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.
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?
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.
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.
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:
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.
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
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
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
**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.
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.
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:
Has your family had a celebration recently? Birthday, holiday (Easter, Ramadan, etc.) How did you celebrate?
What superhero would you be to defeat COVID-19? Why?
What’s your most memorable experience during the shelter-in-place?
What have you been doing to stay active & healthy?
Where are you on the mood meter? Explain.
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.
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)
b. Hand signals: If students have their cameras on, you can quickly check for student understanding with the following signals.
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?
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!
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).
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:
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!
READING: Activate, support, and reveal student thinking with Actively Learn.
2. WRITING: Provide actionable feedback throughout the writing process withWritable.
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.
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.
The end of every school year leaves a gnawing feeling of self-doubt: What more could I have taught my students? How could I have developed their skills further? Did I truly inspire anyone? Did I change how they view themselves or the world?
As I sit in front of empty chairs and desks I’m trying to channel this self-doubt into self-reflection and identify what I did well and what I need to improve for next year. Although these reflections are primarily for my own growth, I find that sharing it with others pushes me to think and write more clearly.
Here are 3 of my takeaways from the year:
#1: Be Present
Like many teachers, I often find myself replaying how I handled a tough incident earlier in the day or mentally crafting an email I plan on sending to teachers on my team after school. It’s difficult to be totally present.
To help alleviate this, I have tried to make mindfulness a more regular practice in my classroom. What started with a daily quote, led to Mindful Mondays, and this year, mindful minutes at the start of nearly every class. These daily activities included short breathing exercises, stretches, or reflection questions.
Although I didn’t collect empirical evidence, noticing my own mental state before & after mindful minutes along with anecdotes from students, I am convinced that taking just a couple minutes to breathe, reflect, or move can truly help us be more fully present with the people and work in front of us.
Next year, I plan on researching more effective mindfulness activities and practicing them more regularly so it becomes a consistent habit for myself and my students.
#2: Really Know Your Students
When I’m interacting with nearly a 100 students over the course of a school year, it’s often easier to get excited about trying new tech tool or lesson than trying to get to know each and every student. However, I have never regretted the time I invested building relationships with students while I can’t say the same about the former.
For example, this year, I had a refugee student in my U.S. History class who has lived in 3 different countries in the last few years, and for whom English is her 3rd or 4th language. To make matters worse, she had an ongoing medical condition which made her really tired and miss a fair amount school. Despite all of these challenges, she worked harder than nearly all of her peers and earned a scholarship to a solid 4-year university.
Hearing her story and observing her determination daily helped me get perspective on my own life. It also reminded me that students are the best source of inspiration. While I do spend time getting to know all my students, too often my knowledge of each student stays at the surface level—interests & hobbies—instead of life stories.
Next year, I plan on making more time to regularly chat with individual students whether it’s during passing periods, conferences during class, and by using online tools.
#3 Break Free from Technology Addiction
This year I became more keenly aware of the harm technology can do to our minds. As an enthusiastic user of technology who helps other teachers innovate while utilizing technology this was hard to come to terms with. However, I believe, integrating technology effectively requires me to be clear eyed about its potential & pitfalls.
Watching videos like these helped me realize how social media is designed to leverage weaknesses in human psychology. Specifically, variable reward schedules via dopamine hits get people hooked which fuels social media companies’ ad-driven business model.
Also, reading books like Deep Work made me realize how the immediate bite sized rewards from technology has rewired our brains and made it much more difficult for me to work on challenging, thinking-intensive activities for long, sustained periods of time.
Finally, a couple months ago I read this blog post by Pernille Ripp, a middle school teacher from Wisconsin who I really respect, on how she is trying to get her students off cellphones during class. I have started to make similar changes with my students.
This summer, I want to make sure I’m using technology more deliberately by not tweeting and mindlessly reading articles while surfing the web. Instead, I want to spend more time reading books and re-reading all the ideas I ‘liked’ on Twitter and planning how to apply them to my classroom.
The national ICE Conference (February 26-28, 2018) was an incredible opportunity learn from incredible teachers, instructional coaches, and administrators from around the U.S. Although the focus was on educational technology I was especially interested in sessions that addressed practical considerations for pedagogy.
Here are my Top 10 Takeaways from ICE 2018:
1. Teach Digital Literacy by Modeling how to See, Think, Wonder and Create
Kristin Ziemeke (@kristin_ziemeke) made a compelling case for the evolution of literacy (just think of all the different media you consumed during the past week!) Then, she offered a few ideas on how to improve digital literacy instruction.
First, we must continue to improve students’ underlying literacy skills and love for reading by offering:
Choice: Students can often read a text that is to 2 grade levels higher than their current reading level when they get to choose the text they read.
Volume: Provide many opportunities to read; libraries are more important than ever in this digital age.
Authentic Response: Encourage students to respond to reading in authentic ways– informal discussions, journals, etc.
Second, while teaching digital literacy can seem daunting, we can model what we already do as expert readers for our students:see, think, and wonder. For example, we could project an image like the one below and model for students how we observe various details, then show what those details make us think about, and finally share the questions that arise in our minds.
