Thursday, July 9, 2020

Student Voices: Remote Learning Lessons and the Return to School

In the Washoe County School District in western Nevada, stakeholders were surveyed about the return to school in the fall. Among those stakeholders were students who were asked about four key areas of concern including health and safety, learning issues, the physical environment, and their attitudes about returning to school.

63% of students supported going back to school with 29% reporting that they would be more open to a blended environment. Based on their experiences with distance/remote learning, students were asked about their priorities for distance education, which included attention to new learning and live meetings in small and large groups with their teachers.

While 65% of students said that they would be returning, another 29% of them said that they would only do so depending on their school district’s plan, which could include a variety of options for masking, social distancing, temperature checks, etc. 

In Tampa Bay, Hillsborough County residents were also surveyed with 77% of parents reporting that virtual learning was either a “no” or a “maybe” if given a choice when schools reopened. The school district, based on their collected data, is still anticipating tens of thousands of students opting for virtual instruction, causing an expansion of the Hillsborough Virtual School as they prepare for whatever fall will bring.

Students at Boston University indicated that most were excited about coming back to campus in the fall but had concerns about integrating with the surrounding community, health and safety concerns about facial coverings and social distancing, and also reported that they feel the depth and quality of their educational experience may suffer if they are not in person on campus.

If learning does continue to be online or blended, students have offered some insight into what is working and what is not working based on their three-month remote learning experiences.

Students that contributed responses to the New York Times’ Current Events Conversations Writing Prompts shared some of the same overlapping concerns, including that the workload was overwhelming at times, that for some, it’s impossible to learn anything new through distance learning, and that there was a lot of confusion involved. Some responses also talked about the preference for learning online and others talked about how much they miss the social aspects of school.

Some of these same concerns were echoed by respondents to a survey by New York’s Chalkbeat Education News Service in June. Students were concerned about the assignment of tasks devoid of explanations and elaborations. Students questioned how compact the day was versus regular, in-person school as well as the lack of communication around questions and deadlines for assignments.
In a Western New York suburban school district, a high school teacher asked her students to reflect on remote learning and the impact that it had on them. Here is a sampling of the questions that were asked:

  • How have you done overall with this "remote learning" time? What worked for you? What didn't?
  • Where has your motivation come from?
  • How are you balancing your course load? Has this time been more difficult managing assignments?
  • What advice do you have for the school if "remote learning" continues? 

And here are some of their responses (paraphrased or edited to summarize responses, invite clarity, or to omit identifying information):

  • Being at home kind of made work feel like an option.
  • Remote learning was a challenge.
  • My main motivation came from my parents, not from myself.
  • Some students reported having to take care of or teach siblings which impacted their work and ability to meet deadlines.
  • Students had trouble with organization and/or creating a schedule to get work done.
  • Advice for planning: be understanding and lenient with grades, deadlines, and expectations for learning new material.
  • Some students reported issues with devices and learning management systems.
  • Live video enabled questions and real time conversations that recorded video did not.
  • Not being able to go to school has made me miss it.
  • It is way easier to learn with a teacher in front of me.
  • Remote learning is way harder than being in the physical classroom.
  • (Before the quarantine) I didn’t go to (physical) school often. Remote learning was the best thing to happen.
  • When my mother tested positive for Covid-19, I missed weeks worth of work taking care of her.
  • I get sidetracked often, particularly when it comes to things I don’t want to do.
  • Using technology slows me down.
  • I find myself doing many other things which has caused stress because I’m not managing my assignments.
  • It will be very hard to continue with remote learning.

As districts are actively working on plans for the fall and whether their scenarios will be in-person, virtual, or a blend of these, it’s important to keep students and their perspectives at the center of the decision making processes. 

There are a lot of difficult choices ahead and we need to ensure that our decisions around those choices include student voices. From what has been shared here, and across multiple other resources about reopening schools, it’s clear that everyone, especially students, wants to see a return to normalcy. Within the confines and parameters that we are now working, students have ideas and comments about the quality of instruction, the attendance to their individual needs as online and in-person learners, and their desire for socialization and communication both with peers and teachers. Inviting student voices is critical to the success of any planned scenario for getting back to school.

