I Don’t Think People Understand

So, one thing that I think people don’t understand about remote education is just how much time teachers will be putting into making videos. I tried to explain it to a friend of mine on the phone, how I do take after take when recording a video, and somehow I failed to convey it well — she seemed to think I was saying that teacher insecurity was what led to online prep taking so long. What I was trying to say is that it’s just inherently time-consuming making even semi-decent videos.

Take this one, for example. Kel messaged me yesterday and asked if I could make a quick intro video for Fiberworld registration in the next few hours — about 30 seconds. I had to stop and think for a minute before saying yes, because I knew I was mostly scheduled in meetings for the next few hours, and I’d need to set aside about 30 minutes for this. In the end, it took me about 20 minutes to complete, and more than 30 ‘takes’ recording it.

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Here are the steps:

– write the script (Kel did that for me)

– either memorize the script, or just start recording it, knowing that by the time you say it twenty times, you’ll have it mostly memorized anyway

– shift position a bunch of times, moving distracting items (like my potted plant that was halfway behind my head) out of the way

– fix the lighting so people can actually see your face

– stumble over the words a bunch of times, so you have to start over

– get frustrated with the angle and how your face looks and start recording all over (okay, that part, I’m willing to put down to teacher insecurity, but it really does take a while for most people to get over that)

– realize that even though you’re holding the phone up near the screen with the words, your eyes are still darting over to glance at the next line periodically, and it looks weird, and you really are going to have to memorize it and walk away from the screen

– but mostly, repeat and repeat and repeat until it actually looks semi-natural, as if you’re just talking — which is important, because otherwise, students will get distracted and fixated on your tics and errors and will miss the actual point of what you’re trying to say. (Imagine a teacher who walks into class with toilet paper stuck to her skirt. Imagine just how many kids will be paying more attention to that than to what she’s saying. There’s a reason why we care about presenting well.)

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This is the process that I learned when I was making my first Kickstarter video (Kickstarter has a good video on this, actually, talking about how you should condense written paragraphs down to bullet points you can just talk, etc.), and I’m not even talking about pushing through the self-consciousness, etc. Thankfully, I’ve done enough videos now that I’m mostly past that, and can just accept that it’s not going to look perfectly professional and also I will not magically transform into a supermodel.

And there’s certainly an interesting option of doing what the kids do, and letting it be more raw and stumbly and whatever, which is undoubtedly a lot faster to produce, and has the virtue of seeming very honest and relatable. But that its own art form too; if you could see my daughter editing a TikTok video (or watching endless YouTube tutorials on how to do so), it’d be clear that the appearance of casualness is often not very casual.

So, anyway. I just wanted to lay this out a little, that for every minute of video time your teacher produces, they may well be putting in 30-60 minutes of production time. They’ll get better at it and faster as they go, but for a lot of them, this is a very new process, and it’s intimidating and hard.

And after all that, if teachers choose to point your kid to a Khan Academy video or something on YouTube instead of recording something themselves, that’s not a sign that they’re just lazy — it’s often a better, more efficient option, and will result in a better educational result. (And remember that reviewing lots of videos and selecting ones that are appropriate for your students and your class goals is also time-consuming work. Lots of videos don’t offer transcripts either, making it a slow process.)

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I’ll also note that this is the process for a short video, maybe 3-5 minutes, and no, I wouldn’t try to memorize an hour-long lecture. But I also would recommend against recording hour-long lectures; it’s super-challenging to keep students engaged through something like that, and most of them will click off.

There are tricks you can use, like embedding quizzes periodically, but if any of you have done mandatory work anti-harassment trainings and the like, you’ll know that those often feel really clunky and annoying. If our goal is student engagement, helping them to get honestly excited about the material and actively thinking about it, short videos are generally going to be much more effective than long ones.

So if your expectation is that the teacher will just stick a recorder in front of their face and talk, as if they were in front of a classroom — well, it just doesn’t work very well. If that’s what you’re demanding from your kids’ teachers, no wonder the kids are super-bored and falling out of their chairs.

Here endith the lesson.

