Category Archives: how teachers teach

Revisiting Predictions On Technology in Classrooms

My record on predictions is abysmal. If I get half of the forecasts I make correct, I puff out my chest. Yet humans are wired to speculate about the future, particularly when times are uncertain. Considering the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, nearly everything has become uncertain about the next year and for sure, the next five years. So like most Americans I take a deep breath and try to look around the corner before I exhale.

But I am not going to make any predictions about the effects of Covid-19 (tune in later because I am, well, hard-wired to predict). for this post, I look back on predictions I made a decade ago amid the surge of technology spilling over U.S. classrooms. Here is what I wrote in 2010 looking ahead to 2020.

I just read a list of high-tech tools that have become obsolete in the past decade (e.g., floppies, fax machines). I used many of these myself and remember junking them, saying to myself: hey, these were highly touted, I bought the second- or third-generation version and now I am dumping them (of course, in an ecologically correct manner). Still the number of high-tech machines and applications that hit their expiration date so quickly stunned me.

Then I read another list of high-tech predictions for 2020 that was equally entertaining about the future of schools, well, not schools as we know them in December 2010. This list posted by a high-tech enthusiast who yearns for a paperless society and totally customized instruction with smaller, greener schools tickled me because while I do agree with some of the items, others are, well, dreams. I have been reading such lists (here and here) for years with high-tech devices having different names but a glorious future just around the corner. Last year, I posted my predictions for high-tech in schools in 2020. Here is, in part, what I said in 2009.

“Clear trend lines for U.S. classrooms in the next decade are hand-held mobile devices (iPhone, Blackberry, e-book variations) and online learning (distance education).

HANDHELDS

Handhelds will permit the digitizing of texts loaded on to the devices. Student backpacks will lighten considerably as $100 hardbound books become as obsolete as the rotary dial phone. Homework, text reviews for tests, and all of the teacher-assigned tasks associated with hardbound books will be formatted for small screens. Instead of students’ excuses about leaving texts in lockers, teachers will hear requests to recharge their Blackberries, iPhones, etc.

Based on current Twitter and other future social networking traffic, shorter and shorter messaging will also become a mainstay of teacher-student communication. Some sample Twitter messages:

*In a college course on consumer sciences, the professor asked his 250 students to post questions on Twitter. On the topic of car insurance for those under 25 years of age, a student asked: ‘What happens if you get married and then get divorced at 24? Would your insurance go up?’ ”

*In the same course, during an exam, a student tweeted a fellow student and asked for the answer to a question. Teacher caught the student because although the software said “anonymous” on the handheld, the name of the student showed up on the teacher’s screen.

ONLINE COURSES

Proponents talk about how this form of teaching and learning as a powerful innovation that will liberate learning from the confines of brick-and-mortar buildings. Estimates (and predictions) of online learning becoming the dominant form of teaching turn up repeatedly and, somehow, fade. Surely, there will always be students and adults drawn from rural, home schooled, and adult populations that will provide a steady stream of clients for online courses. Nonetheless, by 2020, well over 90 percent of public school students will be in places called schools going at least 180 days a year to self-contained classrooms where a teacher will be in charge.

The error that online champions make decade after decade (recall that distance learning goes back to the 1960s) is that they forget that schools have multiple responsibilities beyond literacy. Both parents and voters want schools to socialize students into community values, prepare them for civic responsibilities, and yes, get them ready for college and career. Online courses from for-profit companies and non-profit agencies cannot hack those duties and responsibilities.

So by 2020, uses of technologies will change some aspects of teaching and learning but schools and classrooms will be clearly recognizable to students’ parents and grandparents. Online instruction will continue to expand incrementally but will still be peripheral to regular K-16 schooling. End of prediction.” [Ah, if I could only have forecasted Covid-19 and the subsequent swooning embrace of remote learning, I would be named a seer.]

*********************

Of course, I could be just another one of those benighted folks who predicted that automobiles, planes, and television were mere hype and would never replace horse-drawn carriages, trains, and radio. Here is a list of those failed predictions to chuckle over as you ring in the new year.

Whatever your guesses are for next year or for 2020, the questions that need answers are not about the rapid expiration dates of the next newest device –including the “revolutionary” iPad–nor to what degree technology will be ubiquitous in home and school nor even how new technologies will be used by the next generation of teachers and students. No, those are not the questions that need to be asked.

Instead, fundamental questions have to deal with matters of educational philosophy–what knowledge is most worth? Why? What are the best ways of teaching and learning? These questions, in turn depend on broader moral and political questions about what is the “good” life and how does one live a useful and worthy life. When these questions are asked and answered then, and only then, can new technologies play their role in schools and classrooms.

As I write this in early June, we are in the midst of Covid-19 with schools and libraries closed. Current reports are that re-opening will be slow and gradual until most Americans are vaccinated. Predictions of a second wave of infections are rampant as gradual re-openings occur. Uncertainty reigns. Predictions proliferate.

The future as it looked to me in 2010 is now. Handhelds and online learning have become as common as dandelions. Yet predictions that schooling will be transformed as a result of Covid-19 abound.

