I first started drafting this post as our emergency remote learning wound down in early June. After a few intense weeks of working to complete a massive project for ASSISTments, I’m now catching my breath and reopening old drafts to see what lessons I had for myself there that are still relevant.
There is always a tension between structure and flexibility, perhaps more so than ever under remote learning. Which structures make sense? Which structures are too restrictive or too difficult to implement, with a payback not worth the effort that went into making them happen? Which structures made sense during emergency remote education that may not make sense for a longer, more anticipated and more planned stretch of remote learning?
Experimentation within Structure
Although my colleague, Irene, and I generally fell into a structure–Google Form on Monday, various work over the week (Desmos, EdPuzzle, Padlet), Edulastic on Friday–we also found ourselves needing to find flexibility within that structure due to changes in district schedule, sequencing of the work, etc.
We started trying new content with our Extended (above grade-level) classes the first week we were allowed to fully implement distance learning with grading, about three week after the March 12th school closings. During that same time, with our grade-level (“standard”) classes, we focused on reviewing key content from throughout the year. We ended the year with a two-week trial of teaching new content to our standard students as well, which allowed us to more closely preview what our experiences may be in the fall, when all content for all students will be new, but we may be teaching remotely for some or all students.
One practice that Irene and I followed consistently was that we pre-selected a set of problems to use during our live classes on Zoom. For those problems, we provided a teacher-created video of me doing the problems out, along with electronic copies of the worked problems, all of which was available in advance in Google Classroom. We did expect students to attend these live classes, although the material was available in advance. Having the material prepared like this allowed students to remain current through connectivity issues and missing classes for appointments, locker clean-outs, schedule mix-ups, etc.
Both during live classes and during asynchronous work, we liked using programs that allowed us to see what the kids were working on in the moment. That meant we used Desmos and IXL; next year, thanks to a district subscription, we will be adding Classkick as well. When we had students working in break-out groups, this became more problematic because of how clunky it was to go in and out of breakout groups, but we ended up with a work-around: we would create and share a single Google Doc with the problem or exploration, plus space for showing work, and each breakout group would put their answers and work in the shared document. That allowed us to see what all the groups are doing in real time without going back-and-forth in and out of the breakout groups to see the work, although we still went in and out to engage with the students in the smaller groups.
In the extended class, we took a page from our colleagues in ELA and science and offered sign-up sessions on targeted topics. For example, when doing systems of equations, after we taught the three methods of solving in live lessons, we then offered small group sign-ups for solving with substitution and solving with elimination. Students knew they could use any of the three methods (graphing, elimination, or substitution) on the final assessment, so we encouraged them both to explore all three and also to make sure that they had one down solidly with the other two “in their back pocket.” Students were required to attend one of the small group sessions; they could also attend both. As with our live full-class sessions, we made the problems and answer keys available in advance.
Our final piece of continuity from week to week was ending each mini-unit, whether one or two weeks long, with an Edulastic assessment. In the time between, we rotated through a combination of Edpuzzle, small break-out groups, and other activities. In talking with our students at the end of the year, we got a lot of great feedback about how we could structure things even more if (when?) we return to remote learning at some point in the 2020-2021 school year…but that’s a post for another day!