Hearing the words, “We will meet the needs of every student” during a normal school year can be daunting, but during a pandemic? How do you do that? What does that look like? What does that sound like?
Our students and their families need us more than ever whether they are physically in our class 100% of the time, part of the time, or seen only through a screen. So, how do we ensure their academic and emotional needs are met? I definitely do not have all of the answers, but I do have strategies you can try to support all of your students academically and emotionally no matter the classroom situation.
During distance learning, many of my colleagues and I have flipped our classrooms in order to more effectively use the short amount of time we have with our students. We create videos, share websites (e.g., Epic Books, LearnZillion, Mathigon Virtual Manipulatives, Open Middle), and design Google Slides presentations to give to students ahead of the live lesson. This gives them the opportunity to build their background knowledge, have a productive struggle through some practice problems, and reflect on their learning. The live lessons are then concentrated on discussion, supporting students in small groups, and understanding misconceptions. Our students are in front of a screen for less time and have more flexibility to read complex text, solve high-cognitive-demand problems, and apply their learning to real-life situations.
How many of your students wish they could go to the Gifted and Talented class, but do not qualify? Our GATE teacher and I co-teach a push-in lesson to each third, fourth, and fifth grade class once a week to give every student the opportunity to attempt tasks that progressively develop cognitive abilities and skills. The class is given a website, an article, or a game to explore independently ahead of time, and then we come into the Google Meet with open-ended questions for discussion. One of the most engaging and popular lessons we have facilitated so far is using James Tanton’s Exploding Dots and The 8 Standards for Mathematical Practice. The third, fourth, and fifth graders used their background knowledge of Base 10 to try to solve problems in Base 2 and Base 3. Every student had multiple entry points to access higher-level problems.
Paper and Pencil Option
Let’s face it: learning on the computer is definitely not for everyone. Sometimes a parent or guardian’s work schedule might not allow for it, or WiFi is spotty, or focusing is difficult. So, paper and pencil is another option. Teachers can work as a team to create paper materials that our students can use in lieu of digital platforms. These modifications ensure that all of our students have meaningful work and families can have the flexibility to learn when the time is right. The parent or guardian can take pictures of the completed work and send it to the teacher’s email.
Priority Instructional Content Document
Using the 2020–21 Priority Instructional Content in English Language Arts/Literacy and Mathematics has been imperative during this distance learning journey. Teachers can meet weekly in PLCs to discuss how to teach the standards by removing barriers, focusing on results, and remembering that each student is everyone’s student in the grade level. Collective Teacher Efficacy is used to brainstorm strategies that make sure every student has the entry point to access the information. It is definitely a team effort.
Academics are important, but social-emotional learning (SEL) is essential. The teacher and counselor can collaborate to ensure all of our lessons include a social-emotional learning component with Google Form check-ins, Lunch Buddies, and incentives. Students may choose emojis on the Google Form to show how they are feeling and have space to share why they are feeling that way. Weekly lunch buddy sessions are a great way to have lunch with students virtually. This precious time will put smiles on so many of our students’ and teachers’ faces. Our administration and instructional coaches can also schedule lunchtime talks to support all students. We all want our students to have the intrinsic motivation to learn and stay focused, but extrinsic motivation can be used when needed. PBIS shares dozens of free individual and team extrinsic rewards on their website. Sharing playlists, choosing the teacher’s nail color, bringing their pet to class, and serving as the tech support person have been favorites so far.
Teaching and learning during the 2020-2021 school year is definitely different. It is a time to take collaboration to the next level by including all members of the school community. We can learn from our Professional Learning Network, too. What has worked for you and your students during the pandemic? Please share with Achieve the Core on Twitter or on Facebook.