The Future of Learning for K-12

ChromebookNews organizations have truly embraced the old adage, “never let a crisis go to waste.” With every new pronouncement regarding the COVID-19 virus, the sky gets a bit closer to falling. Many of the public schools in my area have closed, but most of them are posting assignments online. Indeed, one of them has offered Chromebooks for check out if the family lacks a computer. This strikes me as a leap into the future of K-12 education.

Having taught both web enhanced and hybrid classes for the Technical College System of Georgia, I fully understand how to teach from my couch. In those classes, students had access to an online learning suite (either Blackboard or Angel, depending on the flavor of the year) wherein I listed assignments or offered online assessments. For those readers who are not chronologically gifted, the idea of closing schools seems unthinkable, but for anyone who has attended a post secondary school in the past decade, these fortnight long closures are no big deal. Indeed, I used to make jokes (during face-to-face class sessions at school) about teaching in my pajamas!

For younger students, such as those in K-12, however, quite a few of them have little experience with online learning, and some of their parents may not have experienced it at all. With a bit of coaching, both students and parents will come to see that much of what happens in a classroom can happen at home. In fact, in some cases, it is better to have online content. Forgot what happened to that important handout? Just print another one. Want to check the due date for an assignment? Just look at the online lesson plan. Need extra help? Email the teacher with your questions and concerns and you should get a prompt, personalized answer. Missed a class? Watch a recorded video session. In my experience, most college students eventually came to appreciate online resources, even if they didn’t embrace them. There is a learning curve, of course, as anything new requires some learning. Parents around here are about to embark on a new way of helping their kids with homework.

Who knows if the COVID-19 will actually be a serious threat to public health? Only the perspective of time will let us know that. However, this unprecedented interruption of business as usual in public education will demonstrate the power of online instruction. No doubt there will be some kinks in it, as this is new for some folks. But, the future of K-12 will be online, and this is just a preview of how it will work.

What’s selling from my “used” collection? Old grammar books!

I’ve been selling off my “teacher” stuff for about five years. During my on and off teaching career (at both private and public schools, in grades 6 through college) I did manage to accumulate a lot of books. One thing that surprises me is that really old books do sell, especially grammar books. Today, I received notice to ship an eleventh grade grammar text, published in the early 80s. Believe it or not, that one is modern. For whatever reasons, during the mid 80s, grammar began to gradually fall out of fashion in the classroom. Budgets seemed tight, and textbook price inflation was just getting started. Our school, like many in that era, bought new lit books, and each of those generally had lots of ancillary materials, including “daily grammar” lessons— usually one concept illustrated via a handout or a transparency for an overhead projector, and grammar books were either not used, or we used old ones. My friend, Janet, used a set of Warriner’s until the covers came off. Then she got the administration to find her some more of the same one on eBay. Until I left teaching high school, I used the same ones, over and over. I taped them together each August, and hoped they would make it another year.

My current teaching gig is as an adjunct at a local technical college. (For readers outside of Georgia, you would probably term it a “community college.”) Anyway, our institution pays for students to take self-paced grammar lessons online. The reason we do it that way is that we never know how much grammar the students might have already mastered, so they take assessments and are required to do lessons based on the topics they did not pass initially. From my experience, there are many students who have to take all of the lessons (known as modules) which is probably due to their teachers having been trained in the “non-grammar” era. The lessons are quite basic, including each part of speech, sentence structure, and so forth.

From time to time, I do sell grammar books, usually really old ones, and that lets me know that some people are either teaching themselves, or someone else, English grammar. I’m glad, because I see a lot of bad grammar in student writing these days. Actually, I see it in many other places, too!

The College Classroom

I’ve mostly avoided writing about my adjunct instructor job, because it is a great job, with very little drama. In books and on the screen, I like drama, but in my own life, I prefer peace and a decent measure of quiet. Only a couple of times have I had a “drama” situation with a college student, but it isn’t pleasant. In college, presumably the student has choices: which major(s) to seek, which class(es) to take, and even which instructor is going to teach the class. With all of those choices, plus the fact that college is a voluntary activity, there are almost no discipline problems. That is wonderful! When folks ask why I left high school teaching for a part time college job, I just shake my head, because the only thing that is better in high school is the pay check. And, for me, it wasn’t worth it.

But, sometimes, even in college, a student does create a bit of havoc. First, it is uncomfortable, because the other students are not amused, because they have made their aforementioned choices, and the disruptive influence is messing up their own learning experience. Secondly, if the matter is not handled swiftly, the disruptive influence begins to change the atmosphere of the class, as the instructor strives to keep the ship moving on the right course. And that is why, most of the time, the instructor says, “Get out” to the disruptive student.

Recently, a UGA football player, was dismissed from the team. Although the coach’s statement did not specifically refer to it, the media has apparently affirmed that the student did indeed cause a classroom disruption. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the incident occurred in the early afternoon and by evening, the player was free to pursue new opportunities. Some of those “commenters” on the newspaper website basically said the UGA coach should lose the “holier than thou” attitude and cover up such incidents, in order to make his team more competitive. But, having been on the instructor side, I am cheering for the UGA coach.

After all, college is a privilege, and the disruptive student can make some more choices and learn from the situation. And, as the UGA coach said in his statement, that makes opportunities for good guys to get playing time.

Back to School— for me!

For several years, I taught basic English classes at a local technical college, but in the past year, technical colleges in Georgia are the new junior college, so my transcript didn’t quite pass muster. So, it is either go back to college (for one course) or do as Candide suggested and cultivate my garden. If this doesn’t work out, I do have a plan for upgrading the plants around here….

Just registering was an adventure. I think I am the oldest person they have had lately. They kept asking if I was okay to climb the stairs, and I am thinking, “my knee surgeon did a good job— let’s live large and climb the stairs!” Anyway, I have a big credit card bill for tuition and five books (yep, five books for one course) because the course, which is really an education course, has an English prefix. Ironically, the problem with my transcript is a course which was taken in the English department which has an education prefix, so I guess that is fair.

Whether or not I will ever teach again is weighing in the balance, so I will no doubt put some effort into this new endeavor. However, if this fails, then I guess I will put the plant plan in the que!