As we continue to consider the opportunities we have to try out student-centered approaches to instruction while teaching virtually, I want to talk about student goal setting.
Research tells us that when people set ambitious goals, they are more likely to achieve them than smaller goals, and they are more likely to prioritize “goal-relevant” activities over “nonrelevant” activities to seek new knowledge (Locke & Lathan, 2006). I would love for my students to achieve ambitious goals they set for themselves, and I certainly would love for students to be motivated by their goals to learn more! That’s a teacher’s dream.
Research also tells us that writing goals down significantly increases the likelihood we’ll achieve them, and sending weekly progress reports for accountability makes it even more likely we’ll get to that finish line (Matthews, 2015, accessible on this page). These research findings feel particularly translatable to the classroom, as we could have students write their goals and submit a reflection on their progress towards the goal each week. Sounds great, right?
The question is: How do I support students to set high quality goals?
Goal setting can be incredibly effective, but most students—even most adults—are not prepared to write effective goals. There are a few things I’ve found helpful in supporting students to set quality goals: using a SMART goal framework, lots of modeling, and an intentional inclusion of steps to reach the goal.
SMART Goal Framework
SMART goals are: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. I’ve found relevancy to be the least problematic component. Students usually set goals related to what we’re doing in class. The concept of setting a deadline by which to meet the goal is usually fine with students, but the achievable aspect of the chosen time frame is more challenging. Goal specificity usually comes with practice, but this will take some modeling.
In my experience, the most challenging element of SMART goal setting for students is setting measurable goals. This requires lots of modeling and often direct support early on. A peer review of goals can also be helpful. Before students finalize their goal, they can share it with a peer and ask: How would you know I met my goal? If the peer has no idea, the student knows it is not measurable. (Of course, you can do a peer review for any or all of the aspects of a SMART goal.)
Lots of Modeling
To support students, we can set our own life/teacher goals. I am thinking specifically of two amazing teachers I coached who shared personal exercise goals with their students (i.e., I will run x miles keeping a pace of x minutes per mile; I will walk for x number of steps this week) because they were examples of goals that were specific and measurable.
You could also set class goals together (e.g., we will spend x minutes on mindful breathing this week). When you’re first getting started with student goal setting, it may be helpful to offer sentence starters or a SMART goal setting template to help students formulate high quality goals.
I also find it helpful (if students are okay with this) to share a few student-written goals and review them as a class, offering suggestions to strengthen a particular aspect that’s unclear or highlighting how each aspect is present in a high-quality goal.
Inclusion of Steps to Reach the Goal
In my experience, the #1 reason student goal setting is ineffective is the lack of follow-up. Students may set a wonderful SMART goal but then have no idea what to do to reach the goal.
This problem can be addressed by including the steps students will take to reach their goal as part of a goal setting template. If there is a designated space for this, students can spend some time really thinking about what they can do to achieve the goal they set.
We can also model and provide examples of what steps students can take to move towards their goals. One way to support students in selecting relevant activities for this part of the template is to provide an activity bank for students. Then, students can circle, highlight, or select from that bank. Over time, this scaffold can be removed or transitioned to an anchor chart on the wall which students could reference if needed. I love the idea of co-creating an activity bank with students by asking them how they might reach their goals and adding to an anchor chart as they share.
To help you jumpstart student goal setting in your classroom, you can use my goal setting template by clicking the button below.
One final note on student goal setting. I’ve worked with many teachers of younger students who have had success with this activity (and with the above template). If you teach young kids, know they are definitely capable of quality goal setting; it will just require a bit more scaffolding.
This post continues the series of blog posts on the opportunities our education system has to positively transform during this pandemic to better serve the needs of our students. Today, I’m diving into a differentiation strategy called: What I Need (or “WIN”) Time.
The basic idea is exactly what the title says—helping students get what they need when they need it. Each of our students are unique individuals who learn at different paces and in different ways. We know that talking at the class for the entire lesson and then handing each kid a textbook doesn’t work, because that one-size-fits-all practice is how we ended up with the egregious educational inequity we have today.
Recognizing the need for differentiation, let’s think about how to set up WIN time…
First, students need to have a few options for what to do during this time. Of course, some can meet with you, but while you’re meeting with a small group, what is the rest of the class doing? I encourage you to check out my post on free resources for self-paced learning, which serve as excellent low-prep activities for students to use independently during WIN time.
Next, to promote student reflection and ownership during WIN time, it’s best to have students choose what it is they need to do during this time. At first, you may find it easier to tell students where to go based on what you think they need, but if you continue to do this once students are familiar with the process, you’ll miss opportunities for student self-assessment and reflection.
Pre-work: Class Data Dive
Of course, students may need some support in determining how to make informed choices during WIN time. I like the idea of creating a lesson just for this purpose. During this lesson, you may want to guide students through recent assessments and help them identify which skills are strengths and which are areas for growth. You can teach them how to read and make sense of your feedback to determine what they need to do next.
I also love the idea of combining a self-assessment activity with WIN time. Having students self-assess their mastery of a topic or skill on Marzano’s 1-4 scale is one way for students to determine the degree to which they have mastered a piece of content or a specific skill at a given point in time. This approach also promotes the concept of mastery as a progression. Knowing mastery takes time and everyone moves through the stages of mastery at different speeds depending on the skill normalizes the idea students have not yet mastered something and need more help. The video at the top of this page is a great example of how this could look in a classroom.
In a Virtual Learning Environment
In virtual spaces, WIN Time can be done on live class calls (via Zoom or Google Meet), asynchronously, or a combination of both. On a live call, you may have students working independently while you go into a breakout session with a few students. Asynchronously, you may provide a list of resources for students to engage with (perhaps organized by Marzano’s mastery levels), and they complete those tasks by the end of a specific time period. A combination might look like an asynchronous task list or choice board with an option to meet with the teacher in a small group. If students choose this option, you could then hold a live group session over video chat (or by phone if a student doesn’t have video access).
As with all of these examples of instructional opportunities, WIN Time can help your students now—by helping struggling students catch up and giving other students a challenge—and it will continue to help differentiate instruction for your students in the physical classroom. Quality differentiation is a difficult undertaking for teachers regardless of where the learning is taking place. This strategy is one way to differentiate effectively.
In my last post, I started talking about the opportunities we have as educators and collectively, as an educational system, during this pandemic to be able to make some positive shifts in our instruction. In the last post, I discussed assessments that involve application or creation and the opportunity to spark more intrinsic motivation in a time when we may not be grading student work. I ended by promising to address how we might amplify students’ intrinsic motivation to learn.
One exciting opportunity for students to have a voice in what they learn is Genius Hour. It’s also been called “20% Time.” This 20% comes from Google’s “Innovation Time Out” practice of having employees dedicate 20% of their workweek to a project they are passionate about. Gmail was created during this 20% time!
This idea has since been embraced by educators and translated into a classroom practice. In short, students get one day a week or 1 hour a day to work on a passion project of their own. This is an incredible opportunity for students to find intrinsic motivation for learning.
When I taught high school, I tried Genius Hour on a large scale. I created a semester-long unit in which students designed and completed their own project-based units. It was a lot of work, but it was really cool. Now, I’m not saying you should do this, but I wanted to share some things I learned from this experience as well as a free resource you can use to support students to get started.
Learning #1: Students may initially struggle with free choice
I was shocked that many of my students’ initial reactions were a variation of, “Just tell me what to learn.” I realized older students have been “doing school” the same way for a decade! To have one teacher all of a sudden interrupt that was a shock to their systems. They came around eventually, but it took a lot of modeling (What might this look like?) and scaffolding (How exactly do I design a unit?).
This week’s freebie is the set of student worksheets I used for the first days of the unit. Click the button below to get it!
The free planning doc includes: initial brainstorm questions students filled out individually; an outline of the proposed project (unit) to be completed by the group or individual (depending on whether they chose to work alone or with a partner(s); and two examples of a completed outline—one for a Science-based unit and one for an ELA-based unit.
Learning #2: You can require alignment to course standards
At first, I thought if I require students to meet specific parameters for this project, it’s erasing the students’ voices in the project. Then, I realized, students actually wanted and needed some direction (especially for our full-time, 4-month project.) So, I included a section in the outline (see freebie above) for skills, and I told students they needed to select skills from the appropriate grade’s ELA standards.
I gave students a choice of which standards they wanted to include, and I made a cheat sheet for them with all of the standards, examples of each standard, and a “difficulty” rating (based on my opinion). This scaffolded support helped, and students were able to thoughtfully choose to work on skills that not only fit with their project idea, but also that met a need they had as learners. Students impressed me with their ability to deeply reflect on their mastery of the standards and choose skills they personally needed more time to practice.
Learning #3: It’s okay to ask for help
This is a valuable life lesson I’m still learning, but for this project, it was essential. I had 100 students tackling over 50 topics, most of which I was completely unfamiliar with. So, I emailed some friends as well as the staff at my school, shared the list of students’ topics, and asked if anyone had any contacts with people in these industries. I also encouraged students to reach out to their own contacts or find people online.
I am still blown away by the manner in which people showed up for our kids. One student established a professional photography contact who gave her a used camera! Of course, not every student had a professional from their specific field as a mentor during their project, but teachers and adults who simply wanted to be a part of the project offered to act as a general, independent learning mentor.
