It's the end of July and so much still remains unknown. Administrators and educators are continuing to work so hard to do what's best for learners while following the recommendations and limitations put in place because of our current circumstances. So much changes every day and it feels like we are all just trying to keep our heads above water.
As I meet with both teachers and administrators, I find myself coming back to two questions regardless of what we are considering. We might be talking about...
So, what two questions do I ask in every single planning meeting, professional learning experience, and conversation that I have with educators right now?
1. Is it manageable?
2. Is it meaningful?
Let's be honest, if what we are asking educators to do isn't manageable, it will not be sustainable and will result in frustration and an unwillingness to take risks and try new things in the future. As educators, we know that if what we putting into place isn't manageable, we will not continue to make it a priority. There is too much on the plate right now to not consider this as part of every single conversation that takes place regarding what learning looks like moving forward. I'm not suggesting that what is is put into place has to be easy. Instead, I am suggesting that there have to be supports and professional learning opportunities put into place that make whatever educators are being asked to do something that they are able to make happen. The response to this question requires action. If the answer is yes, then continue to the next question. If the answer is no, then it's important to consider what can be done to make it manageable. If there is no way for that to happen, then it's okay to pivot and develop a new idea or strategy.
Next, ask if what is being planned, considered, or implemented is going to be meaningful. One definition of meaningful is "having a serious, important, or useful quality or purpose". Let's be honest, if what is being put into place isn't going to be meaningful, it's a waste of time. Again, the response the this question requires action. If it is meaningful and you've already determined that it's manageable, go for it! However, if it's manageable and not meaningful, it will not have an impact and will end in everyone involved feeling defeated and unwilling to invest.
If whatever is being planned is both manageable AND meaningful, chances are that it will be sustainable. And it's that sustainability that will be necessary for the growing pains and adjustments that we are experiencing now to impact what learning will look like moving forward.
As an educator that is planning learning experiences for at-home and in-class learners or an administrator making decisions that will impact both educators and learners for years to come, these two questions MUST be brought to the table. In doing so, we are being intentional, considerate, and realistic about what is being put into place. Regardless of what happens in the Fall, if it's not manageable, educators can't be expected to continue to make it a reality for any length of time and if it's not meaningful, we can't expect it to have any type of impact on our learners.
My hope is that this will help with some of the planning conversations that are happening right now. Please know that I realize how difficult this must be and the hard work that so many are doing right now to make sense of this does not go unnoticed!
There are still many things that remain unknown about the upcoming school year. While it can be super scary and frustrating to lack so many answers, there are several things that we do know...
In order for any of these things to become a reality, there will need to be a fundamental shift in the way that many see learning. Rather than asking, "How will I teach?", we should be asking "How will they learn?". Hear me out...I'm not suggesting that there isn't a place for direct teaching or that direct teaching isn't effective. I'm simply suggesting that moving forward, direct teaching will only be a small piece to the learning puzzle. It will be imperative to design experiences in which learning happens through exploration and application.
Let's be honest...asking teachers to design separate experiences for in-class AND at-home learners is not realistic or sustainable. Instead, we have to work toward designing experiences that will be meaningful REGARDLESS of where the learning happens. I believe that there are three pieces that must in place in order for an experience to leave an impression.
These have always made so much sense to me and make even more sense as we consider designing asynchronous experiences for our learners. While I am a huge fan of the idea of designing cross-curricular, weekly experiences, many will be expected to design daily experiences within their content area. The wonderful thing about this framework is that it works either way. Whatever we decide to do, consistency will be important. Using the DMLE (Designing a Meaningful Learning Experience) Framework provides that consistency in a way that will engage and empower our learners as they begin to take ownership. Below is a picture of the entire framework that I've created for educators to use as they intentionally design experiences that will be meaningful for every learner regardless of where the learning happens.
2. Create consistent and predictable expectations for each day. Below is an example of how I set up one day in my Google Classroom using the same framework as the template above. Each day would have the same key pieces and expectations as far as completion and engagement goes.
