Monday, May 24, 2021

Post-Covid Educational Reform

 I try to restrain any excitement that bubbles up over the prospect that education will be different when all this ends, assuming it will end. Teachers have suddenly had to learn how to teach in radically different ways, and some of that is gold! But I'm pretty sure we'll end up falling into line again when the time comes. We want everything to be normal again, to get some comfort through familiarity and routine, but now would be the perfect time to bust open some faulty systems that we've accepted as "just the way it's done". 

Many are focusing on the problems Covid-19 has created in schools, but Jonathan Kurtz, in ASCD Express, assembled student responses to a survey he conducted asking for about what changes they actually liked


In my casual conversations with students, many love that they have more time for hobbies and to go for long hikes or read more during the afternoons, and then finish homework in the evenings. In some ways, everything feels more rushed, but since teachers have been forced to condense the work and make every minute count, students benefit from some breathing time. Kurtz says,

"Even with the lost instructional time, I was able to get further with one of my classes than in the past through maximizing formative assessment. I collected more data from each student, and if students were ready to move on, they did. If they struggled, I worked with them during student support time to fill in the gaps. If the whole class struggled, I retaught using a different format. The mix of group time two to three days a week coupled with unstructured support time has made all of us to be more intentional about how we use our time."

Kurtz discusses the later waking times that come with rolling out of bed seconds before class begins, and hopes there's some way to get later start times at his school. It's always very complicated with bussing and sports and other synchronous programs, but it's possible if we make it a priority. 

I love the flexibility of our time. If my lesson is over, I don't have to find a video or further examples from Plan B to take us to the bell. We just stop. And if we're not done talking, we keep going. Our time together is entirely about learning and not about fitting a specific number of minutes.  Kurtz advises rethinking "seat time" away from the "Carnegie unit of 120 hours of class time." Absolutely! I'm not sure what that would actually look like in a school, but I'm willing to find out. There are all sorts of legal reasons, I believe, for tracking attendance, but what if we just tracked understanding in a variety of ways, and ignored how often students were actually in the room with us? And Kurtz asks a most important question: "Do we care about learning, or the appearance of learning?" 


Students love to be able to plan their time better, in a way that works for them. Kurtz says,

About 13 percent of my students reported a decrease in anxiety levels and said they are thriving on the independence virtual learning afforded. One student said, "I feel like I can complete my work way more efficiently due to the fact I don't have to spend hours on end listening to lectures … or just sitting in class unable to be productive. Also, my test anxiety has gotten much better … I feel like I'm actually learning as opposed to drilling terms into my head out of stress that I will forget in a month.

Instead of my typical routine of planning and posting lessons day by day, I posted my entire class worth of work at the beginning of each quadmester, organized by date. A couple found it overwhelming at first, but at the end, everyone said they liked to be able to see what would be coming next. And there are always a few in every class that want to work ahead. I can't understand why we don't encourage that except for the overblown concern that they might have nothing to do later. Good for them! Let them read a book or do their math work instead of focusing 100% on my subject in my subject time. Some kids know that a course is their 'extra' class or they find it really easy, or they love it and get it done first, leaving their other classes for later. That's how I work too whenever I have many things on my plate. They've developed strategies for getting everything done, and it makes no sense to put up barriers to prevent these choices. 


Many people with disabilities have commented that finally teachers and workplaces are allowing people to work in ways that work for them, that enable more productivity in some cases. It's something they've requested for decades, to be told that it's just not possible. How frustrating is it to see just how possible it all is, but only when it's no longer a 'minority issue'! Kurtz explains,

In my program, 63 percent of students said they were interested in more asynchronous virtual courses. One of my students shared that her grades are better, she is more confident, and she is happier this year than she ever has been in the past. She suffers from a social anxiety disorder and was never able to fully concentrate on studies because of the anxiety sparked by a crowded building. 

Social anxiety, physical disabilities, cognitive difficulties that require repeated instruction or a quieter space, vision and hearing difficulties, allergies, bullying, childcare, work... There are so many reasons that some people find it significantly easier to learn from home. At this point it feels unconscionable that we haven't found a way to address this before now.  I know we're hoping to never teach a hybrid method again, but there are clearly some people who are better served by this model, and we can't just ignore that. Kuntz adds, "If we retain fully virtual education for those who want it, in-person class sizes would shrink, which creates a more efficient use of space." It might seem onerous, particularly for one or two kids in each class, but it's very possible to keep streaming meets so the kids at home can learn at the same time. It makes me think of the classroom setup for The Boy in the Plastic Bubble from the 70s. We knew we could do this all along, we just didn't want to.


