By JULIA BROACH
Across the globe, many students are attending school through their computers, tablets, and phones. Educators have the demanding task of designing lessons on unfamiliar platforms, learning new remote assessment methods, and adjusting to a new style of teaching through a screen — all while not seeing or talking with students as often as before.
Balancing teaching your curriculum with finding time to discuss with students what they are experiencing and how they are feeling can be challenging. Yet staying connected with them and what they are going through is essential in order to continue to support them. Students are dealing with many significant life changes and a range of emotions brought on by these shifts — worrying about their own health and that of their family members and friends, feeling loss about missed experiences such as graduation and prom, navigating a new form of learning, and being confined to their homes with all of their family members.
Bringing low-tech self-reflection practices into online classrooms can be a helpful way to address the social-emotional needs of our students at this time. Developing social-emotional skills can help students better care for and advocate for themselves and others.
One way of incorporating at least a few minutes of self-reflection into lessons is by using social-emotional prompts (download a full set of our SEL prompts here). Our prompts are organized into several categories, drawn from the core social-emotional competencies identified by the educational research organization the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. Prompts fall into the following categories:
Using these prompts with your students
These prompts can be sent out over email, posted on a class’s online feed, or shared aloud during a real-time class. Students can respond to them in a variety of ways — using no-tech (drawing or writing in a journal), low-tech (typing in a document, making a video recording, making an audio recording, taking photos), or high-tech options (posting responses to a shared classroom file, such as on Google Drive).
Before using these in your classroom, give yourself time to engage in your own self-reflection practices (through these prompts or other means) — this will support you in more thoughtfully facilitating social-emotional learning exercises for others.
Take the time to introduce the idea of the prompts to your students. You may contextualize the prompts by sharing that they’ll help with self-reflection during this strange period of self-isolation and remote learning. For students to fully express their answers, they may not be comfortable sharing any or all of their responses — determine what you think would be best for your students. There is still significant value in students responding to each prompt, even if they choose not to share with others.
Below are a few ways that you can use these with your students in your online classes:
TAGS: REMOTE LEARNING, RESOURCES, SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING
By ROBERTA LENGER KANG
Nothing is going according to plan.
Across the world, the swift transition from in-person to online education as a result of COVID-19 has created anxiety, uncertainty, grief, and a host of complex challenges for educators. Whether the transition caught us by surprise or we saw it coming, we have all faced unexpected obstacles in the wake of this crisis. But if we can begin to see some of our professional obstacles as opportunities, we can begin to forge new pathways that will carry us forward, even when the current crisis is behind us.
Designing curriculum is hard enough, but designing a remote learning curriculum in the middle of a global pandemic is completely overwhelming. Curriculum design is often customized to the features of a time-bound, classroom-based experience, to which at-home learning bears little resemblance. Can we translate the qualities of in-person learning to diverse groups of students who will have different entry points to learning and varying levels of access? Can we provide rigorous instruction to students when exams are canceled? Can we continue with the curricular units we had planned at the beginning of the school year, even if they aren’t aligned with at-home learning?
Within each of these curriculum challenges is an opportunity that can be unlocked with one word — how. Rather than “can we...", let’s try “how can we...in high-tech, low-tech, and no-tech ways?”
By asking how, we can focus not on obstacles, but action steps. This shift in our thinking can act as a catalyst to reexamining our goals, methods, and design for learning. In this moment, we have the opportunity to reimagine our curriculum for maximum engagement, intellectual curiosity, and cultural relevance. In-person learning is constrained by quantities of time: attendance, punctuality, and class periods, to name a few. Because at-home learning doesn’t exist within the same parameters, it presents an opportunity for educators to design curriculum that will engage students in learning at their own pace.
At the same time, at-home learning lacks the immediate presence of a classroom teacher who can answer questions at a moment’s notice, or a classmate to consult. As a result, at-home curriculum must be more explicit than its in-person counterpart. In person, a teacher may typically make oral announcements, or take loose notes on the board. To engage students in an intellectually rigorous at-home learning experience, teachers will likely need to be more detailed, more explicit, and provide more models, examples, and visuals in order for students to deepen their understanding.
As teachers articulate the nuances of content for an at-home learning experience, we have a new opportunity to develop robust materials and resources that will serve students’ needs, even when in-person learning resumes. For teachers, this type of deep reflection and planning is a unique professional learning experience that deepens our own understanding of our content and methodology.
