This week on the Truth for Teachers podcast: We’re talking to Doug Fisher about the best practices in distance learning from their book with John Hattie — The Distance Learning Playbook: K-12 Teaching For Engagement and Impact in Any Setting. Our conversation covered plenty of practical tips for remote learning, specifically in the areas of student engagement and motivation, teacher clarity, online instruction, building relationships, asynchronous/synchronous learning, and more.
“We didn’t forget how to be teachers. It’s the same passion, engagement, and relationships — you already know how to do that. What we have to learn is a few tech tools, so that we can accomplish the teaching moves that we want, but we did not forget how to teach … Human beings know how to develop relationships, and sometimes they develop from a distance.”
The book is based on the classroom experiences of a diverse group of more than 70 teachers this past spring. I ask Doug to sum up their most important takeaways, the things that surprised him, and the best practical ideas that came out of these teachers’ experiences.
We talk extensively about the best ways to get kids to show up to distance learning and complete their work, as well. Doug shares specific examples, and says, “When you move to higher levels of engagement — where kids drive the learning, where they set their goals, they monitor their progress, they reflect on what they’ve been learning — that’s when we see them show up and participate.”
If you need to hear a positive outlook and some inspiration about distance/hybrid learning right now, I think you’ll really enjoy this conversation.
Recap and Big Ideas
On teacher clarity in online learning:
- We have to make sure we’re communicating with students and their families about when they need to be on and what they need to be doing.
- Lessons should have a clear design, intention, and target areas of student success.
On student engagement and motivation:
- Engagement is a continuum from participating to driving.
- Some of the effective tools for engaging online learning are Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Flipgrid.
- In the high school level, consider conducting an anonymous poll at the end of the class to determine how effective the day’s lessons/activities were.
On community building and developing relationships in a virtual classroom:
- Earning the trust of students you’ve never met face to face before can be a challenge but it can be done.
- Consider using ‘banking time’ — 10-minute student-directed one on one interaction in which the teacher gets to know the student on a more personal level.
- Build peer talk time into your schedule where students can interact among themselves.
- Continue to use gestures such as eye contact and hand movements.
- Instructional frameworks that were used in physical classrooms are essentially time-bound and don’t really work in distance learning.
- The four strategies that actually work for remote learning are: Demonstration, Collaboration, Coaching & Facilitating, and Practice.
On synchronous learning:
- The time spent on synchronous learning depends on the age of the children. For elementary, it’s 2-3.5 hours. For secondary, it’s 4 hours.
- Breaks remain an important part of the structure even in an online learning environment.
- The frequently used tools for asynchronous deep learning on the high school level are EdPuzzle and PlayPosit.
On asking students to switch on their cameras during online class:
- You can teach self-conscious students to turn off the self-view mode.
- If possible, don’t require students to turn on their cameras — encourage them instead.
On hybrid learning:
- Be mindful of the activities you plan for in-person classes.
- Save the direct instruction and teacher modeling for online instruction.
- Prepare two kinds of lessons for each day — one for the online classroom and one for in-person.
Read the full transcript below or listen in as I talk with Doug Fisher (of Fisher & Frey) about the most important ideas from their new book with John Hattie called “The Distance Learning Playbook: K-12 Teaching For Engagement and Impact in Any Setting.”
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ANGELA: So Doug, you collaborated with a diverse group of more than 70 educators to compile some emerging best practices that they uncovered this spring. And we’re going to use the lessons learned from their experiences as the basis of our conversation here today. Can you tell us about who these educators are and some common themes and the takeaways that they shared with you?
DOUG: Sure. So the 74 amazing educators, from preschool all the way up through chemistry, from Australia, Hawaii, Alaska, California, Texas, allowed Nancy and I to peer into their classes and process and coach and plan and design. And at the beginning, it was rough going into distance learning. And I’m not even sure I would actually call it distance learning. I think it was more crisis teaching. You know, we’re grabbing anything we can to have stuff for students to do. And over time, as we processed and they experimented and they allowed us to think, we started seeing trends emerge and themes emerge, and eventually, an instructional framework emerged that seemed to really work, to get students to engage in learning tasks from a distance.
