Start Strong in the Remote School Year
Five Instructional Shifts Teachers Can Make
By Christina Quarelli, K–8 Curriculum Specialist at McGraw Hill, and Brandon Harvey, National Literacy Specialist at McGraw Hill
THE BUS IS LEAVING…
… and school is starting, no matter what else is going on around us. Students will come to our virtual classrooms possessing talents and attributes worth celebrating, as well as worries and concerns from the past few months. To nurture our students well, we must first nurture ourselves as teachers and as humans.
This year will undoubtedly bring major transformation, which will ultimately be the silver lining in this huge challenge that awaits you. As you venture into back-to-school season for a year that’s nothing like ever before, you may experience some anxiety or lack of confidence in the preparation it takes for doing distance learning justice.
Congratulations! You are human. This “forced innovation” will not only challenge you and your practice, but it will also be an opportunity to model for your students what productive struggle and growth mindset look like, as well as what it truly means to being a lifelong learner.
Just remember to:
- Be forgiving in the schedule you set for yourself. Take small “chunked” breaks throughout the day to give your eyes that much-needed rest from the computer screen.
- Celebrate something new you learned or tried for the very first time! It may have not gone perfectly, but that’s okay… you were brave and made the attempt! Find the celebration in the small successes. Consistent, small changes over time can lead to great transformation.
1) Content Will Come
Teachers know that the more time they spend upfront discussing classroom rules, routines, and procedures, the less likely they are to have interruptions during instruction throughout the year. The same is true for a digital classroom; however, due to the recent shifts in the instructional setting, our rules, procedures and expectations should also shift.
In addition to students mastering the digital tools during back-to-school, we must take our time and be extremely intentional when laying the groundwork for our new learning environment.
Expectations regarding digital citizenship, webinar etiquette, establishing the learning setting, and daily structure should be clearly communicated and practiced during the first few weeks of school. Having more specific conversations about completing pre-class assignments, how to handle learning obstacles during asynchronous time, as well as what feedback might look like, are all now appropriate and necessary conversations to have.
Take your time to establish these norms and communicate them concisely prior to launching into any content. As you start to transition to content, begin your daily morning routine by revisiting these classroom mantras so that they are eventually automatic. This will help create solid digital learning habits sooner rather than later for your students.
2) Explore It, Discover It, Share It
Allowing students the opportunity to explore and discover can transform the learning trajectory, pacing, as well as the class climate and attitudes of our learners. Remember when you received your first smartphone? How did you learn to use it? No doubt it was at your own pace, on your own path, with choice in what you learned, and you discovered things on your own, creating a better “hold” of the information.
Back-to-school season is no different. It should involve DAILY exploration, practice, and a structured play time in the platform students are going to use all year for their required learning. Skills, whatever they are, become learned habits when they are made a consistent priority upfront, allowing them that powerful time to marinate in them.
Give students just one tool a day to explore during their independent time. It’s feasible with the flexibility of your classroom model, whether that’s a hybrid approach or 100% remote. You will also be pleasantly surprised how quickly they become accustomed to the tool (no matter the grade). Try asking students about “Today’s Tool”with questions like:
- “What do you notice?”
- “What did you discover?”
- “What was your favorite part (or the most difficult part)?”
- “What do you still wonder about it?”
- “What could you use this for in your daily learning?”
3) Flip the Script
Decipher all the elements that are a priority (think priority standards) in your first week or two of CONTENT.
Then, think about which activities from these concepts your students can do/navigate/attempt on their own FIRST. They’re not aiming to master these activities — just trying.
One of the most effective — yet underused — teaching strategies in the elementary setting is pre-teaching or previewing BEFORE the actual teacher instruction. Flipped learning is nothing new in the blended secondary arena.
Teachers have found that when students come to class, having had their first exposure to a concept via a short video, more class time is freed up for interacting, enrichment activities, projects, intervention, and small groups.
It can be even more beneficial for our striving learners as well as ELLs. If we can send them short, digital tutorials that explain the concept upfront, we are ultimately giving students control and putting them in the driver’s seat. Students can revisit, slow down, pause, and reflect.
4) The Digital Assessment Dynamic
Digital Assessments add an additional demand to this remote learning dynamic. Consider taking anecdotal data during your virtual small groups or conferencing while in your first unit of content. You will need this informal data, because, as explained below, giving a digital test the first several weeks of school can literally undo all the progress you just made with practices 1–3.
Some ELA programs, such as Wonders by McGraw Hill, utilize an interactive observational online rubric which syncs to the reporting portal. Online rubrics like this only require a few seconds to fill out for each child, so it’s quick and easy, but extremely valuable because you will still need this data during these first weeks of instruction while you are teaching those test-taking skills.
Pre-K-6 Literacy Curriculum | Wonders | McGraw Hill
Wonders is a PreK-6 reading and literacy curriculum that offers a variety of programs to support core literacy, english…
Specific test-taking skills and navigational tools should be taught and woven throughout the regular lessons during back-to-school season. Modeling how to navigate a test, test-taking skills, such as previewing a test question before the read are very valuable and will only assist any system you currently use to provide more valid data.
5) Model, Model, Model
Model, model, model. We can’t expect our learners to be completely digitally savvy, and not be savvy ourselves.
Sharing your screen should be a regular practice, but make sure to invite students in to “share the mouse” with you, so it doesn’t become a stagnant, one-way, “sit and get” exercise.
Teaching digitally does NOT automatically mean the lesson will be interactive and engaging. Getting their attention and holding it, even for a ten-minute remote lesson, is going to be the most important layer to all of this — and the most challenging! If you can engage them well, they will feel safe, motivated, and accountable, which will be replicated in their retention!
Let students drive the instruction as much as possible. Zoom and most other web-conference platforms have a setting where you can allow a participant to take charge of the screen remotely. It may take a lot of practice up front, but imagine how empowered the students will feel controlling YOUR screen!
For more on how to start strong this school year, and for detailed examples of each of these five strategies in practice, download the guide below!
Christina Quarelli is a K-8 Curriculum Specialist at McGraw Hill. Christina, a former K–8 teacher of 18 years, specializes in gifted education. She holds a Master of Education degree in Educational Counseling and has worked as both a teacher mentor and instructional coach focusing on best practices for engagement and maximizing learner potential. Christina is currently a K–8 curriculum specialist for McGraw Hill and resides in Phoenix, Arizona. Most recently, Christina has created teacher supports and resources for those transitioning to teaching their core content remotely.
Brandon Harvey is a National Literacy Specialist at McGraw Hill. Brandon is a graduate of University of Texas-Arlington and holds a lifetime teaching certificate for grades 1–8 with a gifted endorsement. He is the current National Literacy Specialist for McGraw Hill. His dynamic presentation style, background in theater, and expertise in literacy pedagogy made him the perfect fit for his current role and the face of the ELA program, Wonders. Most recently, Brandon has been front and center in creating back-to-school resources and remote learning supports for Wonders users around the world.