Perhaps such reforms will occur. But I do not think so.

Surely, the digital inequality that became apparent at the beginning of the pandemic when schools enrolling low-income minority students were shut down will be reduced. Just as surely, there will be incrementally more online lessons in the immediate future. But some things won’t change.

The age-graded school and the regularities of teaching and learning that goes by the nickname “grammar of schooling” will continue as is.

Oops! Sorry, I have again slipped into predicting. No more for now.

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How Dutch schools reopened with no pupil distancing (Linda van Druijten)

Linda van Druijten leads De Boomhut and OBS De Klaproos, a primary school and special educational needs school in Arnhem, Netherlands. This article appeared May 22, 2020 in TES, a British digital education company serving teachers and schools

On the first day, we had bubbles. Delicate, transparent bubbles floating across the playground.

Before we had opened, our 432 primary school pupils, our 152 pupils with special educational needs, our parents and all our staff had fears. But we spoke openly about these fears. We spoke as a community about how we would tackle these fears. And as a staff, we came up with creative ideas. Like bubbles.

School would be a very different place when the children returned – for a start, all pupils had to be dropped at the school gate. So, on day one, we brought out a bubble machine. Rather than being upset, or concentrating on the unusual nature of the school, the children looked up, were captivated, and wandered into school without an issue.

If I have one tip from the opening of Dutch schools for my English colleagues, it is: get yourself a bubble machine!

Dutch school reopening

Schools have been “open” here in the Netherlands since 11 May. We are allowed half groups – our classes have between 28 and 32 pupils, so on a given day we can have groups of 15 children in each class.

Unlike in the UK, the Dutch government told us that the children do not have to socially distance from each other, as we can see the rates of infections for under-12s are so low – there is such a small risk in them being in contact with each other.

So the children can play and touch each other; they can have normal friendships. We have a Group A and a Group B – half our pupils are in school and the other half continue remote learning, and they rotate across the week, one day on, one day off.

But the children do have to be 1.5 metres from the adults when in school, and the adults have to be 1.5 metres from each other. This is not always easy.

Social distancing

Those over 7 years old understand it all, and are pretty good at it. And we have very little reason to break that distance. But with the younger children? It’s not always possible.

At the beginning, my teachers said to me, if a child fell down and cut their knee, we would have to call an ambulance so people in proper protective equipment could assist that child. But we thought about it very long and hard, and we agreed we would pick up the child, and break the social distance.

And if a child cries, you can’t explain why you cannot comfort them – we decided we would comfort that child.

Low-risk strategy

The risks in both instances are so very low that we felt as a staff group that this was something we were willing to do.

It was the same with masks. At first, many staff members wanted to wear masks. But we discussed it over three or four weeks and we decided that we actually didn’t want to do that. If we wear masks, the children cannot see our expressions and none of us wanted to teach like that.

For all these things, we have a word for it in Dutch that means “safe but not safe”. Yes, the precautions are advisable, but they do not really keep us fully safe.

We have had no substantial absence problems. Less than 1 per cent of the children did not come in, so almost all our parents brought their children back into school.

Teacher anxiety

We did have some teachers who were anxious. They were worried about their vulnerable relatives, for example. For some of our anxious staff who had vulnerable family members, we reduced their pupil groups – we explained to parents that this was better than no teacher at all. We did this in our special education school.

As for the life of the school, learning is happening and the children are adapting. We started with very thorough routines. Handwashing, disinfectant, constant cleaning of door handles and toilets. After the first week, though, we relaxed. It is important that we are aware, but not to get too paralysed by the anxiety. We take it seriously, we remain watchful of symptoms, but we get on with our job; we are teachers and we want to teach!

Back to full classes

The Dutch government has now said that all children will be able to come back on 8 June. There is some anxiety again about this, but we will get through that the way we did before, by talking it through and agreeing on how to manage it as a staff.

What is clear is that all the teachers are happy to be back. They say that they don’t feel like teachers unless they are in the classroom with their pupils. That we can now do that is the most important thing – like the bubbles, it helps us to focus and gets our mind away from the fact that things are still not quite normal.

PHOTOS FROM OTHER DUTCH SCHOOLS:

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About a Teacher (Robert Pondiscio)

Robert Pondiscio, author of How The Other Half Learns: Equality, Excellence, And The Battle Over School Choice, is senior fellow and vice president for external affairs at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.This appeared in Education Next May 7, 2020

Few vocations have suffered more in the hands of Hollywood mythmakers than teaching. This is curious. Schools offer a familiar and fertile setting, and teaching is inspiring, aspirational work. There is rich potential for drama in student backstories or in a good teacher’s ability to change a child’s life trajectory. And say all you want about how teachers should be the guide on the side not the sage on the stage, there is a performative aspect to teaching that ought to lend itself to character-driven, compelling storytelling.

All of the elements are there. So why is it so hard to make a good teacher movie?