3. Be sure to include any mini-lessons or learning materials that students may need to access throughout the experience as Materials. This might even include images of anchor charts that are in the classroom, short, recorded mini-lessons from the teacher, or additional videos/images that will support the learning
4. Assign the Enrichment piece of the experience to learners that are ready to dive deeper and the Encouragement piece to those that need extra support. This gives you the opportunity to be proactive and intentional in regards to differentiation.
4. Provide the opportunity for learners to self-assess and reflect on the learning in as a formative assessment.
5. Store videos, resources, digital anchor charts, and more in the Class Folder as well so that learners can access with ease and use on-demand.
In addition to the learning experience being provided in Google Classroom, it will be important to provide support through student conferences, office hours, and small group collaboration opportunities. If you've designed the experience in a way that gives learners the freedom to access the content and work through the learning, you will have more time to make these connections and provide the support that is needed for real learning to happen.
This is just one idea and there are so many ways to make this a reality regardless of what LMS you are expected to use. I have had several people ask me how I would set up the DMLE Framework within Google Classroom, so I thought I would write the post and just put the idea out there.
None of us know exactly what lies ahead and how this entire experience will impact education. We do know that this is a mess...it's up to us to make it meaningful! I hope this helps in some small way.
If you have any questions or would like to know more about the DMLE template, please comment below or email me at email@example.com.
One more thing...I recently created a Digital Planner to help educators as they think through what it might look like to intentionally design meaningful learning experiences for their learners. Check it out and get your FREE copy by visiting andimcnair.com/planner.
I just can't stop thinking about what the Fall might look like and how we will have to think so far beyond what we've always done to make any of this work. Regardless of what I think about or the conversations that I have, I always come back to this idea of Collaborative Experience Design. Now, stay with me...this isn't new. In fact, it's something that you've probably done at at some point in your career if you've been in the classroom for some time.
The idea involves creating teams of teachers to come together to design cross-curricular experiences for learners that will be meaningful regardless of where the learning happens. I don't think it's fair, realistic, or sustainable for educators to be expected to design different experiences for at-home and in-class learners. Instead, I think every learner should be given the opportunity to learn through the experiences are designed by a team and given the support that they need along the way.
Weekly, blended, cross-curricular learning experiences make sense right now. Here's what I'm thinking...
Team Up - In this situation, I'm not just talking about pairing up math/science teachers. Instead, I think we need to think bigger. Consider creating teams made up of educators that can support specific content, specific learners, and specific experiences. In order for the experience to be cross-curricular, it will require collaboration and a willingness from everyone on the team to contribute.
Gain Perspective - Starting with the standards is a good idea. Knowing what needs to be taught can serve as a road map for this journey that we are on. As a team, look at the standards from different perspectives. Looking at them from a bird's eye view can help the team see connections between content and big ideas that can be used. to create the experience. An up-close perspective can help us realize how the standard needs to be addressed or woven into the experience and what learners need to do in order to master that particular concept or idea.
Big Ideas - Next, the team will need to develop some big ideas for the weekly experiences. Often times, standards and concepts from science, social studies, or electives can serve as big ideas while weaving in the standards from other content areas. For example, I designed an entire cross-curricular experience for my 7th grade daughter around the big idea of hurricanes as she was expected to understand the Hurricane of 1900 in Texas History and catastrophic events in Science.
Design for Depth - After the big ideas have been developed, it's time to start designing the weekly experiences. This simply involves taking the big idea and considering how the other content areas and standards that need to be learned can be woven into the experience. The template below is something that can be used if your campus or district does not already have something in place. It's a good idea to design for depth by weaving in both life-ready and social emotional learning skills into the experience and thinking through what different learners will need depending on their level of understanding.
This was an example I put together for my daughter during the remote learning experience. It's not perfect and I did not collaborate with a team. I just wanted to see what something like this might look like and how long it would take me to put it together.
Provide Support - This piece of the design is super important! Being proactive and providing support as learners access the experience will give learners an opportunity to drive their own learning and become self-aware enough to know what they need. I think it's a good idea to create a digital repository of mini-lessons to support each experience. Each educator on the team can provide the information that will be needed for that part of the experience. Providing a form like the one below will also help you know who might need to connect virtually or meet in person (depending on the situation) for small group instruction, extra support, or an individual conference.
