Looking Ahead to 2020/2021: Addressing Social Justice and Social Distance

At this point in the summer, I usually reflect on the previous school year and think ahead to the one to come. This year it will be a little tougher than normal to plan ahead. Along with the usual tweaks I like to make in my practice, I need to consider how I will address social justice and social distance. 

Social Justice – Read & Learn

In terms of social justice, I have been relatively silent in my Twitter network. First, middle aged white guys have had enough opportunities to have their say. Second, as a Social Studies teacher (focusing on US History) I have always made social justice a centerpiece of my classes. I feel my mission is to produce informed and motivated citizens, ready to positively change the future. So, instead of getting on social media and spouting my thoughts, I decided to take the time to learn more. I added some new choices to my summer reading list: David W. Blight’s Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. I am not saying that these are the only books worthy of consideration. What’s important is that you take a look at your subject area from a point of view that isn’t always considered in your usual resources. The Blight book, for instance, is awesome. Frederick Douglass is a badass. Students need to know his story. Sadly, too much of what Douglass faced in his time is still relevant today. The book also does a great job of connecting the plight of laborers in the past to those in the present.  Douglass frequently spoke, as far back as the 1850s, about how racism was used as a means for keeping poor white and black workers from uniting together. So, over the summer I’ll read, reconsider history from other perspectives, and think of ways to ensure those points of view are explicitly and positively reflected in my instruction.

Social Distance – Safety and Growth

Social distancing is a complicated idea to prepare for. I have to wait for my school to finalize the institutional routines we will follow. I do know that classes will be smaller in number and that desks will be set a fixed distance apart from each other. And, students will be prevented from working closely together. This will have an immediate impact on my instructional strategies. Small group discussions and idea sharing are at the center of my teaching. I have been a firm believer in ensuring students do more talking than me, reflecting a “The one who is doing the talking is the one doing the learning” philosophy. 

So, how do get students talking without using the old reliable ‘pair and share’ or ‘jigsaw’ techniques? 

Technology might help in some ways. Students can post thoughts in a Padlet or exchange comments in a chat forum. But, I want kids talking live – no time for editing or couching their thoughts. I want them talking and shaping their ideas on the fly. 

The only satisfactory solution I could come up with is to go outside. My school’s distance rules are a little more relaxed outside than in a confined classroom. This will mean losing a few valuable minutes in transit. But, it will be worth it for the opportunity to get the kids developing their thoughts aloud with each other. The key will be to train students in the transit process – what is the signal to go? How do we exit the room? Where exactly do we go? Which path do we take there? If all of these questions (and potential pitfalls) can be addressed and pre-planned, then the loss of instructional time will be minimized. 

And I know I may be belaboring the point about instructional time, but every minute counts as pointed out in the Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey 2020 article No Instructional Minute Wasted . In the article, Fisher and Frey show the math concerning time usage: “If a middle or high school teacher spends 10 minutes every 50-minute period on instructions for 180 days, then 36 full class periods were spent on delivering directions.” Time well spent at the beginning of the year, getting all the logistical conundrums sorted out, is time not wasted later. 

There is much to think about this summer. There are a number of new realities to face and address. If you come up with some solutions or ideas, PLEASE share them. I can be found on Twitter at @mrdeehanclass

Have a safe and productive summer!

Ed X!

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