And another change

Posted May 7th, 2021 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: Uncategorized

Although I liked the simplicity of the “Bertha” theme I didn’t like the menus being at the very bottom of the page, requiring extended scrolling to find the list of specific pages.

So we are back to using Abstrakt3c, which will be good enough for now. I will apologize in advance for the ‘menu’ at the top of the site not working. Please use the choices in the right-hand sidebars to navigate between pages and topics.

Learning to be OK with “just okay” or, “Why being the richest doesn’t mean being the best.”

Posted May 7th, 2021 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: Uncategorized

Starting this very long, somewhat rambling post with a disclaimer: I do not pretend to be completely knowledgeable about the history and social dynamics of any country other than the United States. Most of my direct experience in life has been from a somewhat privileged vantage point of the child of two college graduates (both had master’s degrees by the time I was in high school), predominately northwest-European heritage, Standard American English-speaking (and beyond that, speaking academic language in the home), and for most of my childhood (until I was a teenager) a solidly middle-income household, with most of my at-home teen years in a household where (somehow, miraculously and due to sacrifice on the part of our parents) we never lacked the essentials but didn’t generally have “discretionary income” any more. My parents identify as “white” and worked very hard to fit the middle-class fantasy seen in shows like “Leave it to Beaver” or “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” We were never at risk for being singled out for negative treatment based on external signals or superficial appearances. When I left home for college my family was just re-entering middle class income after several years of financial struggle, and a year later I was on my own — in other words: I had to decide between eating or having a place to stay. I know how people treated me and thought of me when I was a cashier in a store… and how different that was from being the pampered child of a military officer.

The myth of exceptionalism underscores so much of “American” life. The ideas that somehow a person is inherently better by virtue of one’s birthplace – or that only those who excel are worthy – or that certain occupations have more importance or status – or that people “deserve” a certain life or even specific events in their lives (whether good or bad). We spend so much of our energy and resources trying to prove that we are indeed exceptional. In this way, we miss so many perfectly imperfect (but good enough) moments along the way, as well as missing the acquaintance of people whose “station” in life is different from our own.

No person “deserves” a life of complete ease, no more than any person deserves a life of pain or struggle!

Some people seem luckier in general than others, but if we are honest we acknowledge that we all have unfortunate moments (or years), disappointments, and losses. Some people seem to lack so much in terms of resources but have a great deal of peace and love in their lives. Certainly most movies and television shows depict low-income people having hard lives and being the outlier and wealthy people having (generally) easy lives as well as being normative – and so our children and young adults aspire to a standard of living that is not, strictly speaking, normal; a standard that would be unsustainable if everyone on earth attained it as well as not necessarily a significant contributor to actual happiness. (see footnote 1)

So why then, is it considered in poor taste to acknowledge one’s difficulties? In some cultures one doesn’t mention what is going well (boasting being in poor taste); in the U.S. it seems that we are expected to seem to be doing well even when we aren’t. Perhaps we are afraid that if others know we aren’t “blessed” it makes us bad people?

This would be a holdover from some ancient “heresies” (beliefs that run contrary to conventional/mainstream religious teachings) that re-emerge in western Christianity periodically. One such belief is the idea that when one believes correctly, or worships correctly, or acts correctly that life on earth becomes easy (the idea of wealth being a sign of righteousness), leading to the idea that somehow a person who is well off (financially, or in health, or …) is more worthy than a person who barely scrapes by. The obverse of that particular coin is that the poor somehow do not think/pray/act appropriately and thereby bring on their own misery. This belief has been used for at least a thousand years to justify policies that favor the wealthy and gradually take more and more away from the (undeserving) poor. One could, if one wished to counter that belief: simply mention the story of the widow’s mite… or Job… or any of a number of other tales from the Tanakh and the Christian Bible.

There is also, almost diametrically opposed (but still favoring the wealthy) a message that insists that the poor are not necessarily less worthy, but that that poor who are “always with us” will somehow reap their reward in heaven; that their assigned lot here on earth is precisely to bear their burden, to suffer in silence… etc. Therefore, poverty is not directly stigmatized, but neither are those with more assets held to the expectation that they should do anything about helping those who are less-fortunate. A shopkeeper, factory owner, or other member of the well-heeled classes can rest easy knowing it’s just the way the world works, and not be too disturbed by knowing that employees’ children go to bed hungry… And, this way of thought has also been used to keep people in their place by reminding them that good servants (or slaves) obey their masters and thus earn points for better rewards in the hereafter. It is reflected in stories and bucolic paintings with farm workers/serfs/slaves smiling or singing while they work or dancing in a carefree manner in the evenings; an expectation, and sometimes a command.

There are a number of errors (fallacies?) embedded in such thinking. One is that the poor are content with “their lot.” They aren’t. Although people in the middle of crisis, like a drowning person, are focused on surviving the moment at hand and are not as able to problem-solve and find ways out and up… they do know they are struggling, and they do look for opportunities to make the situation better. Eventually, people living in poverty and less privilege generally do begin to actively work together to improve the situation. This does not generally bode well for those who are in the “upper” echelons of the society.

Another error is that only people with “disposable incomes” should count in political-economic calculations. In fact, people who have lower incomes might count for considerably more in the long run. Here’s why: at a certain point, people who are “well off” no longer actually spend more. They stop purchasing on a regular or predictable basis — at least the staple commodities that are most often needed; and therefore the commodities that form the foundation of economies small and large. However people who are not well off – including those even at 300% above the U.S. “poverty line” (which in many areas is laughably low and in no way resembles the point at which people go hungry…) – those people always have something they will purchase immediately when they have “extra.” And those are items that bolster economies: food, clothing, household items, materials for work, materials for children, materials for LIFE.