Mostly, it’s because, when the subject is school, filmmakers have never been able to resist swinging for three-run homers with one man on base. The clichés are legion: the inspiring maverick (Dead Poet’s Society) who unlocks the hidden brilliance of rowdy students (Stand and Deliver) while pushing back doggedly against the system’s low expectations (Lean on Me). Even worse is the subgenre of white savior teacher movies (Freedom Writers, Dangerous Minds) set in inner-city schools. We’re so conditioned by these tropes that when struggling musician Hanan Harchol tells his father over breakfast in a New York City diner in the opening scene of About a Teacher that he’s taking a job as a high school film teacher “to support myself while I’m making my art,” we smirk.  Oh Lord, it’s Mr. Holland’s Opus. Here we go again.

To be sure, About a Teacher, currently streaming on Amazon Prime, follows the same story arc as other formulaic plucky teacher movies: a teacher of inner-city kids uses art to inspire students to tell their stories. But it makes a virtue of its small budget and human scale. The vast majority of the film is set inside the classroom, in the tiny apartment Harchol shares with his wife, or in diner conversations with his father. There are no big stars, no soaring soundtrack, no gritty mean street tableaus or tear-jerking grand finale. The movie it most closely resembles is The Class, a 2008 French film that was praised for its documentary style and verisimilitude.

The intimacy of the film enhances its credibility. It’s mostly about Harchol’s effort to master his craft and his struggles with student indifference and energy directed at anything other than what he’s trying to teach.  It’s nearly painful to watch him try and fail to get students to comply with even the smallest requests. The movie should carry a trigger warning for teachers who will be reminded of how draining it is to be a new and poorly prepared teacher.

Harchol’s interactions with his fellow faculty members will likewise bring knowing smiles (or grim nods) from teachers. You know these people: the overconfident colleague who tells the novice not to smile until Thanksgiving to show students he means business. The veteran who won’t even acknowledge the new guy since he won’t last (the opening credits note that 41 percent of New York City teachers leave within five years).  The humorless scold who has mastered behavior management but not her subject. The edgy and cynical banter in the faculty lounge. Harchol himself is the guy whose out-of-control class you walk past and feel sorry for. An officious supervisor is played to such icy perfection by Leslie Hendrix that when we learn she has been protecting and defending Harchol behind the scenes, it strains credulity. When she shows up in his classroom it is only to demand lesson plans and paperwork. Her professional development sessions are redolent with acronyms, bureaucratese, and demands for “higher order questioning” and pedagogical techniques that she seems not even to understand.

The only useful tips he gets come from a younger teacher, Ms. Martinez (Aurora Leonard). “Do you like your students? Do you talk to them?” she asks. It is only when Harchol starts to relate to his students as people (the movie is not 100 percent free from teacher movie clichés) that his and their performance begins to improve.

As Harchol, Canadian actor Dov Tiefenbach succeeds a little too well at being overwhelmed and frustrated. He is so lacking authority, presence, and the ability to project confidence, so physically overmatched by the job, that when he finally gets his feet under himself—in his third year in the classroom, not the third day—it seems implausible that he could have lasted so long without quitting or getting fired. The cognitive dissonance is only resolved at the end of the film with a montage of the real Harchol, who wrote, directed, and produced the semi-autobiographical film, with his students, many of whom won scholarships and cash prizes for their films and worked on About a Teacher. He looks the part.

Hollywood hasn’t nailed the teacher movie and perhaps never will. Classroom life is full of compelling characters and drama, but the scale is intimate, the pace deliberate and contemplative, not epic or explosive. The narrative arc of a teacher’s year unfolds slowly through hundreds of small actions and interactions. This puts filmmakers in a bind. Show too little, you reduce everyone to a tintype and character development feels forced and formulaic. Show too much and things slow to a crawl. There’s a rhythm to actual classroom life that is difficult to capture in two hours.

About a Teacher is not a perfect teacher movie, but it improves on the genre with its small scale, intimate focus, and attention to detail. It turns out that it takes a teacher to make a decent movie about a teacher.

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Teaching Remotely During the Pandemic

Cartoonists have acerbic pens. read some stories. In the New York Times, kindergarten teacher Rachel Miller in Georgetown, Massachusetts described teaching her class from home.

Last week, I ran my first virtual small-group kindergarten class. We read a book, practiced our letters and sounds, and did some math; all this to the tune of a dying, chirping fire detector, the clanging of dishes being put away, a dog barking and radio silence from the child whose audio wasn’t working. One student would disappear and return carrying her cat, then lie down on the couch, while another wriggled and squirmed, clearly uncomfortable in his too-big chair.

It was every bit as awkward and wonderful as I’d imagined. Not only did I see my kids, but I saw my kids in one of the most authentic ways possible: at home, in their space, with their families (and pets). Don’t get me wrong. Virtual teaching and learning is less than ideal. But I’m beginning to get a glimpse into the lives of my students outside of school in a way that has never been possible. Also, they saw my dog walk by in the background, and it dawned on them that teachers have houses and families, too.

In public schools across the United States, we rush and race to get through content to prepare students for a standardized test. All of it feels (dare I say, is) inauthentic and procedural, but on that Thursday, as I sat in my kitchen with three of my kindergartners, in all of its awkwardness and discomfort, all I felt was gratitude. I saw their smiling faces and knew that they were OK.

