Adapting 1950s Wisdom for COVID-19 Teaching and Learning: Show Your Work on the Board

Duane, a local rancher and retired science teacher who started teaching about 70 years ago, often had great practical wisdom to pass along about teaching. One of his best insights was to “just get students working at the board each day.” That still applies well for in-person and distance learning in the 21st century.

Variations on “working at the board” work well for engagement, speaking practice, formative assessments, and feedback opportunities. This year, with our long block periods, it’s also helpful to have the old-school routine of having students stand up while they present their work.

Here’s my wife’s independent distancing version of “working at the board” for having students graph trig functions and show their work in her pre-calculus class:

My colleague Ryan in social studies has been using a Google spreadsheet for helping students process history sources for DBQs and share their thinking:

I’ve recently tried this approach for an AP English Language prompt on the cost of college, and I like the way it guides students through working through the sources before writing the essay:

Just about every day, I’m having students process and share their analytical readings of texts such as Frederick Douglass’ “Battle with Mr. Covey” via a Google spreadsheet (each column moves them further into analytical thinking):

There are several other practical variations that we’ve used this year, but these basic moves have helped us improve instruction and learning beyond the often miserable experiences of last spring.

Special thanks to Dr. Michael Degen for introducing me to the spreadsheet approach in his AP English workshops. (Unlike a Google document, students can simultaneously enter their responses and not displace each other’s cursor.)

These sorts of applications make for some common sense work under COVID conditions, and they’re likely to continue being helpful afterward.


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