Some Perspectives for Pandemic Teaching & Learning
“Okay, girls, let’s set up our high screen offense,” I barked while fumbling with my clipboard. Basketballs rolling to the baseline, all the girls from my eighth grade team hustled over to where I stood on the sideline. Beside me, I heard my two guard Jackie say quietly, “But coach, we’re not very good at that one.” Turning to her, I smiled. “That’s why we need to practice it,” I said.
Recently, researcher and professor John Hattie released a paper regarding his research-based perspectives on what truly matters for education (and what does not) during this time of global pandemic. Hattie’s extensive and seminal work on synthesizing educational research have made him an authoritative voice in the realm of modern education. Thus, when I ran across his latest thinking, I became eager to share some of it with you here. Today, I thought I would share just a few of the many possible take-aways from Hattie’s writing, take-aways that might perhaps put teachers’ minds a little more at ease during this time:
- Slides, learning loss, and gaps for students – I have spoken with many friends and colleagues about the loss of school time and the gaps this will create in each child’s education. We are all worried. But according to Hattie, these losses may not turn out to be as dramatic as we might think. Hattie cites studies conducted following other major disruptions to the school year, such as Hurricane Katrina and other periods of natural disaster, that indicate the statistical effects of lost time-in-school to be fairly minimal. Whether this holds true for this situation remains to be seen, of course. But also interesting to note is the number of days our students attend school in the U.S. exceeds nearly all other countries around the world, countries such as Finland and Korea that consistently outscore U.S. students on internationally benchmarked assessments. According to Hattie, even if we remove ten weeks of time-in-school, our students will still have attended more than these other nations. Which leads naturally to the next idea . . .
- It’s not the amount of time, but what we do with the time we have that matters. This statement reminds me of the old adage about valuing quality over quantity. In the last school where I coached basketball, my team and I were unable to practice as frequently as I wanted to or had been able to in my previous school (due to school policies, numbers of after-school meetings, etc.). This forced me to prioritize what my team truly needed to work on, versus practicing everything we could work on. We can bring this same way of thinking to our teaching of writing, focusing or worrying about not what we ‘can’t get to’, but rather on economizing the time we do have with our writers. How might we do that? A couple of key considerations to keep in mind:
- As much as possible, keep teaching and learning focused on what students need continued practice with. Dr. David Dockterman, professor at Harvard University, once said, “If we are only doing what we already know how to do, we are not learning.” In his recent publication, Hattie advises against what he terms “busy tasks.” Instead, he writes, choose tasks “relative to where students are now and where they need to go next.” This, he states, is what advances learning. I would assert that this is a core principle in writing workshop and one worth trying to hang onto as much as possible during this time.
- Remember the importance of formative evaluation opportunities and feedback (I wrote about feedback a few weeks ago). If our time with students is limited, we want to be thinking about and designing ways we can build in opportunities for formative assessment and check-ins. Analyzing student work to determine strengths and next steps will help students to grow. This can be challenging right now, yes; but if structures like small group instruction are an option, they remain a solid venue for providing feedback. Some teachers are indeed harnessing small group instruction from a distance; Melanie Meehan’s last post presents some excellent ideas on this topic.
- We are teachers, and most caregivers are not teachers. Hattie reminds us that parental involvement and expertise vary widely. Therefore, we want to strive to provide as much clarity as possible in our virtual teaching so that caregivers do not become a deciding factor as to whether or not a student learns. Caregivers are operating under extreme circumstances, as well. So, just as we do in the physical classroom, our gift can be to make our teaching points crystal clear.
We simply cannot and should not expect caregivers to provide or reinforce learning, especially under the current circumstances. This is for a variety of legitimate reasons. All we can do is provide the best teaching possible.
As I recall the basketball practice recounted in the introduction of this post, I remember well the reasons for practicing our high-screen offense: (1) my team did not have this offense “down” as well as our other offense; and (2) the high-screen offense incorporated skills we needed to work on and improve (such as balls screens and rolling to the basket). As we do our professional best to teach writing in this current, challenging distance format, those ways of thinking might serve as helpful guides for our instruction.