If you’re interested in starting a project like Genius Hour, I suggest giving students a few questions to think about to support them in choosing a meaningful topic and goal. Feel free to use the template I shared! Don’t be afraid to add in requirements for standards, even if it’s as simple as: I need to see you analyze something by the end of your project. Finally, reach out to your contacts and see who’s willing to support kids during their exploration of new topics and their self-exploration of how they learn best.
In the opening of this post, I framed this as an opportunity. It’s something we can test out in the short term while we’re teaching in virtual spaces, but we can also use Genius Hour once we’re back in brick and mortar classrooms again. Sparking students’ motivation to learn is beneficial in all spaces!
This pandemic has asked a lot of educators. Transitioning to remote teaching at a moment’s notice is highly difficult and overwhelming. To be clear, no one is going to make an emergency transition like this perfectly.
In fact, because this is new, teachers have been forced to teach in innovative, nontraditional ways. Some of these innovative pedagogical practices may have long-lasting positive effects on student learning.
That’s right, I believe our education system has an opportunity for immense growth amidst all of the chaos. This post is the first in an “Opportunity” mini series where I’ll be discussing ways educators can test out ideas and strategies they might normally feel hesitant to try. But, given the “whatever works” attitude many of us have had to adopt in this emergency situation, this may actually be a good time to try something new.
Opportunity #1: Rethink Assessment
Teachers who typically assign multiple-choice quizzes or tests as their primary form of assessment may now be worried about students being able to cheat (i.e., look up the answer) while taking the quiz from home.
One way around this is to create a task in which students cannot cheat. Try an open-ended question where there is no correct answer. Even better, create an application project in which students have to apply the information they learned to solve a problem or transfer the information to a novel situation.
Another big mindset shift to consider is whether it’s actually bad practice for students to look up answers. Tests are assessments that really only exist in academic spaces. Sure, recall of factual information is helpful in life and in many careers, but many projects that adults are required to complete offer time and space to find answers to questions of which they are unsure. Just the process of looking up the information is helpful for students to learn, and by finding the correct answer, they have one more exposure to the content. One solution might be to tell students quizzes and tests are “open book” and tell them why—this is typically how life works. I need you to know this, so do what you need to do to find the answer.
The other shift here is thinking about what we are asking of students when we ask them to answer multiple choice questions as a summative (or some formative) assessment. What do their correct answers tell us about their capabilities? At best, they tell us students can memorize information. Multiple choice test results do not tell us what they can do with that information. Can they apply it? Maybe. Maybe not. A professional in your discipline will need to apply that knowledge, not simply remember facts. Something you may consider doing when thinking about designing assessments is to ask: What does a professional in this field need to do? What will I know my students are able to do when they complete this assessment? Where would I find the skills they are demonstrating in this assessment on Bloom’s Taxonomy or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge chart?
These ideas are valuable now that we are teaching remotely, but they are also incredibly valuable for the long-term as well. Application-based assessments and asking students to demonstrate higher-order thinking skills is a great curriculum design goal at any point in time.
Opportunity #2: Rethink Grades
Many schools and districts have prohibited grading students based on content or assignments shared in virtual classrooms. There’s a great reason for this. We cannot punish students who do not have access to the requisite technology to engage with online learning activities. However, a concern is that students who do have access to connected devices will not attend virtual classes or complete assignments if they are not being graded.
Students have been trained their entire educational careers that they need to work hard to get a good grade. By the time they reach high school, this idea is deeply ingrained. The grade is what we hold over their head—the proverbial carrot (or stick). The problem with students only doing things for a grade is the lack of intrinsic motivation to learn. It’s interesting to think that grades may actually be inhibiting student learning.
It deeply saddens me to hear students say they only care about the grade. I often wish I could get rid of grades all together to help students just focus on learning as much as possible because learning is valuable all on its own. That’s the opportunity we have right now! In many places, grades are off the table. Now, we just need to reignite that inner drive to learn for the sake of learning. (That’s a tall order, so the next several posts will address how we might do this.)
In your school or district, you may still be required to give grades right now, and eventually we will all return to our routines and grading will be required. So, how does this apply in the long term? Reducing the number of grades helped me a lot. Sharing qualitative feedback in place of grades on formative assessments or classwork helped students develop more intrinsic motivation for daily assignments because the only official grade they received was on their final assessment.
For teachers who work in schools that require a minimum number of grades, you will likely need to comply. Although, you may consider asking your administrator if feedback could be given in lieu of a formal grade. (Often administrators have a minimum grade requirement as an indicator that you, the student, and the student’s family can speak to the student’s academic progress. I know many administrators who are open to the idea of conveying that knowledge in ways other than grades.) Another option is if a grade is required in the short-term, ask if that can be overwritten by summative assessment grades when calculating the grade on each report card.
These shifts may feel really big and overwhelming at this time of already high overwhelm, and if this is how it feels, don’t put more pressure on yourself. These posts in the opportunity series are not intended to be a list of things you need to add to your already overflowing to do list. These are merely positive spins on a tough situation that you can choose to try if you want.
I’m excited to hear what comes from your innovative experiments in the areas of assessment and grades. Please share with the community in the comments section or on our Time for Teachership Facebook group!
Earlier this week, I wrote about McTighe and Wiggins’ Understanding by Design (UbD) framework for backwards planning, which asks educators to answer the questions: What do you want students to achieve? How will you know students have achieved these goals?; What learning experiences will best support them to get there? The previous post addressed the first two questions. (If you haven’t already read that post, go back and read that first.) This post will address the third question.
By answering questions one and two, we know where we want students to end up, and we know how we will assess whether (or to what degree) they made it there. Now, we must think about the learning experiences that will help students acquire content and skills, make meaning of the information in a particular context, and then transfer their understanding and skills into a new context (ASCD).
Let’s consider how each of these three components (acquiring content and skills, making meaning, and transfer to a new context) might show up within a unit.
How do I help students make meaning of the information?
It’s helpful to situate content information in a particular context as much as possible throughout the unit, and that starts with a strong, contextualized hook. I like to use hooks that are relevant to students’ lives. For example, this might look like watching a documentary or news clip about a current event that addresses a core understanding of the unit or posing the essential question as it pertains to their personal lives (e.g., “When, if ever, should violence be employed to secure human rights?” may be initially discussed as it relates to an individual fighting to defend theirself or someone else).
Throughout the unit, I like to use case studies to explicitly situate information within different contexts. For example, if I’m using the essential question above on violence and human rights, I might design several historical situations in which violence either was or wasn’t used during the course of a human rights struggle (e.g., examples of non-violent resistance in contexts like the U.S. during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s and South Africa’s anti-apartheid protests and also violence forms of resistance in both of those contexts).
To make meaning of these case studies, I would encourage students to use the information from each case study to make a claim in response to the essential question and defend it. This activity could occur in the form of small group discussion or a class-wide discussion like a Socratic Seminar.
How do I help students acquire the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in this unit?
When our end goal is deep understanding and mastery of transferable skills, we need to give students time to develop both. Which means, our unit may need to be longer than we initially think it should be. Although we may think, “I don’t have time for long units!” longer units enable students to go beyond a mere surface-level understanding and retain that deeper understanding for a longer period of time. So, make sure your unit is an appropriate length for students to move through the phases of learning (the initial exposure, the practice, and the mastery).
I would also try to vary the types of content delivery and types of experiences in which students are engaging throughout the unit. Try to include a variety of activities such as: interactive mini lectures or videos for content delivery, textual analysis, simulations (although, be thoughtful about what to simulate) and opportunities for discussion and collaborative learning. Providing time during the unit for students to work on different things to fill content or skill gaps (or extend their learning beyond the whole class lessons) is also important to ensure each student gets what they need.
How do I ensure students are able to transfer their learning to new contexts?
This is exactly what the summative assessment task at the end of the unit should be— an opportunity for students to apply (transfer) their content understanding and skills from the unit in a new context. This assessment is how you know the degree to which they achieved the goal. If you’re already at the point of planning the day-by-day learning activities, you’ve likely already planned this summative assessment. If you haven’t (or if you did, but it doesn’t ask students to transfer their learning in a novel context), go back and create or adjust your summative assessment now.
The summative assessment should not be the first time students are asked to perform this difficult task of applying their skills and knowledge in a new way. So, once you have the summative assessment set, work backwards and try to think of other contexts (not the same one as the summative task) you might ask students to engage with during the unit as a practice application. Consider scaffolding these formative assessments to gradually build up students’ individual capacities for application.
For example, you may first pose a problem in context to the whole class, so you can help students figure out how to approach the task, highlighting various strategies you see students use. The next time you present a problem in a novel context, have students work in small groups or with a partner so they don’t have to work on their own just yet. Finally, have them perform a similar task in a different context on their own. To be clear, these formative assessments do not need to be in-depth, they might just be a discussion, nothing written, or maybe just some quick notes on a piece of chart paper. You don’t need students to complete the final project three times in full, just expose them to the task of problem-solving in new contexts.
If you would like a template to guide your planning of unit learning activities, click the button below to get my free Backwards Planning Template!
Also, if you a fan of conrete examples, this Cult of Pedagogy podcast episode and corresponding blog post shares one instructional coach talking about how her teachers backwards planned a PBL unit. It focuses mostly on McTighe and Wiggins’ first two questions, but the speaker makes clear how valuable those steps are to ensure alignment with the third question of day-to-day learning activities.