Building up the Portolan Project

So, I’m starting to build out the Portolan Project a little more for the SLF, thinking through what it would look like if I used the interviews we’ve done (http://speculativeliterature.org/portolan-project/) as cores for free online learning modules in creative writing and lit.

I’m planning to take one of the interviews on Monday (maybe Paolo Bacigalupi talking about environmental and message fiction), and then build out some additional resources, such as:

– writing exercises to accompany it
– recommended reading (ideally a mix of short fiction, novels, and essays, with a significant selection of it as material that can be read for free online)
– supplemental materials — and here I’m thinking of things like episodes of Coode Street Podcast or Our Opinions Are Correct or the Skiffy and Fanty Show or SF Squeecast, or Galactic Suburbia that might be relevant — but I don’t think we have time to go back through the episodes to hunt for that, so ideally, the podcast hosts might be able to guide us in that regard
– guidelines as to age-appropriateness (i.e., “this module is appropriate for middle-grade, high school, and beyond”)
– study questions for the lit. people
– what else?

I’d love to hear from teachers / writers / etc. Would this sort of thing be useful to you? What else would you like to see in it to make it even more helpful?

I’m still in the brainstorming phase, but I have some hope of working with other people somewhat intensively in the next month to put together at least 5, or better 10, such modules that we would host at the SLF. If we can put together good materials quickly, then teachers who are switching to e-learning may find them very useful for their fall course planning.

I’m also hopeful that the podcast Benjamin Rosenbaum and I have been doing will become a strong component of this — at least some of the episodes, which have a clear creative writing component.

Major Negotiations

Cut-and-pasted from a local mom group: “This week the US House and Senate will be in major negotiations about the next phase of COVID relief, and stuff on the table includes funding for school COVID safety expenses, continuing the unemployment insurance expansion (currently due to expire 7/31), increasing food assistance, and expanding some tax credits that particularly help lower income families with kids.

So if this is stuff you’re worried about, call Congress now (they have another break coming up and of course it’s an election year so there’s pressure to get this done fast). Tell your friends and families.”

An E-mail from Tulane

An e-mail that Tulane sent out to its entire student body. For context, Tulane is in New Orleans, and I’ll note that even all the way back in April, one of my Black students had already lost 4 relatives in New Orleans to Covid-19. Please keep the racial demographics in mind as you read this letter. Tulane’s students are 71% white. New Orleans is 60% Black.

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“Dear Student,

Over the weekend, in spite of our pleas to the contrary, many of our students living in New Orleans chose to have parties and large gatherings where social distancing wasn’t being practiced and face masks weren’t being worn. They then saw fit to post this all-over social media. This comes on the heels of national news attention about super spreader events. These events were disruptive to our neighbors and drew a lot of very negative attention to Tulane. The behaviors of the student hosts and those who chose to attend these parties was disrespectful, selfish and dangerous and not in line with Tulane values. This type of behavior is indefensible and truly shameful.

For those of you who are returning students, as you know, we are incredibly lucky that Tulane is in a city that is unlike any in the country, a city where culture and community matter and one that honors difference. After an initial surge of infections, the citizens of New Orleans came together to flatten the curve of this pandemic and reduce infections to a rate that allowed for our city to begin reopening. The actions of the individuals over the weekend were very publicly disrespectful to the Tulane University community and to the people of New Orleans, and have the potential to undermine our significant progress against this deadly disease.

The calculation is simple – If you want to have a residential experience at Tulane in the fall, you have to behave differently. This means, no large gatherings (+15 people), and at all times wearing masks in public spaces, practicing social distancing and washing your hands. We are finishing our complete enforcement plan for the fall, but it is clear that this message had to be delivered immediately. DO NOT HOST PARTIES OR GATHERINGS WITH MORE THAN 15 PEOPLE, INCLUDING THE HOST. IF YOU DO, YOU WILL FACE SUSPENSION OR EXPULSION FROM THE UNIVERSITY. All gatherings, of any size, must observe appropriate social distancing and attendees should wear masks. There is no room for error here. People’s lives depend on your adherence to these rules. They aren’t just nameless, faceless people – they are our people.

