Conversations that have Impacted my Distance Learning in 3 Ways

This has been a whirlwind of a month. It’s hard to believe we are in week 5 of distance learning and my own kids have been out of school, and at home, for over 6 weeks. It has been some of the most trying times working from home, parenting my two littles (4 and 2), and in the middle of packing to sell/move houses. But, while all of our lives have drastically changed and we have physically distanced ourselves, I am also thankful for the connections and continued communication we are able to have. When all of this began, the initial conversations I had with colleagues greatly impacted my work in 3 ways in regards to the importance of SEL, feedback, and teacher clarity, and have continued to direct the work I am doing.

SEL– One of the first things a teacher said to me when we started distance learning was “now more than ever, SEL is so important.” I agree. Learning, and especially our current distance learning, can be enhanced when we help our students address and manage their emotions of this uproot. One way I wanted to help teachers and students experience SEL was to embed it into the curriculum I was writing each week. I hope it can help students feel connected to themselves, their teacher, and their peers even through this time of physical separation. Just as CASEL defines their three signature practices with a opening, middle, and closure, I wanted distance learning lessons to reflect this. Each week I included prompts to welcome students and build their self-awareness and self-management skills. Some of the prompts are simple such as “if you were the weather what would you be and why (sunny, cloudy, foggy, etc),” and some are more content related such as graph how your week has been (see below.) I also found Pear Deck and Desmos as invaluable resources for Check-In ideas and templates. Screen Shot 2020-04-20 at 9.10.46 PMFurthermore, I love how platforms like Desmos allowed me to write lessons such that students could share and see classmates’ responses and therefore provide teachers with engaging strategies for social awareness and relationship skills. Finally, I wanted the reflection questions I wrote each week to build students’ responsible decision making skills as they evaluated their learning. I used questions I had learned from Kelly Harmon such as “how has your thinking changed about…” or “what can you now connect about…” help students deepen and transfer their learning. It is my hope that intentional SEL focus continues to build upon the integration of content and social emotional learning.

Feedback: Another initial conversation I had when this began was with a principal and brought out the need for feedback during this time. As I started writing lessons and working with teams, I made it my mission to notate anytime I heard a new strategy about feedback and the idea I have been connecting with the most is “empathetic feedback.” I first heard this from a speaker during a Corwin coffee chat (BTW: these 30 min Facebook lives with Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher are awesome if you haven’t checked them out) and that our roles as educators are continually changing from learning facilitator, to counselor, to tech support, and more, due to the needs of our students or our teachers. Furthermore feedback must be grounded in relationships to build trust, credibility, and desire to interact. In another Corwin coffee chat, the speaker said “feedback that works is the feedback that is received.” I think this is so important as we think about the effect of our feedback. As I was working on an Edpuzzle one day, I added in the question and response below to ensure that we are empathetically listening to and valuing where our students are at before starting a lesson. I think this level of empathy is something so powerful in distance learning. I also love the way you can add responses back to students in multiple choice questions for immediate feedback to students bridging the idea of accuracy and descriptive feedback. 

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Teacher Clarity: Finally, when I was talking with consultant, Kelly Harmon, about writing lessons, she mentioned the continued need for learning targets and success criteria. I will admit, in the rush and chaos of things, I honestly had forgotten about them and was just going to jump into writing the task. Teacher Clarity ranks high on Hattie’s effect size and not only can significantly grow students, but the need for it while our students learn away from the classroom is critical. The more clear on what, why, and how students are to learn, as well as what success looks like, the more students (and parent/caretakers who are helping) will feel confident and capable to take on the learning. From that moment of conversation, I knew I had to provide this example for teachers in my lessons. As I wrote the targets and success criteria, I constantly referred to the resource below that Steve Ventura shared with me to ensure I was scaffolding up to the level of the target. Steve and Kelly have been instrumental in shaping my knowledge and practice of learning targets and success criteria giving purpose and intentionality to instruction.

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Finally, as an entry piece to help build students’ metacognitive skills, I created a Pear Deck slide with language from Kelly Harmon to self evaluate where students were at with their understanding of the target. The value of teacher clarity is something I will continue to share with teachers in coaching and planning to improve our teaching and impact on student learning.

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It has been powerful to reflect on the people that have helped guide my journey of distance learning and while we still have several weeks left that bring unsureness and new levels of busyness, I have hope that the good of collective greatness (as Steve often says) will continue to shine through.

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About ashleytaplin

I am a secondary math specialist in Texas. I taught for 8 years before becoming a specialist in 2017. I graduated in 2009 with my Bachelors in Arts in mathematics from Trinity University. In 2010, I graduated with my Masters in Arts in teaching also from Trinity. In the summer of 2013, I traveled on a Fulbright scholarship to Germany and learned a lot about curriculum, diversity, and differentiation. I love empowering teachers to build on their strengths and helping students make connections to what they're learning. When I’m not working, you’ll find me with my two boys and my husband who is a teacher and coach. We love exploring the city and enjoying foods.