THANK YOU New York City teachers (and ALL teachers everywhere). You went above and beyond the call of duty to serve your students during the unprecedented-in-history COVID-19 school closures, despite frightening illness, deaths of colleagues and loved ones, social turmoil and the sheer exhaustion of doing your job in a new way under incredible pressure. As a parent and advocate for Emergent Bilinguals and Students With Disabilities, I sincerely thank you.
Today is the last day of school and everyone is just done. It’s a critical moment to take a break this summer and decompress. There will be time for processing this ordeal and planning later. The entire purpose behind my blog for this upcoming year (and always) will be to provide you with continuing education and resources to support your teaching practice with evidence-based (i.e., research-backed) pedagogy.
For now, let’s think for a moment about what happened and what it means for some of the most vulnerable children in our schools.
Students were cut off from exposure to oral language, and their learning suffered.
Despite Governor Cuomo and Bill Gates announcing that we need to “re-imagine education” through technology (DON’T get me started), what we in fact experienced was a massive natural experiment in what happens when students don’t have access to live, human teaching and interaction with peers. Even under the most priviledged of circumstances (at home parent managing the schedule and technology, functioning computer with good internet access, space and silence to work), students suffered. We all know what happened with our Emergent Bilinguals, who are some of the most vulnerable children in our society.
Oral language is the basis of academic literacy, and the basis of all learning.
I’ve written and lectured a bunch on the relationship between oral language and reading especially with regard to our diverse learners. Kids were already not getting enough of it in a live classroom with the demands of the Common Core, which require students to learn advanced skills at earlier and earlier grades. With the school closures, students were all of a sudden stuck at home under unbelievably stressful conditions and effectively cut off from hearing their teacher model academic language and developing their own through live interaction. The result was a severe reduction in engagement and learning, and for some adolescent students, simply disappearing from school altogether.
The powers that be would like to replace teachers with robots and classrooms with online platforms. But the reality of the coronavirus showed us that oral language is the basis of human interaction and connection, and that online schooling isn’t the future, especially for diverse learners.
Reports from the field on what worked
My work with teachers this spring was humbling to say the least. But in the face of all adversity, they found ways to make it work. Here’s a short list to file away and pull out when we get down to planning for next year:
- For grades 3 and up, 2 week lesson cycles with teacher one-on-one office hours: This was by far the most-reported successful practice. Less was more.
- Week 1: Review and Build Background Knowledge & Vocabulary (2-3 days); Begin reading a short passage and submit short written responses in sentences or paragraphs focusing on vocabulary (2-3 days).
- Week 2: Dive deeper into Close Reading (2-3 days); targeted Q&A, longer written responses (2-3 days).
- 1 day a week devoted to office hours.
- 30 minute small group live classes: There was no chance getting 30 kids to log into a live meeting. But teachers were successfully able to meet with a small group of students to give targeted instruction. 20 minutes was too short, 45 minutes too long – 30 was just right. Here’s a sample lesson and template.
- Flipgrid – Shout out to PS/IS 226 in Brooklyn! Teachers were inundated with new EdTech platforms, but one stood out from the rest: Flipgrid. It allows kids to make short recordings of themselves and post to a classroom page. Teachers had kids submit oral responses to prompts, in English and sometimes their home language. Want to try? Visit me at flipgrid.com/aebll.
on that note…
I wish you all a healthy and happy summer. Take good care of yourselves!
Have thoughts on this post and what you need help with over the summer? Please leave a comment! You can also contact me over aebll.com, or DM me on Twitter @AEBLL_Children and LinkedIn.