Lessons learned from 20 years of partnerships and development projects
Write in Kid-Friendly Terms
Online learning can feel isolating and complicated. It doesn’t have to. It can be friendly and fun. Online learning can have a mix of text structures and tones. The teacher’s “voice” is most clearly experienced in the explanations and directions. In the simplest terms, type what you would say in person if you were there. Don’t put on an academic tone or use jargon because you are typing. Many of us are trained to jump into “academic writing” but online learning is a more fluid medium. Be kind.
You’ve got this!
Directions are not persuasive essays or personal letters. Writers do not need attention grabbers, transitions, and clear closing paragraphs to restate the thesis. Sometimes our academic training gets in the way of our need to communicate clearly.
- Get to the point.
- Identify the final product and expectations.
- Outline the task.
- Identify the resources.
- Identify where kids can find help.
- State deadlines clearly.
Connect Images and Text
Show it, then say it. Select images and videos that support the text but are not redundant. It is tempting to insert cute memes, cartoons, or attention grabbers. But those items are ultimately distracting unless they relate to the learning. You are fighting for their attention. Don’t confuse the learner with anything that isn’t a resource, explanation, or extension of the learning.
Some of you don’t believe me. You are committed to using images and jokes as a way to keep it kid-friendly. I get it. If you are committed to the fun stuff and “easter eggs” within your learning path, park them on a page that is earned after a task is completed. Use them as a reward or an aside. This will still serve as a distraction, so I don’t recommend it, but if I can’t convince you to streamline, then put your easter eggs on the side so they don’t distract.
Focus on Outcomes, not Activities
Which assignment do you like better?
- A) Read the attached PDF then post 500 words on the water cycle based on what you read.
- B) Describe the water cycle to someone who has never heard of it. You can use a video, images, or write it out.
- C) Participate in an online discussion by reading comments about the water cycle. Reply to at least five different people about their ideas on the water cycle.
- D) Watch the video about the water cycle then create a slide deck with five slides that explain the water cycle.
There are pros and cons to all of this, but you have to ask yourself, what’s the real point of the activity you are assigning? Which one of these prompts shows you if the students know what the water cycle really is? Which prompt allows the students who already know the answer to move forward? Which prompts require students to read, post, or “comply” rather than show what they know?
A good test of whether you have a good assignment is whether or not someone who already knows most of the information can easily add to what they know and then show you in an easy, effective way without having to read, watch, or chat first. Plan backward from the outcome or product, providing resources where kids can mine for what they need.
Student-Directed v. Teacher Directed
Here’s a quick distinction that might be useful:
- Personalized learning requires the student to be actively involved in designing and adjusting the learning process. Think passion projects or playlists provided to students to explore and then answer an essential question.
- Individualized learning refers to learning that adjusts to the responses of the learning. Think of computer-adaptive testing and adaptive software. There are many good options on the market. Google Forms can react based on student answers as well, so you can build your own individualized learning experiences.
Let’s say you disagree with my terms and have other terms. Great! I’m not here to convince you of anything. My advice is to make the distinction between these two ideas.
Use whatever words you want. Now, decide what kind of work you are assigning. Can the kids help design the experience or not? Do they need to just log on and complete the levels or are they making contributions and choices?
If you want the students more involved with the learning design then your prompts and “activities” will be more open-ended.
Reflection-flection, what’s your Function?
Online learning allows students to create and post ideas digitally. That means students have as many options to communicate their ideas as they have access to software and bandwidth. They can make some pretty slick and impressive stuff. But, so what? Media can be compiled. Ideas can be ripped and reworded. Templates can make all of us look good.
Where’s the magic? It is in the reflection:
- Describe how your final product meets the learning objectives.
- Be specific. I’m looking for you to show where your final work proves you understand the big ideas.
- What have you learned about yourself from this process?
- Do you like this topic? Are there careers that connect to this kind of learning that you might enjoy? Would you be interested in meeting someone who does this kind of work?
- What would improve this learning experience?
- What would you change about the expectations?
- What resources would you remove or add?
- What advice do you have for other students who will learn this?
Online, blended, hybrid, tech-enhanced, personalized, adaptive, gamified, digitized, or whatever other flavor of the pedagogical week it is, don’t worry about it. You’ll be fine. You’re a teacher. Breathe. Care about kids. Care about what you are trying to help them understand. Be open to feedback and seek it often.
If we can help, please let us know.
You’ve got this!