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 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 — we might 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.
I'll discuss the problems with that idea in a future post, but for the sake of this one, let me just give an example of what an enrichment-style assignment might look like. The others in this series of rapidly crafted sample learning experiences are:
- Introduction to Nature Study (science, ELA)
- Counting Grass Blades… Seriously! (Math)
- What If? Learning Strategy Brainstorm Exercise (any subject)
All right — on to today's sample lesson.
Hey there, students!
In twenty years, you will be __ years old, and at some point you'll probably meet a twenty-year old who was born in the spring of 2020 — right in the midst of the COVID-19 mitigation efforts. They will scratch their head trying to understand what these changes to daily life were like. It will be hard for them to imagine — sort of like it is hard for you and I to imagine what life was like for people on the US home front during an event like World War II.
During the next couple of days, try to find twenty details from daily life that illustrate how things have changed during this time of social distancing.
Two examples that I've written in my journal:
- Gatherings with extended family are prohibited by my state's governor. It is illegal, in other words, to visit my mother.
- When I drove to the grocery store with my daughter yesterday, I noticed that all of the fast food parking lots were empty, and all of their signs said, “Drive thru still open.” Usually, they would say things like, “Super deluxe bacon bombs – 50% off.”
Can you come up with twenty specific details that illustrate how daily life has changed? Can you come up with more than twenty?
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: I'm demonstrating that I care about my students by envisioning them twenty years from now. (Remember: credibility comes from CCPR: Care, Competence, Passion, and Repair.)
- Value: I'm asking students to find details hidden in plain sight — playing to natural value boosters like curiosity and intrigue. I'm having them create something that may be fun to use 20 years in the future — playing with their sense of the future utility of the assignment. I'm posing the assignment as a challenge — can you do this? — and that ties into our classroom's “Do Hard Things” ethos.
- Belonging: This assignment reminds students of a powerful Belonging booster that we've got going for us right now — everyone is experiencing this for the first time, and so there's a new sense of shared identity we can tap into. Where normally our students (adolescents especially) sense large gaps between their identity and other groups in the school, now there's a powerful sameness — this assignment reminds students of that.
- Effort: By posing this assignment as a challenging question — can you? — I'm triggering students to think about effort. Could I get this assignment done if I tried? Could I overdeliver on this assignment with more than twenty things?
- Efficacy: Even though this is a writing task that will likely amount to several hundred words, it calls for the collection of a finite number of observations — and it's this number that students will likely focus on in completing the task, and this number will seem doable.
Now, I could tweak this assignment to be more academic (e.g., try to use a complex sentence for each item — here are some examples of those as you may recall from class a month ago), to tie into a speaking task (by Friday, use Flipgrid to record yourself sharing the five details that you're most proud of noticing), or to incorporate into some kind of monthly portfolio task.
These are the kinds of activities that may make the most sense right now. Unfortunately, I think most states are going to opt for a continuation of the curriculum — I'll share more about my thoughts on doing that well soon.