Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

05.03.20Antidotes & Dosages: Quick Thought Re. Online Learning

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Even if something is valuable the dosage matters. Too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. In the end, nothing worthwhile survives excess.

I’ve always felt this keenly about synchronous remote interactions–conference calls back in the day and now zoom calls.

I can’t speak for anyone else but I start to fade after 75 mins of zoom time. (My number for a conference call was about 1/10th that; this video is the only salve.)

The 75 mins number is arbitrary*. My number could be low because I’m the kind of guy who has to… wait for it… print something out to read it deeply. But it also could be high. I’m a technophobe adult who loves reading, running and other zen-like activities.

On the TLAC team we set a 90 minute max for any online meeting and if it goes that long it’d better be engineered to maximize the benefits of synchrony- lots of interacting and reflecting and different forms of engagement. And ideally some humor for Pete’s sake.

Anyway, synchronous lessons on screens are a generally good thing while we’re all locked down… we can connect in person, recreate the fundamental relational dynamic of teaching, and read our students’ responses.

That said it’s important to be thinking about dosage and balance for students. Yes, balance synchronous learning with asynchronous learning- but what kind? Does screen-heavy synchronous learning get balanced with screen-heavy asynchronous learning? That’s a counter-balance in some ways but not in others.

I’m just toying around with this but but I want to throw out the word ‘antidote.’ Possibly I’m misusing it. But what students do when they’re not synchronous would ideally not just be not-synchronous but have antidote characteristics sometimes: not-screened and in fact anti-screen.

Some or maybe much of the time, I’d rather kids (my own; your own; the kids we are sworn to serve and whose parents trust in us) read a book or write pencil-to-paper or listen to a book on tape when they aren’t in highest-use screen-based meetings, than be watching an asynchronous video. In other words could we design low-tech screen free asynchronous activities that we can use tech-light to hold students accountable for?

Could, “Write in your journal for 30 minutes. Take a picture and text it to me,” be better than, “Write a one page response in word and submit via google docs”? Could “Read the chapter and record yourself reading your favorite ten sentences aloud,” be a good counter weight to screen, screen screen, all day in your bedroom.

There’s also probably an argument here about diminishing marginal returns. We have to be strategic. We don’t know what the dosage is. In zero cases out of 100 should this be read as a show of support for the “we shouldn’t teach anyone until we have it perfect” crowd. Kids need us to do great work for them now. But dosage is not irrelevant. And the types of activities we use as counter-balances to what we KNOW are weaknesses to the necessary model are important.

That’s all I’ve got for you this morning. It’s Sunday. I’m writing from my garden. The sun is shining and I’m logging off.

*For the record I believe stamina can be built–always bugged me when people told me kids couldn’t concentrate on any one task for more than ten minutes. If that’s true, I always thought, we’d better get started fixing that.” I don’t think this contradicts that belief but I can’t say for sure.

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