Okay, great. I’m looking forward to diving into some of those best practices. I feel like there are so many different scenarios happening right now, so trying to figure out the logistics is really, really tricky for teachers. And I know that one of the things that was really a struggle was student engagement and work completion — trying to get the kids to show up to the lessons and then actually completing the work.
I’m wondering if you can share some strategies maybe that elementary teachers have used, and then talk about some secondary strategies for helping kids focus and get their work completed when we’re doing distance learning.
Yes, in the beginning, we weren’t seeing all the students come in, they weren’t sure what they were supposed to do. So I think part of it was the lack of clarity. We have to make sure we’re communicating with students and their families about when they need to be on, what they need to be doing. You know, the teacher clarity stuff, like we know we have to design lessons that are clear, that have clear learning intentions, clear areas to make success. And then we have to make sure that there are tasks that students can engage in and feel good about it.
We know that success is motivating. When you do something and you feel good about it, you want to do it again. We were exploring these ideas of motivation and engagement, and we ran across a series of studies that John Hattie had found and one of his students was working on. And there’s this model of engagement that moves from participating up to driving, and it’s a continuum. And a low level of engagement is when you just participate in things. And I think that’s where we were in the beginning of this pandemic. We were asking kids to participate. But if you move to higher levels of engagement, it’s where they drive, where they set their goals, they monitor their progress, they reflect on what they’ve been learning.
And yes, five-year-olds can do this. There was this awesome lesson we watched about punctuation, which seems kind of not that exciting, but these first graders were learning about punctuation and they were writing and they were deciding, and they were creating and they were driving the learning. The teacher was supporting them with the punctuation and they were engaged and they were talking to each other and they were comparing like, “No, I think that should be an exclamation mark, it’s more exciting.” It was so interesting to watch and they really didn’t want to end the session with their teacher when their time was up.
Another example: the Family and Consumer Sciences Nutrition class. The school decided to deliver the food to students’ homes, rather than have it at school. Because obviously the kids couldn’t come to school to do their cooking, which is part of the class for Nutrition and Family Consumer Sciences. So the students got food delivered and on Tuesdays they would do a participating lesson, where the teacher would model on video, live, and they would follow along. But then Wednesday and Thursday, they had to innovate and take recipes and create things, and they had to document that. But then they had to get feedback from their family and document that, and then reflect on how their family liked the food or didn’t like the food and what they would do next time.
And you watch over, six weeks, the change in these students’ perceptions. Like, it matters what other people think. I’m going to make adjustments in how I do these things, because of my parents or my siblings or my grandma or whoever was watching. They still learn nutrition. They still learned all about fats and carbohydrates and proteins, and all this stuff and minerals and everything else the teacher wanted them to learn. But they became the drivers and they were seeking out feedback from other people — not just their teacher — and they were making adjustments in their learning because of the experience.
Can you tell me about the tools that were used for this? So if we go back to the first-grade punctuation lesson, what tech tools were being used that have that kind of engagement?
So in that case, it was a Zoom meeting and they were sharing the whiteboard. And the teacher had shared the whiteboard and the students were saying the sentences, and much like shared writing, they were sharing it, writing together, and then talking about it. In this case, the students did go to breakout rooms for two minutes with a partner, to share a sentence in the correct punctuation. And then she brought them back to the whole group sharing the whiteboard again. It was just really interesting, even the background that she had for Zoom was a whole bunch of punctuation behind her. And she would say to them, “So is it the one on my right? Or is it the one on my left?” And there was a question and exclamation mark, and there were periods and commas. It was so cool to watch them. And then they got to do the little voting thing — the reaction buttons — and they were right there with her in that.