To push that point a little more: if, without an additional income or sudden windfall, a person or family is prioritizing food or rent or healthcare or medications… or similar items and immediately uses “extra” funds for those necessities, then the money wasn’t really extra. The family wasn’t really doing okay.

It can be a very big problem, and history provides abundant examples of mistreatment of people who are perceived as less powerful and less valuable (although the existence of these people — specifically their labor — is necessary for the excesses and luxuries of the ruling classes). Too often, religious platitudes (and “conservative values”) are used to extract sacrifice from those who have the least – those for whom a single dollar represents great sacrifice but who nevertheless are required to pay poll taxes or other fees as if they had money to burn. And at the same time there are numerous deductions and exemptions that provide some relief in taxes for those for whom a missing thousand dollars isn’t even noticed. The poor, who truly have always been with us, have not always actually been so dramatically less well-off. There is a noticeable shift within my lifetime (although I suspect it started well before I was born) for owners and bosses to retain more and more of the profit that comes from other peoples’ labor – with not even the medieval expectation that in time of illness, war or famine the lord of the manor will provide relief. And therein lies this modern problem, for me at least.

While our family has usually been comfortable, we rarely indulge in conspicuous consumption. But even though for our income and educational levels we are not “flashy” (nor do we live beyond our means by borrowing…) we are nevertheless very much better off than most. Still, it is only very recently that we (as a couple) have significant income and can both afford to purchase what we need and also set aside a bit for a rainy day – a luxury for us, but hardly still what modern “experts” recommend for both immediate savings or retirement. Note that until the last 100 years most people – at least working-class people – didn’t ever actually retire, though some may have lived past their ability to work. My great-greatgrandfather (born 1880) was the first generation to qualify for social security… The idea of a time of relatively good health and leisure before one’s death is new and unusual!

In part, the lack of conspicuouse consumption is due to my health issues (I don’t enjoy being in crowds or unfamiliar places due to allergic reactions), but also because we haven’t had a lot of discretionary income most years. We also don’t generally purchase one-use items, whether clothing, furniture, or cars – we try to purchase well-made/durable items whenever possible even though they are more expensive initially. (That, in and of itself speaks to our privilege – we can choose to buy longer-lasting items!) Note that we regularly contribute to a number of charitable organizations now that we have that extra money, but not to the point that it significantly reduces our own comfort… which again is a privilege: we are not giving up very much when we help others. We are still setting aside a little bit for the future, in case we need a emergency fund.

I can justify it all day long, but I finish many days wondering if I could and should be more generous to those who have less: What if we purchased less-expensive (less well-made) items and treated them more gently? Or didn’t purchase as many items? What if I always purchased two of each item: one for us, and one to give to people who need it? What if, instead of a new outfit for myself for a special occasion I instead purchased a new outfit for a person who actually needs one?

And given the time we live in, with climate change a very real concern, there is always the overlying problem of using resources (not just the raw materials, but the energy required to obtain and transport raw and finished goods). People in my part of the world, and in the stratum of society I have generally “always” lived in, are sheltered from a great deal of the already-disastrous effects of climate change. Every item I purchase, whether “high tech” or “sustainable” or “cruelty free” or “fair trade” — EVERY item carries with it costs that are not generally reflected in the price I pay. Could I, should I, calculate those costs myself and “tax” my purchases by contributing to carbon offsets or worker aid, or medical clinics…

One way or another, we need to rethink how much is “enough.” In terms of income, in terms of acquiring property, and in terms of taking care of others and our world. Can we be “okay” with a comfortable (but not opulent) chair in the evenings, a satisfying if not gourmet meal, and a warm, dry place to lay our heads in the evening?

What will it take for us to value others’ needs above our own desires and comfort?

Originally started in Feb or March 2021.

Sometimes the losses pile up

Posted February 21st, 2021 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: Uncategorized

I don’t know how we managed to be so fortunate. Only a few of our friends have been diagnosed with SARS-Cov-19, and as far as I know none have died of it.

But still, the last year has been brutal on our family. Like most families right now, we are doing the best we can to maintain social distancing, and it’s difficult to stay connected with those we rarely see. So unless there is a set time or day to connect (at least for me) it can be a long interval before we speak or write.

And on top of that, life does indeed go on: and so does death.

We seem to be losing people at the rate of about one every two months.

And in the middle of the commotion sometimes the losses happen and I only find out about them months later.

Tonight, I learned a dear friend died several months ago – in the middle of my own issues I hadn’t noticed she wasn’t posting anymore. And facebook’s algorithms don’t put “most recent” at the top of the feeds anymore, so I didn’t think too much about not seeing specific peoples’ posts…

We knew she was gravely ill, but somehow I didn’t expect her to go so fast. Here is a link to a lovely article in the local news about my friend.

And a couple of close relatives also died in the last six months.

And a friend from high school.

And this is in addition to serious health issues with people in our families that sometimes take our full attention.

And … none of these were Covid-related, but I cannot help but wonder if perhaps the need to keep physical distance, the lack of opportunities to have close support from a variety of people, didn’t play into some of these losses.