Some schools already know they are not going back to in-person teaching until next school year. Others are still unsure if they will return to classrooms to finish out the school year before summer break. Regardless of whether you’re planning for the last few weeks of the school year or you’re already thinking about next year, it’s helpful to have an approach that ensures you keep the end in mind when you plan.
This ASCD white paper summarizes McTighe & Wiggins’ Understanding by Design (UbD) framework for backwards planning. Simplified, it’s basically: What do you want students to achieve?; How will you know students have achieved these goals?; What learning experiences will best support them to get there?
So, with that in mind, let’s consider what you want students to achieve by the end of the year. Ask yourself: What are the most important things I want my students to know or be able to do by the end of the year?
A couple of quick notes for teachers backwards planning the rest of the 2019-2020 school year:
If your answer is related to something you already began teaching earlier this year, your plan for the last few weeks of school may be to put the finishing touches on that particular skill or content understanding.
If your answer is related to new content or a new skill you have not yet taught this year, try to be realistic in how much content you’ll expect students to understand or to what degree students will be able to hone a new skill, given the short window of time you have left.
I always emphasize depth over breadth. Choose 1-2 key content understandings or 1-2 skills (more or less, depending on how much time you have left in the school year) that will be transferable to next year’s content or to other disciplines. For example, I believe the skill of being able to analyze was one of the most transferable skills for students across content areas. It’s also one of the skills my students struggled with the most, so I would try to focus my attention on that.
If we are getting really particular here, I would then write out a definition of what mastery of this skill or content understanding will look like. I do this because I think it is helpful for me as a teacher/curriculum designer and my students to understand exactly where we are going. I like to do this using one of these rubric templates. Once you have defined mastery for whatever it is you are teaching, you will then need to decide how students will demonstrate mastery via an assessment task.
ASCD explains what McTighe & Wiggins say these summative performance tasks should include, stating the following:
When someone truly understands, they
They also suggest an essential question to engage students in making meaning of content within a particular context. This question will drive your lesson planning and students’ focus during the unit—every learning experience should be aligned with the goal of helping students address the essential question.
An additional note on alignment: it is important to align your instructional priorities (the goals you stated as a result of the previous question) with your assessment. If a major content understanding or skill is not assessed, you may want to ask yourself why you’re teaching it. Remember: less is more; depth over breadth.
Once you have decided on your final performance task to assess student mastery, you can then go back and insert some formative assessments, like checkpoints along the way, to make sure students are mastering the smaller components or steps within each major conceptual understanding or priority standard/skill in the unit.
After answering these first two questions (what you want students to achieve and how you will know they achieved it), you will need to plan out the learning activities you’ll use to help students acquire the content and skills. This third question deserves it’s own post, so to be continued later this week…
Ensuring students get the exact content they need when they need it is difficult when you see them every day in the classroom. It’s even more difficult when you don’t see them every day, and each student has different degrees of time and technology access to be able to engage with the content you share. As teachers, we may not be able to get a laptop and WiFi into the homes of each student who needs it right now, but we can share some resources with students who are able to engage in self-paced learning.
I have heard a lot of school districts say, due to inequitable access to technology, teachers should only be posting review material. The students who could benefit from this are the ones who have been struggling to catch up, perhaps performing several grade levels below where they should be, AND they have access to quality resources they can use to catch up.
By quality resources, I mean (where possible) the resources are dynamic and adapt to what the student needs. Furthermore, if the student struggled to understand the content the first time you delivered it, there may be a benefit to getting the same resource again (e.g., recorded lecture to re-watch, worksheet to complete again), but they are more likely to benefit from a new way of explaining the material or a new type of engagement with the content.
I recognize this is not realistic to ask a teacher to create 30 or more iterations of the same content. As educators, we do not have the time to create all of this from scratch, nor should we, because, again, we likely need people (other than ourselves) to deliver the content in a new way.
So, the question becomes: Where do I find those kinds of resources?
There are so many resources out there, and since many platforms are freely accessible for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, there are even more than usual available. I curated a short list of resources for each subject to reduce the time it would take for you to sift through hundreds of possibilities. I offer a handful of sites for several subjects and prioritize resources that have always been free, so that after we return to in-person classrooms, you may continue to use these resources at no cost. I was also strategic in choosing resources students would be able to readily engage with. (There are many resources, such as Facing History, that are full of great stuff, but often require an educator to do some extra planning to frame or deliver the content. Therefore, those types of resources that are made for an audience of educators were not included in this list.)
Once you’ve gone through the list of resources, you may wonder: How do I use these resources in my instruction?
The answer depends on the type of resource, but I’ll share a few examples of how you might use these resources in your classroom (your virtual classroom now and your physical classroom in the future).
Topical videos. Let’s say you want students to review a specific piece of content. You may want to share some options with students, so they can choose one resource (or multiple resources) with which to engage. You might decide to offer three choices on a mini choice board: a resource you already gave them (to watch or complete again), a new topical video someone else created from a site like Khan Academy, History.com, or Discovery Education, or a student-created mini lesson (which your students who have mastered this topic could create using a creation tool like Flipgrid or Adobe Spark Video.
Learning pathway programs. Perhaps you would like students to start wherever they are and just keep learning and moving forward. Such a path will look different for each student, so sites or programs that either provide an sensibly ordered playlist (e.g., OWL Purdue Resources) or adapt based on student responses (e.g., Prodigy, FreeRice) or provide a blend of the two (e.g., DuoLingo, which is set up like a playlist but doesn’t let you continue after you incorrectly answer a certain number of questions) handles that work for you.
Once you’ve learned how to effectively use these sites and programs in the virtual learning space, you may wish to continue using them once you return to your typical teaching situation. I encourage you to use them to help you effectively differentiate! Let’s talk about what that could look like.
How might this translate when I’m back in the physical classroom?
What I Need (WIN) time. Some teachers call this independent student work time. Some teachers may include a station rotation element. All it requires is making time for your students to work on whatever it is they need to work on (i.e., to catch up to grade level, to extend their thinking further, to work in a small group with a teacher).
Differentiated homework. If students do have access to the necessary tech at home, you could assign these programs as homework in lieu of whole class homework assignments. (See my previous post, “Should I give homework?” for more of my thoughts on homework.) If students do not have a device or WiFi at home, I recommend using WIN time during the school day to ensure students get the differentiated experiences they need.
As I said, the list of resources I’ve curated is certainly not exhaustive. You probably have amazing free resources you’ve been using with great success. If so, please share them in the comments below so other educators can learn from your brilliance!
As always, thank you for doing what you do for our kids. Let’s keep learning, growing, and figuring it all out together!
As a result of schools closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many educators are now working from home. Initially, sleeping in during your typical commute time and wearing pajama pants all day may have been a welcome shift away from your fast-paced routine. Although, by now, you may have realized working from home comes with it’s own unique set of challenges: finding it hard to focus, replying to dozens of messages a day from parents or students asking questions about tech or your instructional materials, and dealing with increased anxiety about the virus, your students’ well-being and your physical confinement. Sure, you love your family, but being in close proximity for weeks on end is challenging!
As an instructional coach who regularly works remotely, I am familiar with these challenges, and I’ve developed a few routines to address them
What does well-being entail?
The National Wellness Institute’s 6 dimensions of wellness are: physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and occupational. They state, “wellness is an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.” This description provides us with a sense of control, which is particularly important in moments of crisis. We can take stock of our well-being in each dimension, identify the areas where we would like to invest more energy, and decide how we want to build up that dimension of wellness. Each person’s wellness priorities and specific well-being practices will vary, but let’s look at some examples of what well-being practices could look like.
As a teacher, I was used to moving my body all day, every day. The transition to largely sitting at a desk each day was challenging. I realized I am not at my best (physically or mentally) when I sit all day. So, I’ve tried to find a way to move my body everyday. I’m a runner, so I try to go for a run every other day. Other days, I’ll stay inside and do an indoor workout—this doesn’t need to cost money. I often do some body weight squats and push-ups (from my knees, no shame here!) or simply shake out my limbs for 10 seconds at a time. Some days, I just walk in circles around my very small apartment or walk up and down my apartment building’s stairwell as I try not to touch the railing. When I was teaching full time, I never hydrated well enough. That’s still true for me today, so I try to combine my movement breaks with my hydration efforts and regularly get up to refill my cup with water.
This is probably the most challenging dimension of well-being for me. I’m definitely an introvert, and I often say no to group hangs. Usually, I say this is because I want to practice self-care and conserve my energy. I’ve been invited to Zoom social hours, and so far, I’ve chosen not to go. At times like this, I feel like my preference to read a book by myself indicates there is something wrong with me. However, I have enjoyed work-related socializing like co-facilitating virtual workshops for teachers. This is solidly more in my comfort zone. I think it’s okay to combine a social well-being practice with another dimension like intellectual well-being. It doesn’t need to be co-facilitating or co-teaching either. It might be a virtual book club that meets via video chat. I have noticed seeing people’s faces and hearing people’s voices gives me a greater sense of connection than texting or commenting on social media posts, but, fellow introverts, we can choose whatever means of connection works for us!
