More than a Bitmoji

I don’t recall where I saw it, but I read an article recently about the current teachers’ craze in creating Bitmoji’s. I have to confess, I am part of the trend. I had a lot of fun creating my likeness and sent some bitmoji texts to my kids. Although my colleague and friend Michelle Bowden was kind to send me a tutorial on how to drop my Bitmoji into a graphic using Snapchat, I haven’t tried that yet. Most of all, I haven’t learned how to add my Bitmoji into powerpoint slides (if you have directions for how to do that, can you share them with me?). The news article mentioned that some principals are requiring elementary school teachers to complete training in order to create a Bitmoji classroom. Yes, they are fun, cute, and creative, but I don’t know that they are going to ensure either a smooth start to the school year online or a high level of mastery of power standards once we get going.

So what should principals be requiring and districts be providing? From discussions with colleagues at a number of schools and after listening to the USC webinar “Is Distance Learning the New Normal?”, here are the must haves for a smooth start that districts, charters or schools should have before the school year starts:

1. A Calendar and Schedule

Most Boards should have approved the school calendar, but some districts delayed starting or made other calendar changes. A final calendar including holidays, quarter and semester start and end dates, and in-service/non-student days should be available for all faculty and families.

The schedule is a bit harder. Brick and Mortar schools are use to a bell schedule with well defined recess, nutrition, and lunch breaks. Elementary teachers had the flexibility on dividing the day between subjects as they needed and middle to high schoolers have a bell schedule that students rotate between subjects when students were present for a six hour chunk of time. It’s  hard to expect kids to sit in a zoom room all day without getting screen fatigued. Personally, I find that the maximum time of 40 minutes in a zoom meeting is about all that one’s attention span can manage. so, guidelines should be provided on number of minutes of live instruction by grade and/or subject. Assigned times will ensure a clean rotation. Will all students start their day with math or English Language Arts? Maybe start with social studies or science instead? Block schedules mean longer amounts of time in front of the computer and may be difficult to maintain student attention. Considering the distance learning mode, all schedules should include some time at the beginning and/or end of the day for preparing a schedule for the day and checking and responding to emails or other communications.  Schedules should also include short breaks between subjects, lunch time, and reading/journaling time.

2. Instructional Delivery System

The schedule will be dependent on the instructional delivery system.  How much instruction will be provided as synchronous (live sessions) versus asynchronous (recorded sessions)? Will students be expected to complete independent work or asynchronous recordings prior to attending the synchronous schedule for a flipped model? Will time be allocated for students to work independently on assignments? Direct instruction lends itself to asynchronous sessions leaving synchronous sessions for discussions, guided practice, collaborative activities and checking for understanding.

3. Learning Management System (LMS) and Live Session Vehicle

After the shutdown, some teachers jumped into Google classrooms while others used Zoom. One of my friends told me that within one school, teachers were all doing different things leading to confusion among students and parents. Each authorizing body should agree to one Learning Management System such as Adobe, Canvas, Blackboard or Google Classroom for course announcements, lessons, online discussions, dropbox and feedback. And teachers should agree to which live session vehicle such as Zoom, Adobe, or Google Meet. This consistency is essential for faculty and families. With a unified approach, teachers can receive a professional development program and share resources. For families, parents and students need to learn only one platform regardless of number of children in the family, grades and subjects.    

4. Lesson Feedback Vehicle and Gradebook

Teachers are use to grading with a red pencil in hand or pushing a pile of scantron sheets through a grading machine. If you have a purchased curriculum, you will likely have computer graded multiple choice tests instead of Scantron. But written responses and essays need grading and feedback. Agreed upon vehicles for this is another area for consistency is possible. English teachers will benefit from learning how to add comments in word. Others may complete and return a rubric. Most districts have a gradebook as part of their Student Information System but if you don’t, again this is an area for consistency for students and parents to check progress, teachers to enter grades and prepare report cards and counselors to update transcripts.

5. Academic Integrity System and Policy

Concern of academic integrity was brought up by nearly every administrator I talked to about distance learning when I was conducting research for my doctorate dissertation. Most dealt with it by implementing a blended model and having students attend in person for assessments. With an online only approach, measures need to be implemented to ensure academic integrity is upheld. All essays should be submitted via Turnitin or a similar program to check for plagiarism. Teachers may require students to complete high exposure tests ‘on camera’. Most of all, teachers should be cognizant of the potential of academic integrity violations and how their students are doing. If a student doesn’t attend synchronous sessions or submit any work but aces a unit test, check in and see if the student really is completing the work. You don’t need to be a plagiarism cop; just be aware to the potential and make sure your students’ effort seems to match their outcome.

6. Attendance Tracking

This is another challenging area but a general guideline needs to be set and communicated to faculty and families. Is attendance based on logged time, amount of work completed, or both? Will failing work be counted towards attendance? This is a discussion unto itself, so for now, I’m just going to include it on the list.

7. Tech Center / Help

You will be able to answer most tech questions that students and parents have, but when loaned computers crash or there are other major technical issues, you should be able to point students to a help desk and not spend hours debugging.

I’m sure there’s more, but for now, as you can see, your administrator should be providing you with a lot more than a Bitmoji requirement. If you don’t have clear direction in any of these areas, round up your colleagues and make some recommendations. And enjoy creating your Bitmoji too!

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