Here we are: sitting at home, staring into our own personal screens in whatever rooms we can find solitude. As administration, we are questioning the supports we have in place for our students. One of the things I've done as Dean of Students is keep an eye on the Ds and Es. Anyone who has 2 or more of them is on my radar. We're two weeks into Quarter 4 (we decided to cut Quarter 3 short due to the closure), and I've got a lot of kids on my radar. Rather than just email students and parents, we're going to call at least some of them. Those calls will be coming from our own personal phones, so I'm not sure how many people will pick up.
Additionally, I sent out an altered version of an email I usually send to kids telling them they need to attend the after-school Learning Assistance Program, staffed by classroom teachers and NHS students. Obviously, LAP isn't happening.
Here's the email:
Hello students and parents,
Although we no longer have LAP, you are receiving this email because you have 2 or more classes under 70%. We want to support you the best we can during this time. E-learning presents its own unique challenges and we wanted to share some ideas and supports that will help you be successful.
You are in our prayers!
This is eLearning
As I peek in on e-learning (we are non-public, so unlike our Michigan public schools, we are granting credit for students' online work), most of us are in the "Substitution" phase of the SAMR Model of EdTech Integration. Which makes sense: most of us are fundamentally classroom teachers. Rapport, discussion, and proximity to one another are all central to our practice. Most of us haven't had much occasion to develop an online or hybrid approach.
But as I think of my work with our school's Newer Teacher Cohort and our discussion of the book Learning Targets by Connie Moss and Susan Brookhart, I would hope that we can use this opportunity to get somewhat higher on Bloom's Revised Taxonomy (Anderson and Krathwohl, 2001). Our lessons can become somewhat threadbare seen in the harsh white light of Google Classroom's stream.
Unpopular opinion: I have always loved discussion forums. I'm talking the kind found in most Learning Management Systems. The multiple-indenting, threaded kinds, not the stupid Facebook-style ones like you find on EdModo and seemingly everywhere else. I experienced them myself taking a couple of continuing education classes at University of Phoenix and during my masters at Michigan State University. I set these up with my own high school students through Moodle before Google Classroom was unleashed on the world. In both these settings, I found myself highly engaged with both the texts we were reading in the class as well as with the large, complex, polylogic text of responses we were creating. For a lot of my quieter students, the discussion boards occasioned an unprecedented explosion of self-expression and thought. The added ability to "mine" this material through the forum's search engine made this platform especially helpful when working on papers or projects later.
For language arts teachers struggling to recreate the rich ecosystem of a discussion-based classrooms online, I don't know why we're so averse to this idea. Sean Michael Morris of Hybrid Pedagogy has laid out some compelling reasons for why these kinds of LMS-hosted discussion forums may not be the best. I understand those reasons, but I just can't find anything that create the gloriously complex web of thought you find in discussion forums. The walled aspect of the LMS is actually desireable because it carves out a semi-private space where fledgling ideas can take root. I especially being able to create smaller, closed groups made up of members of different classes, naming them after Michigan state symbols (robin redbreasts, painted turtles, petosky stones, mastodons) or 80s cartoon teams (Voltron, Transformers, TMNT, Thundercats).
Google Classroom, of course, isn't in any position to host this kind of richness (the "Question" feature in Classroom is not much better than the Facebook-style layout mentioned above). None of the alternatives Morris suggests come close to the wonderful functionality found on these boards. Why there are seemingly no open-web alternatives to the kinds of discussion forums found in LMSs is beyond me. I guess I just have a nostalgia for early 2000 tech: Wikispaces, Ubuntu, discussion forums, etc.
I was blessed to begin my career in alternative education. Our school's special focus was teen parents (we offered parenting classes and full-time daycare on site). When I uploaded a math video to my Schoolcenter website or posted linked unit plans on Wikispaces, I wasn't doing it to be exclusionary. Most of my students, disadvantaged as many of them were, could access tech. On the contrary, these were much-needed supports for these students, many of whom were frequently absent. As time went on, I found that online teaching and learning could reach the higher levels of both SAMR and Bloom's. Of necessity, providing asynchronistic, online options for chronically absent students became part and parcel of my own teaching. Looking back, I'm glad I had the opportunity to start my career addressing the unique learning needs of my alternative students.
Now, it seems, we're all alternative.