For at-home learning, teachers may want to consider structuring weeklong assignments in the form of mini-projects or inquiry investigations that will allow students to vary the time spent on them each day. Some may want to break up their learning into daily chunks, while others will be able to dive deeply into the experience for a longer period of time. The ultimate goal is not the precise number of minutes students spend on the activity, but rather how they are able to demonstrate their knowledge and skills related to the objectives. It doesn’t matter if they complete the task in 5-minute or 45-minute increments, or across 3-4 hours in one sitting — what matters is what they learn.
Connecting to students
In-person teaching is dependent upon a teacher’s presentation skills, and their rapport with students. At-home learning requires a completely different approach, as teachers are not physically with their students. This can be very disorienting for teachers who find their energy and satisfaction from being around kids and seeing their students’ eyes light up during an a-ha! moment. Being separated from their students can leave teachers feeling isolated, disconnected, and wondering if anything they’re doing is working.
Distance learning requires us to consider all of the ways in which we can deliver content without being in the same room at the same time. Our first task is to acknowledge that our go-to model of instruction may not be possible at this time. But while distance learning is different, it doesn’t need to diminish the teaching or the learning experience. We want to start by asking questions: How do we design an opening activity to draw students into their learning? How do we deliver our mini-lesson on a new topic or concept? How do we provide students with meaningful tasks and provide feedback in a timely manner?
One option includes synchronous video calls, where students log on at a specific time and engage with their class virtually. The benefits here are that teachers can present their lesson, engage students in peer-to-peer discussions, and answer questions in real time. However, this approach assumes all students have access to technology, and are able to engage at the same time without interruption. This isn’t always the case — and when students can’t engage online, it creates major concerns around equity and access. It’s for this reason that many educators see asynchronous learning as a promising practice. Using simple technology to create instructional videos, screencast presentations, or even audio recordings, teachers can present their lesson one time and distribute it 100+ times to their students in low- and no-tech ways.
One of the benefits of recorded lessons (even when we aren’t teaching through a pandemic) is that students can re-watch the lesson as many times as needed in order to understand the information. This is a critical support for students who have learning disabilities, or are learning English as a second language. Being able to pause, go back, and re-watch the lesson can bolster students’ confidence, increase their comprehension, and clarify their questions. After the lesson is designed and delivered, teachers can shift their focus from delivering instruction to providing personal support, feedback, and task modifications for students at all levels. This might look like holding office hours, offering weekly check-ins with students, email correspondence, or phone calls with students or caregivers who don’t have access to technology. Using these strategies, distance learning can be expertly differentiated, highly personalized, and deeply relational.
In a time that feels topsy turvy, we have to be honest: nothing is going according to plan. This fact is scary, disappointing, and de-centering, and can produce a considerable amount of anxiety. Whether we’re novice teachers or veterans, school leaders or policymakers, we are educating in a time that requires us to find new opportunities for offering meaningful, relevant, and academically engaging learning experiences to our students. Being open to these opportunities will serve us well, even when we’ve safely returned to our classrooms.
TAGS: REMOTE LEARNING, ROBERTA LENGER KANG
By LAURA RIGOLOSI and JACQUI STOLZER
What happens when your class is full of 30+ students who have different strengths, different learning styles, and different comfort levels with the English language? We’ve been tackling this question alongside K-12 educators through PD series like Educating ELLs and Including All Learners, where we address the promises and challenges of teaching in heterogeneous classrooms by exploring the principles of differentiation and related research for classroom applications.
When our most recent set of Including All Learners sessions began in January, we set out to support a new group of educators as they worked toward their differentiation goals. We didn't yet know that we would soon experience social distancing, that toilet paper would become the most coveted household item, or that both teaching and learning would rapidly transition from in-person to online.
During this time of online schooling, we are particularly concerned about students who either do not have online access, or do not have a quiet nook in their homes to learn. A few years ago, one of our students commented that he slept with the English novels from our class under his pillow — it was the safest place in his home, where he didn’t have a workspace of his own.
As we write this from our individual homes and reflect on the recent shift to virtual education, we are focusing on the principles of our Including All Learners series that remain true in any kind of teaching and learning environment. Below, we will outline a few concepts from our workshops and share how they carry over to our online learning experiences.
