At some point this academic year, likely every teacher will have to transition between virtual and in-person instruction. Some teachers are currently moving between fully online and hybrid environments, while others anticipate this change within the next few months. Meanwhile, some districts that reopened their buildings have had to switch back to remote instruction immediately. Amid circumstances that are in constant flux, teachers face an ongoing challenge: how to make plans that are flexible and adaptable from the start.
These are five strategies for efficiently planning for any situation.
1. Reevaluate Units
With so many districts changing schedules, shortening class periods, and offering half-day instruction, now is the time to reexamine course syllabi, unit plans, and pacing guides. Since instruction can look very different depending upon circumstances, you should take content and timing of lessons into consideration.
The first step in the reevaluation process is to list all the learning objectives and standards completed in the course during a typical year. After examining each standard, determine the foundational skills that students must have to learn this new content. Due to the emergency remote learning in the spring, you might need to spend more time reviewing and reteaching before introducing new material. List those foundational skills to help determine a starting-off point for the school year.
The second step in reevaluating units is to highlight the essential skills that must be covered throughout the course, so that students build a strong foundation for future courses. While all skills might be important, the shortened time frame and possible need for reteaching require eliminating some learning objectives. From the list of course standards, highlight the skills that are fully necessary for student success in future academic work. In the upcoming school year, these will become the standards to focus on.
The previous year’s foundational skills and the essential content from the current course will help create a new scope and sequence for the upcoming school year.
2. Chunk Standards and Lessons
Break standards into smaller, manageable units. Shortened time frames mean that objectives will take longer to teach, practice, and master, so segmenting lessons can help with planning and teaching.
After examining which standards must be covered within the school year, start to break down those skills. For example, some state-level standards, especially in math and language arts, include multiple objectives and requirements. Those targets likely need to be separated to make it feasible to teach and practice in a shortened time frame.
One question that can assist in the planning process is: Which skills should be taught in a synchronous or asynchronous environment? Some skills might allow for asynchronous videos and independent practicing, whereas others might require synchronous instruction and immediate feedback. Labeling each skill can support plans for either setting and assist in designing appropriate content.
The lessons also need to reflect a segmented model. As with traditional instruction, there should be variation among teacher-led instruction, student practice, feedback, and independent work. Hybrid and online settings should mirror these distinctions. Plan instruction for a brief amount of time, then incorporate opportunities for practice and feedback. Students can collaborate in a shared document to practice a skill while the teacher observes and provides verbal and written feedback. Then the students can move into independent practice. Breaking up lessons, especially when constantly working on a device, can maintain engagement and focus for learners.
3. Design as Though It’s All Virtual
When I planned this summer, I built content as if I were teaching fully online. I created resources with explicit, step-by-step directions, and I embedded videos and media for further support. Although my district had planned for in-person instruction, I designed all my content for engaging virtual instruction.
The benefit of this plan is that the materials can be used regardless of the chosen setting. Students working in hybrid groups can still use the digital tools I created. In the future, when we return to traditional schooling, those digital materials will still have a purpose.
Technology is not going away, so having those resources already created in a digital format can ensure use in future years. By creating everything with the idea that it would be used asynchronously or virtually by the students, I saved myself a lot of time.
4. Adapt Collaboration for Online and Hybrid Spaces
Collaboration is still an important element of the classroom, even in online or hybrid spaces, so consider how it might look in different settings. Even simple strategies like turn-and-talk or brainstorming ideas can be integrated into digital learning spaces.
Virtual collaboration efforts should be planned, as students working in hybrid settings will not be near their classmates. One strategy is to use breakout rooms and pair in-person and at-home students together. The students working at home will have an anchor to the physical classroom through their partner, and the teacher can provide them with immediate support. This strategy also allows for connections to be made between both cohorts of students. Students can also work together in shared documents, presentations, and files.
These experiences can be easily transitioned into a fully virtual space, with all students working collaboratively but from home.
5. Incorporate Student Interests and Experiences
In an effort to save time on planning and creating materials, teachers can incorporate more opportunities for student choice. For example, instead of finding a variety of articles related to a topic for a lesson, students could find their own texts based on a subject of interest.
A language arts teacher could model close reading with one text while allowing the students to practice with self-selected reading material. A history teacher planning instruction on a specific civilization could allow students to find videos, texts, and resources related to their area of interest within the topic, which they could then share with the class. Allowing students to incorporate their own areas of interest and experience helps the teacher plan, while also inviting students to become a part of the instructional process.
Although school districts’ plans are changing continuously, there are ways in which teachers can avoid reinventing and redesigning their plans each time there is a shift in how instruction is delivered.