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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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...
© 2018 Andi McNair