Tonight, I just feel “done.” I am crushed, and sad, and trying to remember to give myself the same compassion I give to others: even if things were “normal” these would be hard losses. We can’t always be present for everyone. We can’t always anticipate how long we have left with anyone – and it is “okay” to do the minimum right now – for as long as we must to keep our heads above water.

Even so, these losses are hitting me hard.

Could have.

Should have.

Would have (if only I’d known).

The older I get, the more familiar the feelings of guilt, of inadequacy, of hopelessness in the face of loss.

And, no matter how many losses I experience, they get harder. Practice, in this case, doesn’t make any of this easier.

Is it too soon for 2021 to be over?

New Year, More of the Same…

Posted January 9th, 2021 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: Uncategorized

More, and Worse?

The democratic institution of allowing citizens to vote was threatened even before the recent general election. The votes of tens of thousands of people were at risk of being ignored. And then?

THEN irresponsible and unprincipled people began to advocate for open defiance of the laws of the land, and even for violent insurrection.

Again, I am a student of history. What happens in the next few weeks, months, and years could determine whether my nation, and the world at large, survives with grace or with difficulty… or at all.

2021 needs to improve, and fast!

New Year: 2020 part TWO?

Posted January 5th, 2021 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: Uncategorized

Remote Learning. Pandemic. Covid. SARS-Cov-19. Social Distancing. Masks. Quarantine. Isolation. Work-from-Home. Black Lives Matter.

These terms are not isolated to the year 2020, and except for Covid and SARS-Cov-19, are not new.

The issue of public safety sadly took a back seat in an election year with a grossly under-prepared national leadership and woefully underfunded state and national health, research and distribution systems. The extent of the disaster in the United States will not be fully known – perhaps for decades – until there has been time to compile and assess data on a) all the ways that this particular virus directly and indirectly affects the human host, b) the number of dead who succumbed to the virus, c) the number of people with permanent, disabling repercussions such as reduced stamina/strength, heart disease, brain damage, susceptibility to other infections, etc., and d) how many businesses closed entirely or permanently downsized, leaving individuals unemployed, families in need, and communities impoverished.

Realistically, while the deaths are tragic – and more so because many if not most were avoidable – the more devastating result is item (c) in the above paragraph. From an economic standpoint, what will the permanent (or even just long-term) drop in productivity do both nationally and world-wide? Will we see opportunities arise that allow people with disabling conditions to contribute in meaningful ways to their families and society? Will we see massive workforce gaps as family members (usually female) stay home to care for people who can no longer care for themselves? For people who worked in skilled but physical jobs, will they have to retire or find other employment that is less demanding… only to learn that there are no opportunities available?

Yet, it’s 2021, and there is hope on the horizon: vaccines have been developed and are beginning to be distributed; new industries have developed or become stronger; and due to reduced travel and work-from-home there are areas where ecological conditions have improved. If people can remember to stay home when possible, wear a mask when they must be away from home, and wash their hands frequently, the vaccine should eventually allow a return to more-normal socializing and work patterns.

It’s 2021, and it has been a week and a half since Christmas, when so many families and social groups gathered despite warnings to stick to household-only celebrations. It is less than a week since the New Year when many parties were held, in defiance of health orders to avoid crowds and restrict public gatherings. Already the hospitals in some places are overflowing (and turning people away) as a result of the much smaller Thanksgiving gatherings.

It’s 2021, and in the Pacific Northwest we have had a very mild (temperature wise) autumn and winter so far although the last few days have set rain records in my area. Still, mudslides, windstorms bringing down trees, and general flooding is threatening homes and businesses again. And milder winters here mean that plants don’t get the rest they need, and the pests (I am looking at you, banana slugs!) aren’t reduced in the spring.

It’s 2021, and I am fully employed but worried about how long that can be sustained with my health and mobility concerns and the needs of the age of students I normally teach (a moot point this year and maybe next year, but after that… ??). Even with a vaccination available soon, I will still struggle with regular episodes of anaphylaxis when students eat or otherwise bring allergens into my spaces. Will I have the ability to continue to teach as long as I had hoped when I went back to school?

It’s 2021 and our home is finally getting cleared out of things we no longer need – including many boxes from the fire and before… it’s slow going, but they’re going! I am letting go of so many mementoes – things only I care about and that are spoiled from mildew, soot, or both. The only memories I care about now are small, personal ones: marriage, parenting, people I love.

It’s 2021, and the surge of racially and religiously motivated hate crimes continues. It never went away, but in the last four years with a prominent example of a demagogue who celebrates racism and refuses to stand against hate crimes, there is a resurgence of harassment and assaults – and murders based on the color of a person’s skin, the accent when they speak, or the clothes they wear. With so many people I love being from other nations, “minority” religions, or races that don’t identify as white… my heart aches. In the schoolyard when bullying is not addressed swiftly and decisively by teachers and administrators it gets worse. Grown-ups are just bigger kids, and when bullying is allowed to happen or even encouraged, there are many hangers-on who want to affiliate themselves with aggressors.

It’s 2021 and we have plans for the yard and garden… but not sure if our income is up to all the somewhat urgent needs. We’ll make removing hazardous trees a priority, then fence the vegetable patch. Other improvements like extending paved walkways (for wheelchair access) may need to wait for another year.

It’s 2021 and with the death of my last grandparent in the autumn we no longer have any reason to travel long distances twice a year, so my world has become much smaller – day trips only from now on, so that I can sleep in a room that is free of most allergens and eat food that I am (usually) assured is safe. I’ll leave the over-the-mountains visiting to Tom, whose parents are more than a day’s drive away. I haven’t flown in years though I love flying, and cannot envision ever setting foot in an airport again.