The high school example was on the Microsoft Teams meeting. And so they were having a Teams meeting to do the demonstration, and then they did Flipgrid as the way to document their process — like how they cooked and the feedback from their family.
How about relationship and community building? Because I know this past spring, we had the benefit of having had those face-to-face interactions for many months before teachers and students were going remote. And I know that teachers this year are really worried about how they’re going to develop trust when they’re not teaching in person. So are there any specific things that the teachers in your city did that really helped with community building or things that you would recommend for that?
You’re right, we had the benefit of already knowing the kids. We closed schools in San Diego on March 13th. We already knew those kids and we had relationships. So I’ve been very worried about this, but there are several districts in California that offered an extended summer school with teachers that the students had not physically met before. So, in one district, 98% of the kids said they trusted their teacher, they enjoyed their teacher, and they would like to have another learning experience with that teacher. So I think it’s possible to really establish these relationships.
Now, some of the things they did — they did some personal stuff —they got to know the kids. They did something called banking time, and there’s a fair amount of research on banking time. It’s like a 10-minute student-directed one on one interaction and you get to deposit, if you will, some time with a kid so that there’s a relationship that starts to build. And there’s been research on banking time for years. They made sure they used the students’ names. They greeted them when they entered, they used their names during the sessions on a regular basis. They asked questions about, you know, emotional checking kinds of questions. They let the students have a little bit of peer talk time.
I remember one of the sessions I was in, one of the students, a fourth-grader says, “Could we have a couple of minutes to just talk to our friends like a break?” And she said, “Yes, of course.” And they had a little break and they’re laughing and they’re talking, and we forget that. I mean, that’s natural at school. You know, when we have a transition, we get to say something to a friend or we have passing periods or recess.
And so let’s not forget that we’re social beings. So I was lamenting this idea of relationships and how would we develop in the fall, and those school districts that ran summer school were comforting to me.
But I was talking about this, not too long ago, and someone sent me a direct message on Twitter and said, “You got to stop saying that relationships are going to be a problem in the fall.” And I wrote her back and said, “Why is that?” And she wrote me back and said, “I’ve been married to my husband for 20 years. The first year of our relationship was totally from a distance, totally. Human beings know how to develop relationships, and sometimes they develop from a distance.” And that was comforting to me because I had forgotten how many people develop friendships and relationships from a distance.
I’m really glad you brought that up, Doug, because I was thinking the same thing as you were talking, I’m thinking about examples from my own life, and friends that I have that I really don’t spend a lot of time with in-person. We live in different areas of the country and I’ve connected with them virtually. We have shared interests in the education space and our whole relationship is online.
And I have also heard from many teachers who have said building relationships with kids in distance learning is really not a problem, once you understand how to do it. It’s really not a hindrance at all. It’s actually a really fantastic way to connect.
I think that’s an optimistic viewpoint that I think is a really good counter-narrative to a lot of the struggles that we’re having. Because I’m not saying it’s going to be easy for everyone and that it’s going to work in every situation. But I think you’re right, that we do need to avoid starting with the assumption that relationships are somehow weakened when you’re doing it through a device when in many ways we can actually have stronger relationships with students.
Yes, and I think we have to bring everything we know. I was doing a session with a group of teachers a couple of days ago and I said, “What do you do on the first day of school?” And they put in the chat a list of all the things they do. And I read the chat and I said, “The only thing I saw that you could not do is to give hugs. Everything else in the chat, you could do online. Every single other strategy you listed.” We didn’t forget how to be teachers. We have to learn some tech tools.
We have to think about it, like when we’re in a Zoom or Teams meeting or a Google Meets or whatever, we still need to gesture. We need to make eye contact. We need to, kind of, move our bodies a little bit. We were seeing some people sit super still and stare at the camera, and that’s not natural for us. We move, we talk, we move our hands.