I’m a very goal-oriented person, so each year, I set a goal for the number of books I want to read. Lately, my reading goal has kept me reading more than watching TV (which is so much easier to do!) I track my progress on the Goodreads app, as part of their annual reading challenge. I try to read each day, before bed and sometimes for just a few minutes in the morning to help my eyes and mind adjust to being awake. A colleague asked me what I learned about myself after completing my 100-book challenge in 2019, and it was fascinating to hear my own answer. I discovered I had a passion for reading the memoirs of female comedians. I learned a bunch of new words. Now, I feel like I’m designing a literature course just for myself as I pick my upcoming reads. One hiccup in my plan to read more during the corona virus quarantine is that my local library is closed. So, I rely on BookMooch, a site that lets you exchange books with other readers just for the cost of shipping. If and when I run out of books, I have found watching documentaries, doing online crossword puzzles, and watching old Jeopardy episodes on Hulu has kept my brain feeling nourished.
Spiritual may be religious, but it is also more broadly defined as one’s “sense of purpose” or “meaning in life,” (National Wellness Institute). I’m not religious, but I typically have a strong sense of purpose. Although, I have to admit, during this pandemic, when the parts of my job that include in-person teaching and facilitation have all been cancelled, I have had to do some soul searching about what it is I’m doing here. I’ve had to step back and ask myself why I’m in this line of work, what I can offer in this moment, and remind myself that the struggles I’m facing are strengthening my character. I often refer to VIA’s 24 values or “character strengths”, which I used to use with my high school students, to identify which value I’m being challenged to strengthen during this time. I try to talk to myself as if I were talking to a student, with empathy, but also with encouragement to adopt a lens of resilience or a growth mindset. I’m surviving. I’m strengthening parts of myself that haven’t been pushed in this way before.
I also teach myself to use the same self-regulation strategies or mindfulness techniques I have invited my students to use. Lately, my favorite breathing technique has been: smell the flower, blow the bubbles. When I’m having a serious bout of anxiety, I like to use Stop Think Breathe, which is an app that guides you through breathing exercises. (There’s an adult version, but I sometimes use the kid’s version because I love the simplicity, and it makes me feel like I’m in my own classroom again.) I try to monitor my emotions and energy level as I support my current college students in the transition to remote learning. I’ve decided to set boundaries around how and when I will respond to student questions. I find I’m most effective and empathetic to questions when I check my email only once a day, and offer the option to sign up for virtual 1:1 support during two, 1-hour blocks of time during the week.
As educators, we want to do a good job for our students, which can feel difficult in this time of school closures and potentially transitioning to online teaching. To support you in making this shift effectively, I’ve created a series of blog posts on adapting to school closures, which I’ve been posting for the last few weeks. I’ve used these posts as a way to synthesize my ideas, research, and experiences to help me plan how to support my current students during this challenging time.
The biggest thing I’ve learned throughout all of this, is I am most successful when I make it a routine. One of the hardest things for me to remember is to move and drink water, so I start the day with 6 bracelets on one wrist and gradually move them over to the other wrist as I finish a new glass of water. I also make colorful trackers with paper and markers to track my progress with my other goals. It feels really good to take note of my progress, no matter how small, each day!
Want an example of a well-being practices tracker? Click the button below for a free PDF.
Just as we create and put plans in place for our students to ensure they are well, we can do the same for ourselves as educators! Research indicates teacher burnout predicts student academic outcomes and is correlated with lower levels of student motivation and increased student stress (Lever, Mathis, & Mayworm, 2017). Taking care of our own well-being enables us to be more effective as we support our students.
Trying to figure out how to teach during school closures has been incredibly difficult for teachers for a number of reasons: navigating new technology, accounting for inequitable access to devices and internet connections, adapting to changing messages around whether to teach new content or review, etc.
Yet, beyond our concern for academic instruction, teachers are also concerned about student well-being—and rightfully so.
In the US, 22 million students depend on school-provided lunches. Students and their family members may experience increased stress and anxiety due to the outbreak, and struggle to find effective coping mechanisms. Without being able to leave an unsafe home and go to school, students (and family members who might be home from work) may be at an increased risk for domestic violence. Asian students and families may be dealing with the added stressors of racism and xenophobia.
As educators, we understand our job is to support the whole student. We know that when students are in survival mode, trying to teach them new content is impossible. We’ve acted on this knowledge to support students throughout our time as teachers. Now that we’re not physically in the same room together each day, it is just as important (if not more important) we continue to support the well-being of our students.
So, how might a teacher do this?
Address the racism and xenophobia
Educate yourself on what’s happening, and address it with students. Interrupt xenophobic comments within your virtual classroom if they arise. Check out the article, “Speaking Up Against Racism Around the New Coronavirus.” Despite being written before most schools closed, the suggestions remain relevant.
Make the coronavirus part of the curriculum
Teach about the facts of the coronavirus and its impact by connecting it to your content area. Check out ideas for how you might do this in history or science, math, or (media) literacy.
Share mental health tips with students
UNICEF shared 6 tips for “How teenagers can protect their mental health during coronavirus (COVID-19).” You can share breathing exercises with students. Stop Think Breathe is an awesome app you can use for free—there’s an older student/adult version and a younger student version. You can also encourage students to take brain breaks or movement breaks. Suggest a resource like GoNoodle for guided breaks. (This resource is aimed at younger students, but teenagers and adults can enjoy them too!)
Share additional resources (e.g., hotlines, support chats) with students
You can’t always provide the help students may need, nor should you be available 24/7 for students. You must take care of your own needs so you can show up for your students as your best self. Also, there are professionals for this. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has put together a list of resources including websites and numbers for talking or texting with people who can offer support.
This list is certainly not exhaustive, but hopefully enough to support you in supporting your students’ well-being. If nothing else, even a message to students that shares you are thinking about them and their health as fellow humans (not just your academic students) can go a long way.
However you choose to support your students during this pandemic, I am confident students will appreciate having you in their corner as a champion for their success and a resource to turn to if they are in need. Keep up the incredible work, amazing educators. You are truly inspiring. Thank you for all that you do.
As a former Special Education teacher, I understand the challenges of differentiating instruction for students during a regular school year. Transitioning to virtual learning adds additional challenges for students with IEPs, their families, and the teachers supporting them. So, how can we support students with IEPs in the virtual learning space?
When I consider what differentiation means, I think of Carol Ann Tomlinson’s book, The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners. In the book, Tomlinson talks about differentiating content, process, product, or affect/environment according to a student’s readiness, interests, and learning profile.
I will also add my own two cents in here that unless a student has an IEP that dictates they cannot be expected to learn the same content as other students (i.e., students who take alternative assessments), I have always maintained my students with IEPs should be expected to learn the same content and skills their peers are expected to learn. Where I come in, is in supporting how they learn or demonstrate learning (process and product).
With that in mind, let’s take the 4 things Tomlinson talks about differentiating, one at a time.
As I mentioned above, many students with IEPs are still expected to learn the same content as their peers, so it’s not helpful to overly simplify the content. (I made this mistake for years, and it hurt student learning rather than helped.) Instead, offer choice within the larger content that students can dive into.
If students need to understand animal adaptations, provide students a choice in which animals they can explore. This way, they have more ownership and motivation to learn about the content and they get to be the experts in their class on this animal. Choice and efficacy can be big contributors to student learning.
You can also offer opportunities for students to ask questions about a topic and encourage them to seek the answers, following a more inquiry-based model of teaching. Again, students will feel a greater sense of ownership of their learning if they are driving it. In a time when teaching and learning has had to radically shift and some schools are told not to hold students accountable for their work at this time, it’s a perfect opportunity to experiment with offering more student voice and choice than you might typically offer.
Students learn in different ways—we, as educators, know this. So, let’s consider how we may offer different ways for students to engage in learning activities in a virtual space. To reiterate an approach from the previous section, offering student choice is a great place to start. One example of this is using choice boards.
If you want a basic outline as a jumping off point, click the button below to get my free choice boards template.
For students who are non-verbal, make sure there are ways students can type responses (or select from pre-set response options if typing is also a struggle for your students).
For students who struggle with or are intimidated by writing, offer flexible ways to respond to open-ended questions, like Vocaroo (a voice recording site) or Flipgrid (a video discussion tool).
For students who need more processing time when taking in new information, offer video recordings either asynchronously (e.g., a pre-recorded video lecture) or send along a recording of a synchronous class lecture (e.g., via. Zoom) after it’s completed so students can pause and re-watch the lecture or replay instructions for a task as needed. If possible, use a software that automatically creates captions for the videos (Zoom does) to support students who may be new to the English language.
As I shared earlier, this is a time you may have more flexibility with how students demonstrate their learning. Get creative here!
If your typical go-to assessment is an essay or open-ended written response, offer an alternative, especially for students who have difficulty writing. (If you’re assessing writing, they need to write, but if you’re assessing content understanding, verbal products are just fine!)
We’ve already discussed ways students could participate in a virtual discussion (in writing, via microphone on a live class using video conferencing like Zoom or asynchronously via Flipgrid.
Teachers of younger students who need to assess reading fluency could have children use a tool like Vocaroo to record themselves reading.
To give students space to shine and put their own spin on the content, you could invite students to use a tool like Flipgrid to teach a mini-lesson to their peers. Students can see each other’s videos, and hearing a peer re-explain the content may help the students who didn’t understand the first time around. (You can also save the top videos and create a resource library students can use year after year to reteach the content.)
