Pandemic Pedagogy: Some Questions About Being “Successful” and Getting it “Right”

Introduction

With the midpoint of the summer and the July 4th Holiday weekend in the rear view, and states (like our own home of Michigan) now releasing plans for a “safe return to school” in August, we feel it is worth taking time to pause.  

As parents and teacher educators, as well as long-time colleagues and friends, the two of us have had many conversations in the past month as educators in the state of Michigan and around the world have moved to “remote learning” in K-12 and higher education.

In thinking about ways we can productively talk about complicated issues, we have been informed by our experiences in the National Writing Project, and the use of protocols, or guided discussion models, for moving forward through difficult conversations. 

In a recent chat, we used the “What? So What? Now What?” protocol to share our thoughts and feelings related to “pandemic pedagogy,” “getting remote learning ‘right,’” and other phrases that capture the COVID-19 zeitgeist. 

This blog post summarizes our current thinking and, we hope, will serve as a time capsule for questions we need to ask in the weeks, months, and years ahead. 

What? 

Humans, by nature, want to help others. Our willingness to do so is, most often, well-intentioned. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 and both higher education and K-12 schools moving to “remote” instruction, there have been a number of companies that have offered their products for free (or at reduced cost) so that teachers and students can use them.  Moreover, professional organizations have shared K-12 resources through blogs, podcasts, webinars, lesson plans, and countless social media posts. We believe teachers and their students are doing the best they can, given the circumstances. We also trust that parents and guardians are doing the best they can. Humans are navigating uncertain futures and as we do so, we must help ourselves and our children navigate what is, indeed, a brave new world.

That said, in the past few months — and even more so in as we reflect on “remote learning” successes and failures from the end of the 2019-20 academic year — there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of such resources that have been distributed to support a “continuity of learning.” Again, all well-intentioned, and many useful. 

However, when we see headlines like “getting remote learning right” or “successful strategies for online teaching,” we wonder what “right” or “successful” (or, for that matter, “teaching”) even means. While we do have empirical evidence about “what works” for nearly all students in typical school settings (e.g., IES What Works Clearinghouse), which are still in and of themselves contextual, we don’t yet know what works for all teachers and students when teaching and learning remotely. We also don’t yet know the full impact of social distancing on teachers’ and students’ learning and emotional well-being.

We are left with many questions, few answers, and a great deal of uncertainty. 

So What?

Despite the terrible, tragic circumstances in which we find ourselves, one of the silver linings, perhaps even a gift, of this pandemic for educators —  if we dare call it a gift — is the opportunity to re-think what has been considered the standard parts of teaching and learning for decades, if not centuries. As educational professionals, if we want to take advantage of what we’re learning and experiencing in this COVID-19 era, we must be willing to ask (and, eventually, answer) some important questions.  So, as we consider the days, months, and years ahead, we believe that it will be imperative to create time and space for conversations about what we’ve experienced and learned. 

In other words, as the world is experiencing a pandemic,  what is “right” or “successful” for one remote school or class may not actually be “right” or “successful” for another. And, we believe that part of getting it “right” — or achieving “success” —  extends well beyond the immediate needs and outcomes of the upcoming 2020-21 academic year. 

Indeed, the ways we prepare ourselves for 2020-21 matters in many, many ways. Thus,  framing questions for the conversations we have now — both about what we’re experiencing and learning as well as  how we can use what we learn to help us move forward in the future — is critical. 

Now What?

As noted above, there are already countless resources available for remote teaching and learning. 

We are not dispensing more advice or resources in this post. There are so many of us — individual teachers, entire school faculties, district administrators, teacher educators, policy makers, the business community, and, of course parents and caregivers of our youth — all of whom have questions. And, we’re all trying to figure things out. 

Instead, we want to pivot and pose some questions that, right now, can’t be fully answered here as we are still trying to plan for August. Whatever happens in a few weeks, when schools “re-open” for the fall, we know that it will still be an era of pandemic pedagogy. 

