Recently, I wrote that perhaps our wisest approach to distance learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year is enrichment only. My earnest and amicable argument here is that if we try a continuation approach to distance learning, we'll end up with fewer engaged students now and larger gaps when we return than if we were to pause on the curriculum and figure out how to fill in the gaps once we're back to in-person schools. After all, we're bound to have gaps when we return to in-person schooling, so we may as well create consistency in those gaps. Plus, there are real experimental insights that we can gain in the meantime focusing on an engagement-first, enrichment-style curriculum.
To help make sense of and implement this approach, I'm providing a sampling of ideas here on the blog. The others are:
- 20 for 20 (Social Studies, ELA, Gr 4-12)
- Introduction to Nature Study (Science, ELA, Art, Gr 4-12)
- Counting Grass Blades…Because Why Not!? (Math, Gr 4-12)
- What If? Exercise — Brainstorming New Learning Strategies for COVID-19 Conditions (see below)
*Thank you to Jen Haberling for the “What If?” seed from which this lesson grew.
What If We Couldn't Go to School Anymore? Brainstorming Strategies for Emergency Remote Learning
Hello, students! Today I've got a special challenge for you. Here's a video where I explain.
So the work here is pretty straightforward. Being as specific as possible, explain your strategy for:
- Shaping your physical learning environment to be optimally conducive to learning. Note that most of us won't be able to create a perfectly optimized learning environment — not even close! But what small tweaks can you make to reduce distractions and increase the odds that you'll be able to focus?
- Shaping your schedule. What days will you work? When will you go to sleep and wake? What will your breaks look like, and how frequently will you take them? How might you set a timer to increase your focus in small bursts so that your schoolwork doesn't expand to fill more time than it needs to?
- Shaping your start and stop rituals. These are “baked in” to in-person schooling, but emergency remote learning means that you've got to create your own. What habits would make sense for you to use to mark the start and stop of your days? Think of habits that would help you enjoy the start and stop of your days more and help you to focus on the work that matters most.
How this assignment targets student motivation
As I've written elsewhere, student motivation comes down to five key beliefs: credibility, value, belonging, effort, and efficacy.
The above assignment, which based on my current constraints cannot be required or graded, is likely to be completed by many of my students because it intentionally targets the beliefs.
- Credibility: As the teacher, you might use my sample video — apologies for its rough draft nature — as a starting point to your lesson, and then you might create your own to share with students how you're answering the three “question clusters” that I lay out above. Your goal is to demonstrate that you're in this, too, and that you are competent in answering these questions yourself. I'd also throw in a few lines in your video response as to why this assignment matters — because you care about your students having as good of an experience as possible during this time.
- The Bonus 2 reflection exercise gets students thinking about and articulating the value of an assignment like this. Responses to this could be written and/or spoken (and where possible, use your chosen discussion/video platform for making that writing and/or speaking collaborative).
- Notice the prompt asking for connections to previously learned material — this is designed to take advantage of the same long-term motivation-shaping mechanics of Chris Hulleman's “Build Connections” intervention.
- More immediately, this exercise targets the value belief by playing to natural value boosters like curiosity and intrigue.
- Belonging: As you get great responses from students, share those out with the community using whatever communication platform and guidelines your district is using. Whenever possible, attach the responses you share with the names of the students who are asking them — seeking to use examples from as diverse a group as possible. Remember to think of diversity not just in terms of gender or race, but also in terms of perceived ability level, social grouping, personality characteristics, etc. Belonging is about a sense of fit — “people like me do stuff like this.”
- Effort and Efficacy: Your example work will make it clearer to students what success looks like, as will the share of diverse student examples as this project unfolds. Be generous and specific with praise of diverse responses.
As always, I encourage teachers and students alike to enjoy the process. Learning is fun. 🙂 What an incredibly intricate world we all inhabit.