Disrupt the single story
We begin our sessions with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, The Danger of a Single Story. She explains to her audience how all of us, including Adichie herself, have told a singular version of someone’s life story, and have also been victim to a single story about ourselves. She shares how damaging and incorrect these single versions can be.
This concept serves as a reminder that we must disrupt the single stories that are often assigned to our students, particularly those who are ENLs or are students with disabilities. This can be more challenging than it sounds, particularly when students have to be described in IEPs, which do not allow for a more complex telling of their life stories. In our workshops, we challenge ourselves and participating teachers to share other versions of our students’ stories — something you can continue to do in online communication with other adults in your community.
What helps some students can help all
One of the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is that what helps some learners can help all learners. This concept can be illustrated by the design of public spaces — for example, people of all ages and abilities benefit from public bathrooms that are wheelchair accessible; they are wider, are often designed without entry doors, and are therefore easier to navigate and offer fewer opportunities for spreading germs.
One way we try to illustrate this concept in our workshops is by providing all participants with tools that support their learning. For example, while we view the Adichie TED Talk, we offer our participants a simple graphic organizer (like a double entry journal) that allows everyone to listen fully, while also allowing them to recall specific compelling moments in the talk. Our double entry journal includes two components: a column on the left, partially filled out with quotes from the text (in this case, the TED Talk), and a column on the right, which is open for viewers to share their thoughts. Returning to the ideas presented in UDL, a double entry journal that includes specific lines from the text is useful for students who have central executive challenges, but in reality, everyone can benefit from the text references.
The principles of UDL feel particularly important at a time when it is more difficult to ask students where and how they need support. Just as we provided a partially completed double entry journal for all of our participants, consider making your scaffolds accessible to all students on your online platforms. This might look like providing possible sentence starters to all students for written explanations, or providing a series of clues for students solving a math problem.
Show the messiness of thinking
Metacognition expert Dr. Saundra McGuire defines metacognition as simply thinking about your thinking. Being able to think about how you’re making meaning of a piece of writing — as well what you can easily understand and what you can’t — is an important aspect of engaging with complex texts.
One tool we offer educators is a model of a think aloud, where we simply model the messiness of the thinking that goes into making sense of our reading, writing, and problem-solving. The goal is to dispel the idea that a text suddenly and magically makes sense without struggle and hard work, and to show them that everyone relies on thinking moves that help them chip away at difficult texts.
Consider doing this type of think aloud with your students online — either in real time or as a short recorded video. Rather than simply creating a video where you explain the major steps needed for answering a question or solving a problem, try to capture yourself actually doing the work, making even your smallest thinking moves visible — the questioning, rereading, reasoning, and revising that often happens while engaging in higher-order tasks, but that we often do without even realizing. You might also share things like how you knew to begin your answer in a certain way, or what bit of information caused you to stop and double-check your computations. Sharing these micro thinking steps will help students see that there is not a singular way to answer a question or to solve a problem, which may help them become more aware of their own thinking.
As you continue transposing your classes to online learning, we hope you will utilize the tools and concepts we have outlined here, to ensure you are reaching all learners. While our in-person sessions are on hold, you can continue to participate in professional development on this topic by joining us online.
TAGS: DIFFERENTIATION, JACQUI STOLZER, LAURA RIGOLOSI, REMOTE LEARNING
By SHERRISH HOLLOMAN
According to the glossary of education reform, student engagement “refers to the degree of attention, curiosity, interest, optimism, and passion that students show when they are learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.” Evidence of learning and indicators of engagement can be commonly observed and relatively easily measured in traditional classroom settings — teachers can monitor students’ behavior as they raise their hands, participate in whole group discussions, or support their fellow classmates in small, cooperative learning groups.
During this time of remote learning, educators around the world are facing a student engagement challenge, as classrooms have transitioned to virtual learning spaces. Instead of in-person teaching and facilitation, computers, tablets, and phones have become the primary tools students use to engage. These changes have also highlighted issues around equity, as every home learning environment doesn’t offer students the same level of access to technology.
And yet, teaching and learning can and will continue — educators around the world have already been reimagining the ways in which they can engage their students. Without the limitations of a 45-minute classroom session, the challenge of hearing 25-30 voices during a short period of time, and the barriers of in-person, adolescent dynamics that make some students less inclined to speak up in front of their peers, new opportunities for engagement have space to emerge.