So please, make decisions with this in mind. We understand that it requires a different way of thinking about and approaching life – but we believe our students are conscientious enough and mature enough to adhere to the public health expectations of Tulane and the City of New Orleans. If we didn’t, we would not be reopening. We need everyone’s help to have a safe fall. Hold your friends and peers accountable and reach out when you need help with that. You can report problematic behavior by using our online report system. These reports are received in real time. You can also call the Tulane University Police at 504-865-5381.
Do you really want to be the reason that Tulane and New Orleans have to shut down again?

Erica Woodley
Dean of Students”

Going Remote

I just wanted to note for Americans that even if your school / university is currently telling you that it plans to be somewhat in-person in the fall, I think it EXTREMELY LIKELY that they will go to full remote either before school starts, or partway through the semester, once a classroom outbreak occurs. I’ve been talking to various colleagues in education and healthcare all week about this, and they concur.

Please make your plans and back-up plans accordingly.

Thoughts from an Instructional Designer

So grateful my instructional designer friend Amanda Chablani took the time to write this guidance up for those of us looking at fall semester — parents, teachers, students:

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“I’m an Instructional Designer in my professional life and a parent to two kids in D97 (one rising K, one rising 4th). I was asked by Carollina Song to put together some notes for parents to consider while we’re all discussing the plan for hybrid instruction in the Fall. I’ll do what I can. Please note, I’ve focused my work on adult learning and mostly in higher education. I do think some things are generalizable but, more importantly, we have a lot of teachers in this group who can speak to the issues that are K-12 (and grade level) specific. Teachers, please weigh in! You know what’s possible and you know our kids.

The first thing I think parents should know is that I work with instructors for at least 3 months, more often 6, and sometimes up to a year in advance of a new course going online. I provide the instructor with a course template, I explain and support the technology, and I walk them through best-practices several times. I build the content into the platform (so Canvas or Google Classroom in D97) for them because they don’t have the tech background.
None of that support is being provided to teachers right now. Much of it should be, or at the very least, they should be fully trained so they can do what teachers do best – figure it out 

(With that said, I don’t know how much teachers can be asked to do over their summer according to their contract. I am absolutely sure teachers are trying to learn what they can, but the district may not be able to mandate 40 hours of training in July.)

Short recorded modules of 5-minutes or less can be used effectively to deliver specific lessons. Teachers will need some technology support (mic/headset, computers with cameras, and, most importantly, the lecture capture platform).

– This type of recording can be super time consuming. I’ve had instructors complain it takes 4 hours to record 5 minutes of content. That seems excessive, but let’s be honest, a lot of educators don’t want to produce less-than-perfect recordings. Keep in mind, too, that Khan academy does this type of thing very well as does Zern and other vendors that the district already uses. These external tools do not increase instructor presence in the same way that a teacher-recorded video does. They do provide students with very effective modular (and Common Core aligned) online learning.

An important element of an online or hybrid course is interactivity, and this is something parents had serious complaints about in Spring. All courses should offer opportunities for students to interact with each other and with their instructor. With that said, not all interaction should be synchronous. Live Zoom calls make for exceedingly poor instruction for so many reasons. Many students cannot comfortably or effectively participate in live discussion (this is true in classrooms, too, which is why teachers use so many other face-to-face techniques). Live synchronous online sessions can effectively be used for questions/answers, check-ins, office hours, small group discussions. Students tend to tune out during online lectures and presentations. The average attention span for online delivery was traditionally estimated to be 10-15 minutes. Research suggests it is more likely 3-4 minutes.

Engagement in synchronous classes can be increased with the use of breakout rooms and polls, but at that point, facilitation by a teacher becomes far more difficult and, again, teachers will need tech training to use these more advanced tools. A lot of the security problems occur in breakout rooms and shared documents, too.

Also – Offer students the opportunity to respond to their teacher or another student in a discussion forum, a chat room, or to collaborate with classmates on a paper or project. (Obviously this isn’t going to work for the K-2 set, but perhaps teachers can weigh in on shared drawing apps or other tools that build community online with the littles.)
I’ve seen teachers make recordings to give feedback. “You all did this thing great but here’s something a lot of you missed that I want to discuss”. Those more casual recordings can be both useful and will bring teachers into contact with students in a low bandwidth way. Reflecting on assessments is also a great practice for students, generally. Allowing students to retake a quiz after listening to feedback or discussing model answers with teachers – that’s a gold standard. Most online quizzing tools allow for retakes any specified number of times.