It’s 2021 and I have to admit that I am a “bundle of nerves” around the political upheaval both around the world and in my own nation. For only the second time in my life do I feel that there is a probability for civil unrest that rivals that of the mobs of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Unrest that, at its core, is the result of accumulation of wealth and power in an ever-diminishing circle of corruption; and the cynical manipulation of those who are not powerful. Also, I am acutely aware of “saber-rattling” around the globe. As a student of history, I see far too many alarming parallels in these situations to be sanguine.

It’s 2021.

Happy New Year?

Playing Around: Geeking Out

Posted December 27th, 2020 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: Uncategorized

Round about October-November our son, Matthew, was discussing the “Raspberry Pi” computer he was using (an adjunct to his other devices). I asked if he was interested in getting the magazine and as a bonus (surprise!) it included a “free” basic raspberry pi device for me.

It arrived last week.

Tonight, Tom is helping me get it set up. It required a micro-SD card to hold the OS – Tom set this up for me because it was simpler on his computers, but he is going to walk me through the other set-up processes. This is MY fun toy. I haven’t played around with or used any hard-core programming for at least a decade (since I went back for grad school), so it’s going to be a steep learning curve. But I need some sort of hobby other than smashing zombies (a post for another time), and to pull me away from teaching-related tasks when my work day is done.

The image shows our “media wall” above the gas fireplace. In the center of the image is a flat TV being used as a monitor for my Raspberry Pi. In the center of the TV is the “Update Software” box with the infinitisimally slow progress represented by a small gray square on the extreme left of the bar… It’s going to take a while!

While we wait, it’s left-over chicken pie and The Expanse. Geeking out with the man I love.

The handsomest man.

New Year, New Look

Posted December 18th, 2020 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: Uncategorized

It was past time for an update!

2020 is almost over. I will be glad to see it gone.

2021 is an unknown – but I am hopeful.

The WordPress folks have a new theme called Twenty Twenty-One, so I am playing around with it. So far, I like it. I wonder if the year ahead will be something I like, too?

I am not yet fully comfortable with “block editors” as they remind me overmuch of early WSIWYG editors that were extremely unfriendly to screen readers and people with accessibility challenges. However, I am told that this particular theme is very friendly as it allows for the viewer to make adjustments on their end. Let me know if you are (like me) a person who has some adaptations pre-selected on your browser: does this theme adapt properly for you?

It also is supposed to adjust automatically for desktop/tablet/phone viewing. How do you like this theme for different types of devices?

BIG news this autumn has been my transition to full-remote instruction. I was already well-prepared to have a “flipped” classroom model and had been taking courses since the spring to prepare for that style which easily transitions between in-person, hybrid, and full-remote instruction. However, I was given a position NOT as an actual teacher, but as a mentor for families who are using an online platform. This was made possible by our friend, the pandemic… and hasn’t been a smooth move at all. However, there is a silver lining!

Because I am not driving an hour each way, and because I am able to take actual breaks during the day, my health is improving! Not my mobility – I still need a wheelchair when I am in public*, but my ability to breathe and the number of serious allergic reactions are WAY down. Still, there are challenges: the online lesson provider isn’t always reliable, the materials the families were promised never materialized (and now we know they won’t I have the added burden of making sure I have resources for the lessons – there are over 40 lessons EVERY day that I need to know what’s going on at least a month in advance….), and internet/power from Oct-March is not guaranteed.

  • I keep trying to just use a cane or crutches when I leave the house to stop by school or go to a store where I don’t have to walk far. The last two attempts resulted in my being virtually immobile by the time I got home and back in the wheelchair for the remainder of the day.

And I DO get to teach some. I am providing Social-Emotional lessons for all 6 grades that I support, and in the process of those I manage to fit in some reading/literature and math (and let’s be honest, it’s me! – Science and Social Studies) instruction. I also grade writing for the students, since computer algorithms aren’t yet sophisticated enough to adapt to developmental standards.

I have found that I am able to explain how online platforms work better and better. No real surprise there, but the thing that caught my attention recently was that despite having been full-remote since March a LOT of the students (and families) don’t know how to access their school-district online services. We use GAFE (Google Apps for Education) and all students by grade 2 have pretty much learned the routines. Except…

The stress and uncertainty of this year has caused so much mental and emotional overload even simple, straight-forward tasks are sometimes mystifying. I see it in myself – and I hear it in the voices of the families when they call for advice or guidance; and in the faces of the kids when we are “zooming” together; and in the language colleagues all over the world are using to describe their days. So many families struggling with food insecurity, impending homelessness, job loss, health concerns, working from home while supporting students whose schools are not open. And of course, the families and communities who have lost loved ones…

I am teaching full remote because I asked my doc in the early summer if I should return to in-person teaching if the pandemic was still raging. And he advised me not to.

Knowing I could take a year off without extreme financial distress (if I were denied the request) I asked for full remote, hoping they would offer a part-time position or a remote support position. I was thrilled to be able to say yes to this particular job title because it handshakes nicely with so much of my previous “hats” and gives me a chance to refresh and update skills: computer programming, website design and maintenance, lesson design, resource finding and development, family education, student encouragement… and in the process of getting the spare bedroom ready to teach in (the study with the dog door being not excellent for professional purposes!) my painting techniques. I really am just geeky enough, and just socially awkward enough, that while I miss actually seeing people I do find myself not badly flustered most of the time to be working on computers and seeing people through screens.