We have to do all of that. We have to do all the same things that we did, and we need to be there for students. We need to listen to them. We need to make eye contact with them. We need to honor their voice and the gratitude of: “Thanks for being here today.”
We started at the high school level, at the end of the Zoom meeting, there was an anonymous poll question of, “How effective was today’s lesson? What could I do to improve?” So they could tag from the chat to improve, but they had to rate, and we started seeing trends. Like they want to be asked for feedback, and we forgot that at the beginning. Like how effective was today? So we can reflect on it, and we should do that, we should think about that.
Right, and all of these things require intentionality, whether you’re online or face-to-face. Because it’s not like differentiation or individualization or making these one-on-one connections was so easy with in-person learning. And I know that, for me, as a classroom teacher, getting that one-on-one time with kids was so hard because I had the whole rest of the class sitting there waiting for me to finish with that child. They were working on something, but you can’t give a whole lot of one-on-one attention when you have the entire class in the room with you.
And that’s one of the benefits that I’ve heard from some teachers now — something they were able to really maximize with remote learning — is that with more asynchronous learning, and with these different tech tools, it’s actually easier in some cases to have that one-on-one connection. Because you don’t have the rest of the class sitting there, depending on you to keep things moving. You’re not, sort of, onstage or managing a room with lots of different kids at one time. You can actually have more individual connections.
Exactly. I’ll tell you an example of this banking time idea. It was a third-grade class and the teacher would have one kid come 10 minutes before the official Zoom time, and then one kid stays after — so just two kids a day. And I remember one of them, I had permission to listen in from the parents, and one of them, she said, “So what would you like to teach me today?” To this third-grader. And he says, “Do you know, Fortnight?” And she said, “I’ve heard of it, but I don’t really understand it.” He said, “Well, can I show you?” And she says, “Sure, do you want to share your screen?” And he goes, “Yes.” And so she changed the controls, so he could share the screen. And he does this awesome little lesson about Fortnight for his teacher. And I just watched his face change.
I mean, it’s 10 minutes. He’s now teaching her. He’s developing a relationship with her, in a different way. And there was some, like, “Oh, we’re connected now.” And you watched him for the rest of the lesson. He was a different kid that day — he was attentive and he was participating and he was adding things to the chat. It was just really interesting how that one-on-one time, which as you said, would normally be very difficult to do. You know, it’s currently before school, after school, lunch (yes teachers do that) but it’s hard to do. In this venue, we can do that. We can have some whole group sessions. We can have some small group sessions. We can get kids working independently. We can then meet with individual kids or groups of kids. There’s a lot of flexibility in the use of time, in this situation right now.
Yes, and those are the moments that teachers live for. I mean, that’s why you get into the profession. And I think being able to make those connections and have those real moments with kids are just so powerful. It’s inspiring to refocus on that and remember that that can happen.
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Was there anything that the 70 teachers that you work with, is there anything they discovered during crisis distance learning that really surprised you or that really surprised them?
Well, the honest part of that is, they didn’t all take care of themselves and we need to remind people, you got to take care of yourself. One of my friends says to pay attention to the flight attendants, put your own oxygen mask on first. I’ll say, you can’t fill another cup if yours is empty. We have to take care of ourselves. We need routines, morning routine, end of work routine. We need to schedule breaks for ourselves. So we got to take care of ourselves. And some people were working heroically to make sure kids were learning. And I appreciate that, but it’s not sustainable. We need to take care of ourselves. That was one of my big aha moments was, “Wow, we have to encourage people to take care of themselves.” So in the distance learning playbook, the very first module is “Take Care of Yourself” for that exact reason.
