Make These Shifts Permanent: 5 Lessons from Teaching During a Global Pandemic

Photo by Edward Jenner on Pexels.com

Teaching during a global pandemic has been the most challenging experience of our professional lives. As we pass the first anniversary of schools shifting to hybrid or remote instruction, it’s worth appreciating what we have accomplished through many rounds of trials and tribulations. The silver lining of this tumultuous year—yes, even a tragic global pandemic can have bright spots—are the shifts we made to help our students continue learning at high levels.

The pandemic pushed us to be more aware of students’ needs, re-examine long-held beliefs on grading and assessment, and provide more time for interventions and teacher collaboration.

Here are five shifts we made the past year that we should consider making a regular part of our teaching toolbox to create more equitable and truly student-centered schools.

  1. Emphasize social-emotional learning.

The summer of racial reckoning, a global pandemic, and a tumultuous presidential election brought our students’ social & emotional needs to the forefront. Although the crises will fade our attentiveness to students’ lived experiences should not. We can continue to use consistent check-ins, informal surveys, and transformative SEL practices. My favorite question to ask on every unit feedback Google Form: What’s one significant life event from the past 1-2 months that has affected you or your family?

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

2. Grade equitably

The pandemic made us keenly aware of our students’ wide-ranging academic and family backgrounds. While some students attended classes from quiet lofts, other students struggled to participate in class discussions while also caring for younger siblings. These inequities highlighted the importance of prioritizing feedback over high-stakes grades, categorizing learning goals students must, should, and aspire to master, and providing multiple opportunities to demonstrate proficiency.

3. Create more authentic assessments

Teachers quickly recognized that traditional multiple-choice assessments wouldn’t fairly or accurately measure learning with many students at home. We can continue to use more creative alternate assessments to give students multi-faceted opportunities to demonstrate mastery: Flipgrid explanations of math problems, RAFT writing assignments, students recording cooking & sewing demos, etc.

4. Schedule collaboration & intervention

Collaboration soared as teachers sought to modify years of carefully cultivated curriculum on the fly. Whether teachers turned to their colleagues or virtual PLNs, asking for help was normalized. Many schools used asynchronous Wednesdays or Fridays to bolster teacher collaboration and student intervention. Educators can replicate the strategies they used this year during a traditional schedule by using group rotations for in-class intervention time, creating micro-PD leveraging abundant expertise within your school , and seeking & sharing resources with virtual PLNs.

5. Design More Flexible Learning

With some students at home and some in school with schedules changing at a moment’s notice, flexibility was every educators’ “word of the year.” We can continue to employ the pedagogical approaches we utilized this past year to make learning more student-centered: organize our digital classroom so students can initiate their own learning, make greater use of video to free us up for providing one-on-one and small group support, and creating asynchronous activities that are genuinely engaging.

By taking a moment to reflect on how much our pedagogy has evolved in the past year due to the pandemic, we can celebrate our collective resilience and apply the lessons we learned to better serve our students for years to come.

A Special Thanks to 2020 Students

Source: Unsplash

I normally write a reflection at the end of the school year. However, given everything that has happened in 2020, I wanted to take a moment to breathe, reflect, and appreciate the incredible resilience our students have shown this past semester.

Below are just a few of the experiences I’ve had since August 2020…I’m sure many of my colleagues have similar stories to tell:

  • Students continued to work in retail, restaurants, and grocery stores–despite the health risks—to support their families and save for college.
  • While I was trying to simultaneously teach in-person and virtual students, I would occasionally forget to admit students who were knocking on the virtual door of my classroom in a Zoom waiting room. Instead of giving up and emailing me that they tried but couldn’t join our Zoom session, students in the waiting room would keep texting their classmates to tell me to admit them so they wouldn’t miss class.
  • Students used the Zoom app on their phones while they were in the backseat of a car on their way to a doctor’s appointment because they wanted to participate in a class debate.
  • A student who tested positive for COVID, who could have simply asked to be excused from a research assignment, instead asked if she could just find 2 fewer articles because she had a headache but wanted to write a strong essay.
  • Students logging into Zoom late into the night while they were with family in Lebanon or quarantining in a hotel in China to be sure they wouldn’t miss any class discussions.

