment to make. Have some LEGOs? The LEGO IDEAs page has 1000's of community submitted projects. Have an old appliance just collecting dust? Take it apart and see if you can put it back together or make it into something new. Even using paper and a pair of scissors. See if you can cut a piece of paper to make a hole big enough you can walk through. Being a maker isn't about the space. It's about the problems you try to solve.

Exercise- Not only do we have to keep our mental health in check, our bodies need attention too. You don't need a home gym or any equipment to get into an exercise routine you can stick too. Jog in place, sit ups, push ups, stretch, Yoga, there are lots of ways to get your heart pumping. And you can incorporate math too by charting your progress over time. Challenge yourself to do more than you did the day before.

Become A Scientist- As a former science teacher I have been filling my daughters' time with lots of science activities we can do a home. All of the things we have been doing (that you can do as well) don't require any skills or knowledge of science and all you need are things you probably have in your cabinets. Kids can work on their predicting and observation skills while completing many of these activities. This website is one I use a lot and has loads of ideas. None require any technology!

Monday, April 13, 2020

4 Considerations For #RemoteLearning

Odds are your students (and if you are like me, your own children) are learning at home currently due to the outbreak of COVID-19 across the globe. Every state in the U.S. and countless other countries have closed schools to help flatten the curve of infection.

According to Education Week:

21 states and 3 U.S. territories have ordered or recommended school building closures for the rest of the academic year. School closures due to coronavirus have impacted at least 124,000 U.S. public and private schools and affected at least 55.1 million students. There are at least 98,000 public schools and at least 34,000 private schools in the U.S., according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Those schools educate almost 50.8 million public school students and 5.8 million private school students.

These closures have put enormous pressure on leaders, educators, students and parents to take the traditional academic year and attempt to finish completely remotely, in many cases online.

In this rush to get devices to students, curriculums digitized and schedules adjusted there are wildly different practices in place for remote learning along with a plethora of ideas (good and not so good) circulating on social media.

Recently I spent looking at tweets, reading Facebook posts and blog posts and came to the conclusion that there is a great deal out there that tells educators what not to do. But very little in what to do that is based in sound pedagogy and decisions that serve the best interests of kids and teachers alike.

Take a breath. Everyone. Educators. Leaders. Teachers. Students. Parents. We all just need to remember this is new for all of us. This amount of remote learning hasn't been tried on this scale at all, perhaps ever. So many are doing the best can with what they have. There is no one singular way to ensure that kids are learning (sustainably) in a remote learning environment. Much of the research has been done at the HigherEd level and while comparisons can be made, there aren't a set of standards or rules that can guide K12 effectively.

That said there are some considerations that need to be made in these Remote Learning circumstances.

Here are 4 Considerations For Remote Learning

1) Keep The Focus On Equity-Many schools, including my own kids, rushed to get devices and hotspots into the hands of students as soon as they could because the plan is to use digital tools, online resources and LMS' to keep the learning going. While this is a valiant effort, the reality is that in many places this isn't possible. The move to remote learning has not erased decades of inequality issues that plague much of the U.S.

The first thing to recognize is that each one of us is living out this pandemic differently. Some are struggling with the disease itself while others are coping with unemployment, empty shelves of food or a lack of child care. The last thing we need to do is rush to replicate the school day online and punish students who can not meet there.

It's time to be creative with how student and parents are going to navigate this new reality of remote learning. It doesn't mean give up. It doesn't mean to pile on either. It means to be selective in the policies that are put in place and always keep equity at the top of the list.

2) Remote Learning Doesn't Equal Online Learning-With this push to try and "level the playing field" much of the content delivered today is being put online, or technology is being used to ease the burden of trying to create virtual or remote learning lessons. What is playing out in many parts of the U.S. is a an attempt to replicate the school day online.

Imagine sitting in a 6 hour virtual meeting with colleagues. (Just the thought gives me anxiety.) This is what is happening to some students. We have to be selective in the the learning that we give to students more than ever before. And the learning doesn't have to be all digitally based. Kids now have a great deal more time to explore their world. PBL and Design Thinking activities require very little, if any technology and can help students dig deeper into concepts than completing a digitized worksheet ever would.

3) Flexibility-With schedules thrown into chaos, and our understanding that we are all living this pandemic differently, flexibility needs to be the name of this game. As we've said before nothing is standard about this remote learning. With many parents working from home, and some households with more than one child and not enough technology to go around we have to be flexible in how remote learning takes place.