In fact, we consider this a “time capsule” of sorts, and these questions, we hope, can guide our own thinking as well as our PK-12 and higher education colleagues as we transition into a post-COVID, socially un-distanced world. Whether we are face-to-face, online, or both — and whether we are talking about one day of instruction, one week, one month, or a whole year — we wonder…

For educators:

  • What is essential for your students to learn, in terms of content and skills? 
  • What is essential for your students to do as they learn to communicate with one another? 
  • What were the “rhythms” of the school week for each of you? What was the workflow? When did you meet with students? How did you support students’ emotional and academic needs?
  • What communication media (text, image, video, audio), methods (through an LMS, via text message, via email), audiences (one student, small group, whole class), and frequency (hourly, daily, weekly) are effective? 
  • What content needs to be “delivered,” asynchronously, and what, instead, might need to be “modeled” and “coached,” synchronously? 
  • What should be the [new] norms of online meetings with students? 
  • In this time of remote learning, what practices have you developed that could be carried forward, in hybrid or fully online courses?
  • What have you learned about yourself, your teaching style, and what you really value as an educator?
  • How might this entire experience frame your pedagogy and practice moving forward? 
  • How much synchronicity is necessary? For full classes? For small groups? For individual tutorials? 
  • What ways did you see students be creative as they developed their thinking and expressed what they learned? How might they have used “old” and “new” technologies to meet these goals? 

For administrators:

  • What worked best for communicating with your staff? For providing feedback and direction? For maintaining relationships and supporting one another?
  • What might have worked well in the past for organizing faculty meetings, curriculum, assessments, PLCs, etc.? How did these change and, perhaps, become more [or less] efficient? 
  • For online meetings with other adults/colleagues, what norms did you establish and how did these facilitate communication and teamwork? 
  • Based on your experiences supporting teachers during remote teaching and learning, what changes do you hope/expect to make when you return to brick and mortar buildings and classrooms?
  • How did you partner with and/or support students and their families?
  • What success(es) should be celebrated?

For business and community members:

  • In our efforts to create a 21st-century workforce — and with the changes that have been made in your places of work over the past two months — what should educators know about what it means to prepare their students for the workforce in months and years ahead? Given potential past efforts connected to volunteerism and mentorship opportunities for employees to work with K-12 students, what might you need to reconsider when planning for future opportunities?
  • Even in light of the economic impact that all businesses are sure to face, what role do we all play in providing equitable access to broadband or mobile internet, as well as low-cost laptops or devices for family use, both for K-12 students as well as their caregivers who may be reskilling for a new job? 
  • What new partnerships could be developed with local K-12 schools to support students’ learning and connect their learning to the community? 

For higher education faculty, administrators, and teacher educators: 

  • How do we effectively prepare preservice teachers for all the realities of teaching and learning, including future remote teaching and learning?
  • How can teacher educators clearly model high-leverage teaching and learning practices for preservice teachers?
  • How can colleges/schools and departments of education more directly support our communities’ schools, including their teachers and students as well as parents and caregivers?
  • How can we better advocate for and partner with local K-12 districts and schools when integrating technology?
  • What new partnerships, programs, and models could be forged to partner universities and K-12 schools (e.g., traditional models of student teaching and field placements, dictating required observation/teaching hours, etc.)?

For parents, guardians, and caregivers: 

  • What are your children passionate about? How did you help them follow those passions in this time of staying home and staying safe?
  • On the flip side, what led our kids to distraction (and/or ourselves)? What did we do to help them learn and/or practice self-regulation and to follow their interests?
  • What kinds of topics, subject areas, and questions did they follow?
  • What did you notice about their use of various learning technologies and modalities such as video, audio, and text, as well as virtual interactions with others?
  • How did you and/or your child[ren] process the “loss” of the remainder of the school year?
  • What do your children need as they head back to a regular school building and schedule, whenever that might be? 
  • What do you, as a parent/guardian, need as you send your child[ren] back to a regular school building and schedule, whenever that might be? 
  • What was most helpful, in terms of the way(s) your school/district responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • What was least helpful, in terms of the way(s) your school/district responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?

