Is anyone else completely overwhelmed by all of the free resources that are being offered online for learners? My heart is full and I am completely blown away by the generosity of educational organizations, individual professionals, schools and everyone who is focused on supporting our children and teens. It really is quite amazing. But, even as a seasoned educator and darn-good parent I struggled with all the information out there, how to find what would meet my daughter's needs best, how to organize it and keep track of her progress. I found a solution that allowed me to set up my daughter’s daily schedule, create the learning experiences she wanted and stay on top of her work. Read on to learn how I conquered education overload.
My first step was to identify exactly what I felt was important to have on her schedule. To keep things simple I looked at a typical daily schedule and identified the meaty subjects: Language Arts, Math, Science and Spanish were those that I felt needed to be addressed directly and daily. History, Art, Music, Physical Education/Recess, electives and all other coursework was the gravy I would spread over the main courses. Are you getting hungry for more? Read on. (Sorry, I just could not resist that pun.)
Then I paused and chatted with my daughter Natalie about what she would like to learn in each area. I asked her to just write down a bunch of things she wanted to learn more about, things she enjoyed learning, how she preferred to learn and ways she wanted to demonstrate her learning. I really wanted this experience to be based on her needs and wants so that it would motivate her to engage with her online learning; I wanted her to be a more self-directed learner. This is the beauty of self-directed learning- when it is based on the learner’s interests they are more excited about learning, tend to engage more fully and achieve higher levels of academic success. I gave my daughter three days to work on her word web and at the end of Day Two when I asked to see how it was progressing, her page was blank. Admission of defeat.
And now, I can address the difficulty in expecting students to transition into self-directed learning environments. It isn’t easy under typical circumstances and we really cannot expect our children to immediately “get over” not being in a physical school; having their entire routine swiped away and redesigned; the roller coaster of emotions and fears of the pandemic; and jump right into online learning with motivation and determination to succeed. Could you?
So, my first attempt at igniting my daughter’s excitement for learning from home failed. I was expecting too much of my young teen and needed to spend some time with her talking about the educational changes happening, the opportunities she had and how she wanted to approach learning. What we discovered was that she wanted a blend of virtual learning, hands-on activities and the ability to modify as she progressed if she was not happy. We then worked together on identifying some clear expectations and learning outcomes. For example, I expect Natalie to work for at least 4 hours a day and demonstrate progress in each activity. However, I do not make her adhere to a structured schedule. You will see in the next section that she has freedom in deciding when she needs a break, needs to eat, wants to go outside and get some fresh air or even when she wants to check in on her favorite YouTubers. That freedom is resulting in an increase of productivity because she has control of her day.
We have created an interactive schedule for her on Trello. If you aren’t familiar with Trello, it is an online collaboration tool that shows you what's being worked on, who's working on what, and where something is in a process. You can use Trello from either the website or by downloading the app. Natalie’s board looks like this today:
From just looking at this I know that right now as I write, Natalie is taking her lunch break and I do believe she added that card herself (and I just asked her to make me some lunch, too!) I set up her account, labeled each card with the subjects/activities we agreed on and then let her take control of her Trello board. She had and still is having fun selecting themes, finding cover photos, adding new tasks, cards and columns. I love her “Can’t Do Now (not my fault column); right away I know she is struggling with something and I can check in and assist, rather than have her get frustrated and abandon the task.
Each card has the assignments on which she is working and details the expectations for completion with lots of ways she can demonstrate what she is learning or has learned. Take a peek at our hydroponic gardening card and assignments so far:
Our ultimate goal is to create a hydroponic gardening system for our home, but the assignments are broken down into little pieces so that she does not get overwhelmed (aka “chunking” assignments). Keeping things manageable is important to maintaining engagement. I also have some very direct questions and expected outcomes, however I allow Natalie to choose how to complete assignments. From this card you can see that sometimes the choices are wide-open and sometimes they may only be two or three choices. And if she comes to me with another suggestion for documenting her learning, I accept it. This is not about the product, but the process- it doesn’t matter to me how she gets there. This is not about me having control or power over Natalie, but about collaborating and finding the best solutions for her education and with her input.
So, how’s it going? Trello is saving my sanity. Once we decided on the subjects and activities, I created some guidelines, suggestions and resources. Please note, we are not “skipping” any subject at all in this schedule. If you are asking “Where is history?” know that Natalie chose a historical fiction book to read and she will be digging in deep to the historical, societal, cultural, legal (and more) issues of that time, relating them to our world now and proposing alternate perspectives or solutions. And she can represent her knowledge via a project of her choosing that integrates everything she has learned from the plot of the book, the new book cover she designed, the vocabulary she has acquired to applying her knowledge to the world today. It is amazing how one book can lead to so much learning. Have a learner who does not like to read? Audible is offering a large number of books for free, libraries have downloads available for audio books and many of the books on Amazon have an option to select "read aloud" options. Your child is still being exposed to new vocabulary, ideas and experiences through an audible book- don't fret! Natalie is using my Audible account to listen to the e book and enjoying it. As she listens she takes notes in a journal; looks up words she does not know; and is not complaining!
There is so much more I’d like to share with you and your family about how I am adapting my child’s education in order to make the most of this time we have together. Yes, I have other responsibilities to attend to, like most parents, but Trello and project-based learning have made things so much easier for me- I spend 15-20 minutes a day updating assignments and reviewing her progress. I do not grade- I simply give her things to think about, encourage her to revisit concepts to build knowledge and ask her to apply her learning to our world today. And as a result, she is excited about learning. And right now, that’s all that matters to me.
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