CCE staff and partner reflections on our collaborative work to create schools where learning is engaging and rewarding, and every student is set up for success.
Learning in a Crisis: Families Need Guidance, Not More Resources
When I first learned that CCE, my son’s school district, and the majority of our society was “going remote” indefinitely, I was of two minds. My educator mind, ready to ideate and problem solve, wanted to develop lesson plans, lists of online activities, and create performance assessments that could be overseen by parents and caregivers. But my parenting half saw my personal inbox swiftly filling with resources, tools, suggested activities and new online learning log-ins from my son’s teacher, from partner organizations, and from well-meaning friends. Despite my teaching experience, speedy internet connection, and caddies of craft supplies - advantages that many parents don’t have - I was quickly becoming overwhelmed.
What both halves of me quickly realized was that, more than another link to a daily live stream or read-aloud video, what we needed was a way to navigate through the noise. One of the superpowers that great teachers have is that of curation: the careful and expert selection of high-quality activities and experiences most likely to cultivate positive growth in the learners in their charge. Bereft of the in-person learning time they are used to, under pressure from administrators, and without quality professional development to support them, well-meaning teachers are being asked to do the impossible: to replicate online the kind of learning experiences they have always created in person. And meanwhile, educators, businesses, and laypersons alike are substituting quality with quantity, the exact opposite of a teacher’s usual practice.
If, as in a normal school day, children had six hours or more of time on task, this quantity would be welcome. But in this unprecedented global crisis, few families are able to carve out anywhere near six hours of dedicated homeschool time. And even if they had the capacity to do so, it would not look like 6 hours of online learning, or a lengthy to-do list of rote practice activities. Moreover, in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, most schooling belongs in the “self-actualization” category, which can only be engaged successfully when one’s other needs - like safety, nutrition, and companionship, are met. Realistically, our children and young people have precious few hours a day, if that, to engage with learning. This necessitates deep, authentic learning to ensure that the limited time learners can dedicate will really count.
As a result, caregivers and learners alike need help more than they need resources. Often, this help looks like first ensuring that all families have their basic needs met. While districts have started to consider the equity implications of remote learning as far as school lunches and internet access, fewer have yet found ways to address other challenges their children face in their home environments and the effects these will have on their learning. As a result, many children will fail to meet their potential for growth due to insufficient targeted support. More even than their peers, these learners require curated resources rather than an avalanche, and their parents and caregivers require guidance. In some cases, teachers have already transitioned to full guidance for students, creating carefully-crafted online syllabi and checking in regularly with each student. But in the absence of this, many families still feel cast adrift.
As a humble starting point for families, CCE has developed a Learner and Caregiver Co-Planning Guide to Remote Learning. Just like at school, at-home learning is most successful if it’s driven by the student’s goals and interests, and by learning targets rather than simple busyness. These interests and goals can be the first gatekeeper - they can act as a sieve for the many learning opportunities the internet and the home can provide. By prompting learners, alongside their parents or teachers, to identify a limited set of goals per week and a reasonable array of activities, these tools can help families sift through the plethora of resources, seeking to spend time focused only on the ones that work in service to the learner’s needs. Built around the best principles of student-driven learning, individual learning plans are nothing new. But alongside targeted remote support from teachers, this new tool can provide some guidance tailored to this unique time of crisis and, ideally, help bring order to chaos. Ideally, it can be a touchstone for teachers and students to build a plan together.
No tool can replace the expertise of an educator attuned to the needs of students, but the best teachers know that their most important role is that of the wayfinder: the guide who helps students chart their own paths through the chaos, ever forward and always growing.