Communicating & Reasoning as a Tool During Distance Learning

As educators we are prepared for constant change. We are used to the feeling of being comfortable not knowing everything all the time. We rely on our teammates to ask for help about creating a lesson we have never taught before or get advice regarding new strategies to use with a student who is struggling academically or emotionally. School policies change constantly, we adopt new standards, we implement new assessment tools, and we teach multiple grade levels and subjects.

However, none of that prepared us for today’s teaching reality.

We are experiencing a situation that we never really considered. Even after 7 weeks of my school being closed, and being engaged in distance learning, it still feels unreal sometimes.

As an international teacher who has lived abroad for over 15 years, I am used to change. I actually thrive with change.

I love moving to new countries, meeting new people, being immersed in a foreign culture, working at a new school, taking on new positions; but this change has been something else, and I definitely have grown and learned so much from colleagues in these past 6 weeks.

Assessing during distance learning

One topic that I have been hearing distance learning teachers discuss and wonder about is ASSESSMENT.  

How do we assess during distance learning?

How do we know the work belongs to the students and not the parents?

What data will we use to report?

How do we make sure the data is valid?

There is a lot of information out there on this topic, but today I want to share one way you can assess where your kids are and determine what next steps they might need.

AERO Mathematics Assessments Resources, by Erma Anderson

These are the 4 areas to understand if a student is proficient in mathematics.

During distance learning, we wondered if students are doing the work themselves or if they are they getting a lot of support and guidance from their parents. We’re left wondering, are they really proficient? Do they really get it?

We can create virtual learning experiences using different platforms and see if students are solving problems correctly, showing a strategy or model, and of course providing the right answer. Ideally, the problems/tasks we provide allow for problem solving, and not just a simple procedure or memorized fact.

All of this is great, but if we really want to see what kids know, and how they are using all they have been learning to actually solve problems, then we must give them an opportunity to EXPLAIN how they solved.

This can look different across the grade levels. Here are some examples that help students gather their thoughts, make sense of how they problem solved, and use mathematical vocabulary.

3rd grade anchor chart, created by Dani Allie, EAL Specialist
2nd grade poster created by Emerald Garvey, EAL specislist
Kindergarten chart, created by Lori Han, EC Learning Interventionist

During distance learning, we have been providing students with some sentence starters that allow them to elaborate their answers. They show their work and write the correct answer, and they use an audio feature to explain how they solved the problem.

Seesaw lesson in 1st grade with a sentence starter.

Here is a link to an example of a 1st grade student expxlaining how he solved the problem. Skip slide #1 because that is just the teacher’s instructions. Go to slide #3 to listen to the evidence that he is using friendly tens to make nineteen.

Then on slide #4 he is explaining an addition fact showing understanding of tens and ones, showing evidence that a 1 in the tens place is a ten.

We Will Be OK!

I know these are difficult times, AND we will learn from this experience, AND we will become better educators.

School is canceled.  Events are canceled.  And you have no summative assessments in your hand. However, this does not mean your students are not learning! Take the time to develop lessons that allow you to listen to your students.

After this experience of leading instruction from a distance, all of us will be able to appreciate our ability to plan lessons based on their knowledge and skill level, by listening to them, really listening.

If your school has recently closed or is about to, and you want to be prepared and feel succesful, there are many resources for you to choose from, you can go on Twitter and search #virtuallearning or #distancelearning and you will be pleased to see so many resources.

There are several groups on Facebook that also provide a lot of helpful information: “Educator Temporary School Closure for Online Learning” and “Online Teaching for International School Teachers” are just some examples.

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