In general whether we are in school or out of school, the academic standards we are asked to teach outnumber the days in the year and outpace students and teachers' time and energy. There are too many standards, yet all of the standards are valuable foundation skills, concepts, and knowledge. So what are teachers to do?
Over time our team has done a good job integrating the standards so that we teach almost all the standards. We still have work to do to integrate the relatively new and very valuable social studies standards into the curriculum. We can do that, but it will take thoughtful effort and dedication.
As far as the remote learning went, we were able to cover all the standards we have covered in past years, and in some cases we covered the standards overall with greater depth. Fortunately we started the year with many integrated units that put us in a good position when remote learning and teaching began. So in general, I would say we did a great job with regard to the academic standards at our grade level.
Signature Projects and Events
At our grade level, we are proud of the wonderful field trips, special projects, and events we include in the yearly program. Unfortunately we had to cancel a few events including a living history presentation, animation grant, sound presentation, and real-time field trips to Boston's Freedom Trail and Great Meadows Nature Preservation. The animation grant has been moved to next year, and we are conducting the field trips virtually. Fortunately we had already engaged in a large number of special events prior to the March remote learning start.
As for signature projects, we were able to move our traditional Global Changemakers project and the Global Cardboard/Recycled Goods challenge online. We sought the silver linings in this area and made the best of it.
Growth Mindsets and an Inclusive Teaching/Learning Community
We began the year with the theme "We all belong here." That included conversations about racism and prejudice. Throughout the year, we discussed these issues and worked at becoming an inclusive, supportive, kind, and caring learning community. So when recent events related to George Floyd's murder flooded the airways, we were able to talk about it as a learning community. This was good.
Similarly we fostered positive learning behaviors and growth mindsets all year long, so when we had to move to remote learning and teaching, students were ready to use that tool kit . That's been positive too.
Consistent Protocols and Expectations
We had a number of protocols and expectations in place for in-school teaching and learning, but when it came to remote learning and teaching, we didn't have those protocols and expectations. We didn't really know what to expect or what we could expect. Now after teaching and learning in the virtual sphere for a few months, I know that we have to impose expectations and protocols that work at school and via remote learning. These protocols and expectations have to include the following:
- Attendance matters - you have to be present
- Participation matters - you have to participate in all aspects of the learning program
- Self advocacy matters - if you don't have what you need, you have to speak up. Remote learning and teaching requires greater amounts of self advocacy because it is not as easy to read students or understand their needs virtually as it is in real time.
- Clear expectations and choices for student work - an even greater level of clarity is required with remote teaching and learning
- Prioritizing and teaching the most important online tools that support a blended learning approach.
We have worked hard in the past many years to create optimal schedules for teaching and learning--the same must be done for next year with blended learning schedules in mind. Some scheduling priorities need to include the following times:
- special educators and regular education teachers teaching together
- small group instruction - RTI
- class meetings
- PLCs and Staff Meetings
- specialist instruction
- parent meetings
- professional planning and response
In general some of the communication protocols we had in place when we moved to remote instruction worked well including the following:
- grade-level website which includes all main information related to grade-level efforts
- weekly newsletter to keep all families, colleagues, and students aware of what has happened, what will happen, and what is happening now
- ready responses to emails from students, colleagues, and family members
- response to student learning efforts by comments, rubrics, shared test results, online practice results
I want to think a bit more about how we can make response to student learning efforts motivating, thoughtful, and inspiring to students. How can we respond to students' learning efforts best to let them know what they are doing that's awesome, and what more they can do to continue their wonderful learning efforts.