Teachers should focus on clarity. What is lost from classroom learning is the ability for teachers to physically see if the students understand instructions. Making sure that instructions are extremely concise (not a lengthy email; no one reads their emails anymore) in an accessible place, where students can view the instructions repeatedly while completing the work.

Each lesson should be outlined in a straightforward and familiar way. A daily bullet list works! Then, give each lesson’s objective (After you complete this lesson, you should be able to articulate why, compare how, explain who) the activity (read this account) and the assignment (answer these questions/write a response to). Students often benefit from knowing how the assignment meets the objective – reiterating why they’re doing this can be helpful.

It should be mentioned that hybrid is often considered the hardest mode to teach. Figuring out what content to do in-person and what to do online is really tough. Scaffolding learning across multiple modalities is challenging and can take years to perfect. Most often, instructors use the flipped classroom model which works pretty well (again, we use Zearn this way in the district). A flipped model allows teachers to use the online instruction for the codified materials and the face-to-face instruction for active learning.

However, what we’re doing in the Fall is not that. We’re doing something called hyflex. Teachers will have to teach one group of students who are at home but will be in the room later in the week, another group who are in the classroom but will be at home later in the week, AND some students who are choosing entirely online. This is new, pretty much untested, and certainly not great. There is no real literature we can go to what works best with this setup and so we’re borrowing from what we know about hybrid and online and sort of mushing it together and crossing our fingers. But, because of the whole global pandemic thing, this is the plan for a lot of universities and districts.

And finally, I realize that none of this addresses the child care needs of working parents. I think it is vitally important for us to decouple education from child care and then work as a nation to find workable and safe solutions to both.

Same info in a doc file, with some useful links embedded:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1sS3O8BLVXvuvn5ELV5bGPOpFbfeeM4Np9sdkQYI0s0M/edit?usp=sharing

On Reopening Schools

Parents are in ongoing discussions here about whether our schools should re-open in the fall.

(Current estimated cost for reopening D97 is $11.5 million.
If schools don’t try to re-open, and we redirect even some of that money towards supplemental childcare through the Park District, addressing tech inequities for kids in need, and hiring additional teacher’s aides (lots of college students at home right now) to be Zoom support for students, might that be a better option for targeting the actual needs of the community, and keeping us all safer and healthier at the same time?)

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I pulled some stats for a local discussion thread, because people were asking why River Forest was planning to re-open elementary and we weren’t.

My understanding is that River Forest D90 (which only has 1/2 day kindergarten and goes only to 4th grade, not 5th, like ours) has been sitting on a very large fund balance for some time.

They also have a very different density than Oak Park — about 50% of Oak Park is in multi-unit housing. So our schools contend with very different issues; it’s really not useful to try to compare the two districts, I think.

River Forest:
• 2.5 square miles, about 11,200 people.

Oak Park:
• 4.7 square miles, about 52,000 people (we are packed MUCH more densely here)

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We also have a lot more kids in the schools who need services for needs which arise out of poverty. Kids who are hungry and need breakfast and lunch, kids without tech access at home who need loaner devices and WiFi hotspots, etc.

River Forest:
• As of the 2010 census, the median income for a household in the village was $122,854, and the median income for a family was $171,100.
• About 3.4% of families and 5.9% of the population were below the poverty line.

Oak Park:
• The estimated median annual income for a household in the village was $78,384, and the median income for a family was $105,217. (Our families are significantly less wealthy / household than in River Forest.)
• About 5.9% of families and 8.7% of the population were below the poverty line. (Close to twice as much of our population is living in poverty.)

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I gather that River Forest also has a higher percentage of stay-at-home and part-time work-from-home moms, which is probably why they haven’t been able to manage full-day kindergarten yet — not enough demand to make them spend the money.

River Forest:
Males working full-time had a median income of $124,695 versus $64,250 for females.

Oak Park:
Male full-time workers had a median income of $77,760 versus $58,653 for females.