As I've said all along, I think we need to simplify learning and make connections a priority right now. Moving forward will require us to be realistic, flexible, and empathetic. I think these experiences will give educators the freedom during the school day to support learners regardless of where they are. Collaboration will build on the relationships that will be so important as we continue to move into this unprecedented time in education. Working together, educators will be able to learn from each other, lean on each other, and lead each other to try new things.
I'm not suggesting that this is the only solution. If I'm honest, I'm not sure it's a solution at all. The more that I hear about the idea of learning pods, kids learning at home, and many returning to campus, I can't help but realize how difficult it will be for educators to meet the needs of every learner in every place. Instead, I think designing this way will provide the content and connections needed for real learning to happen from anywhere at any time.
Just a thought...
Digital equity will require so much more than additional devices and better access to wifi. Instead, it will require a fundamental shift in how we see learning. Let me explain.
There is a difference in remote learning and remote teaching. I'm not saying there isn't a place for both but we have to understand that it's the remote learning that will likely have the biggest impact on our learners. Remote learning involves the connections that are made beyond the walls of the classroom. It transfers ownership and requires action from the learner. Technology does not have to be involved in order for remote learning to happen. Remote teaching is the act of delivering information whether that is done through a video, discussion board, or learning management system. I think of remote teaching is the delivery of content from the educator to the learner.
I completely understand that technology makes communication easier and provides tools that can make learning relevant and meaningful. I'm not suggesting that it's not important to consider ways that additional devices and better connections can be achieved. However, the reality is that this is not a solution that is coming overnight. Instead, many districts will have to work toward better access and additional devices over a period of time and it's that period of time that I'd like to address.
Sitting in front of a computer being given information will not always result in remote learning. It simply means that they are experiencing remote teaching. It will be in the experience beyond that connection that has the potential to result in real learning. In our home, we have three teenagers. Consider a family with three learners that are expected to sit through remote teaching for each of their seven class periods. If there is only one device in the home, that is almost impossible. Even with two devices, someone will have to agree to learn at a different time well beyond the "school hours" in order to get it done.
However, if we can instead focus on remote learning, there is more of an opportunity for flexibility. Below are some suggestions to consider moving forward...
1. Provide remote teaching weekly rather than daily. Collaborate with other educators to stagger the teaching so that students are not being asked to sit through video teaching all day every day. Be intentional about delivering or sharing the content one day a week and designing experiences throughout the week that support what was shared. This will be helpful for learners that have to visit someone or leave their home to access content.
2. Design opportunities to learn by doing. Don't feel like you always have to "teach" something in order for your students to learn. Consider maker activities and project-based learning experiences that can be used to help learners make connections and reach a deep understanding through application.
3. Consider using technology tools that are accessible across multiple devices. In other words, if a learner can use their cell phone to complete the assignment, they are more likely to find a way to get it done. For example, delivering content through the Flipgrid App or YouTube will make it easily accessible for anyone that has access to a mobile device. If they are using their parent's phone or another family member's device, it's unrealistic to expect them to be able to do this multiple times a day or even multiple days of the week. Provide the content through a clear and concise video provided at the beginning of the week and then provide opportunities to learn both with/without access to technology.
4. When meeting with the class in Zoom or Google Meet, it might be a good idea to record the meeting to share with learners that are unable to attend. If they are unable to access a device at the exact time that the meeting occurs, they still need access to the content and conversation that happened throughout the meeting. You might even create a channel or repository in which you store the remote teaching opportunities so that they can be accessed "on-demand" when they have access to a device. I personally like the idea of using Flipgrid to house content and learning experiences simply because it so easy to access on any device.
5. Provide options. Choice boards are a great way to provide both digital and non-digital learning experiences. Being intentional about designing experiences that are meaningful both with and without access to technology will be important moving forward. If you need a template to use for a Choice Board experience, you HAVE to check out SlidesMania! It's AMAZING! Check it out and thank me later. You will be glad you did!
