In the State of Washington, Governor Jay Inslee closed the schools on March 12.
On April 2nd, many schools were still not teaching kids.
Many other states closed their schools and moved right to online learning or virtual teaching.
Washington is home to Seattle, one of the most advanced tech hubs in the world. Yet they can’t figure out how to use laptops or tablets, wifi or hotspots, and Zoom to get kids back on track learning?
I realize it’s nowhere near as simple as that made it sound. But it’s not really about the ability to do it, or how well or thoughtful the program is. It’s far more complicated.
If you keep your ear to the ground and speak with local teachers, pay attention to communications from school administrators, or read the press coverage, so much of this is really about equality.
The premise is we can’t teach any kids until we have a level playing field. It’s not fair to proceed with kids who have laptops, home wifi, or just family situations that lend themselves to a solid learning environment. And then there’s special needs kids. Advanced Placement kids.
But that’s just it. There are so many dynamic factors that it’s impossible to get to a point where the playing field is level. Kids learn at different speeds. Some teachers are more effective for some kids than others. Some ask many questions. Some don’t ask any. Some don’t show up for school when it’s in session. Some won’t show up for this.
The goal shouldn’t be to perfectly recreate the previous classroom environment or make sure grading and testing is done the same way. Those things can be worked out as you go.
The main goal should be to get as many kids as possible back in the repetitious routine of daily learning. Kids need structure and repetition to learn. (It’s not all they need, but it’s an important element – especially for structured disciplines, like math.)
The longer kids are away from a learning environment, the harder it will be for them to redevelop the habits and routines. Also, they’re going to learn the most when they’re young, fresh, and curious. It doesn’t necessarily matter if you teach them something from the pre-purchased district textbook. They can learn other lessons and explore other topics.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as giving them expectations and deadlines. Even if the teacher meets with the class once a week just to give them a list of books they could read. A teacher could give the class a list of 20 books and tell them to have one read by next week. Then do it again.
The teacher can make themselves available in an office hours format for each book. The main goal is to give the kids assignments and expectations.
Learning isn’t just about what’s going to be on the test. Sometimes, when you give the student some choices in the context of the learning, they may find a path they may otherwise not have found on their own.
And for those kids who can’t get up and running right away due to computer availability or other limitations, we have plenty of social case workers and now out-of-work tech people who could rally to the cause to help out and get kids the tools and resources they need.
In times like these, you often hear politicians say things like, “if we save just one life…” But that line of thinking is almost always faulty. If one kid gets left behind, we should hold all kids behind?
That doesn’t make sense at all. Meanwhile, some kids in the state are getting thoughtful, organized home schooling. Why is that fair? Kids in some other states are still going to school. Why is that fair? Some states are out of school but doing online learning. How is that fair?
You can spend a lot of time trying to make things fair. And while you’re doing that, the rest of the world is passing you by.
Get as many kids moving as is possible, and every day, get a few more on board until you have as many as you can. It’s not ideal, but it’s the best option available. And it’s what’s best for the most kids.