Updated: Jan 24, 2021
If you would have told me a year ago that in less than twelve months I would quit my job as an Assistant Superintendent, move into the education consulting world, and homeschool my two elementary-aged children, I would have laughed and assured you that was not going to happen...especially the homeschooling part! Enter 2020.
While I recognize that the vast majority of parents are not in the position to homeschool, I am grateful to have been able to provide my children with an alternative to virtual learning, which proved to be a huge struggle for us. This experience, coupled with my background in education, has provided me with a unique perspective as to how we might improve our educational system in a post-pandemic era.
Differentiation is the answer.
In my first week of homeschooling, I attempted to continue progressing through the textbooks of the four core content areas for both my second and fifth graders. I quickly realized that this was going to be an extremely ineffective and inefficient use of my limited time.
That weekend, I reviewed their district’s curriculum guides for both fifth and second grades. There were more parallels than I expected. For example, English/Language Arts in both grade levels required students to understand point of view and author’s purpose. Both fifth and second graders needed to use text evidence to identify main ideas and details. Both grade levels also taught prefixes and suffixes.
“Now we’re talking!” I thought. I could teach a skill and provide multiple access points by using different texts and activities based on the instructional levels of my two children. This is the elusive “differentiated instruction” we so often hear about in education.
Think you will never have students three grade levels apart within your classroom? Think again. As we embrace diversity and inclusion in education, we recognize that the skills, backgrounds, and characteristics each child brings to the classroom will be varied and unique. Differentiating instruction is a “must” to reach all learners.
There has been a lot of attention given to the concept of a “flipped classroom” recently, particularly in a blended learning model. In a flipped classroom, students engage with new material prior to instruction. Students may be assigned to read a text or watch a video for homework before the teacher has introduced the topic in class. While homeschooling my children, I unwittingly stumbled into “flipped assessment.”
When I finish a unit with my kids, I don’t ask them to go upstairs, study for a few hours and come back to take a test. Instead, they complete the assessments independently without additional review beforehand. Asking them to complete the assessment before reviewing key concepts seems counterintuitive. However, it gives me a clearer picture of what they have truly grasped versus what they might have just stored in their short-term memory. I then spend a day or two afterward reinforcing or reteaching the concepts they have not yet mastered.
A traditional approach to grading values scores over mastery. In most classrooms, a summative (end of unit) assessment is administered at the conclusion of a unit. Teachers may spend a class period reviewing the results and then they move on. The problem here is that we rarely cycle back to the material a child has yet to learn in a meaningful way. What might happen if instead of using assessment as the endpoint, we use it as information to guide our future practices?
Rethink the school day.
This might be my craziest idea yet. In our little homeschooling bubble, we get through much more content in a shorter amount of time than in a traditional classroom. Of course I understand that I have a two to one ratio, but riddle me this...
If it is possible to cover more content in less time with fewer students, do we really need five school days at seven hours long a piece?
I might be provocative here, but how many activities during a given day are time-fillers? Wouldn’t it be better to instead focus on deep, meaningful content with small groups?
Many districts are currently implementing hybrid approaches to learning to allow for social distancing in the classroom. Exceptions are made for vulnerable populations to allow for more time in school. What if we extended this approach to learning cohorts and brought in fewer students at a time?
On days that students were not scheduled to attend school, there could be multiple options available for families that need it - project-based learning, extension activities, independent studies, apprenticeships, work study programs, subsidized childcare opportunities...the list could go on.
Back to Normal?
Like most families who struggled with virtual learning and sought an alternative, we are anxious for our kids to be back in school full-time. However, a return to the way things were pre-COVID is not the answer either.
I realize that the ideas I’ve outlined require massive shifts in thinking, teaching, funding, and infrastructure. Yet, I won’t accept that we can’t implement innovative approaches. “Can’t” and “won’t” are two different things.
Those who cling to the old ways of doing things will argue that our children need a return to normalcy. I argue that this more likely reflects our desires as adults, rather than what best serves students.
Our kids don’t need to return to the practices that never served them in the first place. Are my ideas radical? Maybe. But maybe radical change in education was what was needed long before a virus took over the world.
Bring your cat to school day is every day at the Rufo Homeschooling Academy!