Are You Making the Top 2 Deadly Sins of Distance Learning?
Distance learning is America’s chance to finally give every student a personalized, meaningful education. But tragically it’s tremendous power is being stifled by the age old, outdated, ineffective system that is American education. Rather than providing instruction in creative new ways, honoring student interests, and connecting students to the world at their fingertips, I am dismayed to see distance learning being used to replicate the most broken parts of the educational system. There are LOTS of great people doing great things, but based on what I have seen in the past six months, these digital champions are the outliers.
Here are the two deadly sins of distance learning:
1. We all do the same thing
2. We all do it at the same time
Here’s a breakdown of these deadly sins of distance learning, with real examples. And most importantly, what you can do to repent!
Sin 1: We all do the same thing (what the teacher tells us to)
While widely accepted as a must in the in-person classroom, differentiation is being widely ignored in the online classroom. As examples: All students are being assigned the same Seesaw or Google classroom activities. All students are completing the same projects. During live meetings, all students must sit through the same lecture.
What to do instead: Despite the obstacles, distance learning is the best way to truly differentiate. Regardless of what technology you are using, the sheer quantity of diverse online resources and activities coupled with the ease of ‘grouping/assigning’ students makes it easier than ever for a teacher to meet the interests and learning needs of every unique student. And the task of differentiation need not be the responsibility of teachers. Because many are working from home, parents are much more involved in their childrens’ education, and no one knows a learner better than his/her parent! For example, my son is in second grade and excels in math. Each day he completes the same SeeSaw activities as everyone else in his class, but has grown increasingly frustrated by the lack of challenge. Since I am home amidst COVID, I have witnessed this firsthand, whereas before I may not have understood why he was ‘bored’ or ‘acting out’ in class. In seeing the problem, I was able to take action and provide fun, challenging activities to make sure school was not getting in the way of his learning. We no longer log into the live meetings (his choice), and instead use the time to help him advance as he chooses to and is comfortable with.
A key word you may have picked up on in the above paragraph is choice. You don’t have to differentiate every aspect of every lesson/assignment, every day. The easiest, and most beneficial to students, is to simply provide choice (ideally choices based on student interest):
– at the elementary level this could be providing a list of books sorted by topic (space, plants, etc.) and allowing students to choose which books to read (rather than assigning ALL students the SAME book to read).
– at the middle and high school levels this could be providing a menu of assignment options to accommodate diverse learning styles and interests, and open-ended projects without a ‘right answer’
In my own experience, and in talking with dozens of other parents with students across the grades spectrum, distance learning can be summarized in one word: busywork. As in busywork up the work up the wazoo. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Teachers and parents can take the pressure off themselves and unleash student learning like never before with self-directed learning. In today’s connected world, to me it is downright disrespectful to require all students to do the same thing at the same time, in the same way. Honoring interests, learning styles, and backgrounds is more possible with technology than ever before – put students in the drivers seat and let THEM decide!
“Each child has a spark of genius waiting to be discovered, ignited, and fed. And the goal of schools shouldn’t be to manufacture “productive citizens” to fill some corporate cubicle; it should be to inspire each child to find a “calling” that will change the world.” Clark Aldrich, Unschool Rules
Sin 2: We do it at the same time
Here’s what the distance learning schedule is (or was, because we stopped attending) for my two kids:
daughter – 9:30 to 10am
son – 10am to 11am
break from 11 to 12
son – 12 to 1pm
break from 1 to 1:45
daughter – 1:45 to 2:15
This schedule has effectively made me to feel like a prisoner in my own home. With this schedule we barely had enough time to get groceries, never mind go outside and play, explore nature, or just take in the beautiful fall foliage here in New England.
What to do instead: Adopt the mindset that time is money. Allow a schedule that entrepreneurs and people in real life use; where money and life’s benefits (such as relaxation, time for hobbies, etc.) are directly correlated with efficiency and effectiveness – NOT seat time. And most importantly, trust children; they will learn much more than you imagine possible, if only you will get out of the way ?
“All I am saying can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” – John Holt
Take the first step:
Take the first step by learning more about Self Directed Education and how it can apply to both home and in-class learning:
There are so many excellent resources to keep exploring at the Alliance for Self Directed Education website. While these two sins are happening nationwide, to me the problem is easy to fix – stop trying so hard to get kids to do things they don’t want to do!
Then, give it a try! I dare you, for just one day, to not direct your children in any way. I myself have been trying it this past month, mostly on my kids’ ‘flex Wednesdays:
What I love most about everything on this Board is they did it WITHOUT me – everything here was just stuff they were interested in, and learning was the natural result.