What, you were expecting Frank Sinatra?

Yesterday, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) had his best day of teaching since schools opened August 20. Having shared the news, GOT received comments about providing specifics.

The overall take-away: GOT tried to follow all the protocols that his district laid down for teaching during this pandemic year. Much of it hasn’t worked and like many fellow teachers, GOT has been overwhelmed trying to keep up with lesson planning, reviewing student work, providing feedback, communicating with parents, flagging students submitting no work, trying to solve the technology/device issues, reaching out over attendance issues and then notifying counselors, …

It’s been too much. Finally, GOT decided to McGuyver the situation. Yes, that really is a verb and GOT is known in his district for doing so: “Let’s find a way to make this work.”

What changed?

Stop making the face-to-face students take their papers home, scan them, and upload them. The concern was that infected children might leave virus particles on the paper. The district wants as little paper handled as possible. But the scans are a problem as GOT will detail below.

Answer? Let the students turn in their papers as before. Use disposable gloves when grading.

Student uploads are a huge problem. Many uploads don’t happen even when GOT knows the students were in the class and working. Sometimes their technology can’t handle the demand; sometimes traffic overwhelms the district’s grading program (that we were to force all students to use for submissions.) Also, students don’t follow instructions. For teachers to grade electronically in the gradebook, the files must be in PDF or Word document formats. They take pictures anyway. Further, sometimes the scans/pictures are too dark to be readable; sometimes they are sideways … the end result is the teacher has to give a zero grade and ask for the student to fix the problem … and now parents get fussy.

Answer? Stop providing assignments that require student uploads. It might not work for every teacher, but GOT is a math teacher. He will teach his lesson, let the children work out the concepts through assigned work, but they will not upload their work. At the end of the lesson, they will take a short quiz (check for understanding) via an online app. The app will record their responses for GOT’s review.

Practice will be done in an online program. The program has many advantages: it provides tutorial videos if students need them, it will show them examples and how to work a solution, and it has options to allow a teacher to format the assignment for maximum learning as well as doing the grading for the teacher to review.

GOT can look at the results and identify students who need more instruction (tutoring, intervention, Tier 2 MTSS if we must sling the lingo) and work with them.

Online grading takes too much time. Every teacher has found this out. Now that GOT doesn’t have to insert comments and draw symbols on gradebook uploads, his impossible time demand will drop to a manageable level without decreasing the quality of learning he provides to his students.

No more students being unable to download assignments. All they have to do is log into a website.

(Sadly, GOT’s district pulled all the online resources from high schools. Happily, his state gives teachers an annual allotment to purchase what they need that the district doesn’t supply. GOT was able to buy licenses for the websites he needs.)

Pacing with the curriculum guide: Even in a normal year, it’s a challenge as we must teach a full year of content in only three-quarters. Pounding through the lessons, pushing students to go too fast, teachers find the students retain little. But the PMA (Progress Monitoring Assessment!)

Answer? It will be what it will be. Because we delayed the opening of school, but the district has not delayed the PMA nor has it edited for the time-shortage of instruction, the results will be meaningless. Give it because teachers must, but don’t dwell on the results. As a colleague says, drive on.

Slow the pace to what meets student needs. The district is focused on state demands. There’s no reason for teachers to do that as well. Online teaching takes more time, at least twice as much, to explain the ideas and show students examples of what they need to handle.

Today’s student lacks an ability to apply knowledge. Although this is one of Benjamin Bloom’s categories of high order thinking, the reality is that the test-and-punish regime drives the classroom into doing whatever will help children get the highest score on the test at the end of the year. By the time these students arrive in high school, they need a lot of support to move them into those thinking levels.

Explain, explain, explain. Do what’s right for the child.

Give up the idea that the teacher must teach everything. Overcome the long instructional period online by playing the videos that came with the curriculum. That keeps the instruction within a reasonable time frame.

GOT will not utilize that as an opportunity for a coffee break. He will watch the video with students. When it ends, he will ask the students for their questions. What part of the lesson do they want to look closer at? GOT will handle that live.

And if the district or state doesn’t like any of this, they can go fly a kite.

Actually, as Geometry teachers, GOT and his colleagues have a great end-of-the-year project in which the students actually make a kite and try to fly it.

But the PMA! It doesn’t matter if the kite flies; what matters is if students answer test questions correctly about how to fly kites.

Answer? Go fly a kite.

And now, here’s Frank. Sing along, forget about your woes, and do it your way.

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