Friday, April 03, 2020

Better Than Nothing

 I've never done online instruction before. I've been trying different things almost every day, kind of throwing darts to see what sticks.

The lesson I spent the most time on was a song called Morning Has Broken. I really love that song. My goal was to get students to love it too. The first time I taught it, it fell flat. The vocabulary was a little rugged for my newcomers.

But I got a chance to do it again. The second time, I reviewed the vocabulary a second time and spent more time on it. It wasn't the best lesson I'd ever delivered, but my students were a little more engaged. Maybe I leaned on the more eager participants a little too much, in an effort to not bomb twice in a row.

 This week I'm moving back toward things I'd use in my physical classroom, and by next week I'll be giving more at-home assignments. I'll try not to give them more than 15 minutes worth per class. I hear they are overworked.

When I'm in a classroom, I'm always looking around to see who's listening and who's lost in space. If a student's head goes down, my voice might get remarkably loud as I'm walking past that particular student. In the virtual classroom, students are largely hidden behind avatars. I have no way of knowing whether they're paying attention, and no way of checking. Sometimes I call on students and they don't answer. Are they asleep? Are they even in the room? It's anybody's guess.

Then there are the kids who've disappeared. Some of them I may have expected. I have one who suffers from depression, and this has clearly hurt. I have one who cut a lot in the fall, but had seemed to turn over a new leaf. I'll be calling his home around 8 AM. Another is one of my favorite students. I had a teacher who speaks her language call, and waddya know? The number we have is no good. Both of them have shown up once each. Still, who really knows what they're going through? How can anyone fail in this circumstance? There should be a no credit option as worst possible scenario.

The day they closed the schools I had a test planned. In our school, you see, different departments have different test days. Mine are Mondays and Wednesdays. My class had an outside visitor on several Mondays and Wednesdays, and I just couldn't fit it in. Now it's three weeks later. If I give a test, I'm going to have to trust that the students I don't see aren't checking their notebooks or online having someone who knows better do it for them.

This is a tough thing for me to accept, particularly because I've given up assigning writing tasks at home for years now. It's just too frustrating to receive work that my ELLs clearly did not do. One year a student handed me four extra credit reports I hadn't requested. One of them was about the delights of reading Shakespeare, and the student was failing my class because she had abysmal test grades and barely did homework at all. Sometimes kids think you can't tell the difference between an English learner and the work of some hack writer on the internet.

Actually that's the distinct minority of students I've had, fewer than 5% of writing assignments. (Homework is another thing altogether.) With the world falling to pieces around me, I'm still concerned about students cheating. Maybe I should forget it, let them cheat, and move on to worrying about something that really matters. I'm still chapter leader, for example, and my CL workload has exploded. The volume of email alone is staggering.

I'm at home, but I'm no less busy than when I was going to work. When you're at home you don't keep regular hours. I'm not off at three o' clock. Time marches on and I'm still here. What am I gonna do--go home?

One thing really stands out to me--It's very clear that online instruction is a band-aid.  The best I can say about it is it's better than nothing. We're doing it because we have no choice. Anyone who'd choose this is either a morally bankrupt opportunist soaking up cash or a fool. I'm certain some reformy genius will be waving a banner after this, saying you see? Students don't actually have to attend classes. No one has to show up. They can just sit on their computers at home while the state sends me money.

In fact, that's not even a new thing. There are cyber charters all over. I've even seen them advertised on TV. They have a terrible reputation and the only thing they do well is soak up cash. They should be forced to utilize this motto:

We guarantee our product to be better than nothing.

Short of lying outright, there's no way it could be advertised otherwise.
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