Here are some resources to help teachers create tech (text) sets for your curriculum:
Finally, Kristin argued that students need to spend more time creating media, not just consuming it. Currently, approximately 65% of the time teens are using digital technology they consume content but spend only 3% of their time creating it.
We should strive to design more assignments that allow students to create infographics, videos, blog posts, etc. The process of changing ideas from text to visual (or vice versa) leads to increased activity in both halves of the brain and deeper learning.
2. You Build or Break a Culture During Every Interaction
Joe Sanfelippo (@Joe_Sanfelippo ) reminded us that every interaction, whether it’s with a student, colleague or parent can build or break a school’s culture. It doesn’t take long! In 30 seconds we can promote great work of a colleague, thank someone, get to know a student, and more. Make every interaction count!
3. Reassess your Gradebook
Joy Kirr (@joykirr) pushed us to re-examine what, how, and why we grade in our classroom. A large body of evidence shows that feedback without a grade leads to the largest student growth.
There’s no one right way to do grades; but, we shouldn’t continue grading the way we’ve always done it because…that’s how it’s always been done. We have to stop being the monkey trying to grade everything and push students across the finish line (end of the quarter, semester, etc.):
Sort the terms on the right into the categories on the left:
What needs to be included in the gradebook?
Late Work Penalty
0s for Missing Work
4. The 3 Keys to Successful PD: Learning, Experimenting and Reflecting
Kristi Sutter (@kristi_sutter) and her team at The Feast showed why all professional development must include time for teachers to experiment in a supported environment and, most importantly, reflect on what they learned so new tools & practices are integrated thoughtfully.
If you’re bold enough, practice radical transparency during extended professional development by asking participants to complete a feedback form multiple times. Then, read the feedback out loud and share what changes you will make as a result of their feedback.
5a. Affluent Students Need Grit
Dr. Kenneth Hoover argued that we’re mistaken if we believe the main purpose of teaching “grit” is to motivate students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Students from less fortunate families often have had to learn how to overcome struggles their entire life while affluent students have experienced few major obstacles in life. Therefore, when affluent students face truly challenging academic curriculum they often don’t know what to do. Affluent students probably need to learn how to be gritty more than their less privileged peers.
For their entire lives many affluent students have had parents trying to brush away any obstacles along their path like curlers during the Olympics. It’s difficult for parents to let their son or daughter struggle because we always want to give our children more than what we had growing up. However, if we want to raise a resilient generation we must let them face hardships and persist.
5b) Practice should be Interwoven, Varied and Distributed
Using the above chart, Dr. Hoover also argued that we need to quiz/assess students more often; not for a grade but to improve long-term retention. True mastery is when students can apply a concept or skill to unfamiliar contexts. To prepare for this they must have varied and interwoven practice.
For example, hitters who just practice hitting curveballs do worse then those that focus on curve balls but mix in a variety of pitches during practice—that’s what they’ll see in a game!
Kristine Ziemke (@KristinZiemke) challenged us to stop assigning “fake work” and strive to create opportunities for real work that is authentic, important, and relevant. When was the last time you made a diorama? Elementary school?
Have your students do work they will actually do outside of school. We no longer have to wait for the annual science fair to give students a broader audience; use technology to create authentic audiences and address real challenges that are relevant to students.
7. Address Teachers’ Mindsets before you deliver Professional Development
Cindy Crannell (@ccrannell) and Annmarie Clasky (@AClasky) shared why it’s important to introduce the concept of a growth mindset before presenting a new tool or strategy during PD. Too often teachers believe that learning how to use new technology is too hard; they’ll never get it, etc.
Teaching the growth mindset can help teachers self-monitor when they slip into the fixed mindset and try to move back into a growth mindset. This video can help introduce the concept of a growth mindset:
8. 11 Protocols for Creating a Culture of Questioning in your School
Kim Darche (@kimdarche) gave powerful yet practical suggestions for creating a questioning culture among students and adults in your building. While project based learning, genius hour, design thinking, etc are important trends in education, a critical prerequisite to any of them being successful is students’ ability to ask powerful questions. Unfortunately, this isn’t happening in most classrooms.
Research shows that on average teachers ask 200-300 questions/day while students ask only 2 questions/day. In an age where Alexa, Siri & Google are available at our fingertips there’s a greater need for problem finders than problem solvers.
11 tips for creating a culture of questioning:
Only Questions Allowed: Get brains primed for questioning by asking pairs of students to have a conversation but only using questions. Once someone makes a statement instead of a question, they “lose” and rotate to a new partner.
Dice Game: Post a topic for students (e.g. theme in a book, imperialism, climate change, right triangle, etc.). Then, in pairs or small groups students take turns rolling a dice. Based on the number they roll they have to:
4-What is your stake in the ground about it?
Rule of 5 (Inspired by Toyota): Ask Why 5 Times in a Row
Start with any problem (e.g. There isn’t enough social & emotional support for students)
Why isn’t there support? Lack of Resources
Why aren’t there resources? They misallocate resources.
