Another dot in the blogosphere?

Less but better

Posted on: April 15, 2020

I was inspired to reflect on this thanks to a tweet by George Couros.

Individuals and organisations have shared useful ideas and frameworks for planning and implementing what amounts to emergency remote teaching. One of the best is this table from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

I share a screenshot of it here with the CC-BY attribution because that is the right thing to do.

Source: https://dese.mo.gov/sites/default/files/curr-c19-support-for-district-leaders.pdf

Consider the practices under the orange header in column 1. Just like how we might approach a traffic light on amber, we need to be cautious on conducting the same classroom practices under different learning circumstances. Driving on stubbornly does not model critical and creative thinking, and it does not put learning and care for learners at the core.

The green column is for going ahead. It focuses on being flexible, purposeful, and authentic. I love these approaches and present them in a different way.

Principle 1: Simplify. To paraphrase Couros, do less but better.
For example, now is not the time to get hung up on administrative processes like roll calls. While attendance is important, doing this online is not the same as doing it in person. Simplify this by delegating students to monitor each other or use conference tools like gestures to see that everyone is on board.

Focus on what matters. If there is a thinking skill that students need to master, what is the shortest way there? What is the best way under the circumstances for students to show that they have internalised this skill — writing, speaking, performing, etc.? If everything needs to be done online, what are students already doing — using Tik Tok, sharing photos, planning parties — that you can leverage on?

Principle 2: Contextualise. Do not recreate the classroom.
In a classroom, playing a video or grouping students for cooperative work are no brainers. Depending on your conferencing tool and bandwidth, you might not be able to do this in real time. If this is the case, design for asynchronous work, e.g., get students to watch a video individually, record their thoughts with a scaffold, and co-create/critique content on a shared online document.

If you do this, do not set the asynchronous tasks as “homework”. The students are already at home and they have invested time and effort in what is actually classroom work. If the asynchronous work takes 30 minutes and your class is an hour long, then remove that 30 minutes by conducting a 30-minute synchronous session as follow up. If you do not factor student work as class time, you are creating more teacher talk time at their expense. Your students might choose not to put in as much effort the next time you give them work to complete.

Another aspect on contextualising learning is to use the home environment. The table above mentioned helping out at home as tasks for learning. Now consider how meal preparation might not just be a lesson on home economics but also on chemistry, visual design, resource management, and procedural thinking.

Then consider how taking advantage of household chores might ease home tensions by getting students to “Kondo” their rooms. We are all learning to live with less now and embracing what brings us joy, are we not? Now consider how donating our excesses might help those of us who are less privileged.

Principle 3: Ask. Learn about and from the learner.
Video conferencing gives teachers limited but useful insights into what their students lives are like at home. How about creating simple polls with honest questions like:

  • How are you doing?
  • What are you worried about?
  • What ideas do you have for our lessons?

Staying cooped up at home can be stressful because students cannot socialise in-person with their friends. Some students might not have home environments that are not conducive for learning, e.g., fighting parents, abuse, needing to take care of others, etc.

We will not know what difficulties they are facing or get inspiring ideas if we do not ask. If we do not first reach our students, we cannot teach them because they are not receptive.

But above all, I say we learn to do less, focus on what matters, and do these well. If we learn to do this, we will be better teachers and educators on the other side of the COVID-19 curve.

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