A big thank you to students everywhere for your understanding and perseverance as we helped one another continue our learning during a global pandemic. I look forward to making the second semester even better than the first!

6 Scaffolding Strategies & 16 tools to implement them during Remote Learning

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Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

I wish I could register every moment of confusion in my student’s eyes, peek over their shoulder at the passage they’re struggling with, and simply pull up a chair next to a student that needs help.

Instead, I’m scanning 25 miniature faces while squinting at tiny boxes of screens and frantically giving feedback as quickly as possible…all while also monitoring a chatbox and my inbox to troubleshoot inevitable tech issues.

Remote learning has turned my world upside down; some days I feel like I’m just treading water. 

I’ve used virtual station rotations, created discussion & debate groups, and utilized asynchronous instruction to alleviate some of the challenges of remote learning. However, even with creative lesson design, I feel that I’m leaving my struggling readers further behind because they don’t have the just-in-time support they have readily available in the classroom. 

So, in my never-ending attempt to reach all of my students, I began to look for strategies to scaffold student learning more effectively. I came across an excellent resource on Edutopia from Rebecca Alber, a literacy specialist and instructor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education. I adapted her ideas by organizing tools I have used in the past to more intentionally scaffold student learning. I don’t use all 6 strategies during every lesson, but I felt they were worth sharing because they help translate the strategies you already utilize effectively in the classroom to an online setting in order to meet more of our students where they are at.

Here are Rebecaa Alber’s 6 Scaffolding Strategies and 16 tools to help implement them during remote learning: 
  1. Show & Tell: Model how to annotate and analyze a portion of the text, data, or documents through screencasting. Possible tools: Screencastomatic, Screencastify, Flipgrid Shorts.
  2. Tap into and build prior knowledge: Create spaces for students to share what they already know about a topic with their peers and build background by watching and discussing a video before tackling a difficult text. Possible tools: Loom, EdPuzzle, Padlet, Google Jamboard, Actively Learn Video Assignments
  3. Time to talk: Give students time to process new ideas and information. Also, re-introduce a vital component of the classroom– social interaction– by creating opportunities for student conversation while reading. Possible tools: Perusall, Actively Learn Notes, Google Doc Comments.
  4. Pre-teach vocabulary: Introduce words using visuals in the context students encounter them. Possible tools: Quizlet with images, Google Docs Explore and Define tools, Frayer model.
  5. Use Graphic Organizers: Help students visualize, connect, and organize new information. Possible tools: Kami, Graphic Organizer templates in Google Drawing
  6. Pause, Ask Questions, Pause, Review: Research shows that students who effectively use questioning strategies independently for informational texts are more likely to attain higher levels of academic success. Modeling effective questioning and providing students with sufficient time to prepare their responses can help them review critical ideas and deepen their understanding of challenging texts. Possible tools: Actively Learn, Pear Deck

9 Ideas to Help Plan for Hybrid A/B Schedules

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Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

The start of every school year is filled with exciting beginnings and opportunities to try new activities & lessons. This year is different. 

Anxiety levels have reached unprecedented levels as we try to make plans that will quickly change depending on the spread of COVID in their communities. Many districts have chosen to start the school year fully remote while others believe they have sufficient safeguards in place to begin the school with some form of a hybrid schedule in which half of the students are learning form home while the other half are with teachers in the classroom on any given day. 

 Below are some tips that can help you plan lessons for the unique hybrid format. 

Same Lesson for In-Person & Remote Students 

Approach

Description

Examples/Tools

Ongoing Project

Students work on a long-term project individually or small groups. In-person students get feedback from teachers & peers. Remote students do research using library databases or other websites to connect current events to issues studied in class

Project Planning Template

In-person & Virtual Presentations

In-person students present live, remote students  record videos of content, post to LMS and use discussion feature to comment and learn from each other

Screencast O’Matic 

Screencastify

Build Community 

Periodically use portion of  virtual days for community building which would normally occur naturally in traditional in-person formats. 

Crowd-Sourced List 

33 Ways to Build Community

Common Google Slide Deck

In-person & remote students work on one set of Google Slides to make it easier for you to give feedback and for students to learn from one another. 