Inside Higher Education interviewed Kim Yi Dionne, associate professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside about her teaching and research.

“I have done exactly zero writing,” said Kim Yi Dionne, associate professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside. That doesn’t mean Dionne hasn’t been working in the last few weeks, however. She’s been transitioning her courses to remote formats and helping more senior colleagues do the same. How do you lecture via Zoom, they’ve asked her. How do you schedule office hours on Google Calendar?

As a scholar of public health, Dionne had the mental jump on many of her peers: she foresaw campus shutdowns weeks ahead of time and began to prepare. She was lecturing online and telling students not to attend class in person if they felt uncomfortable doing so, or ill, before it became official policy. Dionne also gave her graduate teaching assistants clear guidance on how to adapt their winter quarter grading, for their benefit as much as undergraduates’. Don’t sweat the details, she told her TAs. Focus on whether each student demonstrated learning, tried but didn’t quite get it and so on.

Dionne is also thinking about research projects — including those inspired by the present public health crisis.

But mostly, she said, “I’ve been trying to triage and think what responsibilities do I need to bow out of in order to make the next couple of months work.”

Dionne is convinced her own children, ages 7 and 12, will be out of school until the end the academic year. In the meantime, she is managing their homeschooling — no easy feat with two children who are several grades apart.

Dionne’s partner is also working from home and contributes; he does most of the after-school stuff and cooks dinner during the week.

The pandemic also coincided with Dionne earning tenure, so there’s less pressure on her to publish — for now.

Still, Dionne and others have noted that COVID-19 disruptions will disproportionately affect the careers of female academics given that women, on average, take on more household and child-rearing duties than men. And women already face bias in personnel decisions, especially in certain fields.

Such descriptions of the major shift from face-to-face teaching to distance learning are common in mainstream and social media in these strange days. What happens when schooling resumes during the summer and fall, few experts can say with any certainty. Don’t blame them, however,

Medical experts are in the same boat when it comes to knowing for sure all of the features of the actual coronavirus and its hit-and-miss effects across the world and within countries. Count the paradoxical outcomes thus far. Some tropical countries are spared, others have spikes in cases and deaths; developed countries with national health care systems the envy of the world get hit hard, others do not. Densely populated cities suffer enormous casualties while others escape with far less illness and fatalities.

Why the differences? Geography? Culture? Demography? Luck? No one in authority or any expert can say with confidence. Which means that opening businesses, schools, and “normal” activities is a roll of the dice. So why should teachers be any different in figuring out what to do while schools are closed and when they will re-open?

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The Class Divide: Remote Learning at 2 Schools, Private and Public (Dana Goldstein)

Dana Goldstein is a New York Times journalist who writes about how education policies impact families, students and teachers across the country. She wrote “The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession.” This article appeared May 10, 2020

For Rachel Warach’s class, the 133rd morning of first grade, numbered on a poster board behind her, was similar to all of the previous mornings.

Her students from across Chicago spent 15 minutes working quietly on math problems and writing in their journals. They split into small reading groups, with Ms. Warach bouncing between them to offer feedback. Later, there was an Earth Day discussion of “The Lorax” and a math lesson on sorting everyday objects — rolls of tape, coins, pens — according to shape.

There was a break for lunch and recess, followed by Hebrew class. All as Oisabel sprawled on the floor, Shira snuggled against her mom, and a father whispered to his son, “Can you take that blanket off your head, please?”

This is first grade at a private school determined to make remote education during the coronavirus as similar as possible to what it looked like before the pandemic. Chicago Jewish Day School provides four hours and 15 minutes of daily live instruction, including yoga, art and music. Students even do messy baking projects over Zoom, with parents as sous chefs.

It bears little resemblance to the more typical experience that Jacob Rios is having in Philadelphia, where he attends first grade at a public school, Spruance Elementary.

Jacob did not see his teacher via video screen until late April; the district spent the first several weeks of the shutdown focused on training staff members to use remote teaching tools, distributing laptops to students and getting meals to low-income families, which make up a majority of the district’s population.

Now Jacob’s teacher, Dolores Morris, meets with her students each morning for an hour — Jacob’s only live video instruction, according to his mother. About 11 of the 26 students in the class attend daily, Ms. Morris said.

A close look at these two very different first-grade classes in two of America’s largest cities shows how the coronavirus pandemic has done nothing to level the playing field of American education, and instead has widened the gaps that have always existed.

About 10 percent of American children attend private schools, not all of which have been leaders in online education. And there are disparities in the public system, too, where some schools have done much more than others to get online instruction up and running effectively. But what the pandemic has made clear is that remote education, especially of the youngest students, requires a rare mix of enthusiastic school leadership, teacher expertise and homes equipped with everything children need to learn effectively.

At Chicago Jewish Day School, students who need extra help are being tutored in phonics via Zoom, or meeting remotely with a social worker. The school has sent home books, dry-erase boards, markers and other needed supplies. Parents have provided the rest: internet access, iPads, and quiet study nooks in well-appointed homes filled with pianos, books and tasteful wooden play kitchens.

