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11.20.20Postcard from the Edge: Details on the ‘Other’ Pandemic

Sailing to the edge of the World. Eyecatcher-For-Real | Sailing, Sailing  ships, Ghost ship

There is a second pandemic happening. If you’re watching that should not be a surprise. In the education sector almost everyone is working very very hard. They are doing often their best in a terrible situation. They deserve thanks and praise. But that doesn’t change the fact that educational devastation is being sown across the land. Online instruction is a disaster–a faint shadow of what teaching and learning are supposed to be–and the gaps are greatest for the least fortunate.

This morning I spent 45 minutes with an outstanding principal of a very good school- one of those in-one-of-the-poorest-parts-of-town-but-three-times-the-city-average-in-proficiency kinds of places.

And the news wasn’t good.

Here’s what I asked her and here’s what she said.

First, how are your kids? Where are they when they’re working. Mostly their parents have to work. Are they in child care centers? at home? Who’s watching them?

Usually they have been set-up for class by an adult but there’s not an adult in the room. Some are in [child care] centers but most can’t afford that. Usually they’re at home. There’s someone else in the house–a middle or high school age sibling, sometimes a grandparent–but they’re alone in their room. There’s someone to make sure they’re safe but no one to make sure they’re on task or help if they have problems. 1st, 2nd, 3rd grade: they’re on their bed or their bedroom floor. Sometimes at a kitchen table. If they’re in kindergarten they’re usually sitting next to someone at a table but again its often a sibling who’s also in school or someone who’s at work.

Do you have a working theory on dosage and attention? How much online time can early elementary kids spend productively in online instruction?

We go from 8:30-10:30 and then we take a 30 minute break; then we’re back at it. But really they’re good at keeping focus until about 9:15. We get 45 minutes at a time and after that everyone starts to lose focus and concentration.

I should say: We’ve built up that stamina over the course of the year. Steadily, steadily and very intentionally, we’ve built up what they can do. So it’s getting better. But it’s hard. There’s a lot of noise and over time you just see them looking around struggling to manage it.

What about asynchronous tasks? What’s the rate of completion?

Asynchronous tasks are really a struggle to get kids to do. We were getting completion rates in the 30% range when we would simply assign a task and expect kids to complete it. Then we started assigning independent tasks to be done while their cameras were on [this is an idea we call semi-synchronous on team TLAC] and that was good. The completion rate went up to about 60%.

The rate of task completion is highest in math. It’s lowest in reading. Read a text and submit a written response… it’s just very hard for them to follow-through.

What about learning outcomes? I know the news is not good. I wouldn’t believe you if you told me otherwise. But what’s your sense of the extent of it?

It’s a catastrophe. I mean…[she is fighting back tears here]… Kids who could read at a certain level last year have gone backwards. They struggle with texts they could read before. They struggle to concentrate like they could before. It’s not just that they’re not not learning as well. They are regressing. It’ so hard to see.

And they’re just not able to get enough practice decoding and decoding and decoding. That and fluency. We just can’t get them the quantity of time in text–really focused on text in an accountable way–that we need to. They just need so much word work and we can’t manage to get it to them with everything else we’re asked to do.

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