Since we are likely to be continuing to deal with the fallout from the Covid-19 Pandemic in the fall, I wanted to offer some ideas for how teachers can approach the way they are teaching whether the learning is online or offline, remote or physical. I’ve been working with teachers and students during this time and what follows is based on observations and wonderments during our work together, while also adding my own thoughts about creating a contemporary curriculum.
As a companion to each of the following, I’d like to underscore the importance of connections and the social / emotional needs of students. It’s going to be difficult to learn if students are having trouble negotiating safe learning spaces and trauma-informed learning opportunities. This pandemic has been rough on students, whether because of access issues, managing home and school responsibilities, loss of structure, caring for family members, etc. All students will be impacted in some way and we have a responsibility to be proactive about caring for them as they come back to school.
Students need to be able to start from where they are and move forward as they are ready. This may require many scaffolds and differentiated opportunities to get students to a place where learning can occur.
If at all possible, and especially for elementary children, perhaps give some thought to moving them as an existing group to the next grade level. For instance, take a current classroom of students and move them together to a new teacher without breaking them apart or reconfiguring groups for next year. Students may benefit from the maintenance of already created classmate relationships and interpersonal dynamics. While there may be a small percentage of need-based switches, keeping students together may be helpful in quickly getting the learning back on track.
We have a unique opportunity to truly build a community of learners. We’ve learned so much about our capabilities as educators and there is so much more on the menu of what can accomplish with students as our focus and our partners in navigating contemporary learning practices. That said, the following, in tandem with considerations for social / emotional needs, are umbrella categories that can be applied no matter how you document your curriculum:
- Remember that one of the big curriculum constants is the standards. Those standards are a launching pad in and of themselves when you think about what concepts build over time, like in math or science, or skills that are practiced and sophisticated over time like reading, writing, research, and speaking. It may be worthwhile to have some discussions here at the end of the school year and during summer curriculum work around some priority standards and what they mean in the transition from one grade level to the next.
- In addition, it’s always a good idea to help teachers situate their perspectives by exploring grade-level standards that are one grade level above and below the current grade they teach. That may be particularly important this year, for students who missed a significant portion of in-person instruction.
- Have collegial discussions and consensus around what standards are most important. This will be especially critical if learning continues to be online.
- In order for students to begin new learning, what prerequisite skills must they be proficient with? What concept basics do they need in order to move to the next learning moment? What parts will need explicit instruction? What skills and concepts can be independently learned? How will support be given for new learning and continued practice?
- Whether online or in-person, it is critical in contemporary learning to give students opportunities to explore and discover as an introductory step to launching the learning process. We want to build curiosity and spark authentic inquiry.
- This is a great opportunity to invite students into the learning process. What direction might they take the learning? Where could they look for answers to their questions? How might they approach the attainment of learning targets within a teacher’s desired plans? What are some unintended consequences / opportunities when students have a voice and choice in their own learning?
- This is also a great opportunity for students to document their learning processes in a variety of ways: notes, sketch notes, models, examples, podcasts, websites, everything on the continuum of traditional to contemporary that allows students to collect and curate their explorations, discoveries, and inquiries.
- Those documentations should be collaboratively created as a community of learners with contributions from students, teachers, experts, anyone with knowledge to share. This is a good opportunity to reach out to different networks for contributions to the students' documentation of their learning.
- Note that documentations are also an assessment of process and progress. They are coaching opportunities to help guide students through and beyond what they are being tasked with learning.
- What will students DO with what they’ve learned? This is, perhaps, the most contemporary action that a teacher can take when thinking about assessment.
- This is also another good moment for students to be able to offer their voices and choices for how they will demonstrate their learning.
- Teachers can help students expand the audience for their work beyond the classroom. With an increased audience, students will create higher quality work / deliverables.
- Teachers can also help students transcend the depth of their demonstrations of learning. Are we going to continue to offer worksheets or end of unit textbook assessment opportunities or can we promote more contemporary actions like a community presentation, a film festival, or the creation of something really innovative or surprising.
Note that the Learning Experience Plan Organizer is split into three sections: Documenting Instructional Design, Documenting Instructional Practices, and Documenting Contemporary Decisions. These can be worked on individually or in relation to needs on top of what you may already have documented. In short, you may not need the whole thing.