Bauman, C. (2020, June 25). NYC students want to return to in-person learning this fall, but with caveats. Retrieved July 07, 2020, from
Laskowski, A. (2020, June 11). Students Voice Range of Emotions about Returning to Campus This Fall. Retrieved July 08, 2020, from
Sokol, M. (2020, June 10). Nearly half of Hillsborough parents, teachers wary of returning to schools. Retrieved July 05, 2020, from
The Learning Network. (2020, April 09). What Students Are Saying About Remote Learning. Retrieved July 09, 2020, from
Washoe Schools. (2020, July 7). COVID-19 Response / Reopening Surveys. Retrieved July 07, 2020, from
Photo by Anissa Thompson from

Monday, June 1, 2020

4 Pedagogical Considerations for Ongoing Instruction

Since we are likely to be continuing to deal with the fallout from the Covid-19 Pandemic in the fall, I wanted to offer some ideas for how teachers can approach the way they are teaching whether the learning is online or offline, remote or physical. I’ve been working with teachers and students during this time and what follows is based on observations and wonderments during our work together, while also adding my own thoughts about creating a contemporary curriculum.

As a companion to each of the following, I’d like to underscore the importance of connections and the social / emotional needs of students. It’s going to be difficult to learn if students are having trouble negotiating safe learning spaces and trauma-informed learning opportunities. This pandemic has been rough on students, whether because of access issues, managing home and school responsibilities, loss of structure, caring for family members, etc. All students will be impacted in some way and we have a responsibility to be proactive about caring for them as they come back to school. 

Students need to be able to start from where they are and move forward as they are ready. This may require many scaffolds and differentiated opportunities to get students to a place where learning can occur.
If at all possible, and especially for elementary children, perhaps give some thought to moving them as an existing group to the next grade level. For instance, take a current classroom of students and move them together to a new teacher without breaking them apart or reconfiguring groups for next year. Students may benefit from the maintenance of already created classmate relationships and interpersonal dynamics. While there may be a small percentage of need-based switches, keeping students together may be helpful in quickly getting the learning back on track. 

We have a unique opportunity to truly build a community of learners. We’ve learned so much about our capabilities as educators and there is so much more on the menu of what can accomplish with students as our focus and our partners in navigating contemporary learning practices. That said, the following, in tandem with considerations for social / emotional needs, are umbrella categories that can be applied no matter how you document your curriculum:

  • Remember that one of the big curriculum constants is the standards. Those standards are a launching pad in and of themselves when you think about what concepts build over time, like in math or science, or skills that are practiced and sophisticated over time like reading, writing, research, and speaking. It may be worthwhile to have some discussions here at the end of the school year and during summer curriculum work around some priority standards and what they mean in the transition from one grade level to the next.
  • In addition, it’s always a good idea to help teachers situate their perspectives by exploring grade-level standards that are one grade level above and below the current grade they teach. That may be particularly important this year, for students who missed a significant portion of in-person instruction.
  • Have collegial discussions and consensus around what standards are most important. This will be especially critical if learning continues to be online.
  • In order for students to begin new learning, what prerequisite skills must they be proficient with? What concept basics do they need in order to move to the next learning moment? What parts will need explicit instruction? What skills and concepts can be independently learned? How will support be given for new learning and continued practice?
  • Whether online or in-person, it is critical in contemporary learning to give students opportunities to explore and discover as an introductory step to launching the learning process. We want to build curiosity and spark authentic inquiry.
  • This is a great opportunity to invite students into the learning process. What direction might they take the learning? Where could they look for answers to their questions? How might they approach the attainment of learning targets within a teacher’s desired plans? What are some unintended consequences / opportunities when students have a voice and choice in their own learning?
  • This is also a great opportunity for students to document their learning processes in a variety of ways: notes, sketch notes, models, examples, podcasts, websites, everything on the continuum of traditional to contemporary that allows students to collect and curate their explorations, discoveries, and inquiries.
  • Those documentations should be collaboratively created as a community of learners with contributions from students, teachers, experts, anyone with knowledge to share. This is a good opportunity to reach out to different networks for contributions to the students' documentation of their learning.
  • Note that documentations are also an assessment of process and progress. They are coaching opportunities to help guide students through and beyond what they are being tasked with learning.
  • What will students DO with what they’ve learned? This is, perhaps, the most contemporary action that a teacher can take when thinking about assessment.
  • This is also another good moment for students to be able to offer their voices and choices for how they will demonstrate their learning.
  • Teachers can help students expand the audience for their work beyond the classroom. With an increased audience, students will create higher quality work / deliverables.
  • Teachers can also help students transcend the depth of their demonstrations of learning. Are we going to continue to offer worksheets or end of unit textbook assessment opportunities or can we promote more contemporary actions like a community presentation, a film festival, or the creation of something really innovative or surprising.
Included with this blog post are two organizers to help teachers as they unravel what to work on now and what to work on next. Please note that these organizing tools are in Google Docs in “VIEW ONLY” mode, meaning that you can copy these into your Google Drive, and then they belong to you to manipulate as you see fit. I am open to comments, questions, suggestions for improvement, or any other dialogue that will make this process easier for all involved.

