We Could Be Doing Something "Immoral"

Former Mason Crest Elementary School principal Brian Butler shared with me an article by Catherine Lough in TES that relates an opinion made by education professor Dylan William. William basically describes the current curriculum in England as designed for the fastest learners such that at the end of the school year, one in five students might be able to digest it while the rest would not. William further characterizes this as logically consistent but immoral. Facing a content-heavy curriculum, there is no more time and space left for either assessment or feedback. As schools have gone into distance learning, this issue becomes even more relevant. Fairfax county, for instance, has continued to send learning packets to its students. Homes have already received five weekly packets. These packets may appear useful at first glance, but without feedback from teachers, all of these may just end up as busy work. With most teachers unable to see any of the work, if children are actually reading these packets, how do we know if these are being used at all? Not all parents are able to look into these materials, guide their children, and provide feedback. With the postponement of online face-to-face interaction in the previous weeks, all of these learning packets are simply turning into a pile of insurmountable workload for everyone. With a looming budget shortfall and continuing school closure, it is time to focus simply on what is doable and meaningful.

Above copied from TES

Learning always requires feedback. And teaching requires a metric that is not based on the fastest learners. Otherwise, it is not just "immoral" but also destined for failure. Learning is a two-way process, bringing the need for us, teachers, to see where students are. Teaching inside a classroom is already challenging. Doing this through distance learning is much more difficult.

I have the luxury of having students who can still give the time and energy to what I am teaching. I can say this because even in distance learning, I have avenues of seeing where my students are. In every week, I do take a one-way approach of simply giving lectures via Zoom. These are three one-hour lectures every week, no different from what we had before the school closure. In addition, there are three office hours every week during which a student can join me in Zoom. These six hours, however, do not give a view of where my students are. So we have formative assessments, or what K-12 schools call "homework" or "classwork". Below are the averages for my students in these assessments that come with my online lectures:

There are 95 students in my class and the above are the average scores. We have had one summative assessment (an hour exam) and the average was 91 percent. With an online platform, it is even possible to keep track on much time students are spending on the material. Learning platforms often have analytics built in. The following is how much my course materials page are being accessed:

Since we closed schools in mid-March, my page has been accessed thousands of times each week. This data is available not just in aggregate form, but also for each student. We need this type of data to see if our students are keeping pace or being left behind. We need to see what is happening. But we can also plan ahead.

My class is scheduled to take the final exam this weekend. I just took the exam myself awhile ago and it took me 17 minutes. The class will have 170 minutes to do the exam. A curriculum must be designed with success in mind.