The other thing that kind of surprised me here was that a lot of our instructional frameworks that we use in physical school when instruction is time-bound didn’t really work and people were trying to take their instructional structures from physical school and apply them to distance learning. And it just wasn’t working. And over several weeks, we started noticing there were these four moves that teachers made, and they seem to work better in distance formats. One was demonstrating, often done on a video. So you could do direct instruction, or a think-aloud, or a worked example. And you could demonstrate for kids and they could watch it over and over again, and that’s one of the aha’s. If you’re doing teacher modeling in a physical school, the kids cannot rewind you when they don’t understand. But in this venue, if a parent and a kid are struggling, they can watch it again. If the student wants to watch it again, they can.
The second area is around collaborating, which I think a lot of us forgot in the beginning of this. The value of student to student interaction, using academic language, agreeing and disagreeing, coming to terms, reaching consensus, all of that is still super important. The third move is around coaching and facilitating. Like when you notice errors and mistakes and how you support learners without telling them the answer. And the last is practice. Now I’ll hit on that just a minute.
You know I go to a lot of education conferences, or I did when we were allowed to travel, I went to a lot of education conferences and it’s all about instruction. And I think we forget that it’s important to get students to practice. In fact, they probably have to over-practice to learn things and it has to be deliberate. It can’t be boring or uninspired, but practice is super important. And I think this is providing us a venue to get that deliberate spaced practice because we can give students things to do for the next 30 minutes in their home, and then bring them back together and send them back. I’m seeing a lot more teachers now say, “I want you to go do this independent test. I want you to go write this paragraph or whatever, take your eyes away from the screen. Go do that, don’t log out, come back to me when the timers up.”
So I’m seeing some real innovations in those four areas, that these choices teachers have to demonstrate, get kids to collaborate, coach and facilitate, and then get them to practice. And I think that framework — that’s not time-dependent — was easier to plan from.
Yes, I agree. And I know there’s a huge range of expectations for teachers and kids when it comes to remote learning, in terms of how much time is spent on synchronous learning and how much is done asynchronously. What do you recommend as a best practice, based on teacher experiences past spring, as well as research?
I think it depends on the age of the kids. Where somewhere, two and a half or three hours synchronous a day, not consecutively, but parents are looking for that as well. Parents are asking for more time with the teacher, with their kid. I think some more small group instruction is going to be important. So I would say at the elementary level, if we could go on in the morning an hour or so, get them to do some things, do some small group, bring them back in, do some more, get them to do their learning management systems, their independent practice, and then bring them back again. So I would say two and a half or three hours for elementary school, I think would be really strong. Less than that, we were seeing some times in the beginning of this, it was like 30 minutes a day and the kids were not connecting.
They blew off most of the tasks they were asked to do, their parents were super frustrated. I also want to be careful about how many consecutive hours we ask kids to do. I think that the breaks in there are important, and I think we need to incorporate movement in their breaks. Get them out of the chairs, get them to do something and then come back into there. I think we should also have the, change their eye field. So you’re only staring at the screen for so long, then you do something else and then you come back to the screen. So in general, the synchronous time probably for fall, we’re looking around two and a half or three hours for elementary kids, spread across the day.
And what about for secondary?
The schedules are really interesting here. So what some people are doing is A/B days. So you take half your classes one day, half the classes your other day. So what you’re seeing, is around four hours in high school, many schools are going to the quarter system and doing longer blocks of time with fewer classes. That was another parent request, in some of the National surveys that I’ve been reading, is it’s very difficult to have six classes or seven classes a day, all distance learning. Because they’re logging in, logging out, logging in, logging out. And so you’re seeing a trend to go to quarter system, or you’re seeing a trend to go to AB days. So on A day, you take these three classes, on B day you take these classes, and so some innovation there.
I think for the high schoolers, there’s some possibility of asynchronous deep learning with them. We are enamored with EdPuzzle and PlayPosit. You import a video and it asks quiz questions throughout the video. And the video won’t play until you answer the question. We set it that you could do it over again.
This is really meaningful learning. And if you’re thoughtful as a teacher and you’ve recorded information and you have PowerPoint and stuff, and you pause four or five times and ask them questions, and if you set it, if the answer is wrong, it backs up the video and plays it again. So you can hear the information a second time and then answer the question again. That’s meaningful learning. It does not have to be synchronous to do that.
