Sunday, February 7, 2021

Tips for the Socially Distanced Classroom

Schools have either made or are about to make the transition to some sort of hybrid model. The transition is not an easy one. Just ask those who have already been through it. In the midst of adversity and limited training, educators have valiantly risen to the occasion like they always have.  With the proper safety measures in place, students have been welcomed back into classrooms.  For many, this was desperately needed as the distractions and challenges at home impacted their learning.  They wanted and needed their teachers. I would also wager that the adults felt the same about them.

Depending on the hybrid model selected, different challenges arise.  However, no matter the path taken, one consistent element is the need to social distance to keep everyone safe. I have noticed in several schools where I am coaching that a natural reaction has been an emphasis on the whole group. Desks are arranged in rows to take precautions, while the primary strategy is direct instruction. Under the current circumstances, I am not saying this is an ineffective means to facilitate a lesson. However, there is a need to ensure that learners are both engaged and empowered during whole group.  Getting all students involved, both face-to-face (F2F) and remote, is essential.

Below are some strategies that can be implemented right away when using direct instruction:

  • Facilitate checks for understanding or closure through the use of mini-whiteboards or technology. Students would need access to one or the other, but this is a great way to foster student voice as a high-agency strategy. Some excellent digital options are PearDeck, Nearpod, and Mentimeter.  You can even use self-graded Google or Canvas Forms.
  • Randomly call on kids (both F2F and virtual).
  • Integrate movement using tools like Go-Noodle. F2F students can stay by their desks while remote learners can dance away in the comfort of their own homes.  Keeping kids distanced doesn’t mean we can’t find ways to get them up and moving.
  • Utilize conversational strategies such as think-pair-share and turn & talk facilitated through videoconference breakout rooms.  Even in a hybrid model, getting kids to talk to one another through essential questions is critical.  The use of breakout rooms keeps kids socially distanced while also creating an equitable environment where remote kids get the same experience. After the activity, digital tools can be used where all kids can share their responses.

While there is a tendency to rely more heavily on one-size-fits-all methodologies, educators can still use effective pedagogies that were commonplace prior to the pandemic. Once whole group elements are finetuned, educators can begin to integrate more personalized options to empower learners while keeping them safe. While most will be done independently, the digital space provides the environment for cooperative experiences. Here are some ideas to consider.

  • Differentiate tasks to meet the needs of each learner while moving away from a blanket approach.
  • Facilitate collaboration through the use of digital tools.  There are so many options out there, but Padlet, Jamboard, and Google Docs are always good choices.
  • Develop pedagogically-sound blended learning through either choice boards or playlists. These can be used to differentiate but also free up the teacher to provide targeted instruction or one-on-one support. Both strategies allow learners to work in a self-paced format.
  • Leverage any adaptive learning tools that have been purchased. Look at some free options. HERE you can find a list.

Social distancing does place an added stress on teachers. The good news is that many effective practices that were used before the pandemic have just as much value, if not more, in the current environment.  Engaging learners and ensuring they are all actively involved during direct instruction will mitigate off-task behavior while setting the stage for increased motivation.  From here, the stage is set to implement some personalized strategies that support various learning modalities and needs.

Stay safe, everyone, and keep up the great work.  Your efforts are appreciated.

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