3o Interactive Google Slide Activities

Synchronous Formative Tools

Use formative assessment tools to provide feedback in real-time. Can be coupled with video conferencing. 

Kahoot, PearDeck, Actively Learn, GimKit

Videoconference 

**Not preferred because of possible medical & technology issues**

Livestream the class you are teaching in-person at school for remote students. Assign roles to 1-2 students at school to monitor chatbox, hand raised, etc to see if remote students have questions or issues. Project video grid on screen for synchronous discussion. Using the chat function to ask opinion questions can be great discussion starters. 

Zoom

Google Meet

Big Blue Button/ Canvas Conferences

Different Lessons for In-Person and Remote Students 

Approach

Description

Examples

Station Rotation

Works best for series of lessons that do not have to be completed sequentially. Different “stations” for different formats (at home, individually in school, with teacher or peers in school). 

Caitlin Tucker’s Samples 

Discussion & Reflection  posts

Use the same pre-discussion & post-discussion reflection prompts. Pre-writing (e.g. Monday’s lesson) can  help students prepare for in-person discussion (e.g. Tuesday’s lessons). Alternatively, students can discuss in-person on Monday and comment on students’ discussion posts as a post reflection on Tuesday. Similar strategies can be used for generating questions. 

Higher Order Discussion Questions



Hyperdocs 

Create different options for in-person or remote students but in the same Google Doc to make collecting & distributing work more efficient. 

Examples & templates

Special thanks to Chris W., Erin, Marty, Sofia, and Whitney for suggesting tools! 

3 Tips to Make Teaching via Videoconferencing more Collaborative & Engaging

Trying to transition a traditional curriculum to an online setting can be overwhelming especially as we juggle taking care of our own families. The biggest struggle for me has been feeling a constant state of dissatisfaction because I feel like I’m not reaching every student; this has led to a lot of trial & error.

Here are a few strategies I’ve found to be effective while teaching via video conferencing the past couple months.

1. Public Chat 

a. Check-in: Similar to the small talk you make with students as they enter your classroom, post a prompt for students to respond to in the public chat as they join the video conference:

    1. Has your family had a celebration recently? Birthday, holiday (Easter, Ramadan, etc.) How did you celebrate?
    2. What superhero would you be to defeat COVID-19? Why?
    3. What’s your most memorable experience during the shelter-in-place?
    4. What have you been doing to stay active & healthy?
    5. Where are you on the mood meter? Explain.

SOURCE: Yale Center for Emotional Intelligenceps120q.org

b. Gather Questions & Ideas: Write 1 discussion questions from the video you just watched; What activity has been most helpful in learning how to conjugate verbs in the past tense?

2. Structured Group Work

A video conference facilitated by a teacher can easily turn into a one-way lecture. You can more effectively engage students by deliberating planning for collaboration.

a. Breakout rooms: Canvas and Zoom allow you to create random or assigned groups. You can also move in & out of each group to check-in and be sure students are on-task.

b. Shared Google Docs & Slides: You can use a shared Google Doc that is clearly organized to let students/groups know what to write where. (Check out this sample collaborative Google Doc and Alice Keeler’s suggestions for collaborative Google Slides)

Tip: Change the shared settings on the Google Doc/Slide so anyone with the link within your organization can edit so you can see what each student has contributed:

3. Checks for Understanding

a. Polling: Canvas and Zoom allow you to poll your students. The results can be great discussion starters (e.g. Do you agree or disagee with using drones to fight terrorism?) or check for understand (e.g. Solve for X: 15 = 2x + 5 ; A) x=4 B) x=5 C) x= 10 D) none are correct)

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SOURCE: Blind Side Network

b. Hand signals: If students have their cameras on, you can quickly check for student understanding with the following signals.

Signals | Formative Assessment
SOURCE: Plymouth Community Schools

    1. Thumbs up, sideways, thumbs down: How well do you feel you understand the motivations of Hamlet? How helpful was this video in explaining how to balance the single-replacement equation?
    1. Raise your hand if: You can see…on the screen ; You agree with the statement…. ;

There is no digital tool that can ever fully replace high quality in-person teaching; hopefully these tips can help you re-create some of the effective instruction you’re accustomed to delivering everyday in the classroom!