What would you recommend that teachers do if their administrators or their district leaders are mandating more synchronous learning that is manageable or beneficial, or asking them to do things that they know really aren’t best for kids?
I think that’s always going to be true, and we have to negotiate. We have to ask, “What does the evidence say?” We do not have a lot of evidence from the pandemic. We can draw on previous studies around distance learning, but that was not large-scale. So I think it has to be negotiated.
I think we also need to look at local contexts with families, how much time kids can sustain this. Are parents in the home or not? But if it’s really, really unreasonable, there are mechanisms teachers have to renegotiate their agreements with the school system. I think all of us are at a place of saying, What can we do that is the best, given that the world is in a pandemic? How do we make sure kids are still learning and what is meaningful?
So I think one of the places where you’re seeing more requests for synchronous is when there’s not really good asynchronous things for them to do. And so using something like a PlayPosit helps, or you get something like read-aloud recordings.
At our school — I work at high school — we are recording a pathway of kids who want to be future teachers. They can’t do their internships now. They’re not allowed to go to elementary schools and no one’s there anyway. So part of their pathway is to record read-alouds and shared readings in English and Spanish, and load them into the portal for teachers to download.
And so if you’re a first-grade teacher and there are 25 read-alouds, you can choose which ones you are going to download. That’s a meaningful path that doesn’t have to be done synchronously because the kids will watch it.
I’m thinking that some of these first graders and second graders are going to be fans of these high schoolers. They’ll know their personalities and be like, “I want to watch Jorge again because Jorge is really funny when he does the voices as he reads.” So, that’s what I’m thinking about, we could innovate on this.
I think the other thing that’s starting to happen is that teams are coming together. So this first-grade team I’ve been watching, one of them took all the phonics lessons, all of the spelling lessons, and all of the writing lessons. Another person took all of the reading, like the read-alouds and the modeling. Another took all of the math and they recorded videos and they shared them with each other. And so they provided this whole bank of resources to the entire first-grade families.
It didn’t matter which teacher you had for the live sessions. You still had this huge bank of resources for kids. And they, essentially, created a playlist of things for children and their families.
There are some really meaningful things that we can do in that venue in an asynchronous way, but they take time. So teachers need some of the time to create those assets, as well. So we have to think about, in a teacher’s workday, where is the time to create the assets versus where’s the time to be live with kids?
I do think we should be seeing students face-to-face live (not physically) but synchronous every single day. I think we need to be looking at their faces, looking at their eyes, checking in with them, providing experiences, providing social, emotional support, every single day.
Now let me ask you about an equity piece there, because I know that a lot of teachers and students have expressed concern over being required to turn on their camera for video. They might be self-conscious about their appearance, about their home background, about what’s happening behind them. What would you say to that?
There was a really interesting set of articles that came out around this topic, and it turns out there’s a whole bunch of students that are really self-conscious and not really wanting to look at themselves all day long. And they’re not used to looking at themselves. And when they do post pictures of themselves, they have filters on, they use Snapchat, they change the photos. You know, they’re not used to looking at themselves and they’re super self-conscious.
And so they tried this intervention where they taught them to turn off the self-view, which is possible, to turn off the self-view. And all of a sudden, camera use went way up because they didn’t have to look at themselves.
Now we do recommend the kids find a place where there’s a flat background, so people are not going to walk behind them. They can even hang something up, so we can’t see behind them.
So we’ve gone through some guidelines of that, but we don’t require (at our school) camera use, we encourage it. As a teacher, we are able to look at their faces and see if they’re understanding, if they’re tracking, if they have questions. When they don’t have their camera on, we don’t know that.
So I think we have to encourage it and we have to provide support. We recognize now that there are many young people who don’t want to be looking at themselves all day long. So there are tools, we can address that. If they don’t want us looking in their house.