To assess higher-order thinking skills, students could synthesize evidence from diverse sources to make a short video with iMovie or Adobe Spark Video.
To support students socially and emotionally, provide opportunities to check-in with the whole class and with you 1:1. Support students by sharing self-regulation strategies (e.g., breathing exercises, movement and brain breaks) and encourage them to either track their self-regulation or journal or reflect in conversations with you on how they are able to use these strategies and which strategies are most effective.
Be flexible with expectations, as students have different circumstances at home that may limit technical access to online spaces but also may limit their ability to make time for school work if they are caring for younger children at home. With this flexibility, keep in mind the notion of balancing high expectations and high support, while recognizing this balance may look different now than it has during traditional schooling.
For students who are non-verbal, offer support via email or in the chat function during synchronous classes (with some platforms, like Zoom, you can privately message an individual student during a session). For students who prefer verbal communication, you could use a tool like Calendly to have students sign up for virtual 1:1 support meetings (via Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, etc.) during office hours you designate.
If possible, send pre-recorded videos or have 1:1 video chat sessions with family members who are able to offer support to their children with IEPs as they engage in learning activities from home. Share what you typically do to scaffold instruction and support students during class so family members can get an idea of where and how to support children and where and how to let them grapple with the work.
To be clear, all of these ideas for differentiation can absolutely be used with students who do not have IEPs. These supports are beneficial for all students, so use them as you see fit for as many students as you can.
To support students who are required to have questions or texts read aloud, you may want to record your voice (via Vocaroo) or screen record a video with the questions on the screen as you read (so students can see and read the question as you speak it). You could also hold a live video session for all students who have this accommodation and read aloud each question as they take the test on their devices.
To support students with extra time, I suggest offering asynchronous tasks that are not timed at all or offer the option for students to retake an assessment to get a higher score. Especially when many districts are not sure if they can even count assessments in report cards, give this a try. From my experience, students who retake tests, even if they saw the correct answers before the retake or are using their notes during the test, are still internalizing and remembering the content. I’m fine with that—that’s what we want, afterall.
You are expert educators, so you know what’s best for your students. I hope this just jogs your memory of things you likely already know to do, and I hope the tech tool suggestions can help you make this possible in your virtual learning space.
To contain the spread of the Coronavirus, many schools have had to quickly transition to virtual teaching. Teachers and administrators as well as parents and students may be scrambling to find and learn new tools and strategies for learning in this new reality. While there have been lots of resources shared online to support educators and families in this transition, the amount of information shared may be overwhelming. This post aims to situate virtual learning ideas within the container of quality pedagogy and highlight a few high-leverage tech tools you could use to accomplish your instructional goals.
I’m really simplifying here, but let’s say the two basic elements of instruction are: delivering content and assessing student understanding. Then, consider that teachers may have the option to do these things synchronously (students are participating live) or asynchronously (students engage in learning activities at different times throughout the day/week). Let’s look at how educators can deliver content and assess student understanding both in synchronous and asynchronous ways within a virtual learning environment.
Share Google Slides or Powerpoint deck (optionally: add in audio on each slide)
Screen record a lecture with a tool like Screencastify or Screencastomatic.
Hold class via Zoom (currently free during school closings)
Hold class via Google Hangouts Meet (or other video chat option specific to your Learning Management System like Canvas or Skype for Microsoft users)
Assessing Student Understanding
Google Forms: You can set it up to auto-grade by inputting the correct responses, so students get immediate feedback on what they got wrong and why the correct answer was right.
Flipgrid: Students respond to a discussion prompt or teach a mini lesson to their peers by recording a video of themselves within the app. Being able to see and hear each other is a great way to maintain a sense of community!
Kahoot: You can make your own or use an existing Kahoot, which is basically a gamified multiple-choice quiz. (It brings some fun into students’ lives!) This tool can also be used asynchronously if you choose to assign it.
PollEverywhere: During a synchronous lesson hosted on Zoom (or Google Hangouts Meet or your LMS-specific tool), you can ask students to respond to multiple-choice or open-ended questions and show students responses on your screen as they are shared.
Two-In-One (content delivery & assessment)
Asynchronous Option: Edpuzzle
You can upload your screen recorded lecture or use an existing online video. Then, insert questions at different times in the video that students must answer before moving on. This tool integrates with Google Classroom, so you can assign an Edpuzzle in Google Classroom and then see all students’ responses without students needing to set up an Edpuzzle account.
Synchronous Option: Zoom
You can use Zoom’s polling feature to quiz students during your synchronous lesson or host a discussion by having students unmute their microphones to talk or typing in the chat. You can also assess small group discussions with the breakout room feature, which allows the teacher to jump into the different groups as they are discussing.
Obviously, there are a ton of tools out there, far more than I’ve shared here. When selecting which to share, I wanted to provide options but not further overwhelm teachers who already feel anxiety about integrating technology into their instruction. I also tried to suggest tools that are not only free now, but tools that have always been free to use, so that you may continue using them if you’d like once schools are reopened. (All above resources were free before the pandemic, except Zoom—which is free but with limited features such as the number of meeting attendees you can have.)
If you are eager to learn about even more tech tools, go ahead and grab my free guide below.
Also, please feel free to add a comment to share any tech tools that you use to support virtual learning!
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has forced many districts to transition to virtual teaching during the school closures. When your go-to teaching styles are interrupted, and you’re forced to come up with new ideas for virtual learning at a moment’s notice, it is hard to move beyond the panic. This post aims to take a step back and focus on how to bring what you already know about quality pedagogy into virtual spaces.
To dive into this, I pose a series of questions you may wish to consider that correspond with the 4 R’s framework that Transform·Ed Collaborative uses to promote equity in schools:
Room Setup (your virtual “room” in this case)
How are you organizing materials in the virtual space? Is it clear to students how they will learn new information, engage with it, and demonstrate their understanding of it? Is there a clearly designated space or process for students to use when they need extra support?
Are there opportunities for synchronous (meeting in real-time) and non-synchronous (students engage in learning activities when they are able) learning?
If students are unable to access virtual rooms because they do not have a device that will connect to the internet or their internet connection is poor, how might you be able to leverage programs like student meal pickups as a way to distribute paper copies of work?
Do the procedures you use online mirror those you typically use in the classroom? (Do they achieve the same purposes?)
Are the procedures consistent day-to-day so students don’t need to learn a new procedure or activity each day and can simply focus on the content?
Have you considered including a ritual that promotes human connection and student well-being as part of the virtual learning experience?
Is the content still relevant to their lives? Is there a way to tap into the current events that are directly impacting students’ daily lives (either as a check-in or as part of the curriculum?)
Can students help co-construct the curriculum around what feels most relevant to them as individuals?
Are you teaching new content or providing busy work until they return? (If you’ve been told not to teach new content, how could you encourage students to apply what they’ve already learned in class to what’s happening in the world right now?)
Is there space and/or time carved out for members of the class to share their experiences and feelings regarding school closure and the spread of the virus (if they want to share)?
Knowing students are physically cut off from their school environment and the socialization that comes with that, are there ways you can provide space for non-academic social interaction, opportunities to experience joy and a tiny sense of normalcy?
Are there opportunities for students to meet with you 1:1 to conference as you might in a traditional school setting?
As you consider each of these questions, your response and your ability to respond at all may be constrained by state requirements, access to devices and internet connections, your ability to teach when you may be teaching your own children at home now... There is no “right” answer. Each teacher’s circumstances, teaching style, students’ needs, and familiarity with teaching in virtual spaces will be different, and as thus, each teacher’s response will be different. That’s okay.
These questions are intended to recenter your thinking around quality pedagogy (which, typically, you think about all the time, but in crisis, our brains go straight to survival-mode and may struggle to keep these concepts in mind). I hope these questions help you take a deep breath and think about what you can offer your students, not just just what you currently can’t offer.
I’m sending positivity and resilience to all of the educators, families, and students out there making this work. You are each building your adaptability muscles and demonstrating incredible leadership in the middle of chaos. Keep being amazing.
Teachers, are you spending lots of money on Teachers Pay Teachers?
I can’t say I’ve ever purchased anything from TPT, but I can see the allure. Not needing to write your own lessons or take hours to make beautiful data trackers. That sounds nice. You’re also supporting other teachers who have decided to make their own resources, which is awesome!
This is not a post about not paying for teacher materials or avoiding TPT. In fact, there are tons of teacher resources, even beyond TPT, that support and help teachers. (Shameless plug: I’m offering one right now--an online, self-paced time-saving course!) This post is about helping you decide when purchasing a teacher resource is worth it for you, as an individual. So, let’s get to it!
Here are some questions to ask yourself when purchasing teacher resources:
Which is more important to me at this point in my life: my money or my time?
Of course, many teachers are short on both, but if you had to choose one, what are you in greater need of at the moment? If the answer is money, it may not make sense to spend money on anything right now. Instead, you’ll need to figure out how to do as much as possible during the time you have. If the answer is time, try to invest in the resources that will give you the most time for your money. I like to invest in resources that will provide long-lasting benefits, beyond one lesson or even one unit. Maybe you have enough money to decide to purchase something that will save you time today and that’s good enough for you. If money is tight, I would try to invest in something that will save you time for life...something you can re-use over and over or a training that teaches you skills that you can use daily, year after year.