Note that the Learning Experience Plan Organizer is split into three sections: Documenting Instructional Design, Documenting Instructional Practices, and Documenting Contemporary Decisions. These can be worked on individually or in relation to needs on top of what you may already have documented. In short, you may not need the whole thing.

Friday, April 17, 2020

7 Questions to Ask in Our Transition Plans

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) - United States Department of ...
It’s been a little over a month for many school communities and we’re still facing weeks, if not months, of continued remote learning. But we also have our sights set on what’s next as we prepare for what is after right now. 

We’re grappling with some old questions that now have a renewed focus:

  1. How do we invite students into the plan? Listening to and acting on student voices has never been more important. They should be invited partners in the coming work. If students are to be self-directed and have more autonomy in the classroom then they have to have a stake in planning, outcomes, and deliverables. Contemporary learning isn’t contemporary unless all voices are included, student voices in particular - they are the ones doing the work. It makes sense to establish the worth of their ideas early in the planning stages, as they have been the recipients of the many different modes of instructional and learning practices over the last few weeks. They have good ideas about what works for them. More here: See what students are already saying about remote learning.
  2. How can we invite and maintain the highest levels of equity? Now that we have blatantly uncovered the haves and have nots in terms of access and support, there is a renewed responsibility for supporting all learners in every way we can. Now more than ever, we have to be advocates for every single student. This is not just a school effort. This is a community responsibility, working in coordination with schools, local government, parents, and students. We can shape school into something wonderful, something we’ve never been able to do before now with everyone at the table in whatever ways it takes to get them there. More here: Why Covid-19 is our equity check.
  3. How do we focus more on quality and authenticity in autonomous and multi-synchronous environments? Schools should think about how they can leverage performances and demonstrations of learning for the sake of knowing students have learned what is intended for them to learn. Do our grading and assessment systems embody quality or quantity? If students are at the planning table, what possibilities exist in the creation of deliverables? Would a shift toward discovery and exploration with a clear focus on inquiry help the community of learners grow their thinking and performance capabilities? It’s a challenge for sure, but a worthy challenge to embark on with students. Students (and their teachers!) can do challenging things. That’s been proven as of late. Let’s keep the momentum going! More here: Modernize your instructional practices in 11 ways.
  4. How do we support parents and families in all the ways we need to for access, continued engagement, and as essential elements of our systems and programs? If parents are going to be in a renewed partnership with schools, it would be helpful to continue to invite, appreciate, and design learning experiences with parents as contributors. The responsibility for instruction and learning has swiftly shifted. It would be amazing to keep this community of learners in place as we move forward to whatever happens after our current situation is over. Parents as partners has the potential to revolutionize education. It always has. Now that the spotlight is on how much we critically need parents, perhaps we can be more mindful about including them from now on! More here: 7 tips for parents supporting remote learning.
  5. What is the real worth of traditional modes? If schools are truly in charge of their schedules, times for learning, intervention practices, curriculum development, etc., then there should be planning that involves remixing our traditions. We’ve never known what we could do until we had to do it. And now that we’ve done it, we’ve shifted our capabilities and heightened our opportunities and potential for real impact. We must leverage these new capabilities and make room for new thinking and new possibilities. More here: From traditional high school learning to co-created learning experiences.
  6. How do we rethink spaces and places for learning? What if we set up online and interactive spaces at the beginning of the school year in the same way we collect phone numbers and other needed/essential information? Some thought should be given to identify early who doesn’t have access and actively work to get students into equitable spaces. Districts may need to consider deployment plans for wifi access with hotspots and with devices. Schools should establish synchronous and asynchronous places to learn and reimagine physical spaces for the benefit of the learner. Schools should spend time at the beginning of the year onboarding students into multi-synchronous environments with expectations that learning can happen anywhere, anytime, with a renewed focus on learner needs (SEL), self-direction, communities for learning, and joy.
  7. What else might we need to think about? Upending traditional structures will also matter if we start back to school under continued rules for social distancing and sanitization. Districts may need to consider options for roving start times and student rotations throughout the day. This will necessitate conversations about priorities in instruction and assessment and create opportunities for bold and robust teaching and learning.
We have a renewed sense of community and contribution from an array of stakeholders. This is a good time to put in the work of observing and analyzing what’s happening now to help inform what happens next. 

What questions are on your mind or that you are wrestling with as you plan ahead? Share your questions and comments below as we start to unravel our next steps.

Image from US Department of State, Labeled for Reuse

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Coronavirus Conversations: Leveraging Networks and Resources for Online Learning

Please see additional blogs from colleagues and friends after this blog post...