And yet… for my colleagues who were not comfortable asking for this kind of assignment, who have health issues but need the job to have the insurance for the health care… those who are working in unfamiliar territory and with tools they don’t enjoy using. They do not enjoy these challenges. They are not comfortable with being on camera. Many of my colleagues are not okay.

Our families, our communities, our world are not okay.

(stidmama says)

2020 has been a horrific year, a devastating year made more horrible in the United States by internal political posturings and strife. I suspect this is what it must have been like in the run-up to several notable moments in the 1800s when our nation nearly fractured. Economic distress, race-based hate crimes, sex-based hate crimes, religion-based hate crimes, nationalism/fascism, self-declared militias taking up arms against citizens, blatant and hysterical ignore-ance of educated authority figures, threats to public officials who are trying to do their jobs, threats to private citizens who are attempting to follow the laws and advice of authorities, and all in the context (at this point in time) of 3,000 people dying every day in the United States from a relatively “new” virus that is more contagious, more deadly, and has more unknowns for life-long impacts than most other viruses we have encountered.

Of course instances of domestic violence are up as stress makes already-fraught situations untenable. Of course instances of violence against strangers are up –

Of course?

Why must our tendency always be toward violence when times are uncertain?

Perhaps it’s time to focus not on what we don’t have, but on what we do.

Maybe that “attitude of gratitude” and practicing noticing what is RIGHT instead of what is wrong could help us move toward focusing on appreciating what is good in other people instead of being threatened by what is different. Maybe an attitude of gratitude for what we HAVE instead of constantly enumerating what we lack compared to others would allow us to build each other up instead of tear down. Maybe we can cultivate the attitude of gratitude so our personal weaknesses become a source of another’s strength – and allow us to graciously accept the help we need without feeling self-conscious.

Maybe.

That’s my biggest hope for 2021: that we can move toward gratitude for what is good, compassion for ourselves when we fall short of our expectations, and kindness toward others when they need us.

We can make 2021 better. We can, we must, we will.

(stidmama says)

Asynchronous Instruction: The New Normal?

Posted August 21st, 2020 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: education, Education Professional, technology in education

Remote learning. Distance education. Home schooling. These ideas came as a real shock to most families (and teachers!) in the spring of 2020. Districts and schools were woefully unprepared to support students who needed to work from home in terms of planning for supplies as well as how to deliver instruction remotely. Students without internet connections often found themselves with materials but little explanation. Teachers without internet connections sometime taught from their cars, parked near wifi hotspots. Other teachers were allowed to be in their classrooms which felt too empty without students. Many teachers were confined to their homes and had to clear a corner for teaching around their own family’s needs (and often their own children’s lessons).

A quick note: “homeschooling” is very different from remote instruction! Homeschooling is family-directed with content and pacing generally decided on by the adults. It may or may not use online services, and it does require that the adults in charge have the knowledge, time, and disposition to spend extended time with their own children as teacher and guide.

Remote instruction, on the other hand, is teacher-directed and standards-driven. While adding student “choice and voice” are the buzzwords of the moment, the truth is the students need to learn specific material in a specific time frame. Teachers adapt and differentiate instruction for multiple student needs, but the core material is the same for everyone. Families are in the position of making sure the student accesses the material and does the required work, but they are not placed in a teaching role.

Gradually, using our colleagues as coaches and surfing the internet for ideas we cobbled together ways to provide video instruction for those students who could connect. Some teachers provided the videos via thumb drive for kiddos who had computers but no internet. We stumbled through pared-down units to keep learning going knowing that for some families even sitting down to read once a day was a struggle.

Families, already overwhelmed by the need to share computers between children (and adults who were suddenly working from home), were also unfamiliar with terms and concepts. Some families were reluctant to “disturb” the teachers, not knowing that we almost literally lived for those emails and phone calls! They weren’t sure which tasks were considered essential, they didn’t know which materials to use… the list was varied and endless.

How should teachers take lessons and materials from a classroom-based learning mindset into a full-time online or even blended (sometimes called hybrid) learning model? There ARE ways!

I have attended three institutes this year from the Teacher’s College at Columbia that explored how to transfer traditional instruction to remote models. I also have taken part in both ReImagine Wa Ed courses from Shifting Schools (still in the middle of the second one), and have recently finished 6 weeks intensive instruction and work on how to “flip” classrooms from The Flipped Classroom Formula/Teach on a Mission to include some video instruction as well as synchronous work.

Remote Learning: A Quick Overview

The main components to remote instruction are a launchpad of some sort (centralized communications hub, usually a website or Class Dojo), a learning management system where work can be posted and turned in and students can ask questions directly on the lessons (google classrooms), and synchronous (real-time, face-to-face or zoom-style) and asynchronous (often called self-paced) learning. Ideally there isn’t a lot of duplication between the parts, but families will need to learn where to go for specific needs. A page on the launchpad with links to the most-used online services is helpful. [don’t post passwords on these sites]

Planning and Delivery for asynchronous instruction is different from, but not more complex than, synchronous and in-person instruction.

The MOST IMPORTANT idea for creating asynchronous teaching videos is to have ONE skill, concept, or task in mind for each lesson. Discrete, targeted instruction works best for those situations when you cannot do quick formative assessments while watching students work.