The system has been up and running since mid-March.

Remote learning at the Chicago school is not perfect. There are spotty Wi-Fi connections, stray emojis in the chat panel and children who wander away from the screen. But there is little doubt that in a nation of over 100,000 shuttered schools, these children continue to receive a luxury good — one whose list price is $28,000 per year.In Ms. Morris’s class in Philadelphia, Jacob is one of the more fortunate students. His mother, Brenda Rios, sits by his side to help him with assignments. She is off work from her usual part-time job preparing meals at a preschool. Because so many parents of the other students are essential workers — prison guards, cleaners, nursing assistants — Ms. Morris knows they may not be available to offer hands-on support. Still, she is trying to look on the bright side. “I’m thanking God that I can at least see their faces,” she said.

That is rare in the world of coronavirus-altered learning. The Center on Reinventing Public Education, a think tank, examined the remote learning policies of 100 public school districts and charter networks nationwide. It found that just 22 of them are requiring real-time teaching — and just 10 of those systems are teaching live in all grades, including early elementary school.

The country’s three largest districts, in New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, are not requiring teachers to do any live video instruction, though some individual schools are choosing to do so.

It is a different story in many private schools, both independent and parochial. Although associations said they did not have any hard data on the average number of hours that students in their networks were receiving live instruction, examples from around the country typically show a gap with public schools.

The reasons are clear: Private school students are more likely to live in homes with good internet access, computers and physical space for children to focus on academics. Parents are less likely to be working outside the home and are more available to guide young children through getting online and staying logged in — entering user names and passwords, navigating between windows and programs.And unlike their public-school counterparts, private schoolteachers are generally not unionized, giving their employers more leverage in laying out demands for remote work. Some public school unions have won strict limits on video-teaching requirements, arguing that it can be difficult for educators to teach live from home when many are also taking care of their own children, whose schools and day cares are also closed. In Philadelphia, Ms. Morris, a 42-year veteran, is in her last semester before retirement, and it looks nothing like the farewell she expected. Nevertheless, she has thrown herself into learning the technology to teach remotely. Often, she is texting and emailing with parents while simultaneously interacting with her students via Google Classroom.

A recent Monday morning was devoted to a phonics lesson on the sound “oy.” Ms. Morris used Google Classroom to display vocabulary words on slides — “enjoy,” “soil,” “annoy” — and Jacob’s mother, Ms. Rios, helped him complete an online activity identifying the various spellings of the sound.

Ms. Rios, home alone with three sons, said she appreciated Ms. Morris’s dedication to her students at a difficult time. Still, the transition online had been rocky. At first, Ms. Rios was not sure how to operate the district-provided Chromebook. Since then, much of the day’s activity has revolved around worksheets and compliance checks, which can be maddening to submit online.

For one art lesson, Jacob watched a video about Vincent van Gogh, then had to fill out an “exit ticket,” writing what he had learned about the painter. Like any first grader, Jacob needed help to craft complete sentences on the computer. Then, after submitting his answer, Ms. Rios was required to click to another screen to report that he had finished the activity.

Sometimes during live lessons, Ms. Rios can see via the video feed that another child is confused — they have not opened the right window or clicked on the right link — and does not have an adult nearby to help them follow along.“I was almost in tears today,” she said. “It’s excruciating to watch that — a child who wants to learn and isn’t able to.” Ms. Morris, too, is frustrated by the limitations of online learning, especially by the fact that she cannot always see students’ reactions while she is presenting material to them, to check that they understand. She can tell that using the system is difficult for first graders, because even some strong students are submitting blank assignments, meaning they most likely did the work, but their answers did not get recorded.

In Chicago, there are many reasons the Jewish Day School was able to handle the transition to remote learning so well. The school closed for students ahead of most others in Illinois. That allowed administrators to spend several days, before the building shut down, training staff members on how to use online tools.

The school’s curriculum is based around hands-on activities and discussion, which means young children learning from home do not need to be as adept at typing as in schools that assign more structured, written worksheets.

And crucially, families in the school are generally stable economically and available to closely supervise their children’s education.

 Given the possibility that schools will remain at least partly closed in the fall, Chicago Jewish Day School is now marketing itself as a leader in remote learning, with a slick video aimed at parents. School leaders hope to increase enrollment at a time when requests for financial aid may go up as donations decrease because of the economic downturn. Already, 57 percent of families at the school receive some assistance with tuition.

Parents in Ms. Warach’s class said they had been pleasantly surprised by the effectiveness of online first grade.Among them is Caroline Musin Berkowitz, a nonprofit manager, and her husband, a legal analyst. They are both working from their apartment while taking care of their two young children. Having 6-year-old Shira engaged with school for most of the day, sitting across from her parents at the dining room table with headphones on, provides some respite. The family has no qualms about re-enrolling Shira in the fall, even though they are not getting the exact experience they thought they were paying for.

“We made a choice to go with private school over public school for so many reasons,” Ms. Musin Berkowitz said, “and the idea of a global pandemic and school moving to online was not one of them.”