As learners are potentially and quickly shifting from a physical space to a more connected online and public space, teachers want to maintain opportunities for exploration, staying on track with learning goals, all while keeping students safe in a new learning environment.  If and when schools close and alternative methods have to be deployed, teachers will want to continue to be clear about student learning goals and objectives. This will require being thoughtful about WAYS in which they will potentially interact with students and WHAT they will use as relevant resources to support continued student learning. If this will become an opportunity for “online schooling” rather than just online learning then there will be some expectations for self-regulation, motivation to continue to learn at home, and figuring out how students will demonstrate their learning in this new model. 

The big goal here is not just to access information for the sake of doing something should school close, it’s really creating opportunities for collaborative learning and cooperative thinking while leveraging innovations we’ve not had before. We’re enabling learning ANYWHERE! With ANYONE! To that end, here are some potential options for engaging several levels of networks with students:

  • Small Teacher to Student interactions: Remind App or Class Dojo (For teachers to push out announcements, tasks, ideas for learning, links, etc.)
  • Small-Group / Classroom level interactions: Schoology or another online access platform for learning...including blogs. (For teachers to engage in group connectivity, create learning teams, share materials, assign work, converse with students, brainstorm potential (digital) products, etc.)
  • Large Group interactions: Social Media such as Facebook or Twitter (For districts/schools to share announcements, global expectations for a learning organization, create space for conversations and district to home communications.)
  • You may want to consider surveying students now to find out which students do not have access and begin planning resources for those students that are not online.
  • Consider “Office Hours” for equity by phone or school-based phone system to push out information (perhaps daily) for on and offline learning opportunities.
  • Don’t forget snail mail. Documents and information can also be disseminated in the mail, particularly for students with limited or no online access.
  • If you want to explore multiple options for online learning structures or management systems, CLICK THIS LINK to see a list.
  • If you want to contribute to a resource list for schools/teachers of online learning opportunities, CLICK HERE to access a Google Form to share resources. There are already quite a few tools there and we welcome any ideas/resources you have to share!
  • CLICK HERE to access the spreadsheet of those resources.
  • Districts may also want to take a look at this document from International Teachers on the logistics of their responses to school closures and some of the big decisions that they had to make: “If I Had It To Do Over Again.”

If there is time for your school/classroom, it would be a good idea to practice with students on the usage of these tools and any protocols for their use prior to implementation. This especially important for younger students (and their parents!) to make sure there is clarity about expectations and instructional actions at home. My hope is that this is good practice for future unexpected closures such as snow days. What if we just have online days instead? My hope is also for resiliency in the face of adversity. We must believe that we are up to the challenge at hand and model perseverance and ingenuity for our students. We’re navigating the unknown and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a place of needs to be a place of hope. We will weather this storm.

Note: This post is part of a collaboration between several friends and colleagues who all support great teaching and learning. Check out these other great posts to help you support at-home learning for your students:

Mike Anderson

Mike Anderson shares how we can support routines and behaviors, offer choice, and use language to value the voice of learners as they engage in at-home learning.

Mike Fisher

Mike Fisher shares that if schools need to make decisions about learning online there are several considerations. This includes scale — how big or small you want the opportunity to be and whether your messages and interactions are for big or small groups. It also includes multiple relevant resources and knowing where to go to get what you need for learning experiences.

Bena Kallick and Allison Zmuda

In their first blog post, Bena and Allison offer reflective questions both for educators and students to consider as the entire school community faces new challenges and opportunities. To find more ideas and suggestions on Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind, please visit Learning Personalized and The Institute for Habits of Mind
In the second blog post, Bena and Allison suggest a few tips to a Habit of Mind worth tending to right now— managing impulsivity. To find more ideas and suggestions on Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind, please visit Learning Personalized and The Institute for Habits of Mind.

Aaron Roberts

Aaron Roberts considers the parent, guardian, and caretaker perspective with this new shift in learning. Now that school is suddenly at home, how can adults and kids work together to make a powerful home learning environment? These five tips can help you make the best of this situation. Roberts is a Learning Experience Designer with Mason City Schools in Mason, Ohio. Stories about Mason’s journey into personalized learning can be found at their blog and by following their exploits on Twitter using #MasonPLJourney

Silvia Tolisano

Silvia Tolisano shares her concrete tools and pedagogical guidance on how to grow thinking and sharing with learners in a virtual space. Her blog post shifts our perspective from purely a reactionary one to an “incredible opportunity to document these new forms of learning and collaboratively redefine teaching and learning for the future.” Silvia’s site is a treasure trove of instructional practices and processes that elevate learner voice and co-creation as they seek out information and share their ideas with others.