6. Focus on the connections that can be made in the kitchen, outside, and beyond the virtual classroom. Do not provide "busy work" such as word finds or crossword puzzles to learners that do not have access to technology. Instead, help them focus on those connections as they become intentional about learning through them.
7. Finally, be careful not to design experiences that always give those with access to technology an advantage. When providing feedback or even giving grades on work that is completed, be mindful of that access and how it may or may not affect the quality of work that is done.
8. Provide a collection of mini-lessons. At the beginning of the week, share all of the mini-lessons (probably 3-5) that are necessary for the experiences that you've designed. Make the mini-lessons accessible in a way that can that they be watched or accessed when it is convenient and realistic for the learner. This way, when they have access, they can watch the mini-lessons. They may watch one at a time, two at a time, or all of them in one day. Leaving that up to them gives them ownership of the learning and is considerate of their circumstances.
I hope this is helpful. These are just the thoughts that have been rumbling around my head lately as the digital equity conversation continues to come up in almost every conversation that I have. I'd love to hear your thoughts below. There are so many things to consider and so many things still up in the air. However, being proactive and having these conversations now will be much more beneficial than waiting until a clear solution exists.
I still can't believe our current circumstances and wake up every morning thinking about how we can make the most of the hand we've been dealt. As an educator that believes so much in this generation of learners, I refuse to simply see this as an obstacle. One of the benefits of this time is the opportunity that our students have to become more self-aware as they find ways to make connections and learn by doing.
It makes so much sense to make Genius Hour a priority during this time. Giving students the opportunity to learn through the pursuit of their passions has the potential to reignite a love for learning and help them make connections to not only content but also social-emotional and life-ready skills. Below are a few more of the benefits to giving learners the opportunity to pursue their passions:
What does Genius Hour at home look like and how can we support our learners remotely as they work on their projects? I think there are some important things to consider as we decide how this can be implemented:
I believe so much in the power of passion-based learning simply because of how it impacted my learners and myself in my classroom. I have constantly considered how to help teachers make this a reality throughout the remote learning experience and beyond. Below are two ways that you can access ready-made #geniushourathome resources that I created. If you need to create your own process, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Genius Hour is super personal and you have to do what works for you and your learners. However, if you feel like either of these resources will be helpful, please use them in any way that you can.
Genius Hour at Home - This is just a Google Site that I created for students to use as they work through the 6 Ps of Genius Hour. I've created a video for each step that explains what they need to do as well as shared resources for them to use along the way. There are slides that they can complete as they work to document their learning. I've also created a Teacher Information Page for you to use as you consider how you can communicate and set up the entire process using Flipgrid. This resource is super simple and easy to use.
The 6 Ps of Genius Hour Playlist in Thrively - I'm super excited about this! I love Thrively as it's a wonderful way for students to find their strengths and pursue their passions. I have a created a playlist in Thrively that includes:
The playlist also includes videos from me and instructions for learners to follow as they work through their project. They will be able to document their learning through text, video, and/or audio using the Collaboration Feed.
This playlist is available for FREE until June 30th! Check it out by creating an account in Thrively, finding The 6 Ps of Genius Hour playlist, and using the code 6PSANDI as the promo code when you check out.
I hope that these resources are helpful. If you are wanting to make Genius Hour a priority during this time and need any help at all, please reach out. I am more than happy to help in any way that I can.
So, I've been thinking about the word pivot a lot lately. Remote learning has taken us on quite a journey and along the way, many of us have experienced frustration, exhaustion, and anxiety. We are frustrated by a lack of engagement from our learners, tired from the late nights that we lie awake worried about our learners, and anxious about what will come next and how we will sustain if we have to do this much longer.
I was chatting with my thought partner and friend, Kari Espin, this evening about the word pivot and the role it plays in this situation. After looking at the definition, I couldn't help but realize that this word may be more meaningful than any other in our current situation.
You see, to pivot means to turn on a central point. I think that right now, our central point is authentic learning. While on this journey, it is going to be necessary to turn around that pivot in an effort to change our perspective, achieve different results, and frankly, find solutions that work. It makes no sense to continue to do something that isn't working. The truth is that there were no "best practices" in place for remote learning during a pandemic. We are having to create our road map as we go. There will come a time when we will be able to look back and see all of the essential checkpoints that were important as well as all of the obstacles were overcome. We aren't there yet.