Once you have your “one thing” in mind, consider the type of instruction you are aiming for: introducing a big concept, or exploring one they already know something about? Teaching a specific skill (handwriting comes to mind, or organizing a binder)? Providing practice for a skill? The way you teach in the classroom may be through a written or verbal explanation, a demonstration, or student examples, combined with in-class practice and reflection – the same is true for video lessons.

It can be useful to think of a traditional class period in segments of work. There should be one “video segment” for introducing the concept or skill, and a separate “segment” for practicing it. One way to do this is to create separate, short videos that students can work through in sequence. A drawback to that approach can be that students skip the instructional piece and move directly to the practice work. But an advantage is that you can create short videos as you have the time, rather than trying to present for twenty or thirty minutes.

The approach that I used in the spring and have been refining this summer “bundles” the work into a longer video that has built-in practice (“now pause the video and do the work, then come back to check how you did”) and breaks (“before we move on to the next part, take a few minutes to stretch, get a drink of water, and relax – then come back to keep working!”). This is more useful to younger students who need considerably more guidance and support, and might also better support older students who like to work faster rather than better. 

Power move: I actually record shorter videos, then use an editing program to crop and combine them. This is a bit more time-consuming and requires some time to learn the software, but reduces the need to re-tape so often.

Another approach that can work is to make the initial video that everyone sees, and then a couple of alternatives for the practice segment – one for the kids who need a little more time and practice on the basics and one for the kids who are usually ready for a bit of a challenge once they have grasped the rest. 

The SECOND MOST IMPORTANT idea for asynchronous teaching is to decide when and how students will show what they have learned, and how often. Our students still need to interact physically with physical books, paper and pencil, but we don’t want to be bombarded with reams to look through once they can return to school, it is a good idea to know what, when, and how kids will show evidence of learning.

Some teachers of older students ask their kiddos to take notes while watching (scaffolded notes similar to cloze passages, or Cornell notes, etc) and then submit them through cellphone pics or a scan. Some teachers have students do practice work on paper and then have prepared interactive materials that each child can work with online and then submit within the Google Apps system. There are a lot of choices! 

For most videos and segments it may not be necessary to see every task the student did (introductions to concepts or practice sessions in the middle of math lessons, for example). For some segments, more detailed submissions may be desired. Without that, just as in the classroom, teachers cannot know if a quick reteach is necessary for the whole class or for just one or two. In addition, waiting too long to see student work can eliminate the power of “feedback.” I recommend having at least an exit ticket of some kind for each core content area daily just to be sure kids are progressing.

Ways to get RESPONSES without students uploading files

There are many online services that allow online responses from students, many of which are free or very low cost and that meet internet safety standards for younger students. Most of these are already being used somewhere in Elma schools! Flipgrid is brilliant for students because they can record a short video or audio clip as a sort of exit ticket. It also avoids the problems of blurry images from cellphone cameras or finding where a student sent screenshots of their work. Google Forms (link goes to a short youtube video) can be used for formative or summative assessments and can even self-score simple responses much like quizzes in a classroom. Padlet allows students to respond in writing either at the same time or in their own time to prompts based on texts, images, or videos uploaded by the teacher. Nearpod can embed quick checks in the middle of a lesson that can be self-paced or teacher-paced during synchronous (classroom or Google Meet) instruction. Kahoot is an online game that students can access from a cellphone or tablet as well as a chromebook – the teacher can set up teams of students or individual mode and create multiple choice questions for a quick check. This can be done in real time (teacher-paced) or asynchronously (student-paced).

The THIRD most important piece is feedback. Feedback is being discussed in the remote learning community in the form of a coaching session – identifying as close to “in the moment” as possible both strengths and areas of improvement. A simple “good job” is not feedback in this sense, but “I like how you remembered to include rich detail – how could you make it more clear who is speaking each time?” would be feedback. As far as possible, the feedback should be related to the teaching point or a learning move the student has been working on (perhaps increasing stamina for writing). Keeping it simple will allow the student and family to know what to focus on in the next lesson. Feedback is not the same as grading, but the notes you take during that process can be used to inform grades.

How do you give feedback? Using Google Apps (Docs, Classroom) allows you to make comments directly on student work without it being seen by other students or families. A quick note by email or in Dojo. A phone call home. In-the-moment comments for synchronous sessions. Many of the online ways to collect student responses can provide automatic feedback as well.

A related idea is that continuous formative assessment and feedback can be as valuable as end-of unit or “product based” summative assessment. By observing students while they are in the middle of learning and asking them reflective questions about their process or for demonstration of how they accomplish their work a teacher in a remote setting can both empower students to take charge of their work and assure that what is being graded is the students’ own work. For some lessons, while a student could prepare an end-product (story, explanation for math work, science report) the learning on the way to the product instead of the product itself becomes the focus.

Some Practical Advice (what I wish I had known in April):

Making videos:

Although being in front of a camera can be uncomfortable, for our students seeing our faces and hearing our voices will help them feel connected — both during remote learning and when they can return to the classroom. Just like in real life some days we’ll look and feel better than others. Don’t worry if you don’t look like a fashion plate (but hurrah if you do)!

Remember to keep the lighting in front of you – backlit figures are difficult to see. Facing a window, or putting a lamp on the other side of your recording camera (mine hangs over my computer monitor), is useful. Light that is nearly straight on (not from above or below) helps eliminate deep shadows on your face. 

