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The reports from schools transforming the learning experience for all students (Aurora Institute, Canopy Project, Education Reimagined, Envision Learning, NGLC, and the Mastery Transcript Consortium™, among others) are plentiful and illustrate how schools can redesign and redefine excellence with a laser focus on equity and essential learning outcomes for life, career sustainability and fulfillment.
As teachers, youth, and their families now adjust to prolonged school closures and the challenges this presents, especially for those with the additional burdens of poverty, we are already seeing the incredible U.S. corps of teachers (who are too often underpaid, overworked, and undervalued) step up yet again demonstrating their dedication, skill, creativity, and flexibility in the midst of this global crisis. Simply, they care first and foremost about their students’ well-being.
The real issue at hand is that, with COVID-19, we are now compelled to change a long-held mindset about learning in school. The tension, value judgements, and even student time allocation toward what goes on the “academic” transcript and what gets relegated to the “extra-curricular” resume has established a rigidity and mindset that some learning is more valuable. This deeply held and limiting central dogma–that credit toward graduation comes only from scheduled discipline-based courses and degree of excellence is tied to grades in those courses–has dominated in too many high schools. It takes a community-wide effort to replace, but the Journey to Mastery Learning and the Mastery Transcript is one that more and more schools are embracing and in response, learners are thriving.
Even for those high school teachers wedded to the “lecture — homework — test — repeat format,” the prospect of teaching (not to mention calculating final grades for transcripts) this spring will surely lead them to reconsider and redefine what actual learning targets are and how best to spend valuable synchronous time, if even possible, versus asynchronous student-teacher communication and ideally student-student too, of course. Not surprisingly, the grading questions unfortunately continue to dominate academic leaders’ time as they deliberate new policy decisions.
For the coming weeks, priorities are clear: social distancing by everyone, everywhere, so that our health professionals can save the lives of as many people as possible who fall seriously ill with COVID-19. With school buildings closed, teachers are doing their very best under challenging circumstances, often while caring for their own children, to reassure their students, plan for sustained engagement, and remain connected. They are striving to provide enough schedule and routine for students of all ages to create stability in unstable times, while also leading with a “less is more” mindset.
As school communities evolve from setting up to settling into their “new normal” during the coming weeks, we offer a few themes below from the MTC network for how teachers and schools are adapting and also reimagining definitions in the process too.
Almost everyone is learning new skills and that takes time, trial and error. Thanks to my wonderful colleagues at Global Online Academy here is a great summary of the essential habits for online learning (and I’d argue any learning): Be Active, Be Steady and Reliable, Be Resilient, and Be Playful.
Focus on helping each student create a reasonable list of learning goals for this spring and then support each of them in meeting their goals. The point is that students will be FAR more motivated to meet their own goals than whatever you set for them.
Cut, cut, and then cut again the total number of assignments you had planned and give students some choice. Quality of assignments completed and evidence of learning is far more important and of long-term benefit than quantity right now.
Ask your students for feedback on how they are doing and what is working and not working for them in this new school format. Not only will this help you to adjust responsively, it also indicates to the students that you care deeply about them and their learning.
Give praise (and credit) to students for evidence of significant learning they present to you, even if the format is unexpected. In other words, be open and flexible to your students’ ideas on how they might go about creating, iterating, and learning, and what types of evidence they submit to you. If they know you care and are open to reviewing their work without harsh judgement, they just might engage more, opening doors to creative work you never imagined.
If you are requiring students to submit assignments to you for your review and feedback, make sure there is time built into the plan for students to revise, improve, and resubmit their work, especially if a student is struggling. Everyone learns at a different pace and that will be even more true this spring.
Get rid of honor roll, academic prizes, student ranking, and the like—at least for this spring and maybe, once you see the benefits of this approach, consider it longer term. Encourage and perhaps highlight other types of contributions students are making in their current contexts, including planting a garden, an online or local work experience, and taking on increased responsibilities at home.
Eliminate grades for this spring. If you are required to issue course grades for the rest of this school year, at least move to a “Completed/No Record” system. Any course a student completes satisfactorily has “Completed” next to the course title instead of a grade on the transcript. Any course a student is unable to complete does not appear on their official transcript.
High schools already using the Mastery Transcript are adapting readily since the students know well that it is the accumulated evidence of their learning over time that is required to earn credits on their transcripts and although limited in scope while sequestered at home, these students already know well that responsibility for their learning is theirs alone since they have been taught, practiced, and been assessed on their self-directed learning skills all along–simply, they know that continuing to learn at home is their responsibility and that they need to work hard on their own and with their teachers and peers so they can continue to move forward, even in unexpected circumstances.