When the school year began last fall, no one could have imagined the events that transpired to change our educational setting for the foreseeable future. While it is easier to focus on the negative aspects of the situation, there were several opportunities for personal and professional growth. Perspective can turn those challenges into learning experiences so that the new school year can start on a positive note. As you prepare for the possibility of more uncertainty, use those recent lessons to provide the best learning environment for your students. In this two-part E-hint, you will receive suggestions to address the social-emotional needs of your students, plan to teach the curriculum, utilize various options for instruction, and check for student learning. One size does not fit all, so select those that work best for your district and student population.
Meet the social-emotional needs of your students.
Many students experienced anxiety throughout COVID-19. With the abrupt switch to online instruction, schools made their best attempt to provide support virtually. When students gather back in person, whether full-time or part-time, procedures and logistics will be new to them. Some students may feel like they are attending school for the very first time, so thoroughly explaining and modeling expectations will help to ease stress. Fulfill your students’ social-emotional needs first. Doing so may require you to use some of the time initially designated for instructional purposes.
Keep in mind, “Students have to Maslow before they can Bloom.” The meaning behind this common saying is that children’s basic needs, identified by Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy, must be met before they can embrace academics as outlined in Benjamin Bloom’s taxonomy. Students must feel safe, connected, and heard. Set aside time to talk before time to learn. If teachers feel short on time, incorporating students’ thoughts and feelings into a lesson through an art project or writing activity is one way of blending needs and academics.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Develop a plan to teach the curriculum, and be ready to adjust.
Curriculum Leadership Institute recommends that teachers develop a curriculum pacing guide and update it at the beginning of each school year. Last year, planning was based on delivering the curriculum through onsite instruction. We now know that this may not be possible for the upcoming year. Therefore, everyone needs to be prepared to teach online to some degree.
The first step in creating a pacing guide for instruction is to prioritize the curriculum at each grade-level and in each subject area. Some targets are critical for sequential learning, but to keep students on grade-level, teachers will need to let go of some targets of lesser importance. Facilitate collaborative conversations between teachers of adjacent grades to make sure there are no preventable gaps in skills or content when prioritizing.
Next, identify any parts of your curriculum that didn’t get taught during the stay-at-home order. This should also be discussed during those grade-band conversations. If essential pieces are missing from the previous grade, students need those gaps filled before they can be successful in learning the essential grade-level material. A natural solution is to teach them consecutively. For example, consider the second-grade math outcome that was omitted last spring. It reads: Students will determine the attributes of two-dimensional shapes. Students must learn this concept before they can be successful in the third-grade outcome: Students will use the attributes of two-dimensional shapes to classify and calculate perimeter. On your pacing guide, block a few weeks for teaching attributes of shapes and plan to instruct the second and third-grade outcomes consecutively as illustrated below.
If your school implements a hybrid schedule to include both onsite and online learning, encourage teachers to teach the critical pieces of their curriculum onsite. Then, online instruction can be used to review previous essentials through guided practice and real-life application. A hybrid approach to learning will require frequent updating of pacing guides. Flexibility is critical when moving between onsite and online learning.
One last note for planning is to use time during an onsite parent night or open house to share important details relating to instruction. The learning targets provided to parents should include the essentials recently determined by the grade-level teams. Also, take a moment to give parents a little online instruction regarding the features of the Learning Management System (LMS) you plan to use throughout the year. Many parents became “substitute” teachers last spring and will appreciate the opportunity to receive a little advance training if they are required to step in for instructional support.
The next segment of our two-part E-hint will focus on instructional options and checking for understanding. Stay tuned for its release to help you continue your preparation for the new year.