Being clearly heard: I use a boom mike, others prefer a headset with a mouthpiece or a clip-on mike. Generally speaking, the quality of built-in microphones is poor for affordable computers and laptops. My boom mike is directional so some background noise can be screened out. Whatever type of microphone you use, do listen to yourself in the first few videos you make to be sure your voice is coming through clearly the whole way through.

Keep your background simple if you are videotaping yourself. It is tempting to use a virtual background, but as a person who is highly distractible myself, I find the “flicker” that can result if you are not in front of a greenscreen a bit overwhelming. If you are in your classroom, the whiteboard or other teaching space is perfect as a background. At home, a wall that is not highly decorated is better than a bookcase full of books and mementos.

I try to start each video with a reminder of what students need to have ready to go – even if they can read what’s on the screen, some of the kiddos need a nudge! I list on the screen, say each item, and show each item so there’s no confusion about what I mean.

PACING is important. To support my students with hearing, language processing, and ELL needs I try to remember to speak a little more slowly and have my face pointed at the camera. Closed captioning can be added to screencastify videos [linked here].  And youtube videos can be sped up or slowed down for students who prefer a different pace.

Using Slides and other prepared materials in videos:

Keep them simple to start. Although there are dozens of beautifully illustrated slide sets available, illustrations that are not part of the actual lesson can be a distraction. I like to have a similar format for all the slides I use for each content area, and similar cues for students so they know what’s going on.

  • Target symbol to show what they are working on
  • An emoji/consistent image to key them to the type of content or work (crayon for drawing, pencil for writing, small cubes for math manipulatives)
  • The FEWEST POSSIBLE WORDS on any slide – some students may end up viewing videos on cellphones. Consider what may not be clear if the viewing area is small! More slides with fewer words is better – remember that you will be adding information and detail in your narrative as you go through them. If you want a script for your slides, use the “speaker notes” section!
  • Have the same starting and ending slide each time so students learn to be ready for that content when they see that slide. First slide in every math lesson might have just an image of their workbook, for example, and the last slide should have the link or instructions for turning in their responses.
  • In a recent course the idea of “wayfinding” was introduced (very important for self-paced lessons!) – give students easily recognized and obvious signs so they know what to do and when. 
    • If they have a choice of tasks, or a choice of which order to do the tasks it increases engagement, but for starting out I recommend keeping most videos and slide sets simple.

If you are using a more interactive service such as nearpod, consider that you are really doing a full production, more along the lines of an interactive game or TV show. But the same principles apply. It can be helpful to use some of their pre-made lessons to start with, and then move on to editing in what you want before you make lessons from scratch.

Supporting Student Work:

With most computers it is possible to attach a document camera (like an Elmo) as a second video source and record yourself working/demonstrating on paper as you speak.

Students seem to benefit from seeing the exact same materials they are being asked to use. I will demonstrate in a composition book or on lined paper even for video lessons. And for math I preferred to use PDFs of the actual pages instead of the slides to help my students see exactly where on their workbook pages to look.

It was frustrating for me to have to provide the lesson and not be able to adjust in the middle for that one kid who was clearly lost! However, it is possible to use your “meet time” to help those students, and if your grade level is providing “office hours” students and families can ask for extra help as well. Students and families can also be encouraged to call, email or Dojo message with questions which helps alleviate their anxiety and prevents misconceptions from sitting too long.

And the above notes on feedback and assessment play in here as well. Even more so than during in-person instruction students benefit from more-frequent, shorter feedback moments. That feedback can come from you, a family member, a peer during Google Meets, or even from themselves as they compare their work to examples you provide.

FINAL NOTES:

For most purposes, it is useful to think about the Student-paced instruction as the “teaching part” and the teacher-directed instruction (real-time via Zoom, in-person, or otherwise) as the time to practice and extend the learning. If a student can watch the teaching video and do any off-screen work on their own (or with help from an adult), then the in-person time can be spent giving feedback, answering questions, and making the personal connections that are so important for student engagement.

Many teachers “flip” their classrooms already – providing videos the students can watch on their own time, or at the beginning of class, and then use the rest of the in-person time to check for understanding and the group work and 1:1 support. By doing this, students who are absent can more-easily catch up because they receive the same basic instruction – without requiring them to meet separately with the teacher. It also allows students who need more time that luxury: they can pause the video to think or work, slow it down, stand up in the middle to clear their heads and come back when they are ready, without drawing attention to themselves.

Once the basic lessons are prepared, teachers often add “value” to the experience by creating different ways to access the information. Where they provided an article originally, they might add the choice of a video. Where they asked for a written book report they might allow students to create a short piece of animation or video. A hand-drawn diagram in science could be an alternative to using an online chart-creator. For in-class work students could use more-traditional materials as well as online resources.

Online instruction can provide links to dictionaries, thesauruses, content-specific resources, and “child appropriate” platforms where students can share their ideas with their peers. All of these may be present in a physical classroom, but when a student can use them away from the eyes of their peers it is more appealing, particularly for older students who are socially anxious.

What’s in the Garden/Garden-ability.

Posted August 19th, 2020 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: ableism, garden, Gardens and Life

Like many people fortunate enough to live where they have a bit of property around their home, our yard has been a true spirit lifter these past six months as the pandemic wanders over North America and the rest of the world. From having something to think about and make plans for, to the ability to invite a couple people over occasionally for some physically-distanced visits, we have had at least one area in our lives where we can see actual progress and take some pride in accomplishment. It has taken over a year of thinking and work, and hiring help for the heavy digging, lifting and paver work (thanks again, Pedro!), but the front patio (the “pond section at least) is done! That’s paving, planting, irrigation, and mulching! And weeding. A LOT of weeding. I did the mulching by myself, slowly once the irrigation was done. Took me 5 days to spread 4 bags(!) but I did it, and I am proud of my part of the effort.