For legislators: 

  • What laws perpetuate inequality for public education and how can we change these to ensure all students have access, no matter the location of learning and/or the modes/methods?
  • What needs to change, at the state and/or national levels, so that K-12 administrators and educators can quickly and effectively respond to current needs and environments, including the need for remote teaching and learning?
  • What role does technology play in providing “equal access for all” K-12 students?
  • What do you need/want to learn from K-12 teachers as well as their students and families about their experiences with remote teaching/learning during this crisis? 
  • Beyond increasing teachers’ pay, how might we recognize the contributions that educators and schools/districts made to students’ learning, both intellectual and socio-emotional, during this difficult time?
  • What can we do to recruit new teachers to join/stay in the profession, and prepare them for new modes of instruction?
  • What can we do to keep current teachers in the profession and how can we prepare and support them for new modes of instruction?

(A Few) Essential Questions as We Move Forward

These are a lot of questions and necessitate conversations over time. As we conclude, we close with a few questions for us all:

  • What might a typical school day (week) look like in the years ahead? 
  • How might we build remote/online learning into our normal patterns of work?
  • How will we maximize synchronous learning times, whether face-to-face or remote? 
  • What content can be “delivered” asynchronously and what platforms/delivery works best for asynchronous delivery?
  • How will we engage all students in substantive learning, inviting them to create — and not just consume — content?

These are more questions, we know, than can be answered right now.  However, in addition to responding and reacting to immediate needs and contents, we must also deliberately think about what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and its impact on students’ learning and development. 

We are, indeed, in the midst of a pandemic pedagogy and while we’re all hard at work, our success and ability to “get it right” depends not only on what we do right now but also what we do moving forward.

We hope you’ll consider joining the conversation that these questions invite.


Erica R. HamiltonDr. Erica R. Hamilton, Grand Valley State University, Grand Rapids, MI

Erica R. Hamilton works with pre-service and in-service teachers and serves as a K-12 teacher coach and professional development provider. Erica’s teaching focuses on helping teachers support and extend K-12 students’ literacy and learning. Committed to professional service, Erica currently serves on GVSU’s Online Education Council and GVSU’s IRB committee. She is a peer reviewer for various journals and organizations and is active in West Michigan schools. Her research interests focus on teacher learning and professional development, place-based education, literacy, and educational technology. Connect with her on Twitter @ericarhamilton.

Troy Hicks Portrait

Dr. Troy Hicks, Central Michigan University, Mt. Pleasant, MI

Dr. Troy Hicks is Professor of English and Education at Central Michigan University (CMU). He directs the Chippewa River Writing Project and, previously, the Master of Arts in Learning, Design & Technology program. A former middle school teacher, he collaborates with K–12 colleagues and explores how they implement newer literacies in their classrooms. Since beginning work at CMU in 2007, he has earned numerous distinctions including the Michigan Council of Teachers of English Charles Carpenter Fries Award (2008), CMU’s Provost’s Award for junior faculty who demonstrate outstanding achievement in research and creative activity (2011), the Richard A. Meade Award for scholarship in English Education (2014), the Michigan Reading Association’s Teacher Educator Award (2018), CMU’s Excellence in Teaching Award (2020), and the Initiative for 21st Century Literacies Research’s Divergent Award for Excellence (2020). An ISTE Certified Educator, Dr. Hicks has authored numerous books, articles, chapters, blog posts, and other resources broadly related to the teaching of literacy in our digital age. Follow him on Twitter: @hickstro


Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

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Pledge to Support #EducatorEquity

So much has been said in the past few weeks since the death of George Floyd that any additional words would be wasted. So, let me get to the point.

As we see protests in America and around the world, I feel the need to act.

To that end, I am personally committing to three items.

