It’s safe to say we were all caught off guard in March of 2020. As schools across the country closed, educators scrambled to fill the gap in any form possible. From lists of documentaries to stream online, to virtual museum “field trips,” to take-home packets, teachers did whatever they could to keep the learning going even as we were still grappling to understand the full impact of the pandemic.
If one thing has become clear the past few months, it’s that preparing to pivot learning will be critical in the near (and possibly distant) future. Hindsight is always 20/20, but we know that schools that already had virtual learning components in their district fared better overall than those without. From the basics of having an Internet infrastructure in place to acquiring and delivering equipment to students, schools with a proverbial foot in the edtech door had a leg up. But beyond the initial setup, there are things educators can do now to prepare for what will likely be an unpredictable and unprecedented school year.
Preparing to Pivot Learning
As schools and districts develop in-person, virtual, and hybrid options for their students this school year, preparing to pivot learning from one option to another with little to no notice must also be considered. Educators need plans in place to successfully transition between what some are calling brick (in-person) and click (virtual) learning as required based on a variety of factors like the state of the pandemic in your local area, parent requests, and individual student needs.
Preparing to pivot learning requires some early planning around five key areas:
- Structure. What will teaching and learning look like? How often will it occur? How will it be delivered?
- Content. What content and curriculum will be utilized? How will it be prepared? Will it vary based on learning location?
- Facilitation. What roles and responsibilities will teachers have? How will teachers interact with and monitor students? How will teachers grade and provide feedback?
- Special Populations. Who will be responsible for meeting the needs of students in special populations? How will accommodations be met? What type of additional supports will be given?
- Communication. How will you communicate with staff, parents, and students? What sort of resources do you have available for parents?
Developing Digital Agility
Preparing to pivot learning involves developing digital agility. John Watson, Founder of Evergreen Education Group, says, “When instruction shifts from face-to-face to online, the best starting point is not considering how to recreate classroom teaching. Instead, the better launch point is contemplating instructional goals, and then determining how they can be met in the online learning environment.”
He goes on to discuss how online learning requires rethinking how educators spend their time and evaluating what can be done remotely or asynchronously versus what needs to be done either via a live video conference or during in-person class time. Deborah Rayow, VP of Instructional Design and Learning Science for Edgenuity®, believes this starts with identifying the key concepts and skills students need to master by the end of the week. Reframing weekly targets from the amount of work a student needs to complete each week to learning goals that isolate the most critical concepts enables educators to identify activities that are most important in service to that goal.
While students will do many other things in their class in a given week, teachers and students understand that these learning goals are the most important things to master. The lessons and activities a student completes throughout the week are in service of these goals, and the lesson in and of itself is not the goal.
Learning goals can be structured into three segments:
- What do you need to know?
- What do you need to be able to do?
- What do you need to produce?
- This week, I need to know definitions and parts of speech of 10 vocabulary words.
- This week, I need to be able to identify the theme of a fiction text and explain how the author develops the theme with textual evidence.
- This week, I need to produce an outline for a literary essay about the theme of one of the texts we read last week.
Embracing the Benefits
Dealing with the daunting challenge the 2020–2021 school year presents can be overwhelming, but there are definite benefits to incorporating digital tools into the classroom. From grading assignments to delivering initial instruction, edtech tools can free up a teacher’s time to focus on the individual needs of a student. And with the plethora of data at your fingertips in online curriculum, educators can identify where their students are struggling and succeeding without having to pass out (and grade) tests.
Warm-up activities and mid-lesson concept checks incorporated into learning software can serve as a formative assessment, enabling educators to better understand their students’ comprehension of key topics. This may mean instead of spending three weeks on unit two and three weeks on unit three, you spend two weeks on unit two and four on unit three because you can easily see that the majority of your students struggle with the concepts in the third unit and need more time and practice to master it.
Asking questions to the class in a text format gives everyone the chance to think about their answers, and some teachers have reported seeing more interaction online from even their shiest students. Plus, you can ensure everyone knows the answer, rather than calling on one student who raised their hand and waiting until the unit test to know about the remainder of the class.
Finally, technology enables students to move at their own pace. High-flyers aren’t bored, and students who need a little more help can rewatch the lecture, review additional materials, and get extra practice without being left behind because the teacher has to stick to the schedule.
This year is likely to be filled with twists and turns, so take some time to plan on how your district, school, or classroom will address those challenges with our Preparing to Pivot Learning Workbook.
Watson, J. (2020, July 1). Implementing hybrid schooling runs from rescheduling classes to rethinking education. Digital Learning Collaborative. https://www.digitallearningcollab.com/blog/2020/7/1/implementing-hybrid-schooling-runs-from-rescheduling-classes-to-rethinking-education