Will it improve my efficiency AND my effectiveness?
When considering whether to purchase something that will give you more time, ask yourself if it will also make you more effective as a teacher. Many resources may be efficient in that they save us time, but some materials may not be useful for your students. This was one of the reasons I made the personal decision to make my own curriculum each year I taught. I never found anything that would have engaged and supported my students in the ways I thought I could just by virtue of knowing their unique needs and interests. (Side note: I believe engaging, personalized curriculum is one of the most powerful ways to reduce students’ disruptive behavior.) I like investing in resources that grow my pedagogy. I often think of courses that teach particular skills, but it could also be a TPT data tracker that helps you set up systems of student ownership in your class. Aim for resources that give you BOTH efficiency and effectiveness.
Will it compel me to commit to achieving a long-awaited goal?
I like to think I’m a dedicated person. If I set my mind to something, I usually follow through, but even I know that if I invest money in something, I am far more likely to reach my goal. I had always said I wanted to run a marathon, but my marathon training didn’t really start until the moment I paid my race registration fee. Achieving a professional goal is the same way. When I invest money, I’m not going to let that money go to waste. If you’ve been holding on to a teacher goal of your own for a while, but haven’t acted on it or made much progress yet, invest in a resource that will give you that extra push. This might be a course that provides structure on how to achieve your goal or a resource that you weren’t sure how to create on your own. The resources themselves are valuable, but so is the money you’re putting in. If this resonates with you, investing in a paid teaching resource could be a way to jumpstart your progress on that long-awaited goal. Bet on yourself, teacher friend!
Will it help me thrive?
Borrowing from the research of Spreitzer and Porath (2014), I encourage you to ask a series of sub-questions that align with what positive psychologists have found enables thriving at work:
Will the purchase enable you to spend more time on the parts of teaching that fulfill you? Or conversely, might the purchase reduce your enthusiasm for your job? For example, another reason I never bought curriculum is because designing engaging curriculum for my students is one aspect of teaching that brings me immense joy. If that was taken away from me, I would have saved time, but a fundamental part of my drive and excitement to teach would be gone. Consider what part of teaching is most fulfilling to you, and invest in resources that enable you to do more of whatever that is.
Does it teach me something new? Feelings of competence not only enable vitality and growth at work, but collective teacher efficacy is the number one activity that advances student learning (Hattie, 2018). Learning new things helps you and your students! So, ask yourself if the purchase will teach you anything or support your pedagogical growth in some way, perhaps enabling you to try something new you’ve been wanting to implement (like the data tracker/student ownership example above).
Will I have more time and energy for the important relationships in my life in and outside of school? Or, will it help you avoid de-energizing relationships? Positive relationships can increase your motivation, engagement, well-being, and learning, but de-energizing relationships can do the opposite and are 4x as powerful! If you can invest in resources that save you time, you can choose to spend that time with loved ones. You can also invest in doing something new with a colleague (one who is not de-energizing), so that you can do 2 things at once: build relationships and grow as a professional! This could be engaging in some personal PD together, trying out an interdisciplinary unit, or something else that lifts you both up!
Will it help me manage my energy and thus enable me to show up better for my students? Certainly, time-saving resources will carve out more time for you to be able to sleep or engage in other relaxing activities. You may also want to invest in non-teaching resources that are more focused on wellness. Maybe that’s a gym membership or a course on teacher well-being.
These 4 main questions help you keep the important considerations in mind (the money vs. time priority, efficiency AND effectiveness, committing to a goal, and thriving) when trying to decide whether to purchase instructional resources in the stress of the moment.
If you do decide you are looking for more time, efficiency and effectiveness, goal commitment, and all the components of thriving, you can still save a seat for my Work Less Teach More course. Run through the checklist and see if it’s a fit for you. Registration is open until Tuesday, March 24, 2020.
Happy learning and growing, educators!
This may not be a popular thought among instructional coaches or administrators, but I do not like lesson plans. Have I written them when asked? Yes, I have. Did I feel like that was the best way to spend my time? No, I did not.
Throughout my teacher training and student teaching, I was asked to turn in lesson plans that were several pages long. While I think this was helpful to organize and express my thoughts as I prepared for the lesson, I think this could have been accomplished in other ways. Maybe I could have video recorded myself planning and narrating why I was making certain instructional choices. I’m not sure what a perfect alternative would be, but what I do know was that telling me how I needed to plan and making me completely script my lessons was not helpful.
Many of my best lessons did not have a formal lesson plan. To be clear, this did not mean I didn’t plan. A lot of thought and research went into each lesson plan, but I invested my time being thoughtful about what was going into the lesson and it’s alignment with my broader course goals and summative assessments, not typing out the literal words I would say.
To me, an effective lesson plan is one that works for you. It’s an outline of your ideas and a check for alignment with your larger unit or course goals. It is the basis from which your lesson materials emerge. If someone wants to see your class, they can come see it live or request a video of your class in action. If they want to see your planning process, they can sit with you as you plan (or you can send them a video of you planning and narrating your process).
Teachers are constantly inundated with all of the things we need to be thinking about in our lessons. There are so many things you could include in your lesson plan that you could spend hours writing one lesson plan. In fact, I bet we all have. I hope that is a distant memory for most teachers, but for some, it may still be the case today.
While administrators may require a little convincing that detailed lesson plans are not the best way to spend your time, in most schools, they cannot legally require specific lesson plan formats. When I taught in NYC, the common union refrain was that you could turn in your lesson plan on a napkin, and it would be acceptable (UFT).
So, when we think about a less-dense, more streamlined lesson plan, what should be included? That’s truly the teacher’s choice, but here are the core elements of a lesson that I think serve the needs of both teachers and administrators:
The End Goal. Know exactly what students need to do for your summative assessment at the end of the unit. What are you working towards?
Lesson Focus. Really narrow it down here. What is the ONE thing you want students to walk away knowing or being able to do? I would rather have students do 1 or 2 things really well than get exposure to several skills and lots of content, but not master or retain any of it.
Phase of Learning. Speaking of mastery, it’s good to call out whether this lesson is students’ first introduction to a new skill or content, giving students more practice with a previously introduced skill, or putting the final touches on a skill or assessing for mastery. This helps keep your expectations for student performance in line with the amount of time students have had to work on a skill. (We tend to provide too little time for students to really master a skill, and cite a need to “cover content” as our rationale.) It is also a good check to ensure that for each skill or piece of content, you have at least one lesson per phase in the unit (or at least the course). Don’t have time? Focus on fewer skills and content. Depth over breadth!
Lesson Flow [The Activities]. These are your core protocols for the lesson. I honestly would pick one main activity for student work time. Then, you can add in a hook and assessment activity to bookend the main activity. Within this section of the plan, you may want to note 1-2 key questions students are answering during each protocol, how much time you think each activity will take, and what resources you may need. (If you type your lesson plans, you can link the resources in the plan itself within this section.) If you like to lecture, some things to consider may be limiting your talk time so that students can have independent work time to grapple with the content or skills. You also want to save yourself time on your slide decks. I have found that trying to limit my number of slides helps me narrow my focus to one core concept, so I suggest trying to use just 10 slides per mini lesson with a maximum teacher talk time of 15 minutes. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but pick numbers that work for you and stretch yourself to streamline your mini lessons.
To help you, I’ve made a Streamlined Lesson Planning Template for you to take and start planning your lessons, focusing on one thing at a time! (Note: this can also be a helpful planning template if you use prescribed curriculum, as it helps you to internalize the priorities of the lesson, enabling you to make quality instructional decisions about where to adapt or spend more or less time as needed.)
The big takeaway here is: Depth over breadth. When planning, remember less is more. Keep it simple, and let your students truly master what you’re teaching.
I know that even the term “PD” can make teachers cringe. It’s probably no surprise to you that most PD is ineffective in supporting changes in teacher practices and student learning (Learning Policy Institute, 2017). I am on a mission to change what teachers think about PD.
Here’s what I want all teachers to hear and believe: A high-quality PD experience has the potential to elevate your effectiveness as an educator and transform your relationship to the profession. I believe this because I was ready to quit teaching after my third year, but then I had my first positive PD experience. (To be fair, I’m sure I sat through some moderately helpful PD before that, but this was the first one that stayed with me because it was a true game-changer.)
I’ve written about quality PD on the blog before, and I’ll suggest some avenues for finding your own meaningful sources of PD later in this post. So, I’ll address the other hesitation I often hear when I propose teachers take some time to learn something new, which is, “I don’t have time to learn something new.”
Here is the tough love, hard-to-hear truth: This lack of time business is a myth we tell ourselves.
Yes, teachers’ lives are bananas. You are incredibly busy, and anyone who hasn’t been a teacher or lived with a teacher cannot fathom how much teachers work outside of school hours. (If they did, they likely wouldn’t joke about how teachers have so much time off.)
But, the reality is, we have time. We are just choosing to spend that time planning and grading the way we’ve always done it. If you’re constantly feeling short on time, if you’ve ever taken a sick day to catch up on grading (raising my hand here)...your current pace is unsustainable and your process needs an upgrade. You have the power to reorganize and reprioritize your approach to accommodate time to learn something new.
Investing in a new way of doing things was a game-changer for me, and it can be for you too. It can radically shift your planning, your energy, and your students’ engagement and learning.
