How do we close an unconventional school year and plan for the uncertainty ahead?
One answer: Reflection
Recently, “Congratulations 6th Grade Grad!” signs popped up on balconies and lawns in my neighborhood, signaling the approaching end of the school year. For me, the end of the school year is a sentimental season, sending students off with mementos and memories from our time together, letting them know how much they matter to our shared time and space, and how they’ll be missed.
This school year is coming to a close. It’s been a unique one, that’s for certain. A challenging one, too. Classmates aren’t able to commemorate their time together in the same way, and they aren’t sure of what’s to come in the year ahead.
COVID-19 school closures required fast action and quick decisions. Knowing our schools and classrooms will exist differently during the next school year presents challenges, but at the same time offers us the opportunity to approach our new learning realities thoughtfully and creatively. As we ready ourselves again for change and transition, let’s focus our planning on the factors we can control and reflect on that which helped us make it through this year.
1. Start with strengthening relationships
Our students have experienced significant disruption in life and learning. As we have had to adjust to new realities rapidly, so have they, processing change and stress and isolation. During our recent webinar, Dr. Pamela Cantor spoke about the harmful effects of stress on the brain and the importance of relationships in helping students cope, build resilience, and reengage in learning. An initial emphasis on establishing strong relationships and supporting students' social and emotional needs is especially important at the start of the next school year. The urgency we feel to support students’ academic development can only be successful if they trust and feel connected to caring adults in their school community.
What spaces or schedules were most conducive to connecting with your students and families during your current distance learning experience?
How might you launch that start of the school year with a focus on relationships?
Classroom interaction and teacher support are critical factors for fostering connection for students, but learning materials can contribute to a sense of belonging. Share a bit of yourself, your interests and identities with your students at the start to build trust and understanding. As students become comfortable, invite them to search for and share aspects of their experiences, values, and culture through texts and topics for learning. Create a Text Set on Newsela to collect your class' content and provide students an artifact to revisit that represents themselves and their classmates. Check out how Kristen Rafferty, a Newsela Fellow, supports her students in engaging with readings recommended by their peers with a co-created class Text Set.
2. Take stock of platforms and approaches
This pandemic year required schools and classrooms to transition to distance learning as quickly as possible. Teachers and students were learning new platforms and leveraging old ones in new ways. Take stock and consider the tools you turned to support your short-term distance learning needs. Prioritize the platforms and approaches that might continue to meet the needs of the next school year. Reflect on the resources that made it easy to engage students, and those that helped save you time that was better spent in planning and connecting with students.
Which resources and approaches served you and your students well?
Which might you remove or reintroduce to students to better support their success?
With an eye toward next year, think about how these tools and approaches can support varied instructional settings, and how you might integrate them to provide a fully interactive experience for students. When planning for Newsela learning tasks, you might leverage content and features to support students during synchronous learning and independent assignment tasks. Prepare students for a reading or introduce a topic by previewing content during a class check-in. Have students complete assignments independently, at home, to engage with concepts at their own pace and individual level. Engage groups in discussions and collaborative tasks when the whole class is connected, whether virtually or in person. Jim Bentley, a Newsela Certified Educator, shares a planning resource he created to model designing virtual reading assignments that promote student discussion by intentionally pairing platforms.
3. Forward learning with feedback
Our instructional practices have adapted quickly to meet students' needs and adjust to remote learning structures. Meeting students where they are will continue to be of critical importance as we account for learning disruption in the next school year.
Feedback can help us stay connected with students and guide their learning, even while learning virtually. We know that feedback is most effective when it's specific and offered immediately to help students gauge their efforts against the target and move toward it. Responding to student work in a remote setting can be time-consuming, making it hard to provide timely and meaningful comments. But targeted feedback is time well spent, so rely on resources that are easy to implement and offer you actionable insights into student learning.
Feedback can be a powerful tool to move students forward as we consider how to support growth and account for missed learning.
How did feedback function into your immediate remote learning routines?
Which in-person feedback processes might you translate to suit a hybrid or virtual instructional setting?
On Newsela, you can help students feel supported and stay on track with learning by reviewing and replying to student work. To support implementation, focus your feedback on one action or element, or consider rotating detailed review for a selection of students per assignment. Respond to student annotations to recognize their interaction with the text, extend their thinking by posing questions, or direct rereading to specific selections of text. Leverage the Write rubric and comments feature to validate the evidence of learning demonstrated in students’ responses and provide targeted revision points.
Teachers, soon you will be on the other side of this year. The next one will present its own obstacles, but let me close with some words of hope that Shannon McClintock, Innovation Director of Instructional Technology and Library Media at Van Meter Community School in Iowa, shared in her Distance Learning Diary.
I find this time, even though challenging for a lot of reasons, as an opportunity to make education better and to open our minds to ideas, teaching practices and even more opportunities when we are through this.