When kids returned to school last fall, teachers based their school planning on what we knew at the time. We weren't sure what the effects of a year and a half of remote learning would be. We weren't sure how we could best provide additional instruction for kids who needed it. We weren't even sure how many of our students would return.
We have a lot more information now. With several months of classes still ahead of us, here are some suggestions for how to revisit our original school planning in order to make the most of this school year.
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Evaluate Student Progress
Start by determining how student progress this year compares to that of past years. How do test scores compare? Are kids about halfway through the course curriculum? How do current reading and math scores compare to those from before the lockdown? Have students been able to finish assignments or projects on time? How much has attendance affected student performance?
Of course, teachers have been keeping track of student progress, and some have already made adjustments to instruction during the first months of school. Working cooperatively with your grade level team or department as you plan for the rest of the year is essential. Also helpful would be the support of school administrators, who have data on achievement, attendance, and student assistance options.
Identify Essential Skills, Understandings, and Gaps in Learning
When reviewing student performance up to this point, identify areas where students have had success. Then, list the areas of instruction that may need to be revisited.
Next, examine the standard curriculum for the remaining months. Add to your list the essential skills and understandings that may not yet have been taught but that students will need in order to move on to the next grade. This list will be the basis of the essential curriculum for the rest of the year.
Plan Your Instructional Calendar
Pull out the school calendar, and determine how many actual teaching days remain this school year. Be sure to subtract time that is not available for instruction, such as school vacations, holidays, standardized test days, and teacher conference days.
When you know how many instructional days are actually available, you can start mapping out the rest of the year. Add lesson topics to your calendar, allotting the number of days you think students will need for each. Remember, the standard curriculum is slightly aspirational, and even before the advent of remote learning, not all teachers accomplished everything. Also, make sure to plan more than a few days with special, fun projects that kids can look forward to.
Get Help for Students Who Need It
By this time every year, teachers typically have a good idea of which kids may need to be referred for learning evaluations. This year, however, there may also be students who have simply fallen behind and need assistance with what some are calling "unfinished learning" from the last year and a half. Students who do not receive help in completing unfinished learning are likely to have difficulty moving on to the next level.
Some schools are trying to help struggling kids by spending federal COVID-19 funds on additional instruction. One such program is intensive or high-impact tutoring, which has shown good results. According to Education Week, this tutoring is "based on data on individual students' needs, aligns to classroom work, and can be effective in getting students to grade level faster." Groups of three or four students meet several times a week with individual tutors. High-impact tutoring is especially effective with older students needing help with reading and comprehension.
Further Reading: Managing Your Creative Lesson Plans for a Well-Paced Curriculum
Find out if your school has a tutoring program or any other kind of student assistance available now and how your students can access this help.
An Opportunity to Connect
Even though national estimates vary greatly, teachers usually have a pretty good idea of what their own students may have missed when schools were closed. Jay Caspian Kang, writing in The New York Times, notes, "The majority of what's been written on effective ways to catch kids up highlights the most basic relationship in the education process: the teacher and the student."
Schools have had to adapt to many changes recently, but the connection between teachers and students remains a constant. The remainder of the year will allow you to strengthen that connection and maybe even reach some kids you haven't yet been able to. So far, teachers have risen to the challenge the year has presented; now, let's continue to build on that success.