Learning a new discussion protocol may help you deepen student discourse and consequently reduce the number of worksheets you decide to use (which saves you the time it takes to make or find a fitting worksheet, print the worksheet, stand in line waiting for the copy machine, copy the worksheets, and possibly hand staple the worksheets if it’s a packet and your copier isn’t fancy or is out of staples).
Learning a new tech tool that automatically grades student exit slips, quizzes, or tests, can save you hours of hand grading each multiple choice assignment. Spending 10-15 minutes to learn something that will save you hours in the future? Yes, please! Even if you spent a whole hour learning something that would save you 2 hours, you would do it, right? I definitely would.
Where could you go for personal PD?
There are so many resources out there: podcasts, blog posts, books, Twitter chats, video collections, online courses… I couldn’t possibly share all that’s out there with you, but I can share my personal favorites.
Since my intention (and the thing I’m talking ALL about this month) is saving teachers time, I’m going to share my podcasts favorites because you can listen to them while doing something you were already doing (e.g., commuting to work, exercising, grocery shopping, walking your dog).
So, here are 6 of my go-to educational podcasts…
Cult of Pedagogy. Jennifer Gonzalez has a wealth of knowledge and she makes it practical. She shares step-by-step instructions for how to implement the strategies she discusses.
Truth for Teachers. Angela Watson talks about strategies too, with a particular lens on saving teachers time. Her tips are realistic and practical.
Teaching While White. Hosted by 2 white female educators, this podcast discusses what it means to be a white teacher, how to acknowledge that reality, and teach in racially and culturally responsive ways.
Google Teacher Tribe. This podcast has so many creative ideas for meaningful technology integration. They all center on using Google tools, but often, the pedagogical strategies are the gems, not necessarily just the tech elements.
Better Leaders Better Schools. Leaders, this podcast is for you. More recent episodes have been intentional in explicitly naming that the podcast is targeted towards leaders that are looking to make change, or “ruckus makers” as the host, Daniel Bauer, calls them.
Teaching Hard History. This podcast is for history teachers, but there is such value here that I think non-history teachers would benefit from learning about the historical inaccuracies and omissions we often leave out of children’s education as well as how to have conversations about difficult topics such as race and the realities of imperialism with your students.
Finally, I have the ultimate PD experience for teachers interested in learning more about how to carve out more time for PD…For those of you who couldn’t make it to my 1-hour FREE masterclass this week, don’t despair! I’ve decided to hold two more sessions next week.
If you’re ready for a deeper dive into the major shifts AND practical strategies for reorganizing your approach to planning and grading so that you can invest time to grow as a professional, my Work Less Teach More course is open for enrollment until March 24, 2020.
Embrace the learning, amazing educators!
Teachers, do you believe your only choice is between running yourself into the ground or completely failing your students? I used to be you! Then, I realized these 2 things are not mutually exclusive—you could run yourself into the ground AND fail your students. Also, fortunately, the opposite can be true!
You can have a rich and fulfilling life outside of school. At the same time you’re bringing home less work and giving yourself more free time to recharge, your students can actually learn more. In fact, they may learn because of your decision to spend less time on work.
How is it possible you spending less time on work could help your students learn more?
Having a martyrdom mindset leads to burnout, and research indicates teacher burnout negatively impacts student learning. That’s right. Your choice to work non-stop to serve your students might be having the opposite effect.
Studies show 78% of teachers feel exhausted at the end of the day - both physically and emotionally. The impacts of this exhaustion include increased illness, absenteeism, cynicism, and poor decision making as well as decreased energy and enjoyment. As you might imagine, this does not bode well for student learning. Teacher burnout predicts student academic outcomes and is correlated with lower levels of student motivation and increased student stress (Lever, Mathis, & Mayworm, 2017).
In fact, the most general influence on a student’s emotional engagement is a positive teacher demeanor, meaning their enthusiasm for learning and their ability to make students feel welcome, accepted, and supported. Bringing excitement into the classroom and taking the time to personally connect with students requires that we, as teachers, come to school rested and ready to go (Marzano, Pickering & Heflebower, 2010) .
How do we overcome the teacher-as-martyr myth?
Refuse to accept it as fact. I wrote this blog post for the sole purpose of helping you shift your mindset around this myth of martyrdom. You don’t need to take any action other than spending some type unlearning this idea.
However, if that response does not satisfy you because you are an action-taker looking for something to do, I suggest you take one small step and test the concept. Step back and ask yourself: How can I work smarter, not harder? What can I cut or transform so that students are taking more ownership of their learning and I’m bringing less work home?
If you need some ideas to get you started, check out my Hand off the Heavy Lifting post from last week. If you want even more ideas, save a seat in my FREE 1-hour live masterclass: How to Save Time Grading and Lesson Planning Without Sacrificing Student Learning.
If you’re reading this after my free masterclass has ended or you want the details and specific strategies behind the shifts I discuss in the 1 hour class, I’ve got you covered. Enrollment for my Work Less Teach More course opens TODAY and will stay open until March 24, 2020.
See you there, rockstar teachers.
Student-centered learning, personalized learning, and all of the other buzzwords can get a little confusing. Or they sound great in theory, but just aren’t easy to put into action.
In this post, we’re digging into what it means for students to “do the heavy lifting,” but we’re also going to talk about why it’s in both your and your students’ best interests for you to hand off the heavy lifting.
First, think about all the things that go into being a teacher: identifying lesson objectives, choosing activities that will help students master those lesson objectives, preparing worksheets to ensure students’ completion of selected activities, monitoring student mastery of stated objectives, adjusting instruction based on student needs.
Now, I’m going to let you in on a secret: My students have taken ownership of each and every task in that list, and they were great at it (after I supported them to do this type of work). If that sentence alone doesn’t have you ready to hand off the heavy lifting, let’s talk about specific benefits for you and your students.
Benefits to Teachers
Students are far more capable than we think they are. When we hand off some (or all!) of these activities to students, we save ourselves time. So much time.
When we have less menial tasks (worksheet creation, copying worksheets, collecting and grading exit slips), we are better able to focus on the big picture and make sound instructional decisions that will advance student learning.
Handing off these activities also means bringing less work home, which means when you go home, you finally have time to recharge!
Benefits to Students
When we honor students’ capabilities and we invite them to take more ownership of their learning, they generally learn more—they get to learn and develop independent learning skills and they also tend to learn the course content and skills more as well. Furthermore, when students have more autonomy in the learning process, engagement, efficacy, and achievement go up (Mitra, 2018).
Also, when we, as teachers, are able to rest, recharge, and take care of our personal well-being, we show up better for our kids. We are able to take the time to connect to each student and to have more patience with the things that normally irritate the living daylight out of us. Research indicates a teacher’s positive energy and care for students has a profoundly positive impact on student learning (Marzano, Pickering & Heflebower, 2010).
What Handing Off the Heavy Lifting Looks Like in Practice
First off, give students time to grapple. I always repeat this, but depth over breadth! Give them a primary source or a data set and let them dig into what it is and why it’s important. You don’t need to tell them; they’ll likely remember it better if they figure it out on their own.
Teach students how to do research, and have them find sources themselves. Of course, there are times when it is more beneficial for teachers to present a preselected set of sources, but teaching kids of all ages how to find an answer to their question is critical! Pick one lesson and instead of you spending hours and hours trying to find the one video or text that will be perfect, ask them a question, and let them seek the answer on their own. This way, you’re teaching skills and content.
Let’s say you want students to have a deep discussion—first of all, yes to student discussions!—you may think you need to generate all of the discussion questions for them to be meaningful. However, I urge you to select maybe one essential or focus question, and have students take it from there. To do this well, you may want to prepare students ahead of time by evaluating different questions as a class and collectively define the features of a strong discussion question. You could also do the same thing in a debrief afterwards (e.g., Which questions generated the deepest conversation?)
If you find yourself making note-catcher worksheets or graphic organizers for students...try presenting information or a task and asking students which strategy might help them process, organize, and express relevant information. Spend 5 minutes asking students to collectively brainstorm a list of possible strategies (ones they’ve used in class before). Write down their answers and keep this as an anchor chart. When you use a new organizer in the future, be explicit about it’s role as a strategy, and add it to the chart!
The beauty of handing off the heavy lifting to students is that you save planning time and students learn more. Talk about a win-win situation!
If you want more tips like these (ones that save you time and advance student learning), I have a big freebie for you...I’m holding a FREE 1-hour masterclass next week just for YOU.
I'll see you there!
Inundated with grading? Most teachers are.
Why? Because many teachers and administrators conflate the purpose of feedback and grades. In fact, that was recently the topic of an #edchat, which you can hear about on this 11 minute podcast episode if you’re interested.
Feedback is information that helps students see where they are in their learning trajectory, and if it’s good feedback, it also helps students determine what to do next in order to continue to learn and grow.
Grading is one form of providing feedback, perhaps the most common type, which evaluates a student’s proficiency.
When we think about ourselves as learners trying to learn a new skill or hone a craft, we may say we value feedback that is very specific and helps us identify the gap between where we are and what competence or mastery of the skill looks like. We may also want the feedback we receive to be balanced, a healthy mix of what we are doing well and what needs more work. It is likely we would also want this feedback as soon as possible, so we don’t continue to make mistakes and can course correct quicker and see growth much sooner.
