Remote and responsive teaching: Distilling the essence

I have a garden and last summer I had a bumper crop of black currants last summer. There are often times at harvest when I have too much to handle and so I’m learning strategies to save that summer taste for use all winter long. I like to approach any sort of abundance with the same philosophy.

With our recent self-isolation has come strange waking hours and an abundance of time. So I took the opportunity to interview Garfield Gini-Newman and Laura Gini-Newman this week after we hadn’t seen each other since they presented this paper for the school library research symposium: Treasure Mountain Canada. As usually happens, we talked for near three hours when we had planned on one. My teaching anxiety, which often has elements of compulsivity at its best, has heightened lately as I have been trying to move my very choreographed hands-on approach to being suddenly online. I backwards design, I use inquiry, and I am a boss at the personal conference. I’ve even taught online for 12 years, but this version of teaching from a distance is nothing like I’ve done before. Here are some of the factors that I’m dealing with:

  • we started out blended with face-to-face but then moved content online
  • each student has their own hardware, software and network variables to deal with
  • many students are now unavailable during previously scheduled class time as they’re working
  • before we last saw each other, we had less than 24 hours to react to the news and
  • many of the students had already physically checked out for March Break
  • assessment expectations for the rest of the semester are being determined on the fly
  • the only physical supports available to students during remote learning are families which are dealing with their own responsibilities to work and home

So anyone who thinks this new set of parameters simple, is not a teacher. Luckily teaching experts Garfield and Laura had time and strategies for me.

The first thing they suggested was to simplify my overall expectations down to manageable and clear Guides to Success. Garfield said that I need to have a hard look at my curriculum and only provide the content elements where I’m really clear on the answers to this question: Why do students need to know this? He went so far as to say that if I can’t see how it is going to ultimately help students be more successful, that it’s time to let it go. Shockingly, not everything I can think of to say is relevant to learning. The Gini-Newmans don’t offer only tough love school in their coaching….they provided me with real and immediate resources.

Now I’m teaching English this semester, so I can see how this is great for a junior level skillset, but I’m teaching creative writing so I’ll need to amp it up a bit. How about persuasive media design?

(Laura and Garfield even gave me three more examples for science that you can access through the link at the bottom of the document!)

I’ve leaned on something like this to help me communicate my expectations of factors of, for example, the purpose/format and audience of creative non-fiction texts.

….and you can see why the Gini-Newman model is a) clearer and also b) distinctive between the factors that students needs to do, and the criteria that will make them more successful.

Another tool that I’m learning to hate are rubrics but until now I’ve always used them because it’s what I have. Here is an example of one line which some expectations that I’ll want to get at in our upcoming poetry unit.

Now first of all, students bound in an optional grade 12 class don’t really give a hoot about levels 1 or 2 because they only want marks that are going to get them in to the program of their choice! If I applied the Gini-Newman approach to the Expression of Ideas and Information, I would end up with descriptive adjectives for the criteria. The factor is that the poem’s message is clear. The criteria are that the words and imagery are sensory, descriptive, metaphorical and accurate. If I could learn to use Guides to Student Success, English assessment might become a lot clearer.

Looking at this gift of time once more then, I plan to use it to hone my craft in assessment, and I feel a lot more confident about it after spending some time thinking about it in this way.

Examples of Guides to Student Success by Laura Gini-Newman and Garfield Gini-Newman (for your use with credit please)

By the way, what do you do with too many black currants? Mix them with ample sugar and vodka, by the way.

My podcast with Laura and Garfield will be available here:

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