Right now in the rest of the yard, the red apples are coming on ripe, we have harvested some “borlotti” beans, the small Asian pears are ripe, the blackberries are … beyond ripe (we have drunk wasps again), blueberries are thinking about it. We need to extend the irrigation to the blueberries, and also cut down/cut back some of the bitter cherries that are making that part of the yard so dark. Next year, hopefully, we won’t have to purchase blueberries.

Image gallery is below, here is the description of the nine images as they were laid out on my screen. After viewing the site from a couple different browsers the order of the images stays the same, but the number in each row can vary! There is more text below the image gallery.

Top row: left pic shows the boxes Grant built last year along the front of the bedroom wing and the completed ramp. There is now bark in the gaps between gravel and walkway. The middle image is an area of the pond garden before irrigation, mulching and final pots were placed. The image on the right shows a cluster of ready-to-pick red apples!

Middle row: left image a handful of unshelled borlotti (a type of cranberry bean) on the grass. Middle: the other bean plant (not sure which type), not ready to harvest. Right image is Matthew bringing a load of decorative stones up the hill in the back so I can place them around the “pond.”

Bottom row: Left image is a container full of apples and small Asian pears with four apples on the counter in front. Middle is a view of the “pond” which looks more like a dense planting of something! Right image shows the pond from a different angle with a small statue/waterfall of a young girl that will add water to the goldfish habitat every time we water the plants.

And that’s pretty much what’s going on in the garden this week. Before I could get to the patio in the wheelchair the effort of walking out and back alone was enough to restrict much of my time there. Now that I can easily move about (and it’s so much easier to walk since the path is no longer bumpy!) I am enjoying the space and getting a lot more accomplished.

Designing a gardening space for a person who is differently abled turns out to be not that different from other design: Plan for nice vistas from different angles, put a few nice surprises in unexpected places, make sure there is seating to invite people to enjoy beautiful views longer. Make primary paths compacted and level enough for crutches and wheelchairs to safely navigate. For a person who is shorter or experiences life from a seated conveyance make sure the plants are at a variety of levels from the ground through mid-range so the view isn’t always “up.” For a person who may have visual issues, high-contrast between light and dark, and textures as well as scents in plants will enhance enjoyment. These are things that don’t take any more money than other planting/design schemes.

Expenses crop up when it is necessary to transition from one level in the yard to another, when a paving is necessary (most wheelchairs can do “okay” over grass and other low groundcovers if the ground is level and dry… but where it rains or snows, paving of some kind is needed). Expenses can also be incurred if garden beds need to be raised, if tools need to be adapted or adaptable for reach and grip, or if health conditions require specific shade/lighting.

My issues mostly affect ambulation and lifting – which at my age isn’t that unusual. I also have some sensitivity to bright light (triggers migraines) so I need things that prevent too much direct sun – a lovely screen of trees to the south does that for much of our garden! Careful planning when we rebuilt – and insisting on no-barrier and low-barrier entries and transitions has saved us some money with this part of the garden remodel. In addition to hiring Pedro for the paving this year, I needed to purchase three 1-inch ramps for getting in and out of the living space of the house house when I am in the chair – our exterior bedroom doors will need something like that for emergencies if I ever completely lose the ability to walk. But since I am still fine (usually) for short distances even on my worst days that can wait. As can the other 90% of the yard that is still waiting for final landscaping!

And that’s our garden goings-on for this week.

Goals are Aspirational, Not Descriptive

Posted August 19th, 2020 by Kathleen Stidham
Categories: citizenship, editorial, social justice

I have been increasingly dismayed by people from all walks of life who mistake the Declaration of Independence for a description of life as it was being lived in the colonies in 1776. Some consider the Constitution and its amendments as an exact step-by-step prescription for running the country, and as if it were a holy book, not open for future amendments or interpretations that are made based on new knowledge.

In fact, both documents are primarily aspirational. That is, they point toward an ideal, not a reality. In part, this is a consequence of the limitations of the authors of those documents, as well as gradually shifting language. The biggest critics seem to be those who do not like some of the articulated aspirations: full equality, maintaining rule of law over individual/corporate interests, and distinct power sharing between branches of government so no one branch (or individual) can usurp the rights of the citizens.

Those who talk about reverting to previous laws or interpretations of the Constitution often fail to recognize how much has changed since those documents were written. For example, when the amendment regarding unlawful search and seizure was written, few people could read and fewer still owned any books. Items that might have been seized were limited to physical materials — perhaps a few notes or letters carefully saved in a box, weapons, and tools for earning a living. It was generally relatively easy to spot an item that was specified in a warrant! These days, we store vast quantities of information in “the cloud” and think nothing of sharing images of our families and meals with people on the other side of the world — instantly and more or less securely. Thus, law enforcement and others have had to come up with new ways to both access materials and information that support illegal activities, and the courts and individuals have recognized a need for clear delineation of what is “reasonable” search of devices that most people consider private. The laws are changing, and perhaps the Constitution will ultimately be amended to reflect this new reality.

[This is an unfinished post started in June 2019 that seems relevant to many of the national conversations in August, 2020. Again – incomplete post, and leaving it that way as too much has happened in 14 months… Will start over on a new post!]


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