I am, as suggested by Cait Hutsell, going to begin doing this work in public. And, I am taking a stance similar to those offered by many professional organizations to which I belong including the National Council of Teachers of English, the Michigan Council of Teachers of English, the National Writing Project, the International Society for Technology in Education, and the International Literacy Association. I also just joined (for free) and made a donation to Teaching Tolerance through the Southern Poverty Law Center.

First, as a white educator who has enjoyed privileges brought from institutional racism, I will join this call to action from my colleagues Shawna Coppola and Kate Roberts to support #EducatorEquity. This echos a similar call from Shelbie Witte, and is imperative as we consider the voices of educators of color.

In all future PD contracts for events that include multiple speakers, such as literacy conferences or webinar series, I will ask the organizers to ensure that they have contracted with at least one other educator of color, and will recommend colleagues from this list, “#POCPD: People of Color in Education PD Directory,” curated by my Educator Collaborative colleague, Julia Torres.

Second, in addition to taking up this pledge, I will begin sessions — even virtual ones — with an indigenous land acknowledgement like this one from my employer, Central Michigan University, and read the introduction from this NCTE blog post, “Being an Anti-Racist Educator Is a Verb.” These two actions will take only moments, yet will continually reaffirm my commitment to social justice education and a stance of anti-racism.

Third, I have signed on to our CMU Faculty Association’s call to commit to anti-racism, led by my English Department colleagues Carlin Borsheim-Black and April Burke. Both of these educators were schedule to deliver talks at a Chippewa River Writing Project (CRWP) event this spring, which was cancelled due to COVID closures, and I will work to get them reconnected with our site’s work as soon as possible.

That’s all.

For now.

We all have work to do, and I need to get started. This morning is our first CRWP event now that I have taken this pledge, and I need to prepare my opening words before we begin writing into the day.


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Book Review: Learning First Technology Second in Practice by Liz Kolb

Learning First, Technology Second in Practice Book Cover (Courtesy of ISTE)
Learning First, Technology Second in Practice Book Cover (Courtesy of ISTE)

In my work with undergraduate pre-service teachers, graduate students in master’s and doctoral educational technology programs, and with teachers through webinars and workshops, a consistent question resonates — “I know I am supposed to use technology in my teaching, but I don’t exactly know how. What can I do?”

And, for well over a decade, Liz Kolb has been trying to answer that question, first with her books about cell phones and in the encouragement to use these devices as learning tools, and then with her innovative Triple E Framework, outlined thoroughly on her openly available website as well as in her 2017 book, Learning First, Technology Second: The Educator’s Guide to Designing Authentic Lessons. For my students, the Triple E framework has become part of numerous class assignments as well as final project evaluations, stretching from undergraduate methods courses to my doctoral seminars. And, they have all found the Triple E to be insightful and practical, helping them think through their choices for when, why, and how to use technology. 

Thus, Kolb’s approach is quite accessible to teachers. Throughout her work, she consistently foregrounds the need for purposeful lesson design, opportunities for student collaboration, and the use of educational technologies for creating content, not just consuming it. This message resonates with educators who are themselves learning how to use technology in a more effective manner, even the most reluctant who fear that students’ learning can quickly be subsumed by glitzy apps, programs, and websites. Her message remains clear: technology should be used to engage, enhance, and extend student learning, and never for its own sake.

She continues this line of work with her most recent publication, Learning First, Technology Second in Practice: New Strategies, Research and Tools for Student Success. In the Introduction, she contends that “this book should open up conversations with teachers, coaches, and administrators around the choices educators are making with technology tools in their classroom teaching,” and I would concur. Indeed, the book will be a conversation-starter among colleagues, coaches, curriculum directors, and others. Set to be released this July, I was afforded the opportunity to preview the book* and offer some reflections on how Kolb’s work with the Triple E Framework – as well as with dozens of educators – has continued to grow in the past few years. 