Why aren’t priorities aligned with resources? The School Board doesn’t understand the problem.
Why doesn’t the school board understand the problem? They don’t spend enough time in classrooms.
These series of questions helps us get to the root cause of a problem.
Notecard: Write a problem on a notecard and ask someone else to solve it, this will give you valuable new perspectives. Too often we’re biased and don’t even realize it.
Universal Questions: Commit to memory and make a poster with these questions:
How might we….
Ask What, Not Why
Asking someone ‘Why’ makes them defensive, ask ‘What’ instead
E.g. Why didn’t you pay the bill? Makes us defensive. Instead ask “What happened to the bills this month?”
Point of View:
Present an issue then ask students to list 5-20 characters who might be involved in the situation and discuss what each of them would do. For example, for bullying students might list parents, teachers, counselors, school bus drivers, etc.
Shrug More Often: Create a habit where students and teachers seek answers to questions on their own. Don’t answer everything for them!
Follow every statement with a question: Help colleagues & students find the root cause of an issue by insisting that all statements be followed by a question (Source: Action Learning in Action). Without such a protocol it would be easy for discussions to devolve into a pity party. Here’s an example of the protocol:
Statement: We have a large issue with physical aggression at our school.
Q: How large of an issue is it?
A: It happens every week.
Q: Is it the same group of students?
A: Yes …
Q: Why is it those group of students?
Use Deborah Meier’s Habits of Mind: Create a poster with these statements for your classroom —they can be used in nearly every subject area. Deborah Meir created an entire school centered on these 5 questions!
Evidence: How do you know what’s true or false?
Viewpoint: How might this look if we stepped into other shoes?
Connections: Have we seen this before?
Conjecture: What if it were different?
Relevance: Why does this matter?
9. Portfolios Facilitate Student Ownership, Continuous Feedback and Learning Without Grades
Although I wasn’t able to attend their session, the materials Ana Thompson (@AnaAnamta15 ) & Lisa Berghoff (@LisaBerghoff ) shared demonstrated how portfolios create opportunities for frequent feedback and student ownership of learning—especially for ELs!
10. Students can apply Design Thinking in 12 (Fairly Easy) Steps
Sarah Thomas (@sarahdateechur) used her final project from the Google Innovator Academy to show how students can use design thinking to pursue their passions. She also shared the site Rock Your World (@rockyourworld70) which helps students address true global problems like human rights, discrimination, education, homelessness, human trafficking, food insecurity, women’s rights, and access to water.
Sarah has created a Google Form that guides students through the design process which creates a slick Google Doc to help students prototype & set intermediate deadlines.
Design Thinking Steps
Step One: Define the Problem
What is your big idea?
Step Two: Brainstorm Possible Solutions
What can you create or make to address the need identified in Step One?
Step Three: Research Ideas/Explore Possibilities
Do a search, or draw upon your background knowledge to answer the following questions: What similar projects may be out there? How have they addressed this need? Where is there room for improvement?
Step Four: Specify Constraints
What obstacles may be in your way to achieving your goal?
Step Five: Consider Alternatives
How can you overcome these obstacles? Figure out as many possibilities as you can.
Step Six: Select an Approach
Given the information from the first steps, which approach would be the best, and why?
Step Seven: Develop Written Proposal
Come up with a brief plan, highlighting action steps that you plan to use.
Step Eight: Make Model/Prototype
Try your idea on a small scale.
Step Nine: Test & Evaluate
Run your prototype! What worked well/what didn’t?
Step Ten: Refine/Improve
Figure out how you can tweak your model or idea to make it work.
Step Eleven: Create and Implement Model/Project
Go for the gold!
Step Twelve: Communicate Results
Use social media to speak about your experiences, and generate more buzz. This guide from The Sullivan Foundation gives some good advice, especially if you are involving students.
The steady stream of developments in education technology along with the books and blogs touting the newest, most student-centered methods of teaching makes it difficult to discern fads from true instructional innovations.
Technology should shift how students learn. However, without appropriate professional development teachers will be overwhelmed by the speed with which technology changes or merely replicate traditional teaching methods using digital tools.
The following is a framework for identifying instructional shifts due to technology and what their implications are for teachers and their professional development.
Vision for Innovative Instruction
Implications for Teachers
Implications for Professional Development
Cultivate learning materials that meet the needs of all students
Although some learning goals necessitate reading a common text together, the textbook and the teacher no longer are the only sources for learning content and skills. Teachers will need to become skilled at cultivating and organizing resources that are appropriate for their students and learning goals. Teachers should train students on how to find and select appropriate resources.
Developing a PLC/PLN
Create varied methods for demonstrating learning to authentic audiences
To be successful in the 21st century students will need to be skilled collaborators, communicators, critical thinkers and creators. Therefore, teachers will need to design learning activities that teach and assess these skills.
Project/Problem Based Learning
Multimedia tools & authentic audiences
Gather timely & actionable information about learning
Powerful tools now exist that allow teachers to quickly assess students and respond to student needs by creating flexible pathways to learning.