Now, she added, “I can’t even describe how beneficial it’s been.”

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Even More Photos of Schools Reopening

OK, I admit that seeing photos of how educators the world over are wrestling with the same problem of how to school children and youth in the wake of a pandemic–is, in a word, addictive for me. So here are more photos from Germany, Netherlands, and Japan of schools that just re-opened.

With a virus about which much remains to be figured out and with no treatment or vaccine, how to care for health and safety of children and adults is primary. So questions need to be answered now as governments open their schoolhouse doors.

1. How many students to be allowed in a classroom at any one time?

2. How will students and teachers daily be protected by washing hands and disinfecting surfaces?

3. How to maintain physical distance during the school day?

4. Feeding students?

I could go on but will stop here. Readers can easily supply more questions.

So here are the photos:

A teacher welcomes students before the start of their high school graduation exams, during the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Gymnasium Steglitz school in Berlin, Germany, April 20, 2020. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt
Teacher Birgit Steinbach welcomes students before the start of their high school graduation exams, during the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Protestant grammar school in Kleinmachnow, Germany, April 20, 2020. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
23 April 2020, North Rhine-Westphalia, Übach-Palenberg: Pupils, one of them wearing a protective mask, work on computer science tasks in the basic computer science course of the Abitur year at the Carolus-Magnus-Gymnasium. Barely six weeks after the closure of day-care centres and schools due to corona infections in North Rhine-Westphalia, the schools will reopen on Thursday for exam candidates. Photo: Jonas Güttler/dpa (Photo by Jonas Güttler/picture alliance via Getty Images)

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Schools Re-Opening in Other Countries

As most of the 13,000 districts in the U.S. plan for re-opening schools, a few photos of re-opened ones in other countries may give readers a sense of what’s in store for American parents preparing to send their sons and daughters to school.

Schools re-open in different parts of China.

TOPSHOT – Students sit in a classroom as grade three students in middle school and high school return after the term opening was delayed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, in Huaian in China’s eastern Jiangsu province on March 30, 2020. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

*Thanks to Laura Chapman for sending me this photo of Chinese first-graders with hats that keep classmates at a distance

In Vietnam:

In Israel:

Israeli students at the Orot Etzion school in Efrat wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the Coronavirus. 1st-3rd graders returned to school this morning, with keeping social distance inside of hte classrooms, wearing face masks (exempted for 1st graders) and showing off doctor’s notes at the entrance to assure they are healthy. May 3, 2020. Photo by Gershon Elinon/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** למידה מרחוק חינוך חופש תלמידים לומדים מושב אפרת מסכות חזרה ללימודים

Israeli students wear protective face masks as they return to school for the first time since the outbreak of the Coronavirus. 1st-3rd graders returned to school this morning, with keeping social distance inside of hte classrooms, wearing face masks (exempted for 1st graders) and showing off doctor’s notes at the entrance to assure they are healthy on May 3, 2020 in Jerusalem. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** למידה מרחוק חינוך חופש תלמידים לומדים מושב אפרת מסכות חזרה ללימודים

In Denmark:

My guess is that re-opened U.S. schools will vary greatly in arranging classroom space (as these photos illustrate) but there will be constants of mask-wearing and attempts to physically distance students in classrooms– good luck on hallways and cafeterias–until vaccines are available.

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A School Experiment to Remember

Between 1933-1941, thirty high schools in the country and over 300 universities and colleges joined an experiment sponsored by the Progressive Education Association.

Called “The Eight Year Study,” each high school decided for itself what curricula, schedules, and class sizes would be. There were no college admission requirements or must-take tests. Old lesson plans were scrapped. One school sent classes into the West Virginia coal region to study unions. Science, history, art, and math were often combined in projects that students and teachers planned together.

Needless to say, there were stumbles also. A few principals blocked the experiment. Some school faculties divided into warring factions.

While there was much variation among the schools, there were also common elements. Many of the large public high schools (of the 30, fifteen were private) created small schools within the larger one. Principals increased the authority of teachers to design and steer the program; teachers crossed departmental boundaries and created a core curriculum (math/science and English/social studies), set aside three hours a day for teams to work with groups of students, and planned weekly units with students.

What happened to these students when they attended college? To find an answer, evaluators established 1,475 pairs of college students, each consisting of a graduate from an experimental school and one graduate of another high school matched as closely as possible as to age, sex, race, social class, and academic performance. They then compared their performance in college.

Evaluators found that graduates of the thirty schools earned a slightly higher grade average and more academic honors than those who attended regular high school. Furthermore, the “guinea pigs,” as they were called, were more precise in their thinking, displayed more ingenuity in meeting new situations, and demonstrated an active interest in national and world issues than their matched counterpart.

What these startling results showed over 80 years ago was that there was no one single best way of schooling teenagers. The fears that parents and taxpayers had about experimenting with high school courses, organization, and teaching proved hollow in “The Eight Year Study.”