5 Ideas from ICE & DCSS 2019

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend two excellent conferences ICE, which helps teachers learn about edtech, and DCSS which focuses on improving Social Studies instruction.

Here were some a few of my takeaways from both conferences:

#1 Challenge students to ask more questions and solve real problems (via @BusEdCrev , inspired by @joykirr

  • Students need to learn how to learn. Teachers shouldn’t do everything for students (like someone has done for this man his whole life). 
  • The inventor of the Rubik cube reminds us that questions are often more important than answers; when the right person finds the right question, amazing things happen. This video is a great way to kick off Genius Hour, Passion Projects, 20% time, etc). 
  • When we empower students to ask questions and solve problems, they will begin to see themselves in a new light (like this newly empowered cat).
  • This  brainstorming guide can help students identify a powerful question or problem to guide their research. Don’t short change this step! Students have become accustomed to answering our questions so they generally need a lot of help constructing an effective focus that can guide their work for many months.
  • Similar to how consultants, lawyers, etc. track their billable time, ask students to carefully chart how they use class time & set goals at the end of every class.

#2 If a group of student asked you to kneel with them during the national anthem—would you? (via @kevindua

  • Situation: Five of your students come to meet you after class and share, “We’re planning on kneeling during the national anthem at the next pep rally to protest black oppression & police violence, do you think we should do it?  Will you join us?”
    • What would you ask them prior to your response?
    • Do you think they should do it? (Why or why not)
    • Would you join them? (Why or why not)
    • What is your school’s “policy” on the anthem participation?
    • Would you encourage other students/teachers to join?
    • How does your response support or oppose a culture of violence?
  • Instead of just discussing theoretically what we would do in the situation below, Kevin had us actually stand, sit, or kneel.
  • Takeaway: Don’t be afraid of making teachers feel a little uncomfortable during professional development, it empowers them to step out of their comfort zones when they return to their classrooms.
  • Establish norms so that students (and teachers) are willing to take risks:
    • Try to be curious & present
    • Recognize intent vs impact
    • Be an active learner & participant
    • Anticipate different views
    • Share what makes sense to share
    • Respectfulness is earned, not mandatory
    • Nurture/nature shapes our identities, culture & climate

#3 Make your curriculum a mirror of & a window into your students diverse identities (via Carolyn Wahlskog of 360 Youth Services) 

  • Examine your curriculum is it a mirror (which encourages students to reflect on their own social identities) and a mirror (which affirms students’ diverse social identities & experiences)?
  • Caolyn shared a great visual for getting a quick overview of the differences between gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and attraction

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SOURCE: itspronouncedmetrosexual

 

#4 Combat the Drop in Reading Comprehension of Digital Texts (via @Stacey0410 & @AmyRolain

  • Research shows that there is a small decline in reading comprehension of digital texts compared to print.
  • Just as we teach reading strategies for textbooks, we need to explicitly show students how to read digital texts which often include more pictures, videos, and (hyper)linked content.
  • We can also format digital texts to increase rates of comprehension. The Nielsen Norman Group offers the following tips:  
  1. Use headings and subheadings. Ensure they look more important, and are more visible, than normal text so users may distinguish them quickly.
  2. Start headings and subheadings with the words carrying most information: if users see only the first 2 words, they should still get the gist of the following section.
  3. Visually group small amounts of related content — for instance, by surrounding them with a border or using a different background.
  4. Bold important words and phrases.
  5. Take advantage of the different formatting of links, and ensure that links include information-bearing words (instead of generic “go”, “click here” or “more”). This technique also improves accessibility for users who hear links read aloud instead of scanning the content visually.
  6. Use bullets and numbers to call out items in a list or process.
  7. Cut unnecessary content.

#5 Show Students What We’ve Done to the Earth in 3 Seconds (via @kimbarbaro & Matt Boyer)

  • See what human’s have done to the Earth in 3 seconds

  • The National Geographic Learning Framework and Educator Guides are great resources for creating hands-on geography projects for K-12 students.
    • Example: Have students geo-tag all the trash in a defined area, analyze the data, and implement a solution for reducing littering. Act locally, think globally!

