Last spring, schools were in unknown territory as COVID-19 closed buildings for the end of the school year. Instantly, students and teachers were thrust into developing remote learning to maintain academic growth for students. Four months later, we are in the position once again to create an educational program in a manner never imagined before. However, this time schools have the time to reflect on the first attempt at distant learning and plan for a myriad of possibilities that could face students and teachers for the opening of the 2020-2021 school year.
Vary Your Instruction
The general consensus is that schools will likely see a mix of online and in-person learning. Paramount to the success of any model is maintaining the instructional core relationship of students, teachers and content. Keeping the instructional core at the forefront of planning will allow consistency of practice for any instructional model. Instruction could take place in-person or “face-to-face,” although there may be limitations on groups due to social distancing.
The other end of the instructional range would be full online instruction. Within that range may be a mix of face-to-face and online instruction that many are calling the hybrid model. No matter what the method will be, keeping teaching and learning as the priority planning model will allow schools to be better prepared for any model of instructional delivery.
Refine Your Online Instruction Techniques
With the benefit of time and experience, educators have the advantage of creating a more viable plan for online instruction. Teachers have already done the impossible by establishing a virtual learning experience quickly. Looking to continuously improve, teachers should reflect on the following questions to target areas for professional growth:
- What was successful for students?
- What worked best for teachers?
- What was the best way to communicate feedback to students?
- What was the best way to relay information to all stakeholders?
Knowing that sustained engagement is essential to any learning, reflect upon:
- How did you maintain engagement with online instruction?
- What methods received the most involvement from students?
- How often did students “show up” and attend live sessions or group meetings?
- Were students able to complete assignments?
- Did their work meet your expectations?
Find the areas that worked and take the time to replicate and refine those practices.
Also important is to determine what made online instruction difficult. Were there technological issues that hindered teachers’ abilities to create lessons and inspire students? If so, without the daily pressure that previously existed, there is time to be involved in professional development and search for resources that may assist in planning to better prepare for online learning.
Prepare Students for Online Learning
Schools must take advantage of the time to prepare students for online learning. Incorporating these key areas will benefit students in the event the online instruction occurs.
- Technical training – Providing students with the tools to navigate certain platforms will assist students with their engagement when needed. Many districts utilize Google Classroom or Seesaw, so getting students to understand the nuances of these platforms will benefit learning later on. In addition, video conferencing, submitting work, sharing documents, sending and reading emails, and maintaining calendars are all organizational tools that will support students’ development.
- Productivity – Teaching students how to manage their time, breaking work into segments, being productive in partnerships or groups are true skills that will be beneficial in any learning environment and enhance productivity. Setting up routines and good habits with technology while in the classroom will provide students with the foundational skills needed in the event of a school closure. This will also assist students in time management as working independently, typically on a device, is a challenge without proper guidance.
- Personal growth – Online learning provides opportunities for goal setting, time management, task completion, and kindness that differ from the classroom. Developing self-worth with students accomplishing their goals and being able to reflect on students’ work can be carried over to online learning. This adds to the importance of establishing these behaviors during the time in school together.
- Digital citizenship – Knowing that students will be relying on using technology responsibly, teachers have the opportunity to extend their classroom expectations of being positive community members into the online format that develops. Students should practice the tenets of digital citizenship to have a positive digital identity in a safe, ethical manner.
Approaching the “COVID Slide”
The summer slide has always been a consideration of teachers, and it may be further exasperated when considering students haven’t been physically in school since March. There is research that predicts the regression of student learning loss during the past six months. While we know some students will be further behind than in the past, the most important thing that teachers can do is to teach grade-level content and maintain high expectations. Research clearly shows teacher’s expectations have a large impact on student performance. Knowing this, teachers should be prepared to assist students and provide scaffolds to assist them when working with grade level material.
There will be areas that need to be taught, but rather than remediating student work and watering the learning down, we need to accelerate learning by providing tools to assist in the equitable growth of all students. This should be a long term development that will take a couple of years but will have significant impact over time to assist students in overcoming any gaps due to school closure.
Looking ahead, teachers are able to use the knowledge from what has already been created. There are processes in place that have been used and now can just be refined. This already sets schools up in a better position for the upcoming school year. By reflecting on past practices and seeking growth, coupled with the continued focus on the instructional core, teachers are in a better position for this school year based on their experiences from the spring.