The results of these studies appeared during World War II. The war effort swallowed up any further interest in experimenting with high school programs. Whatever the reasons, “The Eight Year Study” lapsed into the obscurity of scholarly footnotes. Later generations of reformers seldom inquired or cared about this large-scale, non-federally funded experiment that showed convincingly that schools, given the freedom to experiment, could produce graduates that not only did well academically in college but, far more important, displayed an active interest in civic affairs, were resourceful in handling new situations, and could think clearly.*

So what does this half-century old experiment say to us in the in the 21st century about Progressive school reform?

1.When engaged teachers, administrators, and students are given the freedom to experiment and the help to do it, they will come through.
2. There is no one best way of schooling youth.
3. Students can graduate high school who are academically prepared, involved in their communities, and thoughtful problem-solvers.
4. Standards of excellence that work in schools can be set and done locally by adults and students—not imposed from the top-down.

In 2020, federal and state decision-makers and policy elites drive school reform. They set standards, test students, and hold schools and students accountable for their performance. What “The Eight Year Study” (recall that it was sponsored by the Progressive Education Association) demonstrated nearly a century ago is that there are locals–districts, schools, and practitioners—who have the expertise and can be trusted to design and implement different ways to organize schools.

Am I suggesting that this is what all U.S. high schools should do? No, I am not. There are, for example, schools in largely poor urban and rural areas—both minority and white—that can use far more state and federal aid in supplying experienced teachers and coaches, reducing class size and expanding community services. And, yes, even the freedom to try different ways of organizing schools for better teaching and learning.  

If only those who govern and fund schools could learn the essential lesson that every parent with more than one child and every experienced teacher and principal has learned over the years:

*There is no one best way to learn.

*There is no one best way to teach.

*There is no one best way to organize schools.

Amen.

_____________________________

*Additional sources for the Eight Year Study are:

William Wraga, Democracy’s High School: The Comprehensive High School and Educational Reform in the United States. University Press of America. pp. 61–65.

Craig Kridel and Robert Bullough Jr. (2012). Stories of the Eight-Year Study: Reexamining Secondary Education in America. SUNY Press.

Wikipedia

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Why Are Lecturing and Questioning Still Around?

The lecture is 800 years old (Lecture).

Teachers questioning students is millenia-old.

Yet these staple instructional practices while criticized–often severely by pedagogical reformers are alive and well in charter schools, regular public schools, and higher education. And they exist amid a revolution in teachers and students using high-tech devices in and out of the classroom.

Are these ways of teaching simply instances of traditional practices that stick like flypaper because they have  been around for a long time–inertia–or have these practices changed with the times because they are useful ways of communicating knowledge and learning?

LECTURE

Lecturing has been panned by pedagogical reformers for decades.  Over and over again, critics have said that lectures are inappropriate because students forget the facts and learn better when they interact with teachers. Furthermore, with so many high-tech ways of presenting information, prepared talks are obsolete. Yet lecturing remains the primary way professors teach undergraduate courses, high school teachers present information, gurus, and officials across business and government communicate with followers (e.g., TED talks, podcasts, U.S. Presidents speaking from the Oval Office).

If lecturing is so bad for learning and seen as obsolete, how come it is still around? Surely, it is more than inertia or hewing to a sacrosanct tradition of  transmitting knowledge. With new technologies and media (e.g., the printing press, television, computers) no longer is the familiar (and medieval) dictation of text to students necessary. Yet the lecture persists.

As Norm Friesen argues (see The Lecture ) , the persistence of the lecture as a teaching tool for 800 years is due “to its flexibility and adaptability in response to changes in media and technology ….” Lecturing is performing, a way of conveying knowledge in a fresh way, a way of bridging oral tradition and visual culture that teachers, professors, and so many others have continually adapted to new media. The expansion of online learning in higher education and during the 2020 pandemic have not lessened lecturing. Savvy lecturers now use PowerPoint, YouTube, and elaborate technical aids such as Elluminate Live, Prezi, and Zoom to turn talks into live performances. But not all professors and teachers are tech-savvy; lecturers span the spectrum running from thought-provoking talks to eye-glazing tedium. So continuity and change have marked the path the lecture has taken over the centuries.

TEACHER QUESTIONING

Socrates, according to Plato, was one sharp questioner. The persistence of teachers questioning students, seldom in the Socratic tradition, is familiar to both kindergartners and graduate students.

In U.S. classrooms, patterns of teachers questioning students based on what is in the text began with the creation of mid-19th century age-graded schools and self-contained classrooms; teachers were expected to complete chunks of the curriculum by a certain time. Students reciting text easily morphed into teachers asking students specific question after question–what became known as the grammar of instruction.

*A researcher (p.153) cited an 1860 book on teaching methods: “Young teachers are very apt to confound rapid questioning and answers with sure and effective teaching”

*A classroom observer in 1893 described a teacher questioning her students’ knowledge of the text: “In several instances, when a pupil stopped for a moment’s reflection, the teacher remarked abruptly, ‘Don’t stop to think, but tell me what you know.’ ” Persistence of Recitation, p. 149)

*Between 1907-1911, a researcher using a stopwatch and stenographer observed 100 high school English, history, math, science, and foreign language lessons of teachers who principals had identified as superior. She found that teachers asked two to three questions per minute (pp. 41-42).