If we think of these preferences as elements of quality feedback, let’s now consider which elements of quality feedback grades provide.
Are grades specific?
They can be, if a rubric is used, and specific skills are graded separately. Although, I’ve seen several rubrics that are quite general. For example, “Conventions” is a broad category. If I receive a low grade in this area of a rubric, it could be a niche punctuation error, like when to use an em dash, or it could be a variety of beginner level spelling and grammar errors that make the writing illegible. Those are very different problems.
Do grades help us contextualize our skills in relation to what mastery looks like?
They might if they are mastery-based grades (e.g., Below Standards, Meeting Standards, Above Standards). Not so much if the grade a number from 0-100 or a letter from A-F.
Sure, we know a 65 or a D is acceptable, but is that “meeting standards?” The concept of a 65 as passing has historically been used for tests of factual recall. Is it acceptable that students only remember 65% of the information we have deemed important enough to teach them? Is that the standard we hold for our students? Forgetting almost half of the material? Alternatively, if a student answers 100% of fact-based test questions correctly, does that demonstrate they have mastery of our course content? Do we not want students to be able to creatively apply that information in a novel context?
Are grades a balance of both “glows” and “grows”?
Not in and of themselves. The narrative feedback that can accompany a grade does meet this criterion, but the grade itself does not. So, really, the narrative comments without the grade would do just fine here.
Are grades timely?
I suppose they could be, but typically no. Auto-grading multiple-choice quizzes or tests are immediate, but manually calculated grades are certainly not immediate (unless you grade the work during class and give it to the student right after they finish a presentation). Typically, teachers take anywhere from 1 day to a few weeks to get grades back to students.
As we run grades through the filtering criteria of quality feedback, we can see that they barely meet any, let alone all of the criteria.
So, what’s the answer? Formative feedback.
As I’ve said before, providing immediate feedback during class has a strong positive impact on student learning. It helps students self-correct in the moment and can increase the speed of student learning by 70-80% (Hattie, 2012)! It also saves teachers time from grading student work after school and on weekends.
How can you give that much formative feedback during class?
I have a program that goes into much more detail (learn more by signing up for my free masterclass), but here are some quick tips:
Our educational system is steeped in tradition and as such, change has been slow. There are many K-12 school districts, some colleges, and even entire states, that have adopted more high-quality feedback systems than ineffective letter and percentage grades. Until your school comes around, I understand you need to play the game. I know that many schools require teachers to enter a minimum number of grades each week or each quarter.
But here’s the thing: they require this because they want students (and family members) to get feedback on where they are in their learning journeys. Administrators may not realize there are more efficient and more effective ways of providing feedback. Let admin and family members know what you’re up to (i.e., giving better feedback, not abandoning feedback altogether!)
Once students have a better understanding of their strengths and areas for growth, they can summarize what’s going on. Have students record a video explaining their recent feedback and send that home. Family members will likely learn a lot more about their child’s progress from a detailed video than they would from a simple number or letter.
Breaking free of the “I have to grade everything!” mindset is a challenge, but it is so worth it—for your students’ learning and for your work-life balance.
Sometimes a goal can feel so daunting we never take the first step to reach it.
We might feel like change is an all-or-nothing situation in which we can’t try things out, we have to go all-in or refuse the change all together.
When it comes to change, people often fear the loss of how things have always been, the stability, and the comfort that may come from (somewhat) knowing what’s coming next.
So, how does change ever happen if these are often our responses to the idea of changing things up?
I believe it starts with seeing the possibilities, mere exposure to a different way of doing something. (For more on seeing possibilities as it relates to teacher planning, see my blog from earlier this week.)
Once you have seen what’s possible, I think it starts with small steps, mini experiments. Research has found that small steps are a powerful way to motivate people to start working towards a big goal (Stanford Business School).
So, when you are confronted with the possibility of saving hundreds of hours of planning time each year (you see what’s possible) and you recognize that requires you to change the way you currently do things (ah! feels daunting, scary)…try experimenting with one tiny action (small step).
Not sure what a high-leverage, yet manageable action step could be?
I am launching a 5-Day Challenge to help teachers streamline their planning time. Sign up, and I’ll send you one small step each day. You’ll also have a dedicated space in our Facebook group to share your questions and successes with fellow teachers and get inspired by others’ big wins.
It starts in just a couple of days, MONDAY, MARCH 2. Sign up today so you don’t miss it!
To bring it back to the research, there’s another piece to that article by the Stanford Business School I referenced earlier. The full story is, “Research shows that incremental achievements are good early motivators, but their effect wanes as the finish line nears.”
So, small steps will get you started, but it won't get you a complete transformation.
Knowing this, I’m not going to leave you hanging after you take your 5 small steps. I’ll be sending a lot more support your way! The 5-Day Challenge is just the initial spark. To keep that fire going, I’ll be sharing my most detailed FREE resource yet... So make sure you check the blog early next week for more details.
See you in the challenge, teacher superstars!
I love seeing what’s possible. The sense of excitement when confronted with new possibilities inspires me and drives me to take action!
Some schools have strong collaborative learning opportunities in place, and some of these may even be designed and sustained by teachers! Last week, I discussed an example of this in the form of teachers visiting other teachers’ classrooms!
One thing teachers rarely have the opportunity to do (at least not as part of a typical school-based PD) is to talk about how they plan. While you may share a classroom or planning space with another teacher and get a quick glimpse of how they plan in that time, it’s rare to get a full picture of another teacher’s planning system. We often don’t know how many hours of work teachers routinely bring home, or what percentage of their planning time is grading or lesson planning or researching new lesson resources.
I want to dispel the mystery, at least for my own planning story. I’m going to share with you exactly how I spent my planning time as a teacher. As you can imagine, my planning approach in my first years of teaching was very different from my last years, so I will share both where I started and where I eventually ended up.
Here we go…
While I wasn’t tracking my precise percentage breakdown of tasks at the time, here is my estimated breakdown…
Time Spent Planning Outside of School Hours (Per Week): 20 hours
My Process: To prepare for class, I read the relevant chapters from a textbook and took my own notes. I typed my notes up as bulleted worksheets, and replaced keywords with blanks. I then made slides for each worksheet with images and the keywords bolded and in red. Finally I created a Do Now and an exit ticket on the computer, printed them out, and cut them. Grading-wise, I hand-graded multiple-choice tests and quizzes. I collected a daily learning journal (usually a do now and an exit slip response) from each student, graded them, and occasionally wrote personalized comments to the students about what I saw them doing well in class or what hopes I had for them for the next class.
Percentage of Time Spent on Lesson Planning: 90%
Percentage of Time Spent on Grading/Feedback: 10%
Percentage of Time on My Professional Growth: 0%
Oof. This is hard to look back on. Doing so, I feel sadness for myself and for my students. I don’t think they learned much from my slideshow-worksheet lessons despite the fact I was spending an additional 20 hours each week making the class materials. Luckily, I was introduced to different possibilities for planning, and I ran with those new ideas.
After seeing what else was possible, I experimented more boldly with different approaches to planning. I sought out more PD that could inform my experiments. I grew excited at the rapidly shrinking number of hours I spent outside of work on planning. It was thrilling. I spent years tinkering with my formula, and then realized I was saving hundreds of planning hours each school year.
Time Spent Planning Outside of School Hours (Per Week): 0-2
My Process: I established a unit arc, which I used as an outline for each new unit I designed. These arcs included 3-5 protocols (class activities) I repeated over and over. Now, my planning focused more on the big picture and prioritizing depth over breadth. I identified the one thing students needed to get out of each lesson, knew the one protocol we’d use as a vehicle to get there, and used my planning time to find specific texts/resources that would give students lesson-specific information or prompt their thinking. Since this approach was much more student-centered, I didn’t need to write comments in student learning journals anymore. Instead, I was free to walk around and tell them directly during class! Another big shift was saying yes to lots of PD opportunities. The more I learned, the easier my planning process became.
Percentage of Time Spent on Lesson Planning: 50%
Percentage of Time Spent on Grading/Feedback: 10%
Percentage of Time on My Professional Growth: 40%
At one point, I finally sat down to do the math and realized I was saving myself about 700 hours of planning time a year! I did this even while creating brand new lessons every day and new curriculum each year. The amazing thing was, my students were actually learning more than before when I was spending more time planning! Another exciting piece of this transformation is what I was able to accomplish with my newfound time outside of school. I did things I had always wanted to do—I ran the NYC marathon, and I finished my PhD in 3 years (while teaching).
I want to help you achieve the professional and personal success I did. So, if you haven’t already, grab my 50/40/10 Planning Bundle for free.
Want more free stuff related to planning time? I’ve got you covered.
Over the next 4 weeks, I’m taking a deep dive into all things planning. Later this week, I’m sharing an exciting community challenge to help you take the first small steps to streamlining your planning process.
Next week, look for Tuesday’s blog or be sure to read our community email, where I’ll be announcing the release of a limited time offer that will be the most in-depth FREE resource I’ve ever shared on this topic. (Not on the email list? Sign up here.) You won’t want to miss it!
Until then, continue to see the possibilities, teacher friends.
Lindsay is a educator and leadership coach who helps teachers develop engaging project-based curricula, fosters student and teacher voice, and works to advance racial and gender equity and culturally responsive practice.