Kuntz suggests we need to abandon the "industrial-complex model" of education that polices more than it educates. While we're in the processes of dreaming about change, like the students, I love having working time at home. Forcing teachers to prep from school is just a means of policing teachers, which undermines any claims that we're professionals. In Finnish schools, teachers are only in the building during their classes, and then they can prepare and mark from wherever works best for them. Having prepped for the quad already, and the fact that I mark everything within 24 hours, means that this current lockdown has saved me from spending two full weeks going to work to find a corner of the hot, stuffy building that's less occupied, wearing a mask the entire time, just to read books all day and pace, waiting for the final bell to ring. Schools shouldn't feel like cages for anybody. We can do better.


Anonymous said...

We've got a kid in grade 11 this year. The short version of our experience: F.
As in, fail.
For many reasons:
- the Minister (Lecce) and Ford have been acting from agenda, not best practices during a pandemic. Still.
- the 'soluations' to fighting the pandemic at the elementary/secondary levels have caused irreparable damage to an entire generation of kids. Mental illness and apathy will become the new pandemics we'll have to stare down.
- provinces weren't (to our knowledge) forced to coordinate learning from other provinces and the rest of the world when it came to best practices. Of course, making this happen would have been a disaster because there are too many egos in the room. Everyone seems to be an expert with pandemics when there are none (experts, that is).
- they handed decision making to local boards, empowering stupidity, duplication and absurdity to the nth degree.
- the technology and most education online was handed over to a single company (a company which used Microsoft as its core operating system). Bad idea. The whole technology effort only empowered more private sources at extreme cost to the public. Also, because everything is based on MS, Chrome (for which Doug Ford bought thousands of laptops) and Apple experienced a LOT of incompatibility issues across the province. Every extra hour wasted on trouble-shooting probably equals 10 hours fried when it comes to a kid's attention span.
- The Independent Learning Centre (ILC) quickly became: first, an option (especially for parents and students desparate to avoid droning of teachers not trained to use the web); second, competition to public schools (because you couldn't register with a local board and ILC at the same time) and then third, a for-profit centre that will be sold off to the highest bidder. This is a COMPLETE wasted opportunity because it fails to help families address their needs across ALL options.
- STUDENTS and PARENTS are the CLIENTS. I cannot yell that loud enough, but EVERYONE seems to have forgotten that, including unions, politicians, teachers, bloated boards, and others. At some point, parents and students need to strike against the complete disaster that is public education.
- why do we have so many local boards?
- we continue to fund a separate school board system that is fracturing our society. Stop religious education funding.

Finally, we can't talk about changing our education system without addressing university funding, especially when campuses were huge breeding grounds for Covid. This has a lot to do with how disproportionate revenue is now coming from international sources. We need to balance the equation. I say we stop funding universities and start funding separate grant/bursary programs for better students or expanding the OSAP program.

Funds saved would go into public elementary and secondary non-separated school funding.

Unfortunately, this has to be done across Canada because most of our juridictions replicate these issues.

Marie Snyder said...

@ Anon, Yup! It's been horrific, and I'm sorry your kid had such a difficult time of it, but there's nothing we can do about what happened this year. I have many many posts about what a shitshow it all is, that teachers should strike, and about the evils of privatization! This particular post is trying to look to the post-Covid future to see if there's anything we can learn from it all to change our teaching practices, if it doesn't just revert to what it was (which it probably will - but we can dream)! I'm with you on the separate system, but I disagree with removing university funding - I think we need universities to be more funded by the government so they're less affected by private enterprise. I don't want to take from one school to give to another. If we want more money for the schools, from K to uni, we can raise the top marginal tax rate. It worked in the 50s and 60s!

Owen Gray said...

I confess I'm distant from the educational system now. So I don't know how accurate my perceptions are. But I suspect those who have the technology -- and who know how to use it -- are doing fine. Those who come from less technologically literate households -- those that are financially insecure -- are not doing well.

Marie Snyder said...

Hi Owen! It's amazing how difficult it is to teach and learn online!! So many things make a difference in experience. One is tech, for sure, but so far I've only had one student with wifi issues, and my schoolboard gave each secondary student a laptop, so those weren't big issues for me personally. But then there's the subject matter (I took out parts of the course that I just couldn't teach without being able to see their work immediately and comment up and down the aisles). My classes generally go well because they're discussion based. Math is a whole other ballgame. And then the teacher makes a difference. And some teachers are definitely up for this change more than others. But it still takes up a part of my brain to co-ordinate the back and forth speakers so kids at home can be heard in the classroom, and kids in the room can be heard at home (cameras off always). It's just one switch I have to remember to flip back and forth depending on who's talking. I would be horrible as a radio tech dude.