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  • Survey123 by ArcGis can help students collect geo-tagged data and analyze the data to help answer research questions.

Eggplants & ISIS: How to Fight Fake News

 “If you drink 3 glasses of eggplant juice everyday for 21 days you won’t have to ever wear contacts again!” Whenever an aunt shares such gems of nutrition advice, I don’t even have to ask where she got it from, the answer is always the same: WhatsApp or Facebook.

“We can’t let refugees into America because most of them are ISIS terrorists!” Whenever a student makes such sensational claims, I know he’s fallen for the latest story circulating on cable news, click-bait sites, or Twitter.

How could such well educated adults be victims of such clearly fake news?

I’m excited to report that Steve Edwards, Alden Loury & Odette Yousef of WBEZ and John Silva & Peter Adams of the News Literacy Project helped me start answering that question at the NewsLit Camp in Chicago and shared a number of practical strategies for combating fake news in the classroom.

Highlight of the Day: Nerding out with journalists I’d been listening to on WBEZ/NPR for the last 15 years!

Why do so many people consume & share fake news?

  • Financial Incentives: The more sensational and emotionally charged the content the more likely we are to click on it and share it. In a profit starved media landscape supported by advertising, click-bait sites and fake social media accounts have emerged with the sole purpose of attracting the most eyeballs & followers and selling them to the highest bidder.
  • Psychological Need: We get a dollop of dopamine when someone likes our tweet or post. We’re also hardwired to share whatever tidbit we know about a breaking story to see if it can be weaved into the broader narrative. (See: Shared Sense Making & Rumor Theory).
  • Prevalence: From talk radio to cable news and social media, we can’t escape it. Even if we abstain from all news media, stories find us via our family & friends.

What can we do about it?

  1. Get Nuanced: The more precisely we can help students label fake news, the more effectively we can help them fight it. Fake news take on many forms: manipulated content, satire, content, disinformation. (See this sample lesson from Checkology)
  2. Affirm but Probe: When students propagate ideas with little to no basis in fact, affirm their views and appreciate their willingness to share them. Then, help the student probe what may have shaped his or her views: Where did you hear that? What evidence supports that view? How might saying “X” make “Y” feel? What are other perspectives on the issue? What might lead people to feel that way?
  3. Uncover Bias: Our biases are rooted in race, class, political affiliation, and other identities. We often accuse various news sources of being biased because they threaten our worldview. (See: Hostile Media Effect).
    • Teaching Tip: Take the branding off of 3-5 articles on the same story from different news sites (e.g. CNN, Fox News, NPR, etc). See if students can identify which article came from which source. Discuss the extent to which the chart below is accurate or an oversimplification:

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Too often journalists don’t belong to the communities they’re reporting on creating blind spots in their reporting. To help news organizations uncover them, ask students to contact local papers & news channels and ask them to participate in ASNE’s Newsroom Diversity Survey Have students share their findings by creating Wikipedia pages for local news organizations. Update their entry every year with the latest survey results.

4. Encourage Students to Take Action:

  • Ask students to reply to peddlers of fake news (and people who comment on it) with fact checks of their claims.
  • Show students how to do a reverse Image search to check the validity of suspicious pictures:

5. Get Grounded

Coaching Teachers Who Just Don’t Think Like You

During the 4th annual Illinois Council of Instructional Coaching Conference I was able to attend Jane Kise’s keynote: Coaching Teachers Who Just Don’t Think Like You. Although her talk was chock-full of instructional coaching strategies, one insight really stood out:

“There are no resistant teachers, but rather, only teachers whose needs during change have not been met. Not YET.”

Identifying and fulfilling teachers’ needs is the golden key to creating meaningful change.  How can we use this insight to create more effective coaching opportunities?

First, instructional coaches should identify their own personality type so they can understand how their tendencies affect their interactions with teachers. For example, an extrovert coaching an introvert might need to remember to give the introvert more time to process questions when de-briefing a lesson instead of filling the silence with chatter.  Or, if according to the Myers-Briggs test, you’re more of the “feeling” type coaching a “thinking” type, you might want to use specific praise, assume ideas will be debated without taking it personally, collect objective data, and don’t be offended if the conversation is focused just on “business.”