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One last stat — in Oak Park, 9.0% of those under age 18 are living in poverty. That’s close to 1 in 10 of our kids in the schools.

What Should Schools Do in the Fall?

What should schools do in the fall? Three years ago, I decided to run for office, the smallest of local offices, library board. I almost ran for school board instead, and, not knowing much about either, mostly picked library board because an elected official I talked to told me that the school board meetings sometimes ran past midnight, and I’d have a lot more parents yelling at me.

This is not the best way to make that kind of decision, in retrospect, but as I told Kevin last night, if I’d run for school board and been elected, I would have spent the last few months drowning in trying to solve the fall school problem. And I’m not sure I’d be any closer to a solution than I am right now, but even if it’s not my job, I can’t help thinking about it.

School-during-pandemic is a huge problem in America, and I honestly don’t even know what to advocate for at this point, despite having read a fair bit about it. It’s a problem we shouldn’t have to face, as we can see in all those countries, from Sri Lanka to Switzerland, who have pushed back Covid-19 sufficiently that they can re-open schools with relative safety.

But “shouldn’t” is much use to think about now. Most American states (and certainly the national level) didn’t give strong direction on appropriate disease-spread-reduction behavior, and now here we are — my own state of IL is in stage 4 of reopening, but I suspect we will need to fall back to stage 3 in not too long, since we’re surrounded by states in worse shape, and there’s a lot of interstate traffic. We could easily slip back to stage 2, honestly, upsetting as that is to think about, and of course, even if IL manages to hold the line, much of the rest of the country is on fire.

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I wonder if it’s different in a war — specifically, if there’s less denial of the severity of what’s going on. This has been such a quiet disaster. I imagine it depends on the war, and whether it’s being fought at home or abroad, and how long it’s been going on. The Spanish flu was so long ago, and polio, and most of us in America haven’t had to contend with malaria or ebola or SARS, and so the word ‘pandemic’ just doesn’t hold the same reality to us as it does to many others.

Back in February, when I was I was first reading the accounts from the Italian doctors, the broken-hearted misery of their inability to care for their patients without sufficient ventilators and trained ICU staff (and to clarify, when we say ‘beds,’ we don’t mean actual beds — we mean the tech and the staff who know both how to operate the tech and how to treat the patient, not training that can be done overnight, unfortunately), I started worrying that Covid-19 would come here. But I didn’t really believe it.

And even in March, when I flew back from a Bay Area conference, I felt a little ridiculous e-mailing my students and telling them I’d be teaching remotely the next week, because I’d flown through two big busy airports, and I had a cough, and I didn’t want to risk bringing something into the classroom. I felt like I might get in trouble for doing that, even though I was pretty sure it was the right thing to do. Pretty sure.

It was maybe April before “pandemic” started to feel real. And that was when I started thinking of this as a ‘lost year’ academically. That happens in wartime, you know. Buildings are blown up, people are displaced, the power goes out, older students are drafted, and everyone’s education is interrupted, in one way or another.

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I’m reading the mom discussion threads, and the note of panic is clear. What’s also clear is that there are two very distinct issues: education and childcare.

Many other countries aren’t facing these issues the way we are, because America has such a weak social safety net by comparison. In some countries, the government is providing pandemic funding so that if you need to be unemployed for three months, or six months, or longer, you still get at least 80% of your salary, for example.

That eases the childcare issue considerably, because if you can afford a nanny share with maybe a college kid studying remotely this fall, who supervises your kid through a half day of e-learning and just keeps an eye on them for the other half-day, so two parents can keep working at their jobs, it’s manageable. Hard, as you’d expect during a disaster, but the sort of hard that you can manage, the way you’d manage suddenly needing a new roof.

But that’s not where we are. In Oak Park, where I live, 20% of families are food-insecure. 1 in 5 of my kids’ classmates. And I’m sure a much larger percentage of our families are living at the edge of their means already — they scrimped and saved to afford a condo, perhaps, and now a parent is laid off and maybe unemployment is ending (because the government chooses to end it), and we don’t have a national mortgage freeze or a rent freeze (and we should, and why don’t we?).