Many other studies document the historical use of questioning as the basis of classroom lessons.

What is not recorded in many of these studies is the teacher’s ever-present follow-up to a student’s answer: “correct,” “very good,” “incorrect,” “well done.” When a student’s answer is not what the teacher expected or wanted, the teacher will prompt the student with another question or give a clue to the right answer. In effect, teachers judge the quality of the answer and then move on to the next question. Using sociolinguistic theory researchers have analyzed these persistent forms of questioning as a cycle of Initiation-Response-Evaluation (IRE).

IRE is pervasive in classrooms from kindergarten through graduate school seminars. Not the only form of questioning, but it is inextricably tied to the transmittal of information–a task that remains central to teaching, past and present.

Then there is the “Essential Question” that many school teachers and professors use to frame a unit they teach in order to get their students to figure out answers. Examples:

*Is there ever a “just” war?

*How can I sound more like a native speaker?

*What do good problem solvers do, especially when they get stuck?

*What is the relationship between fiction and truth?

Such questions are the basis of units that look very different from content-driven units in a textbook.

And that is why lecturing and questioning have persisted as pedagogical tools. They are flexible and adaptable teaching techniques. With all of the concern for student-centered inquiry and using tougher questions based upon Bloom’s taxonomy, one enduring function of schooling is to transfer academic knowledge and skills (both technical and social) to the next generation. Deeply embedded social beliefs that transmitting knowledge is a primary purpose of schooling remain strong and abiding. So lecturing and questioning will be around for many more centuries.

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The Classroom: The Basic Dilemma That Teachers Face and Manage

Pick the photos that you think best capture activities that you most like to see when you–as a teacher, parent, supervisor, administrator, community activist–enter a classroom.

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

Which ones did you pick? How many did you choose?

Here is my hunch: viewers will choose those photos that best line up with their beliefs about how teachers should teach and students should learn.

Of course, many viewers will pick multiple activities revealed in the photos since in 2020 the mainstream “wisdom” of teaching and learning is that there should be varied activities going on in a classroom over the course of a school day: whole group, small group, independent work. And most teachers organize their lessons to include such activities.

Experienced teachers have learned that–depending upon the age of their students, the subject/skills they are teaching, and their own preferences for what is important for students to learn—multiple ways of organizing classroom space and student work is essential. The photos show the range that often appears in classrooms.

There is “but,” however. What about “personalized learning?” For the past five years, with the ubiquity of classroom devices (e.g., tablets, laptops, smart phones, interactive whiteboards), calls for teachers to individualize student learning have accelerated. Those calls, however, confuse both professional educators, parents, and administrators since varied definitions of “personalized learning” compete with one another.

Consider photo 6.

A colleague sent this picture of students in a school founded and operated by teachers as an example of how learning can be “personalized.” The students are in their cubicles working independently and collaboratively under a teacher’s supervision

Yet were I to have asked teachers in the other photos conducting whole group and small group activities: do you engage in “personalized learning” with your class? My guess is that they would say that a snapshot of one activity in their classroom does not capture the totality of their teaching. They do, indeed, “personalize learning” over the course of a school day.

And that is the rub. The rampant rhetoric of “personalized learning” obscures the complexity of the fundamental work that all teachers must do: teaching content/skills to students. That is their professional obligation–for which they get paid–to enact the basic triangle that captures all classroom teaching.

I don’t think that putting into practice every day lessons that enact the above triangle is hard to grasp even when the standardized organization of schools is age-graded and the imperatives of such an organization–often called the “grammar of schooling”— influence what teachers and students do.

What too often remains missing in definitions of “personalized learning” and most of the photos–including the above figure of the triangle–is the basic dilemma that teachers face daily in putting the triangle into practice: not only do teachers have to perform their academic role as content/skill mavens–a value they prize–but also teachers want to–and are expected to–. build individual relationships with students.

The basic dilemma teachers face is figuring out how to finesse two conflicting values they face daily: teach content/skills and develop bonds with individual students. There is seldom enough time in the school day to do both–teach academics and build relationships with individual students. Because of time pressures, teachers craft compromises and try to do both.

At the end of the day, many teachers reflect not only whether the lesson got students to understand the denominator in fractions but also the unsaid word to comfort Janice when she put her head on the desk or the abrupt way she handled Sondra and Jeff when they had questions.

Because there is so much to do while a lesson unfolds, many teachers –especially secondary school teachers trained in disciplines–end up focusing on one of the two values they prize: the academic role. As the adage goes: they teach biology to students. And most elementary school teachers work on building close connections with individual students as they teach content and skills. They teach children, as the saying goes, reading, math, and science.

Yet regardless of what grade teachers teach, they juggle both values daily in their lessons, interactions with students before, during, and after school, and at home when they grade homework and tests. The quest to “personalize” learning requires teachers to manage both values. And most do learn how to manage both even as that struggle to do so lies hidden to non-teachers.

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