Instructional Renovation and Innovation

When school buildings suddenly closed in March, educators and parents were thrown into totally new educational waters. They tried to tread water and cling to rafts, keeping themselves and their students and children afloat. But now we’ve had a whole summer to contemplate this reimaged landscape. And as plans for the new school year are beginning to be floated (I do like a good extended analogy), many of us are trying to figure out how to swim with the rip current. 

This instructional renovation is going to require a lot of innovation. And while this remodel is still emerging, it is clear that in-person versus remote teaching is not the only consideration. Regardless of learning environment, there are key considerations around the best uses of synchronous and asynchronous teaching and learning; the importance of non-cognitive skills to successful learning; and the need for children to have social interactions and emotional support. (There are also individual student needs by grade level, family situation, and learning factors, as well as the sociological shifts in schooling due to the pandemic, but let’s not get carried away!) For now I’m mostly raising questions within each of these areas to begin a conversation building our collective wisdom to inform the infrastructure of this new enterprise, but I do hope to think more deeply about each in subsequent posts in the hopes of supporting wading through the floodwater of information in making a decision for your children and family. 

Synchronous and Asynchronous Teaching and Learning

Thinking about ways of learning that are best suited to in-person instruction, how might this translate to live virtual teaching in terms of maintaining interaction through the screen (e.g., nonverbal signals)? What digital tools can support breaking into small groups to continue effective pedagogical practices (e.g., think/pair/share)? Similarly, what kinds of instruction are best suited to asynchronous remote learning (e.g., project-based learning activities or recorded activities that build home routines like The Listening Song)? Research over the last decade on the flipped learning model can also provide guidance on the balance between live and recorded instruction. Furthermore, we know there are challenges of limited broadband internet or device access. How can these challenges be overcome (e.g., PBS programming)

Non-Cognitive Skills and Habits of Mind

We know the importance of non-cognitive skills (e.g., executive function skills like time management, prioritizing assignments, maintaining focus and avoiding distractions) for academic success generally, but they are critical when learning happens independently or remotely. How can in-person or virtual teachers (or other adults) support students in developing and applying these skills? Common Sense Media recommends these apps, but many parents with sufficient means are resorting to pandemic pods so their kids can have meaningful engagement in educational activities without the support of a working parent. How can schools utilize this idea to support remote learning while also avoiding the inevitable inequalities resulting from such experiments outside of the public school system? For example, school staff and community volunteers might be leveraged to enable a consistent adult to support, engage with, and monitor a small group of students. Professional development time could be used to build a community of these small group leaders to effectively work with their students in building these essential skills.

Social and Emotional Learning

Schools are not just for academics. They also provide opportunities for socializing and emotional support (not to mention child care!). While some students have thrived in the absence of the pressures associated with peer interactions and the opportunities for more individualized participation (e.g., private recordings to teachers with tools like Flipgrid), many students are missing friends and parents are desperate for other adults to support the emotional turmoil their children are experiencing. Furthermore, the pandemic and the heightened awareness of racial injustice have increased these needs for many students. What risks arise for students who typically rely on traditional classrooms for critical support? What structures and systems can be put in place to highlight the affordances and mitigate the risks of remote learning for individual students? How do we adapt these ideas for students at different grade levels?

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