A worldwide disaster is painful. A mismanaged one is far more so. And in America, it’s clear that the lower you are on the economic ladder, the harder this is going to hit you. (Of course, people of color, especially Black people, will be on average hit even harder, and disabled people, and the elderly, and all marginalized populations.)

We haven’t set up our government to take care of the most marginalized first, even though simple logic tells us that if, say, 25% of our workforce falls off a cliff, it’s a disaster for all of us. When the grocery store worker can’t come to work, or the meatpacker, or the Amazon shelver, how will we feed our families?

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As a professor, an educator, I hear a lot of concern about the lost learning — the months of terrible haphazard hacks in the spring, and a fear of that in the fall. Honestly, there’ll be some of that, with remote learning. Some teachers will have trouble adapting, including teachers who are excellent at face-to-face. And some teachers weren’t great to begin with — not to knock teachers, since I am one, but over the years, I’ve had my share of bad teachers, and I know you have too.

In education, we’re all doing a new thing. I’m enough of a positive thinker that my default is always going to be to think about how we can use remote learning to advantage: for example, I had one college student spring semester who told me that he’d been about to drop out of school, because his social anxiety was so crippling that he couldn’t bear to be in the classroom — he finished the semester remotely, with a solid B. But at the same time, I know that for some, maybe most, students, remote learning is much more difficult than face-to-face, and not all their teachers will be able to figure out how to best support them through that.

That said, I’m honestly not most worried about the lost educational time. I’m really not. Kids lose time in school for all sorts of reasons — maybe they get mono, or have to move across the country unexpectedly, or they’re having trouble with regular school, so they transition to a different kind of environment. Right now, kids across America are all having their education disrupted somewhat, and you know, they can survive that.

I’m more worried right now about what we can’t survive, on the health and the economic front.

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Maybe it won’t be a lost year. Maybe it won’t be quite as bad as I feared, back in April; a lot of teachers are adapting fast, myself included, and I do think remote learning in the fall will look quite a bit better than it did in the spring.

But American elementary education is in for a long haul, it looks like, a slow grind of being caught between the twin millstones of:

• parents’ need for affordable childcare and

• unwillingness of government to do what’s necessary to stop the spread AND economically support families through this time.

I don’t have answers for you. All the options I can see have downsides, and I’m not here to advocate for wholly remote learning, or a half-week split, or a half-day split, or a full return.

Okay, that last seems extremely unwise, given current conditions, I’ll just say. I think the death toll would skyrocket, as kids carried the disease to teachers and nurses and therapists and older siblings and parents and grandparents and childcare folks. In America, we are tragically not at a point where full return to standard in-person learning is feasible.

But I do think we need to look at the money piece of this seriously. America has treated schools as de facto childcare, but they aren’t actually the same thing. If the lack of childcare is the driving force leading parents to send kids to classrooms that aren’t reasonably safe yet, then THAT is the problem we need to solve with money, and safe childcare for half the week really should be much more affordable than fully-qualified teachers for that time.

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What would it look like if we had the teachers teaching for half the time, in a dedicated fashion, using the other half of their paid time to continue the hard, adaptive work of converting their courses and lesson plans to this new format?

And then in addition, to solve the childcare portion, we had small pods led by aides who met the rest of the time, leading kids in some e-learning from their teachers, but also social activities, art, music, outdoor exploration? We don’t have a name for that (not nannies, not TAs, not babysitters)– what should we call it? Pod leaders?

More importantly, what would that cost? I’m talking about adding a large workforce to the community, people we should be interviewing and hiring now, if we want them up and running in the fall. 50 classrooms in a school, say, each with 25 students, so you’d want 1 adult per 5 students in a pod, that’s 250 pod leaders, say $10K each for the fall semester (working 3 days / week for 3 months) that’s $250,000 for the school in additional cost. It’s a large number, but not an impossible number.

Can the money come out of school reserves, dropping the fund balance dramatically for a year? (What is a reserve for, if not for helping to cope with a disaster?) Some schools yes, many no, so then we turn to government and major corporations and nonprofit foundations to shoulder the additional cost.

I’m not on the school board, and these aren’t my decisions. And of course, even if I were on the board, I’d be working with school admin staff, and working under state-level directives, so it’s not as simple as just saying, ‘do this.’ But this is the problem, as I see it, and these are the questions I’m asking right now.