As Kari and I chatted, we discussed the pivot point of a seesaw. When you are on a seesaw, the person with their feet on the ground is in control of the situation. They decide when to give up some of the control and push up to change positions. Up until this point, we have had our feet on the ground as educators. Now, our learners are the ones with their feet on the ground. They control when they do the work, how they do the work, and IF they do the work. As educators, we feel as if our feet are not on the ground and we have lost so much of the control that we had while in the classroom.
A seesaw is only fun if it's a back and forth exchange of the control...a give and take if you will. I can't help but wonder if instead of feeling like we need to control or have all of the answers right now, we should instead focus on that give and take. The reality is that our students are very aware of the situation. They know that we are the ones in the air right now and many are afraid that if they give us back that control, we will not be willing to engage in the give and take that it will take for learning to be meaningful. Let's embrace the fact that our learners have been given the opportunity to drive their learning and begin to have conversations with them regarding what is and is not working. It's the conversation and willingness to both share ideas and listen to theirs that will create the up and down experience that makes a seesaw so much fun.
We cannot be afraid to pivot right now. If we continue to do things that are not working, we will look back on this experience and realize that we missed opportunities for our learners to make authentic connections and understand what real learning looks like. It's okay to make real-time decisions and change direction if it will result in a more meaningful experience. Communicate decisions well and listen to different perspectives (parents, students, administration). Doing so will result in a remote learning experience that makes sense for you and your students.
Remember the episode of Friends when Ross was yelling at Rachel and Chandler to PIVOT? I was talking to someone last week about this episode and watched it again this evening. Rachel and Chandler quickly became frustrated and upset because they didn't know why they needed to pivot. They couldn't see the situation from his perspective and didn't realize that they were stuck and wouldn't be able to continue to move if they didn't pivot soon. This is the perfect example of why clear communication and a give and take is so important.
There are no right answers and none of us have been here before. This is hard, this is different, and this is not school. Take a deep breath and see pivots as opportunities for growth. Changing direction doesn't mean that you were wrong, it means that you are willing...willing to do what's best, willing to do what works, and willing to make authentic learning the priority during this difficult time.
I want to say before you take a look at this post that I am not suggesting that you have to reinvent the wheel. If you already have a plan in place or have no idea how to use Flipgrid and find this confusing or difficult, please know that I completely understand. I just know that Flipgrid is a tool that is used in SO MANY classrooms. Because it is familiar to so many, I just thought this idea might help those getting started.
So, I know that I said that I probably wouldn't post again but I'm awake, the kids are asleep, it's quiet, and I have to do something. That being said, I was really thinking late last night how beneficial it might be to design weekly learning experiences using Flipgrid.
You might be thinking that your students need a lot more that WEEKLY learning experiences. How will you cover all of the content? Will that keep them busy each day? A weekly learning experience is so different than what school has looked like for them in the past. All of those things are great points and my response is this. No, you won't cover all of the content. No, it won't keep them busy all week and yes, it is very different than what school has looked like in the past. But, let's be honest. This IS different. Trying to make this experience look like a traditional school day simply will not work.
Our learners are not just home for the sake of being home. We have to consider the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty that is gripping most families right now. Learning experiences should be fun rather than stressful, engaging rather than driven by compliance, and should above all, empower learners to drive their own learning as they make important connections.
Please welcome Flipgrid to the stage. I think it's a great idea to create a Learning from Home Grid with topics for each week. Let me explain...
Choose a theme or big idea for students to explore. Create a topic resource that is important for them to access before diving into additional content. That topic resource might be a video from you explaining what you would like for them to do, an article that need them all to read so that they have background knowledge before moving forward, or a Khan Academy lesson that you'd like them to experience. This will be the "main event", if you will.
After you've decided what the topic resource will be, take some time to find several supporting experiences that you can include as topic attachments. This is where learners will be given the opportunity to own the learning. Encourage them to choose 3-4 additional topic attachments to explore throughout the week.
