Remote/Digital Learning · UDL in Practice · Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Becoming “Choice Ninjas”

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On the last day of school in June 2020, such that it was, various kids dropped in to office hours to chat and say goodbye.  I took advantage of the time to ask them about their thoughts about next year.  Yes, we had done a formal survey and I’ve gone through it and have written some posts reflecting on the data from it.  But I wanted to just hear what they had to say.  My colleague and I had been talking about next year, very informally.  One thing Irene had been arguing for since we started remote learning was a way for students to prove to us that they had actually done the work.  My argument had been (and continues to be) that we have to be careful–we can’t demand any work that requires printing because that is a hardship risk.  And many kids hate working electronically–I sympathize.  I may do all my math in pen…but I do it all on paper.  So, how to make this work?

The kids agreed that having more work on a more daily/regular basis would be good for next year.  The district recently purchased a subscription to ClassKick, which is something my colleague and I will need to look at; this summer, I was also fortunate to have teachers in a graduate course who teach at GCVS and they led professional development on Kami and Pear Deck, both of which are now on my to-do list to learn how to use.  How will we bring choice into these programs?  I don’t know.  I don’t know the programs well enough to be able to imagine, but I know it worries me in a world that is regressing in the shadow of COVID-19 to students in rows and assigned seats.

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Above all else, I’m reminded of how choice is powerful.  I’ve watched it happen, over and over and over again in my classes–offer choice, encourage choice, build-in choice, expect students to successfully make choices….and engagement and independence grow.  I can deal with a hybrid model.  I can live without flexible seating (sigh) for the sake of safety.  I can move to an online, electronic version of my classroom.  What keeps me up at night (well, alongside with a hefty dose of generalized COVID panic, of course), is the potential erosion of choice in the name of safety.  THAT scares me.

It has been interesting to see articles showing up in the media about kids stepping up into adult roles, taking on parenting as parents work from home or leave to do their jobs as essential workers.  Most of the articles present this as a good thing and, in the spirit of full disclosure, I admit that I think many students would benefit from engaging in taking more responsibility for their learning, their food prep, whatever.  As long as they won’t get physically hurt, I don’t imagine it can do any harm.  In a world where parents are shamed for letting their kids ride bikes alone, it does seem that we are reaping the results of over-protective parenting in the form of students struggling to organize their own learning.

As a 7th grade team during emergency remote education, we made decisions about tightening up our offerings, restricting ourselves to a single Google Classroom.  We also put together a weekly schedule of assignments for all classes that we posted each week.  While we tried to tighten up the communication of the work, the question I wanted to ask was how can we build back the independence?  Certainly, hyperdocs can go a long way–I honestly can’t imagine trying to organize things digitally for distance learning without the structure of a hyperdoc.  Even within that structure, students struggle–clicking the wrong thing, not opening the hyperdoc, etc.   I also learned one day that I should always write “click for Mrs. Witt; click for Ms. Durling,” a hard-earned tip I have passed along when I teach a graduate course!

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When, for the sake of safety, our guidelines say “When in classrooms, all students should have assigned seating,” how do we turn into Choice Ninjas, finding sneaky ways to build in, celebrate, expect, and model choice, while our kids must sit in rows, facing front, six feet away from us and each other?  That is our challenge in the coming school year.

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