Things were proceeding well in Florida as school districts brought their reopening plans to completion and planned to share them with parents and teachers.
Then the president put his thumbs on his phone and shouted in all caps that schools must open in the fall. Swiftly, Florida’s governor had its commissioner of education put out an executive order that upended almost every district’s plan to move to a hybrid model of half on-campus, half-off campus for at least their secondary schools.
Today’s post is not to recapitulate that decision. Today, Grumpy Old Teacher (GOT) wants to discuss the nitty-gritty of delivering instruction, planning curriculum units, and meeting student needs, both in general and in specific situations such as IEPs and 504 plans. (These specify instructional practices to support the needs of individual students to meet educational standards for their courses and grade level.)
In one way, the torpedoing of the hybrid model comes as a relief. Among the many questions GOT had about the specifics of how that would work, the most crucial one was how the district could tell him to teach in-person and online simultaneously. The spring experiment with distance learning showed that teachers could not replicate the in-person experience online and expect success. The two different models come with very different characteristics and the instructional design must take into account those differences. One will not look like the other.
Thus, a simultaneous delivery would mean little more than the students at home watching their lucky classmates get instruction, teacher feedback, and intervention while they observed. Schoolhouse Rock featured catchy tunes, but did it really deliver in-depth understanding?
With the change to in-person schooling five days a week (as if the pandemic had never happened or has disappeared), GOT can move ahead with designing an instructional plan with built-in flexibility so he can move between in-person and remote learning as circumstances and his superintendent dictate, one that can be adapted and customized to either format.
After the ‘distance learning’ of the spring, GOT’s students asked that they be given their assignments at the beginning of the week and have them due at the end of the week, for example Sunday evening.
After pondering this request for a while, GOT realized that this would work for in-school learning as well as distance or remote learning.
The nitty-gritty: In the new school year, GOT will assign units to cover five instructional days, which is a week if we convert to a daily schedule or two weeks if we retain a block schedule.
That means a careful design considering how new knowledge is introduced to students, the exploration and practice needed, and the assessment to wrap-up the unit and determine who needs more help and practice.
Thus, for the coming year, my mathematics units will begin with an introduction of key concepts and examples. Not only will GOT present his own lessons, but he will also provide links to online videos by others for students who need more explanation or review.
There will be a requirement to verify that the student participated in a minimum amount of instruction. GOT plans to have parents sign a confirmation (not necessary if students attended one of his lectures in person) as evidence of completing this part of the unit.
This will also work well for absent students because students rarely come for tutoring when they miss a day of class. They will have video resources to use as an alternative. Distance learning has shown us that students can continue to learn at home if guided in effective ways to do so. Not all absent students are able to attend to learning, but for those that are, it will help maintain continuity.
As another piece of accountability, GOT will ask students to submit notes on the lesson presentations.
Then, we need exploration and practice. GOT plans to make students justify their work–explain their reasoning. Partly to make them engage on a deeper conceptual level; partly to forestall the inevitable cheating that takes place. A student can find answers on the internet, even a solution with all the steps to copy. But they cannot find an explanation. They have to come up with that themselves.
Finally, at the end, there will be a performance task for assessment. How well did the student understand? It will require solving unique problem situations or applying the mathematics under study and providing an explanation of how the student is reasoning about the work.
Again, the goal is to design an assessment that resists cheating.
With this framework, students can work in the classroom or at home, engage as we want them to, and achieve growth.
What’s that? How will it help them to pass “The TEST?”
Haven’t we gotten over that now? Didn’t we learn anything from the shutdown?