In the introduction, she describes the ways in which her thinking has moved in the past few years, providing the reader with insights and updates on the Triple E Framework and its many uses. Then, in Chapter 1, following a pattern that I have observed her using in presentations and webinars for educators, the reader is presented with a number of “myths and realities” related to educational technology (e.g., the myth outlined on page 18 that “Computer use in any form will always enhance underserved or at-risk students’ learning experiences,” followed by a detailed explanation of how these myths are not necessarily true. This model appeals to educators, and helps give them talking points of their own for conversations with students, colleagues, and administrators. 

Then, as the reader moves into Chapters 2, 3, and 4, Kolb reiterates many of the key points about the three pillars of the Triple E Framework: engagement, enhancement, and extension. These chapters are centered, as always, on effective learning models (e.g., social, collaborative interactions and bridging school learning to everyday life). My only minor criticism about the book is that — for anyone already familiar with her previous work — Kolb does seem to spend a great deal of time reiterating key elements from each of the three pillars of engagement, enhancement, and extension. Specifically, chapters 2, 3, and 4 of the new book feel very similar to chapters 3, 4, and 5 of her previous one. She even uses a similar model of describing numerous teaching scenarios and analyzing them with the framework, and much of this is also (to her credit) available on her website. 

Still, this book does take the approach that she used in the first a step further by adding a deeper, more thorough analysis (and ratings) of lesson ideas using the Triple E Framework, then describing very specific ways in which an educator could revise a lesson by changing the instructional strategies, the technology, or both. To that end, while some of these three chapters felt a little repetitive, she did work to bring a new angle of analysis using the framework, and I appreciate these new ways for thinking about how to help other educators use the framework themselves. 

The most important contributions from this new book come throughout the second half of it, which includes Chapter 5’s focus on exemplary lessons from K-12 educators, Chapter 6 which articulates fifteen steps to Triple E integration that can be used by tech coaches and instructional designers, and Chapter 7, a model for implementing the Triple E through district-wide PD. In these chapters, there are many gems, including many examples of teachers’ and students’ work and “the fifteen steps,” which I find to be most useful for my own work. 

For instance, she describes ways in which we can crosswalk another popular ed tech framework, TPACK, with the Triple E, and she offers a specific protocol for analyzing an existing lesson using the Triple E Framework. In that practical PD session, she suggests that teachers or coaches use an adaptation of the lesson study model, scoring a lesson with the Triple E framework and offering specific suggestions for improvement. She encourages the reader (who would become the facilitator) to 

[A]sk coaches what advice they would give to the teacher of this lesson for improvement (if it needs it). The advice should either be a tool change or pedagogical changes around the tool. Sometimes a lesson may need both! (191). 

As I consider my own needs — as a teacher educator and professional development consultant — this protocol for discussion with the Triple E (as well as her good-natured advice), is all helpful, reminding me of the power of protocols to help educators move through discussions in purposeful ways. 

And, as one final bonus, Dr. Kolb invites readers to her new Triple E PLN, available as yet another free resource for educators who want to examine — and share — lessons that meet the criteria of the Triple E Framework. Here, “[e]ducators are invited to register, evaluate their own lessons, share their lessons, and discuss ways to improve the lessons based on the Triple E Framework.” Again, Dr. Kolb’s educational ethos leans towards openly-available, immediately useful resources, and she models this through the websites and communities that she creates. 

In sum, and especially with the chapters for coaches and district-wide professional learning models, with Learning First, Technology Second in Practice, Kolb has provided us with another book that can genuinely guide educators as they are “making instructional choices with technology based on the learning goal and the science of good learning practices” (xiv). With many new examples and specific suggestions, Kolb continues to serve the educational community as a leader who models the kinds of teaching and learning with technology she wants to see in classrooms, from kindergarten through college, and in face-to-face, hybrid, and online contexts. It is a worth read, and will help any educator deepen their thinking about teaching and learning with technology.  

*Note: I was invited by ISTE to review this book, and provided a free PDF version of it. Additionally, over the past 10 years, I have worked with Dr. Kolb on a number of short-term projects, invited her to be a reviewer of our master’s degree program and a guest speaker, and have required students to purchase her books for some of my courses. 


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