For most schools, some kind of blended learning is on the horizon. Maybe you’re going to have students rotating through your classroom every couple of days. Maybe every other week. Maybe you’re going to have some students online all the time while others are in person all the time. Maybe you’re going to have one day a week where everyone is online and the school gets cleaned.
I’ve heard a lot of different scenarios, and I’ve been brainstorming ideas for planning flexibly and creatively to make them work.
Today, I’m going to share the fundamental principles I’ve come up with for making all this more doable. Everyone’s situation is a little different, but if you keep these ideas in mind while you plan, it will help you keep your unit and lesson planning more creative and less overwhelming.
While the Flexibly Planned program mentioned in this podcast is now running and no longer open to new participants, I’ve rolled all its materials (and a lot more) into my new membership program, The Lighthouse. If you’d like to hear about it the next time the doors open, click here to join the waitlist.
Let’s start with the big principles and then look at how they might play out in a few different scenarios.
#1: Everyone doesn’t have to be doing the Same Thing at the Same Time
Don’t try to keep the kids in different scenarios doing the exact same things on the exact same days. As long as both groups get to the same place, it doesn’t matter the exact route. This means changing the way you look at your units. The group won’t necessarily move chronologically through a book or exact sequence of lessons together, and that’s OK.
#2: Rely on Consistent Programs of Value
Develop flexible programs that you can rely on consistently for useful content throughout the fall. Whether you use genius hour, independent reading, literature circles, a creative writing program, student blogging, writing choice boards leading into portfolios, etc., try to clearly lay out useful creative programs students can consistently participate in no matter how things shift.
#3: Match content to location.
When students are in your classroom, focus in on activities like discussion, writing workshop, technology explanations, Q and As and feedback sessions. When students are out of your classroom, focus in on the creative work and reading they can easily do on their own.
#4: Set up an Online Infrastructure right away.
Set up clear systems for students to receive communication from you and turn in work online, so that if you go to full online at any time, you can make a smooth transition. Try to make sure they have an independent reading book (or 2 or 3) at home from your library or the school library that you can count on if you suddenly shut down.
During the first week or two, while you are setting up routines and getting to know your students, you may have to do some double planning so everyone is on the same page, but after that, you can use these principles to design flexible curriculum without writing and using two different lesson plans every day.
Let’s look at an example. I’ve heard from many teachers that their districts will have students rotating through with two groups of students in for two days each, then everyone online for one day.
The Rotating Groups Model: Two Days in, Two Days out
Rather than planning Monday’s activity for your in-class students and then adapting it for your online students, simply plan two great days of in-person activities and two great days of online activities, then flip them. Use your all-online day for a consistent program your students can count on. Maybe on the online day they participate in genius hour and write a blog post about what they’ve been doing. Or maybe on the online day you record a First Chapter Friday (or whatever day) session and they listen, read their independent reading book, and send you a #booksnap about it. Or maybe every online day they choose an activity from their writing choice board and add it to their online writing portfolio. Maybe that day is for watching a great Ted Talk and adding to a Ted Talk sketch notes journal, or listening to a podcast and responding on Flipgrid. There are so many options! You can rotate them each term for variety.
See where I’m going with this? Creative, consistent programming of value beats trying to wade through last year’s units as a group while scattered across multiple platforms.
The Every other Week Model
If you are going every other week with online/in-person learning groups, you can apply a very similar model. Let the kids at home work on one thing for a week while the ones in class work with you, then switch. By always planning two weeks of lessons, you’ll save yourself from double planning every day.
If you want to get through a class novel, have students reading it while they’re out of class, and discussing and writing about it when they’re in class. That way you can still keep everyone moving through the book at the same pace. If you’re doing a class play and you want to be really active in explaining or acting it as you go, have everyone reading it only in class and working on related projects outside of class.
One Group is Virtual 100% of the Time
But what if your school is asking you to teach a group of students that are in-person all the time AND a group of students that are at home all the time?
To me, this is the toughest scenario to plan. But I think you want to focus in on creating a consistent schedule involving a lot of creative programs that don’t take as much direction from you. For creative teachers like you, this could actually be a pretty exciting push to move toward more projects and less teacher-centered work.
Maybe on Mondays everyone sees a video writing lesson you’ve created and then works on pieces in their writing portfolios. Then Tuesday-Thursday everyone is working on project-based learning projects and documenting them on process blogs where you can comment back now and then during the class sessions. Then on Friday everyone is reading their independent reading books (assuming you can get some books into the hands of your at-home students), occasionally recording book review videos they can share with the whole class to help promote a reading culture and give everyone new ideas for what to read.
Is this exactly what your units would normally look like? Nope. But I think you’ll spend more time and energy trying to use the same material you used before than you will creating flexible programs that work with this situation. The more you can de-center yourself from the work, but maintain clear paths for students to document what they’re doing and receive quick feedback online, the easier it will be. It will also make it easier for the almost inevitable transitions in and out of full online learning in the event of a Coronavirus case in your school.
Can you read whole-class texts with any of these models? Yes. You can focus on a whole-class text during in-person days, or create a reading schedule in combination with Project-Based-Learning if teaching two fully separate groups of students. But I would probably plan to do fewer, and move most of them toward spring, hoping that things are more settled by then. It’s going to be a lot easier to use texts like podcasts, news articles, performance poetry, short stories, Ted Talks, one-act plays, independent reading YA and engaging lit circles books in the fall than to try to keep everyone moving through a longer, more difficult text that requires more push and explanation from you as a teacher.
I believe this way of thinking about the fall can help make at least the planning feel less intimidating. I just wish I could take away the fear of the coronavirus itself for you. I am horrified by how little our national government is valuing educators’ health and safety, and how little leadership they’ve shown in terms of providing resources and professional development to make this incredibly difficult job easier. I am thinking of you, cheering for you, and hoping that your local leaders are finding ways to protect you. Keep raising your voice. Take your class outside as often as you can. Push for blended learning if your district isn’t even talking about it. Ask for the safety measures you want. Set up your classroom in a way that helps it feel as safe as possible to you. Open alllll the windows.
You’re in my heart.
OK, so there you have it. Remember, flexible planning and a few mindset shifts can really make it easier to plan for a fall that is going to look very different than any other back-to-school season we’ve encountered. You don’t have to double plan! Match content to location instead of double planning, use consistent programs you can count on, and set up your basic communication and turning-in systems online for everyone from the start.
You can do this.
Did you know you can learn about all your wish list ELA strategies on your daily commute or walk with The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast? Explore one-pagers, escape rooms, sketchnotes, creative annotation options, research projects, poetry workshops, and much more through over a hundred quick episodes waiting for you on your favorite podcast player!