Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Sometimes Digital Learning Can Be Great!

 I've been complaining a lot about digital learning as of late.  It's not engaging, it's overly strict, the kids are too regulated, there's not enough playtime or downtime. 

During the digital lesson my son (aged 12, going on 26)  is either trying to shut off his video so he doesn't have to pay attention or sneaking discord/ chat messages with his friends.  (He's already gotten in trouble for arranging to play minecraft during Lunch time while using the school provided Google Chat!)  I have to go over his history with a fine tooth comb, and he's always pretty shifty.

After the lesson is over, I find myself either having to police my son to make sure he does his work, threatening him with lack of internet (do I have any other leverage these days?)  And when he manages to do his work, it's lackluster and/or just out and out wrong.   And he's cried and gotten angry more in the last three weeks than he did all summer, and I have to think that digital learning is at the root of most of that.  (Well that, and the onset of puberty!)

 Basically, my son hasn't had great experiences with digital learning thus far.   But there's hope on the horizon.

Brady Lea

My friend Brady Lea (fellow alum of Clown College and a brilliant playwright and theatre artist) teaches improv at the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, a competitive arts-based public high school.  She recently posted a fantastic story on her Facebook about one of her digital/ distance learning/ Zoom classes.  It was inspiring, and I wanted to share it here.  And she gave me permission to do so!  

The thing that is so great about this is that it shows when handled in just the right way, that digital learning can totally rock.  She gave the students some (pardon the pun) Lea-way, and they came through big time.

 I'm not sure how you could teach math this way, but maybe you could.  And if not this way, some OTHER way that follows the student's desires while still pushing them forward, using peer pressure in a positive way.

One of the things I love about this is that it's not about how great a teacher she is.  (although I'm sure she is)  As the story is told below, the real magic is in how Brady saw an opportunity and seized on it, and let the kids guide her.  And in the process, threw away her lesson plan, and her agenda. That's the kind of teaching (and learning) that makes a real impact.  I have no doubt that years from now, this little incident will be emblazoned in the brains of the kids who participated.  I know I'll be thinking about this moment of magic for some time.  And I wasn't even there!

Thanks for sharing, Brady!

Post by Brady Lea (all copyright by her. Reposted by permission)

I've posted an image of the facebook post below. If that doesn't work for you, I've also posted the text below that. All words by the wonderful Brady Lea.

If that image didn't come through, here's the text (again, reprinted by permission)

Warning: Long Post. (But entirely politics-free.) Follow up to yesterday's post about having a great zoom class. It was my first class teaching my material (have been doing other activities the last few weeks) with HS Juniors. I've had them for three years. It's a frustration to speak to a screen when a lot of kids are muted and/or have their video off. Especially teaching improv. We get no automatic feedback. As a comedy person, this is extra painful. 
Thanks to the many other generous teaching artists sharing lesson plans and tips for online teaching, I found a few tips on getting students engaged right off the bat. One was to admit nobody until there were 5-6 people in the waiting room. So I did that. Someone else suggested having the teacher's mic & camera off so they chat amongst themselves, something we really don't see much of. (Except them messaging each other on other platforms.) I waited for 5-6 more and then let that group in. They chattered away for 5 minutes, as I let in a few more people one at a time. 
I had been planning to just turn on my camera & mic then and start class, but also about that time, they started going, "Wait... where IS Brady." "Yeah, where?" Then they said some things I might be doing (nothing offensive-- ribbing me for my pet subjects.) I thought it was funny, and they were more engaged as a class on one thing than I'd seen in-- uhhh--since the before times. Eventually, someone said (joking-- I think) "What if something happened to her?" "Yeah, what happened to her."
At that point, I scrapped my warm-ups and wrote in the chat:


I really thought this would maybe get me 1 second of sarcastic laughter from ~16 yr olds. But they got into it, freaking out (schmacting) about my peril. Then I said:


And at that point they all (ok mostly) got into using tactics and mirroring and ensemble work to save me. They tried doing it psychically. They asked about my whereabouts. They all (but one) made a tube with their hands for me to crawl through. The Alien commander took over my chat and made the one hold-out participate. Then the commander demanded a sacrifice. Before they actually sacrificed one of their own, they were told it could be someone from their rival department. They had a name instantly. The commander then said he had eaten this kid. (YAY!) (We like him.) 
As the problem solved, trying to find the internal logic none of us knew, they also asked specific questions about the aliens to help further their rescue plans. How many legs? (6) How many arms? (3) What color? (Purple and green, based on my wee nephew's skin color chart.) Then they did the math to make sure every alien limb was accounted for.

 This had been 15 minutes of working together and narrative-building and it seemed like maybe I should start "real" class. I teach standing up from my kitchen and at that moment David Gallagher (spouse) came by. I told him to stand in front of my computer, and I turned on the camera. Students screamed. He spoke for a few seconds and then just moved his mouth while I dubbed his voice, claiming to be trying to take over his body and therefore escape. They used more psychic powers/telekinesis to blast him off the screen at which point I finally appeared. Much applause all around, and I praised the ensemble improv skills they showed. And then we started our grading period.

I had so much fun. So, thank you to whoever it was in whichever teaching theatre online group I'm in that suggested waiting until there were 5-6 of them before I let them in. Useful.

1 comment:

Apocalypse Daddy said...

Your friend sounds like an awesome teacher. We need more and more good teachers. They are less common that we perhaps think.

At the beginning of this your kids sound a little like me at work, trying to sneak a chat box onto the screen whilst I am supposd to be listening to my boss. Modern human nature perhaps.

Have you seen this TED talk on creativity and school? It's a few years old now but I think the message resonates over to the digital learning of this year (and,I presume, the future)?