THE COVID-19 ED CASE CHRONICLES, PART 3B: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Evidence-Free Zone

This post continues from Part 3A, We Have Entered the Evidence-Free Zone.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Evidence-Free Zone

As frustrating as it can be at times to not know what the right things are (see my previous post), I have to admit that I am enjoying the challenges of our new Evidence-Free Zone.

And no, it’s not lost on Mr. ‘Evidence-Uber-Alles’ here how weird that sounds. Hear me out, though.

Simply, I’m accepting the Evidence-Free Zone for what it is, and approaching the whole deal—and urging my school teammates to approach the whole deal—the same way I approach so much of my work in education already: by getting all formative. I’m not sure what’s missing or needed, so I generate evidence before choosing my actions.

So okay, I guess it may be more accurate to say that it’s not the Evidence-Free Zone itself I’ve learned to love, but rather the challenges of (1) making the Evidence-Free Zone…well, less evidence-free, and then (2) attacking issues according to the evidence I’ve harvested.

Either way, I can definitely say I have found the process quite gratifying thus far: to go forth with some class decision, humbly admitting all along that I have zero idea how it will turn out (but full confidence in why it’s designed as it is), and then analyzing the heck out of all the output so I can keep improving. (And I have to add: Parents and students—the ones I work with, anyway—don’t seem to hold it against me when I sincerely remind them I’m learning right along with them here. In what I’ve seen to date, in fact, it actually earns ‘trust points’.)

SOMEWHAT RELATED ASIDE REGARDING FORMATIVE ASSESSMENT PROCESSES: I’ve always preferred the term informative assessment, actually, as whole goal of the assessment is to inform my & my kids’ subsequent moves. I wonder if this slight adjustment might do away with some of the mysticism and misunderstanding that so often follows formative assessment around. Hmm…food for thought.

A couple weeks ago, for instance, I knew I had to give a test to one of my classes: I had to know reliably what they knew in order to move ahead, I didn’t want to pitch all the work they’d done already, and all the rest. I tweaked my test for an online administration, released the link, and crossed my fingers. It’s now back and safe and graded, and it taught me a lot about how my kids take tests in the disastance environment. (And yes, it assured me that testing wasn’t an expectation to throw out altogether. The kids’ average percentage was around a 81%, and their answer-distribution suggested that cheating was really not an issue. Finally, of the three kids who earned A’s, two participated my pre-exam extra-credit opportunity to write and take retrieval quizzes. Interesting.)

Also, and from a school-wide improvement perspective: after the first week of my school’s initial distance-learning plan, we heard widely from students and parents that they could really use a one-stop resource for organizing all their kids’ responsibilities. I asked my PLC if they thought we should/could provide such a thing, perhaps using a crude ‘Class Master’ process. They agreed it was worthwhile, so I built a sheet that looks like this…


…and communicated process expectations and directions across the team. We spent a couple days working out bugs, and then made families aware of the resource through our central notifications. Now, as has been our custom so far, we will see if folks find it helpful or not. If we learn that they don’t, we’ll adjust yet again. We’re all learning here, and all doing the best we can. 

A Chance to Be Bottom-Up

The coronavirus pandemic seems to be bringing into stark relief (again) how important it is for schools to have strong processes for improving from within, addressing the needs their specific students have. (And I’m not just saying so because it’s what my most recent book is about, I swear.)

In this moment, after all, globally idealized versions of what kids need right now, or general statements of ‘distance learning happens best when…’, really should not be taken seriously. They may sound good, but they are based on nothing. Good ideas are out there and are worth keeping ears up for, of course, but schools’ realities simply differ too much from one to the next. Perhaps more than ever before, now is definitely not the time to graft intuitively pleasing ideas widely across contexts with little consideration for those contexts’ realities. For they won’t just fail, frankly. They may cause more angst for staff, students, and their families than any of those folks can spare right now. 

On that note, my recommendations during this disastance learning experiment don’t and won’t have much to do with choosing a resource over another, establishing student routines that go ‘a-b-c’, or anything similar. Items such as those are too far in your own weeds. Advising on them, really, would presumptuous bordering on disrespectful. I know that my school is focusing right now on connecting better to our kids (see beginning of previous post) and making academic expectations as rigorous, but manageable, as we can (see above enhancements). It’s what we’ve identified we need to put first right now, but I’m not saying it should be Job One for you. That’d be awful top-down of me, and…well, I’d prefer to not be that. 🙂 

Hang in there, everyone. We’ve got quite a way to go in this whole Evidence-Free Zone, so be in touch any time if you want to bounce ideas around. Let’s make each other better.




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