Zoom can be an excellent tool for engaging students. Teachers can create breakout rooms for small group discussions and pop in and out as a way to monitor conversations in the groups. Consider using student-generated questions or protocols as a way to invite discussion — in advance, students can submit topic-related questions via email, which is a powerful way to garner buy-in and interest. Zoom's chat option is another useful feature that allows students to create a thread of dialogue in the midst of their discussion, and may encourage participation from students who are hesitant to speak up. The chat can also be saved and archived for future discussions.
Google Docs can be a great way to generate conversation and dialogue. Students can be placed in small groups to respond freely to each other using the comment feature, or students can be tasked with responding to two or three other classmates. These comments can become a print-rich discussion that isn’t time bound, and they can allow for metacognition as students track threads of conversation and in turn, think about their thinking.
As a no-tech option, which doesn’t require on-demand access, students can use phone calls or WhatsApp voice notes as a way to have discussions. Consider having students use the technology of three-way phone calls as a way to both check in on one another as well as take part in an academic conversation. Roles can be assigned in each triad, allowing each student to be a facilitator, recorder, or reporter, who will be responsible for sharing conversation highlights with their teacher. If all students aren’t able to find a common time to talk on the phone, consider offering an old-fashioned game of telephone — student A can call student B to discuss the topic; student B then calls student C to share their previous conversation and so on. The last student in the chain of telephone would then be responsible for communicating the highlights of the discussion with the teacher. This process can be repeated many times, with roles alternating within each group.
Engaging the whole child
It’s no surprise that many students are experiencing challenges beyond access to technology during this time. They may have family members who are dealing with illness and unemployment, or who are risking their lives as essential workers each day. If we reflect on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we can remember that students will likely have trouble actively engaging with their education if their more basic needs of safety and security have not been met. It's important to recognize and acknowledge the social and emotional challenges presented by the pandemic. Consider engaging your students by making periodic calls to check in with them and offer support and encouragement. This one-on-one support, however brief, can help connect or reconnect students to the classroom community.
What if it’s not possible to speak to your students individually, on a regular basis? Educators can find opportunities to engage the whole child by incorporating family members into the learning experience. One way to achieve this is by using the Questioning Formulation Technique (QFT), a popular technique that helps students develop their ability to ask questions. Using resources such as photos, cartoons, letters, maps, and articles, students can work alongside a family member or caregiver to create questions around various sources of text that exist in their environment, and then analyze and share the thinking behind them. Alternatively, students can create a short video sharing highlights from their process.
TAGS: REMOTE LEARNING, SHERRISH HOLLOMAN, STUDENT ENGAGEMENT
By ROBERTA LENGER KANG
Differentiating instruction is inherently difficult, and now that we’re doing it at a distance, it can appear even more overwhelming than before. But appearances can be deceiving. Differentiating during this period of distance learning — using some high tech, low tech, and no tech options — can be easy, efficient, and effective!
Differentiation can happen in many ways, with varying levels of complexity. Our Differentiating Like a STAR resource, designed to help educators consider entry points to differentiation, offers strategies in four categories: data, task, text, and grouping. Within each category, we outline three levels of instruction — the more stars included, the stronger the differentiation. By identifying pathways to expand differentiation, you can add depth and complexity to your lessons.
When teaching at a distance, we aren’t able to rely on our typical informal observation skills to gather data about our students, including our ability to overhear conversations, see students’ confusion, or listen to their in-the-moment questions. We can, however, find alternative methods for collecting and using data to inform the next steps of our instruction.
We use data to inform our instruction at three critical levels:
High-tech: Google Forms
Using the features built into Google Forms, educators can build custom assessments, surveys, pre-, during, and post-reading guides, and much more. When students answer questions within the form, you can be updated instantly.
Create a clear connection to the data by turning the form into a quiz. This allows students to receive feedback about their performance, and can allow you to provide instructions for the student’s next task, based on their answers. Students who do well may be ready to move on to a more challenging activity; students who struggle may be directed to re-read or engage in continued practice. When they’re ready, students can return to the quiz to re-test their knowledge and demonstrate their learning.
How can you redirect students based on their answers? Use the “go to section based on answer” feature. This feature allows teachers to create hinge-point questions within an online learning experience. Within any multiple choice question, we can establish different follow-up tasks based on a student’s response.