I have a ninth grader that carved a place out in his own closet, in his bedroom. And I don’t really recommend kids do their meetings in their bedroom. And I have a whole philosophy about that. But he carved out a place in his bedroom, he hung this whole, almost like a shower curtain thing around, and he’s put a stool in there and that’s where he did school. It was quiet for him in a very busy house. No one could see anything else. No one would walk behind him and he could do school there and it really worked for him.
So I think that’s what we have to encourage. As we get to know our students, we have to talk to them individually and get to know them. Is there a place that you’re comfortable? How can I support you?
There’s a bunch of elementary kids (this innovation came out in the Midwest) that the parents were encouraged to build little forts out of blankets somewhere in their house. And that’s where the kid would go to school and put the headphones on, with your laptop inside your fort so that when you were in there, that was school and your behavior was appropriate for that environment. And then when you’re out, you’re playing in the house and that kind of stuff. I think that’s really cool — I think we’re seeing all kinds of innovations in this.
What about hybrid learning? Are there any best practices for that, when we have kids learning from home, let’s say two to three days a week, and then coming into class the rest of the week?
Yes, so if we have the pleasure of having students with us, I think we should be very careful about how we use those precious minutes. I think collaboration’s going to be really important. Getting kids to talk to each other and interact. Yes, six feet apart, but that’s going to be important.
Also, looking at the patterns of errors and reteaching while we’re live with them and when we can see them is going to be important. At this point, if you get a limited amount of time physically with kids, I would not do things like teacher modeling and direct instruction and that kind of stuff, or have them practice. That stuff should happen on the days when they’re home. They can watch the video three times of you modeling.
Then in class, they can engage in the practice. You can analyze the patterns of error. I would prioritize getting kids to interact with one another, looking at the errors, reteaching while they’re there physically with you.
So does this require then, for a teacher to be running two lesson plans for every day, like an A lesson plan and a B lesson plan? So there’s one thing for the in-class, one thing for at home, and then the kids are switching.
Yes. And so, I think, if you have an A/B schedule — and that’s becoming a popular model, so some kids come on A day, some kids come on B day — I think one group should always be a day behind so you don’t have to double plan. So, you teach the A, while the B is doing practice from the day before, and then you teach the B the same things that A got. So they’re always just one day behind, so you’re not having to double plan, all the time.
What’s something that you’re optimistic about, for the coming school year?
I think there’s all this talk about the deficits and the loss of learning and all this stuff, and I think that’s a really dangerous path to head down. It’s very deficit-oriented and it can lead to labeling and other problems.
So I don’t want to deny that some kids didn’t get a full year of school, but we take three months off in the summer in the U.S. So they’re not learning that time either, and then some are lost, we get it.
But what if we said, “What do they absolutely need to learn?” and focus on that?
There’s evidence from Graham Nuthall, for example, in the book Hidden Life of Learners, that between 40% and 60% of minutes in physical school are spent on things kids already have learned. And so if we cut that out, that 40,-60% of the minutes that they have stuff they already learned, and we really focus on what they need to learn right now, we could make a huge difference in their learning lives.
I want to close out with a takeaway truth. What is something that you wish that every teacher understood about distance learning?
I wish you recognized that you didn’t forget how to teach. The same things — maybe not all the instructional moves — but the same passion, the same engagement, the same relationships, all of that, you already know how to do.
What we have to learn is a few tech tools, so that we can accomplish the teaching moves that we want, but we did not forget how to teach.
And it’s possible. Maybe it’s not what we all wanted. I did not sign up to be this distance teacher. I signed up to be around kids, in the building, around teachers and colleagues, and things like that.
But right now our kids need us. We’re still a school. We still have a job to do. And my sister’s a critical care nurse, she has a job to do. I’m a teacher, I have a job to do. Together, we will get through this pandemic and we will be better, as a result, when we come back.
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