We’ve heard this a lot – but now more than ever, parents are essential partners in our students’ education.
Let’s be clear – we haven’t moved to wholesale home schooling, but rather to learning at home. There is a fundamental difference in that language. Teachers are still very much responsible for making decisions regarding instructional programming for students. And yet, we must make a fundamental shift in how we see our work. Now more than ever, we need to see parents as partners.
Alberta Education has provided direction as to the amount of work students could be expected to accomplish. For elementary students, that works out to about 20% of a ‘normal’ school day, week, month…
But what we are experiencing is not normal, and so whatever content and skills you usually ‘cover’ at this time of year in 100% of the time, for the sake of everyone involved, please put those expectations aside. Your students will not be able to manage. Neither will their parents and neither will you.
No student will be behind. Every student in Alberta is experiencing a lengthy disruption to their normal year of school. It sounds a bit trite to say that we are all in this together, but we actually are! No student is going to be able to accomplish all the learning tasks that are normally assigned during this period of time. And if they do, it’s because they have an exceptional base of support, and those tend to be our students who are most advantaged at the best of times. These are not the best of times.
Just as teachers always do, this is an important time to differentiate for students. Some parents are asking you for more work, and others are saying that it’s too much. The media is offering a glimpse into the reality of learning at home, and parents across the country are beginning to ‘opt out’ of the pressure.
Such a decision would no doubt be difficult for any teacher to experience, so what can we do to try to avoid receiving such a drastic response, while still being true to our professional responsibilities? Our AAC team offers four suggestions for helping to avert a crisis.
Define the Rocks
Most of us have likely forgotten much of the content we learned over our years of schooling. But what we haven’t forgotten, are the key skills that we continue to use in our daily lives – how to differentiate fact from opinion, how to support an argument, how to organize our thoughts within oral and written communication, how to use mental math to estimate, how to double or halve a recipe, and on and on it goes.
With such limited time available for learning for the remainder of this year, consider that the skills within any program of studies are the ‘rocks’ that should go into the learning jar first. Any content learning can then filter in like sand and find its rightful place.
Worksheets will only engage students for so long. Few of us would be content to experience such a limited learning diet for an extended period of time, and it’s the same for our students. Which brings us to the next point…
Focus on Authentic Performance Tasks
Engage students through authentic tasks that will capture their interest – and their commitment to a project. Focus on key skills that apply across a range of topics and contexts. The AAC website has over 250 samples of how learning outcomes can be addressed in tasks that have meaning for students. You’ll likely need to adapt what you find on the website to at-home learning.
Check out the following two AAC Talking Points on the topic of performance assessment for some helpful hints.
March 27, 2020
January 22, 2020
Design a project that focuses on key skills from the curriculum, and that can play itself out within a context that you know will engage each student – or that the student suggests. And that leads to the next point…
For parents who are asking for more work, you can provide that for them. For parents who are asking for less, help them out. Reduce the number of worksheets and find ways to make learning part of normal everyday conversations.
Again, we have an AAC Talking Point with many suggestions for parents during this time of at-home learning. See what suggestions might be helpful as you reach out to parents.
AAC Talking Point March 25, 2020
Stop Focusing on Grades
We keep saying this, but we feel we need to say it again. Yes, Alberta Education has indicated that students will receive a final grade, but they have not said what that final grade should be. Leaders – this decision rests with you.
Check out some recent AAC articles on this topic.
AAC Talking Point April 21, 2020
ATA News April 28, 2020 (p. 3)
International assessment experts have been doing webinars in Alberta. Everyone is saying the same thing. Stop focusing on grades. Whatever system you are using to ‘grade’ students, it will be inaccurate. It will reward students who are already advantaged, and penalize those with limited resources or who require additional supports or different strategies to optimize learning.
‘Credit’ can be the grade for this year. Ranking and sorting, if it must return, can be a focus for another time.
This is not a time to inadvertently allow any student to check out on their learning because they feel inadequate, discouraged, or disinterested. This is the time to make learning relevant and possible for every student.
And if parents ‘opt out’ from the carefully designed program you are offering, please don’t take it personally. The stress is real for families who are dealing with a myriad of unforeseen circumstances. Their child’s spelling mark or participation in the digital math game is likely the lowest priority for them right now. Decisions made by parents cannot and should not be seen as a reflection on you. Remember that meeting the Teaching Quality Standard is a career long endeavour, and we are all new to the new normal. Your professional learning is at an all-time high right now, and we trust that the suggestions we have provided will be helpful.
And remember, AAC members can access the AAC team through Zoom at no charge! Reach out to us and let us know what you need, and we’ll do our best to help. firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep focused on the big picture. Signs of spring are finally here, and summer vacation will surely follow. This year, more than ever, we will all need to take a break from this unprecedented learning experiment. Stay hopeful. We’re counting on you to help guide this generation of children through a learning journey with no road map. Please take care of yourself – physically, emotionally, and professionally.