If our answer choices are strategic (e.g. 1 correct answer, 1 close answer, 1 opposite answer, and 1 nonsense answer), students can be routed to different follow-up tasks after each question they respond to:
Using these Google Forms features is a great way for educators to create original curricular materials that blend instruction and assessment into a seamless experience for students.
Low-tech: there's an app for that!
Not everyone is up for building a differentiated task from nothing, and that’s okay — there are plenty of existing apps we can use that already have some of the basics set up for us:
These apps and others like them allow teachers to use existing platforms as a way to gather critical data about student performance.
No-tech: phone & paper
Distance learning without immediate and on-demand access to technology is extremely challenging in any circumstance, but especially amid a global health crisis. Students and families who don’t have access to technology are also those most likely to be vulnerable to housing, food, or health insecurity, and it’s in times like these that an equitable education is most at issue.
While it might be less fancy, using data to inform your instruction is not less possible when working without on-demand access to technology. Here are a few no-tech solutions that can get us through these difficult times without sacrificing the importance of data-informed instruction:
Whether or not we’re with our students in person, it’s still within our reach to provide targeted instruction. When our lessons are thoughtfully designed and informed by student data, we can offer differentiated instruction at every level of technology access.
TAGS: DIFFERENTIATION, REMOTE LEARNING, RESOURCES, ROBERTA LENGER KANG
By G. FAITH LITTLE
In a recent letter to the community, CPET Director Roberta Kang shared her childhood memory of the Challenger Space Shuttle’s explosion, and her experience as a teacher in the classroom during 9/11. She wrote, “As educators, we are not unfamiliar with working through a crisis. We know that some crises are visible, and some are invisible. We know that some are explosive, while others are slow burns that dismantle a sense of safety bit by bit. We know that some have villains attached, and others are just, well, science.”
Our children will have strong memories of this time. They will recall what it was like when their school closed, when they had to wear masks, stand far away from people, or when open air parks were locked to visitors. Already, children are telling stories about when they went to school, “before the virus came” and what they want to bring to school, “after the virus is over.” Having conversations with children about what is happening around them and within them will support their growth and learning during this challenging time.
Although COVID-19 is a new type of coronavirus, talking with children about scary situations is not new. To support our conversations, we can lean on reliable resources and use age-appropriate methods. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) connects their general principles for talking to children to the National Association for School Psychologists guidelines:
There are many resources online to support our conversations, and it can be overwhelming to sift through for “the perfect one.” During this time of emotional, mental, and physical overload, it’s important to remember there is no such thing as perfect. Using a reliable, science-based option will give you a starting place for you and your kids to generate questions and keep the conversation open.
Pre-K — Elementary
Support your younger students with ready-made resources from PBS. Sesame Street’s Caring for Each Other page has informative, age-appropriate videos and free e-books to support your conversation about what COVID-19 is and what we can do about it. Use their infographic to prepare for your conversation if you are feeling concerned about what to say.
Older elementary students can learn more about germs and build their vocabulary by reading an article together, like What are Germs? — available in English and Spanish, with an option to listen to the article while you read.
Middle school students are moving into a space where they question the answers they are given. Use this natural developmental stage to engage kids with inquiry cycles. Consider not only a focus on COVID-19, but a student exploration into a simple history of viruses.
Whether you adapt lessons from online sources, like three lesson plans for science, math and media literacy focused on COVID-19, or you set students on a path to conduct their own research, trying out an inquiry cycle can help students gather information and generate real questions that lead to deeper exploration.
Don’t have a template of your own? Give ours a try — within this template, students can share their findings in discussion groups while you use the written information as formative assessments, make adjustments to lesson plans, and provide supplemental materials or advice for students as they explore.
During this time of distance learning, we have the opportunity to see what happens when self-discovery and experimentation places learning in our students’ hands. As students get more autonomy, we get to see firsthand what teaching looks like when students are at the front of the class.
Students at this age can do their own research on the topic starting with the CDC’s Coronavirus-19 page (available in at least five languages), which covers symptoms, how to protect yourself, slowing the spread, daily life, and coping and is updated regularly to include subjects like cloth face coverings.
As new questions arise, students can create a simple art project, like an infographic. With them, you can research to find answers, add them to your infographic and draw, color, or paint for emphasis. If infographics aren't your thing, consider having kids create one of the following to illustrate their research: