Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Remote Teaching and Learning: What worked?

Since I've had time to relax and come down from a very busy three months of remote teaching and learning, I am now wondering what worked and how we know that it worked?

From the vantage point of my grade-level teamwork, I would say the following efforts worked well:

Fifth grade play
Unlike the grade-level live performance that is a tradition at our school, students essentially made a film with the leadership, guidance, and teaching by the music teacher and some other teacher helpers. Everyone of the 69 5th graders performed in some way in the video story, "The Show Must Go Online." Children learned how to produce a good video of their performance which required significant practice with singing, dance, acting, and speaking. This matched the teaching/learning standards for our grade level and provided each child with lifelong learning and presentation skills. This was a success.

Global Changemakers Project
Lead teachers including the librarian and educators who lead ELA and social studies efforts transferred our in-school project to a virtual research project that included accessing online resources, reading, watching, listening, taking notes, writing a report, producing a video, creating a digital poster, and presenting their work. Students chose global changemakers that connected to their own interests, talents, and dreams to research and report on. Similar to the in-school project, there was a range of completion options, and we coached every child to the completion of a stellar report. The final project which combines all the students' work demonstrates that this project was a success since it illustrates the fact that children read, took notes, wrote, and presented their knowledge in ways similar to years past and ways that provided them with positive lifelong learning tools and knowledge.

Math Standards
We covered all of the math standards for the year, and in fact, did more math teaching than in years past since if we were in school, there would have been several days devoted to field trips, Field Day, special events, MCAS tests, other end-of-year assessments, and play practice. Since we didn't have days away from school, math study everyday was expected and most students met that expectation. Students did take several assessments at home which demonstrated that most students made significant progress and scored in grade-level or advanced levels with regard to grade-level standards. Children who struggled more than others with math learning made significant progress if they came to virtual math classes regularly and regularly completed their daily math practice. Overall there was good progress and steady growth.

Reading and Writing
Hosts of online resources and good books were offered to students. A wonderful grade-level read aloud was presented. Daily reading and writing assignments were included too.

Field Studies
Students were able to virtually participate in traditional field studies, while this does not replace the in-person experience, we were able to replicate those events.

Greater focus on individual learning
We were able to maximize our personal learning approach by utilizing an all-hands-on-deck approach with all the teachers and teaching assistants available to support our team. Also, without the opportunity to socialize or fool around, we often had greater attention by many learners.

All in all, I was very proud of the learning and teaching our team fostered and students and families responded to during the three-months of virtual learning. There were definitely some areas that could have been better, and if we do this again, I will advocate and work for betterment in these areas:

Children who regularly attended virtual classes did better overall. I would definitely keep attendance if we switch to remote teaching and learning again.

Targeted scaffolding and grouping
When we targeted student learning by carefully scaffolding projects, assigning teacher-coaches, and making sure that the group size was just right, the learning was more successful. We need to be very careful about this.

Just like careful targeting and scaffolding, we have to be conscious of frequency of classes. Every child was expected to attend the following classes each week:
  • one homeroom meeting - 45-60 minutes
  • approximately three all grade-level meeting - 45-60 minutes
  • two math meetings - 45-60 minutes
  • One-two biography research meetings: 45-60 minutes
  • specialized meetings for students with specific goals - multiple meetings per week led by various teacher leaders
If we do this again, I will look carefully at reasonable and beneficial frequency of classes for each child. 

Most meetings were open to all students. For example, if you wanted to attend five math meetings a week, you could. You could also attend regular library research help sessions as well as open-office hour meetings for extra help. If you had an IEP plan, you were able to have small group or individual meetings with special educators. There were some opportunities for individual and small group coaching with classroom teachers too as needs were demonstrated and time permitted.

Student-to-student collaboration
Students were encouraged to collaborate with one another. The Google classroom and Google suite tools made that possible.

Expected study and practice
Students were expected to spend one hour a day on math, one and one half hours a day on ELA, and approximately another hour on specialist subjects, science, and social studies. We carefully tracked ELA, social studies, science and math study via a number of online assignments that students completed. We taught all science, ELA, and math standards during the year. We did not cover all social studies standards and would not have covered all those standards if we were in school either since the standards are new and work has not been done yet as to how to fit those into the in-school schedule. 

Personal and group coaching
We coached student efforts and performance in a number of ways. First we wrote a weekly newsletter to families, colleagues, and students that outlined expectations. Next we reviewed expectations on the weekly learning menu and via our homeroom and other meetings. And, when children were not completing work, we contacted families and the students to find ways to encourage the child to complete their learning. When modification or other special requests were needed, we put those in place, and in a few instances, we had to consult system leadership on next steps.

Good communication and expectations
Since we were doing this for the first time, our communication and expectations changed somewhat over the course of time. This was confusing at times for colleagues, families, and students. Should we do this again, it is important to determine expectations, communication patterns, tracking, and assessment venues/protocols up front. That will help everyone to know what to do and how to seek help if they need it. 

Most challenged remote learners
Out of 69 students, we had about five students who I considered challenged remote learners. These learners did not make the same progress that other learners made. I think it's important for schools to understand how to identify these students early on, and then provide these learners and families with extra support. Extra supports may include some or all of the following:
  • translation supports for families where another language is prominent
  • emergency day care for children who have no parenting adult in the home on a regular basis during the school day
  • counseling services for children and families facing emotional/psychological challenges
  • parent coaching for parents who are facing extreme hardships during this time
  • tutors for children who cannot complete individual tasks on their own after there's been considerable efforts on behalf of grade level teachers and specialists
Just like in school, scheduling of remote learning classes is essential too since often teachers are shared amongst grade levels and amongst subject areas. We put into place a generally good and predictable schedule from the start which helped, but once we started layering on more small group attention and specialized supports, we ran into some problems. So it's good to have a general schedule for all teaching times, meetings, and prep up front before the remote teaching and learning year begins.

Teacher Meetings, Lesson Planning, and Student Learning Review 
We had three standard teacher meetings a week including our staff meeting, PLC, and grade-level teacher meeting. Each teacher spent about 1-5 hours a day planning lessons and reviewing student learning efforts.

Coaching Trumps Commentary on Papers/Projects
I found that spending the time coaching trumped lots of time writing comments or grading papers. For the most part, math assignments were graded by the tech programs I used--that was very helpful. Rubrics helped to keep students aware of the expectations, and using those rubrics during coaching sessions helped to target the coaching efforts in positive ways. Accountability is essential, but the best time, in my opinion, was coaching sessions followed up by individual or collaborative application or practice.

Two teachers at every meeting
We had a practice of having two or more teachers at each meeting. Sometimes this meant it was a teacher and teaching assistant. Working together to teach was very helpful in the virtual sphere because it helped us to hear what students were saying, notice what non-verbal cues students were sending, call on children fairly, troubleshoot tech difficulties, and manage both the chat and live learning experience.

A myriad of formative assessments are important elements of remote teaching and learning to gauge the success of individual students and the whole group as well as the teaching/learning pedagogy and curriculum used.

Track your efforts
It is also important to figure out how you will track your remote teaching and learning efforts so that you can report accurately on what you did, how you did it, and what the success rates were. This is the only way that we can reflect on, share, assess, and better our efforts. I would suggest tracking the following efforts:

  • daily schedule including numbers of meeting, time for prep/review, teaching focus
  • numbers of meetings and numbers of students in each meeting
  • attendance
  • learning experiences: content, lessons
  • assessments: numbers, content, and results
  • educators present - how many teachers were at each meeting and who they were

That is a summary of the efforts and learning that occurred at our grade level during the remote spring semester of learning and teaching. I would be very interested to hear a general summary of what occurred across the schools, grade levels, and disciplines including the successes and where we could have done it better. An accurate synopsis of that information will help us to move forward in ways that are meaningful and beneficial to all stakeholders with regard to remote teaching and learning.