While attempts should be made to get students together for brief (no more than 15 minutes just to do check ins, not actual teaching) we have to realize some will be able to make it an others won't. This extends to the work that students do as well. Work can be assigned at the beginning of the week and due at the end of the week or the beginning of the next. The expectation that this non-traditional learning will suddenly make expectations realistic is ludicrous. Maintain flexibility in what students do and learn and educators themselves need to be flexible to adapt and change.

4) Remote Learning Doesn't Mean Staying At A Distance-If I never hear the term "social distancing" again it won't be too soon. In many places there are rules and regulations about how far people need to stay away from each other so we all don't spread the disease. It should be called physical distancing because we still need to remain social, and that goes for learning too.

There are so many tools that educators and kids can use to stay in touch. I laid out in previous post about how to communicate and stay in touch during remote learning. The takeaway is, if you can do face-to-face time, do it. But don't use all of it for direct instruction. Use it for personal check ins and staying positive. If you can't do face-to-face time, use the phone, email, any other way and reach out and stay connected to students and other colleagues as well. 

Monday, April 6, 2020

4 Communication Tips For #RemoteLearning Educators

This is the third in a series of posts I am doing while many of us are facing an unprecedented time of isolation. The first was about reducing stress and anxiety and the second about building community, even at a distance. If you have an idea for something you want me to talk about, academic or not, let me know on Twitter, @web20classroom

This is an incredibly difficult time. Most educators are being thrust into the world of remote teaching with little to no preparation or guidance. All are doing the best they can navigating these waters and attempting to provide learning in a meaningful and effective way. 

It doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. 

With many educators teaching remotely it can be a challenge to keep lines of communication open with students and parents. While digital tools have brought us closer together than in any age in history this time can still feel isolating and communications disjointed and random because we simply do not know how to do well. 

The parents I talk to (myself included) are extremely frustrated at the nature of communication during this crisis. Some educators and districts are doing an exemplary job (and they should be applauded). However, many parents believe communication is haphazard at best and it leaves them confused and frustrated. 

Here are 4 easy things for Educators and Leaders to remember when communicating in this age of Remote Learning. 

Pick A Channel And Use It-We have lots of technology at our disposal. From simple emails and LMS notifications to phone calls and video chats there are a plethora of channels to use to communicate with students. It's important that the messages get to the most recipients in the fastest way possible. Even when we were in the classroom it was a challenge for parents and students to know where information was coming from because it was coming from so many places. Now that we are in this unique situation of forced remote learning it's important that the communications coming from the teacher, school and district are in expected places. 

Teachers need to be on the same page when it comes to communications. This is where Leadership really need to take charge. School Administrators need to pick a channel (email, social media, etc) and decide that is what everyone is going to do. Because of the nature of the work that is happening it may mean that a multichannel approach is used (such as an email and social media post like my daughters first grade teacher is doing), however it doesn't mean that the messaging has to be in one place for one teacher and another for others. In my own situation my daughters have to check no less that 5 places for all the information and in the end, something will be missed. 

Clear and Consistent Messaging-Piggybacking off a single-channel approach it's important to have clear and consistent messaging. When no one is on the same page, messages are coming in using a variety of methods and those messages contradict each other it only frustrates students and parents. Educators and leaders have to ensure that the messages they are sending work together with each other. 

One example I've had direct experience with is a colleague explained to me their grade levels and departments have set up a group chat and shared document to share what they are having their students do each week. They also have invited their elective teachers to be apart of the planning. These virtual PLC meetings are open ended but it allows them to all be on the same page with what they are telling their parents and students and the messages that ultimately go out are clear with expectations and everyone knows when to expect them. 

Regular Cadence-Not only is the channel and the clarity of the messaging important, the cadence is as well. The greatest pain point for parents and students with communications is the inconsistency in when communications should be expected. The longer the wait, the more information has to be packed in and it's easy to miss something. Sending a daily or weekly note can be a great way to not only stay in touch but remind everyone what's happening or what's expected. 

Even if there is nothing new, these notes can serve as a reminder that while the situation isn't normal, we are all still connected an in this together. They can be little opportunities to continue to build community. 

Set Aside Time For Non-Learning Communications-If there is one thing I have been saying from the start of all this forced remote teaching is has been we have to put mental health first. Being in forced isolation when each student's (and teacher's) world has been turned upside down can be very hard on our mental stability. That is why it's important to set aside times for non-learning and non-administrative communications. 

As I laid out in my Building Community Even At A Distance post, not everything we do during this time can or should be "business as normal" because it isn't. Kids and adults alike need chances to laugh and talk and share together. Try to set aside time, on video if you can, to get everyone together just to share and reflect together. Tell stories, make jokes, but no work talk. No expectations for topics, no forced requirements to even be there. Just open office hours for sharing.