The Portolan Project Moving Forward

I’ve written to a possible donor about funding for the SLF that might allow me to put off doing a Portolan Project Kickstarter for a few months, which would be great; I could just focus on producing good work, rather than taking out time to raise money — it’d also mean that we would have a more complete project to show as part of the Kickstarter, so people really understood what we were asking them to fund.

I’ve also written to one of the writers we interviewed, to start the process of creating materials to supplement the teaching videos.

What I’m hoping to do is attach little assignments to each teaching video. I can write them, but if the writer wanted to contribute something, we’d love to have it from them. So

for example, to accompany the interview we did with George R.R. Martin, I’d love to present:

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George R.R. Martin on writing epic fantasy: [15-20 minute audio embedded on the page]

George recommends: [3-5 texts that are relevant]

George suggests you try this: [writing prompt(s)]

***

I’m trying to balance this in various ways. For one, the page itself, I’d like to be welcoming and non-intimidating. This isn’t where we’re going to get three pages of Delany essay — not for the first round assignments, anyway. 

That works on the teaching side too — if I keep what I ask of the writer very simple and brief, then hopefully it doesn’t feel so onerous that they would need to be paid to do it.

There’s a tricky line here, because on the one hand, I think teachers should be paid for their labor, obviously. I don’t want to undercut the work that teachers put in creating serious lesson plans and designing courses.

But on the other hand, if I have to spend a lot of time fundraising to pay for instructional labor, this project will honestly not be in my capacity, or the SLF’s capacity this year. (I am trying to be much more careful about capacity these days, so I don’t overcommit and run myself into the ground.)

So I’m going for a sort of middle ground, where I ask the writers if they’d like to contribute something small and relatively easy, it’s entirely up to them, I fill in where they’re not interested, and that will hopefully let us get up at least a dozen videos and instruction pages by the end of the summer. (My actual stretch goal is 3 dozen finished by the end of the summer, to set up for a fall Kickstarter — we’ll see.)

And then if all that goes well, then I can build in fundraising that will let us actually pay at least a small honorarium for that work of creating instructional materials going forward. This is the proof-of-concept phase.  I’d like to pay people for the interview itself as well — it takes time from them, and that time should be compensated if possible.

We’ll see how it goes, and if people actually find this useful!

(Am I completely off-base, thinking the world could really use better free instruction on how to write fiction and create interesting stories? I guess we’ll find out…)

Photo of George form our interview in Dublin — I wish I’d been set up to do video as well as audio. Oh well. I’ll make him talk to me again sometime. 

Public TV and Summer Book Recommendations

Hey, folks — I’ll be on local public TV again, with a few book recommendations for good summer reading during a pandemic. They asked me for five books, and I gave them:

– Tender at the Bone (Ruth Reichl)

– The Lesson (Cadwell Turnbull)

– Give a Girl a Knife (Amy Thielen)

– A Game of Fox and Squirrels (Jenn Reese)

– Salt Fat Acid Heat (Samin Nosrat)

Sadly, they then put them in an order (not up to us), and we, per usual, ran way out of time, so I only got to talk about the first two. But I do recommend them all!

(I miss having the profssional WTTW make-up person; I did my best, though. Is that scoop-neck top showing too much skin for TV? I think it slipped down a bit while I was talking…

And every time I see my face, I’m reminded that my mom always said my forehead was too big, and I should get bangs… (I have no patience for maintaining bangs))

I’m going to be doing a lot of video recording in my office, I think — need to think about what I want on that back wall. The wall calendar is useful, but uninspiring. I think I may want to move it elsewhere, and have a big, glorious painting there.

I was on a Zoom call with Alex Gurevich yesterday, and he had what I think was one of his wife Christa Grenawalt‘s paintings in the background, and it looked so good. I mean, it looked good enough that it was maybe a little distracting because I just wanted to look at the painting, not at him, so that might be counterproductive. . Hm.

Oh, also wanted to note that it was great meeting D.L. Mullen, who has apparently just celebrated a year running Semicolon Bookstore in West Town. Must check it out! Locals, support your local bookstore!