Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

04.30.20“Dissolving the Screen” in Ben Esser’s Online Classroom

Does Mr. Esser see & value the work you do from your kitchen table? You bet he does!

In our work supporting remote teaching, we’ve been using the term Dissolve the Screen to describe one of the key tools we see successful teachers using.

To “dissolve the screen” is to heighten students’ awareness of the back-and-forth exchange that still exists between their teacher and themselves so they feel it more strongly.

To connect this to a recent post though, it’s not just connecting and and letting kids know we care about them, though hopefully there’s plenty of that–its establishing a connection through the work so they feel both accountable and connected at the same time

The message is: “I see the work you’re doing, and it matters. I’m happy when I see you taking ownership and succeeding.

This morning I watched a fantastic example of that. It comes from the class of Ben Esser, who teaches 6th grade English at Achievement First East New York Middle School and who I’ve featured on this site before.

Here’s the video:

Some moments I appreciated:

The lesson starts fast: “A king gets toppled today…” Ben begins, hitting the ground running. It feels purposeful right from the start and honors students time by getting started right away. There’s a Sports Center-like excitement- about the book. But of course the fun is doing it together: “Looking forward to doing that with you all.” Message: you are part of something. A member. The screen is starting to dissolve.

18 seconds in and we’re “snapping it up” for people who got a perfect on yesterday’s classwork. This might be my favorite part. I’ve written a couple of times about accountability in online settings. How we have to help kids feel like online is a place where they follow-through on tasks with focus and attention. By calling out people who did that Ben shows he values that and reminds them- I see the work that you do. That’s where he dissolves the screen. You’re far away, working at your kitchen table or in your room but I still know whether you do your work. I care and value it. I’m a less immediate presence in your life but the feedback loop is still there-I’m still here…

Then Ben doubles and even triples down on the idea- shouting out kids whose classwork average is high and then, best of all, showing the “really exemplary exit tickets” a couple of students wrote. The message here is important. You do good work and Mr Esser still sees it… right away… he values it, he reads it out to the class. You’re still connected. The work you do still matters, and the distance between student and teacher is dissolved.

And it’s fascinating that Ben manages to do all this in an asynchronous lesson. He’s not even there live with kids but his caring for them and their progress is hard to mistake.

Thanks to Ban for letting me share his work and stay tuned because I’ve got another clip of him coming in the next day or two.

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