Saturday, April 4, 2020

Electronic Silver Lining

If we learn nothing else from sheltering in place, I hope it’s this:

Live human interaction is irreplaceable.

Our electronic technologies give us greater speed, distance and size, but without the real deal—physical bodies in real time working, playing, talking, singing, dancing together— it is a poor substitute. Aren’t we teachers all discovering how insanely difficult it is to do some of the simplest things that we do daily with kids with these clumsy technologies? Aren’t we all finally realizing what a precious gift it is to shake hands with the children as they enter our class, to sit in a morning circle, to sing a song together?

It’s a good time to reflect on how our fascination and obsession with machines has wreaked some havoc in education. We’ve spent more time trying to make our boards smarter than our children, sent kids off to screen garage bands rather than the garage itself, spent hours at staff meetings navigating the ever-growing grid of electronic systems (Schoology, See Saw, Google Docs, Zoom, Loom, Flipgrid, etc. etc and again, etc.) instead of sharing stories of the visible sparks of our students’ genius. Yes, I know these are not either/or propositions. Youtube gives us instant access to the Nicholas Brothers’ extraordinary dance in Stormy Weather and we can link it and put it in Schoology to be part of the 8thgrade music homework. But how much time do we as teachers actually discuss the proper balance between screen time and working with one’s hands, between playing someone else's computer game and creating directly from our own imagination, between face-to-face discussion and texts? In my experience, not much.

After years of thinking about this and reading about this and writing about this, I finally came up with a personal Mission Statement as I consider each new available technology. In short: 

The right tool for the right job for the right reason( for the right age at the right time for the right amount of time for the right cost etc.)

Right now is certainly the right time to explore electronic alternatives to live classrooms as COVID-19 has us sheltered and isolated in our homes. Like many teachers, I’ve had to navigate through all the maddening details of online teaching with a mix of frustration at its limitations and clumsiness, gratitude for a chance to keep some kind of connection with the kids and help them move forward in their learning and surprise that some activities work a bit better than the old methods! Here are three of my silver linings in the dark cloud of sheltered education:

1) Using Schoology for 8th grade jazz history assignments is a good technology for the purpose. I can embed videos and audio files, the kids write their responses and I can quickly comment on their comments. And since I rarely have much time to get as far into Jazz History as I'd like with them, now it's possible to go further.

2) Zoom live recorder lessons! A dream!!! They shut off their microphones and echo me but I can't hear them and they can't hear each other. So the cacophony of missed notes and bad intonation saves all our ears. Then they turn on their mikes one at a time and I can hear each one WHILE THE OTHERS KEEP PRACTICING! Yeah!

3) Singing with preschoolers. Very weird not to actually hear them sing (they shut their mics off because the digital delay creates aural chaos), but I'm doing lots of motion songs so I can see them respond. And best of all, their parents finally get to hear the songs I'm doing with them and not only sing along, but do some partner clapping plays. 

And so: "The right tool for the right job for the right reason.” A little sparkle of silver lining the cloud. But still, I can’t wait to hold hands in the circle with the kids! May it be so!

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