Finally, ask your learners to share a video within the topic to reflect on what they learned that week. This will be an opportunity to document their learning and collaborate with each other during this difficult time. As the teacher, you can respond to their reflections, ask clarifying questions, and help them make real connections.
This is just an idea to be considered as we try to figure all of this out. I don't know if this will work for you, your campus, or your district. I do know that expecting learners to complete the same amount of work that they would complete in the classroom just isn't an option right now and I think it's important to consider alternative solutions.
Thank you so much for the work that you've done, the work that you are doing, and the work that we will all continue to do. I pray that you know how appreciated you are and how important your role is during this difficult time. I hope this helps and makes sense. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is hard! I don't think any of us could have ever imagined that we would be in this situation right now. The lack of control, the unknown future...it's all just so much to take in. I just needed to share some of my thoughts...to be honest, it's really all that I know to do right now.
We have a choice to make in this moment. We can choose to see this as an obstacle or an opportunity. Make no mistake, I totally get that this is a huge obstacle that will impact us for many years to come. But the reality is that obstacles are meant to be overcome. When or how we will overcome COVID19 remains to be seen but we WILL move beyond this obstacle and hopefully, we will learn some things in the process.
From an education perspective, if we look closely, this can be seen as an opportunity for our learners to make real connections beyond the walls of the classroom. It is an opportunity to see learning differently. I have a feeling that when this entire situation is over, we will be able to look at learning through the lens of the past, the present, and the future. What did learning look like before COVID19, what did it look like during, and what will it look like when we return to the classroom? If we choose to see this as an opportunity for our students to make important connections and recognize that learning happens everywhere, the potential is there for us to change how things are done from this day forward.
I don't have all of the answers...in fact, I'm not sure I have any answers at all. But, I do know that perspective during difficult times is important. I'll say it again, THIS IS HARD! It's weird, it's uncomfortable, and it's the last place any of us would hope to be. We will never again take leaving our homes for groceries, sitting at a hot baseball game, or going to work on a Monday morning for granted. Things will be different. Our lives have been turned upside down and we can all agree that this obstacle is massive. It's important to be mindful about our mindset. In order to overcome the obstacle, we will have to be patient, understanding, kind, and above all, determined.
So, as we continue to work as a city, a state, a country, and one world to get this whole thing figured out, we have a choice to make. Will we come out on the other side of this obstacle with a new perspective? Will we have recognized the opportunities before us and created real change? I hope so. As for my family, we are trying really hard to balance being realistic and hopeful in our home but most importantly, we rest in our faith and stay focused on the day that we will go back to school, back to work and back to life as we know it.
As an educational community, I just wanted to take some time to encourage us to do the same. Let's be realistic but hopeful. Let's see this as an opportunity for meaningful learning to occur and for our students to make connections that may never have been made in the classroom. Let's be flexible, understanding, realistic and hopeful.
Whether you are a parent, educator, or part of the community trying to figure this out right now, the choice is ours...will we simply see this as an obstacle or will we also see it as an opportunity to overcome and adapt so that our learners recognize that learning happens everywhere?
Side Note: I probably won't post for a while as, like most of you, I am spending time with family, helping them get school work done, and trying to get my work done as well. I did want to share some of the resources that I've created during this time. I don't know how helpful they will be, but wanted to share what I could. Check them out below...
Making Connections Parent/Teacher Resource
Genius Hour at Home
Remote Learning Slides
I love the idea of randomizing learning and giving students choice by using cubes and dice in the classroom. I recently began thinking what it might look like to use Flipgrid as part of this idea and now I can't turn my brain off!
I shared the idea of creating Kindness Cubes as an easy way to weave SEL into the classroom on Twitter.
After sharing, I kept thinking of different ways that you could use cubes and Flipgrid to design meaningful learning experiences for the classroom. Here are some of the additional ideas that I came up with:
Collaboration and group work can look very similar at first glance. They both involve students working together, they both may ask for solutions, and they both work best when there is a willingness to contribute. However, assuming these will produce the same results can send the wrong message to our learners and shed a negative light on real collaboration.
So, what is the difference? Here's my humble opinion...
© 2018 Andi McNair