Second, after we identify our own personality types, we can begin to identify and meet teachers’ needs in a coaching relationship. Below are the 4 most common types of instructional coaches teachers want based on their needs.

(NOTE: Jane Kise deliberately exaggerated each type of coach so the differences are more clear. In reality, teachers will likely need a mix of multiple coaching types.)

 

Teachers’ Needs

Type of Coach

If you really want to help me improve instruction, give me hands-on relevant lessons that I can use right away in my classroom–with tangible results.”

Useful Resource: On-the-spot tips, structures, modeling relevant lesson plans with strategies that can be used in other ways, immediate assessment data from students, answers to questions.
Instead of looking at theories or general ideas, let’s set goals for trying one new, concrete task or strategy at a time. If you provide too many choices, I’ll assume you want me to perfect all of them at once!”

Encouraging Sage: Concrete experiences, specific and clear instructions, modeling, on-the-spot encouragement and help, strategies that can be implemented piece by piece, relevant feedback, clear goals.

I get all kinds of creative ideas from books and workshops. Let’s add my ideas to your and together decide what’s best for my students. I’d love your thoughts, then, on how to make it work well the first time.”

Collegial Mentor: Freedom to be creative, options, assistance clarifying directions for students, flexible tools, evidence that students are engaged & motivated.

“I do a fair amount of investigating by reading or talking with colleagues, to stay on top of my field, so please bring only cutting-edge strategies. Have the theoretical background or research handy—I may want to look it over.”

Expert: Theories & frameworks, expert knowledge, assistance in making rigorous assignments accessible for all students, rich conversations, challenges to their thinking.

SOURCE: Differentiated Coaching: A Framework for Helping Teachers Change

Finally, we should remember that teachers’ needs will shift throughout the school year. During the summer teachers may be looking for expert ideas but in December teachers might just be trying to keep their head above water and seek concrete, useful resources.

By understanding teachers’ needs we can provide the type of coaching that is useful for them and build a long-lasting relationship which can pay dividends for students for years to come.

5 Takeaways from ISTE 2018 for English/Language Arts Teachers

Here are some of the tools I came across at ISTE 2018 that seemed promising for English/Language Arts teachers. I especially appreciated that each tool kept the student  in the center while allowing teachers to provide critical support & feedback. No canned reading programs that students mindlessly click through here!

  1. READING: Activate, support, and reveal student thinking with Actively Learn.

 2. WRITING: Provide actionable feedback throughout the writing process with Writable.

 3. ANNOTATING: Students & teachers can organize annotations by color coded categories with Highlighting Tool, a free Google Doc add on.

 4. FLUENCY: Monitor student growth in pronunciation and support comprehension with a visual dictionary by using Fluency Tutor.

 5. SPEAKING & CREATIVITY: Break the ice and improve students’ speaking skills with an auto-generated slideshow of images based on a topic you choose in Pecha Flickr.

5 Takeaways from ISTE for Social Studies Teachers

  1. Use Esri’s Geoinquiries and Arcgis Storymaps to help students develop their map analysis skills and Google’s Tour Builder to integrate text, images and maps to create more visually rich stories. (SOURCE: @JChanter22) 

2. Bring history alive by having students interview senior citizens in the community and record their oral histories. (Resources from Milton High School, WI)

3. Use inquiry kits, research modules, and case maker created by Thinkport to scaffold students’ analysis of primary sources from the Library of Congress while creating strong historical arguments.

4. Computational Thinking isn’t just for math or technology class! Use the series of lessons created by Green Dot Public Schools to help students apply computational thinking while designing Greek monuments, annotating a map of Lord of the Flies, creating their own ancient civilizations, and mapping earthquakes.

5. Speak your truth. I was struck by the boldness with which Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp ) used her platform at an #edtech conference to illustrate white privilege and challenge educators to courageously “dismantle our prejudiced world.” Since I wasn’t able to witness her talk, I read about it here and watched it here.