Key Strategies to Prevent Learning Loss as Schools Go to Distance Learning

One does not have to look hard to find evidence that when you close schools due to a pandemic, students’ social, emotional and academic needs are affected.

Despite heroic efforts to quickly shift to distance learning, achievement and equity gaps remain, and in most cases, are exacerbated. To address loss of learning and widening of achievement gaps, I recommend considering the following five key areas to assure schools are prepared to assess and address these gaps of inequity and subsequent impacts on student learning.

Address students’ social and emotional well-being first

Whether in school classrooms or at home, students need to feel emotionally safe, valued and cared for. Although eager to determine loss of learning, schools must first prioritize the measurement of school climate, leveraging social and emotional learning to build important foundations for learning.

With social and emotional learning at the forefront, educators should focus their efforts on strengthening relationships with every student and building community within the classroom through trauma-informed practices and re-engagement strategies.

Develop plans that include comprehensive approaches to formative assessments

With deep levels of attention focused on identifying the social and emotional needs of students as the foundation for learning, plans that include comprehensive approaches to formative assessments, which help teachers understand how well their students are learning on an ongoing basis, will be necessary to guide instructional decisions and resource allocations. School leaders will likely feel pressure to use “off-the-shelf” assessments, such as Star Reading, Star MATH and DORA (Diagnostic Online Reading Assessment).

Yet, the focus should be on the use of assessments that already exist and are aligned with the adopted instructional materials and text to provide stability for students and staff, and to help determine learning gaps in content knowledge and skill.

For example, as CDE Guidance on Diagnostic and Formative Assessments recommends, “teachers can use tools such as rubrics to clarify expectations and to provide feedback; journals, quick writes and discussions to see what students are thinking; pre-tests and exit tickets to see where they are at the beginning and end of class; strategic questioning and performance tasks during the lesson; observations of students working in small groups; student work samples and a variety of others.”

Further, the value of teacher knowledge should not be underestimated. It is essential that school leaders provide teachers with opportunities to collaborate and discuss concepts not taught or reinforced during the pandemic.

Prior to reopening, it will be important to assess a broad set of indicators, such as student access to technology, connectivity and high-quality curricula, in addition to student attendance and engagement in remote learning, and experience with trauma and/or food or housing insecurity. Parents should also be surveyed to triangulate vital information regarding their child’s social, emotional and academic needs experienced during distance learning in the spring.

Address individual student skills and re-teach concepts not taught in the prior year

Schools should be wary of focusing on remediation, and instead should focus on improving the quality of core instruction in different learning scenarios. Lessons learned after Hurricane Katrina found students in the elementary grades did best when efforts were made to support the skills and concepts needed to learn grade-level content.

Students in the upper grades had the most success with “spiraling” techniques, where topics such as math and science that are traditionally taught in blocks, chapters or units of study over a short period of time are instead introduced in smaller chunks, spread out over a longer period of time and teachers come back to the topic multiple times over the duration of the grade or course and going deeper each time.

Invest in high-quality professional learning and instructional materials

School and district budgets will be compromised and the costs to create safe and well-maintained learning environments will be significant. Investing in high-quality professional learning and instructional materials to support teachers and paraeducators will be key to the success of students when they return in the fall.

Resources such as the TNTP Learning Acceleration Guide, the CCEE Continuity of Learning Playbooks and other references such as Learning as We Go: Principles for Effective Assessment During the COVID-19 Pandemic from The Evidence Project and What Post-Katrina New Orleans Can Teach Schools About COVID-19 Learning Loss from CRPE (Center on Reinventing Public Education) can provide research, tools and practical solutions to prepare schools and districts to reopen in the fall.

Be active and transparent in communicating with families and the community

While plans are still in development and it will be difficult to predict what will happen in the coming months, schools must be intentional in their actions to communicate with staff, families and the community in an active and transparent way. This requires honest two-way communication providing opportunities for parent and community feedback.

Efforts should be made to clearly articulate plans to protect the wellbeing and safety of students and staff, in conjunction with addressing the social, emotional and academic needs of their children. Open and transparent communication efforts show empathy, build trust, instill and maintain confidence to demonstrate a long-term view that schools are prepared to address and assess the needs of students despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

These are complex times. Having plans in place to identify and support student needs will best prepare schools to navigate these new challenges as they arise. We must get this right — students and families are counting on us.

AUTHOR

Tom Armelino

Requirements for “Rigor” Through Distance Learning Calls for Quality, Not Quantity

With the beginning of a new school year upon many districts, demands for improved connectivity and devices, increased instructional minutes, transparency of grades, attention to the social and emotional needs of students, and calls for more “rigor” through distance learning will be greater than ever. In his July 17, 2020 news conference, Governor Newsom laid out guidelines for when schools will be allowed to reopen and, when necessary, offer distance learning. Newsom insisted that distance learning must be “rigorous” and include “daily, live interactions” between students and teachers, “challenging assignments” equivalent to in-person classes, and lessons adapted for English language learners and students with disabilities.

Aligned with these demands, stakeholders are calling for stark improvements in distance learning outcomes. Teachers, school, and district leaders will undoubtedly feel the pressure to increase rigor, close achievement gaps, and accelerate learning in platforms that are still very new to them and their students. To help make this important shift to higher standards and expectations, it will be essential to understand that calls for rigor will demand more quality, not just complexity or quantity.

The research is clear: Rigor is not more!

One reaction to a call for more rigor will likely create expectations of teachers to provide more homework, more demanding tests and quizzes, or increase the complexity of grade-level content. This can often lead to a desire to push down higher-grade level content in an attempt to accelerate intellectual development. An editorial published in Science notes this approach to rigor is counterproductive and often leads to “overly strict attention to rules, procedures, and rote memorization” at a time when developing minds of children are not yet ready to process this complex information.

In addition to increasing complexity, another approach to add rigor through distance learning will be driven by pressures to try and “make up” for missed curriculum from the spring. This, too, can create pressures on teachers to cram too much content into a lesson, unit, or semester. Students may be asked to complete more work independently at home instead of using homework more effectively to reinforce or introduce new learning. Additional stress to ramp up learning can also encourage a one-size-fits-all, that neglects the ability level and the individual needs of students. Parents, too, will likely pressure teachers and school administrators for more rigor by demanding ineffective strategies such as long lists of spelling words, more complex math problems, or insisting on extra credit assignments not realizing the severe consequences these demands can have on their child’s motivation to learn. These “cram” more into the day, week, semester, or school year, approaches not only fail to address rigor but are not supported within the existing scientific research. “Not only does no such data exist, but an emerging body of research indicates that attempts to accelerate intellectual development are in fact counterproductive.”

Practical approaches to improving rigor in distance learning environments

While demands for rigor will be challenging, applying a few practical approaches can help preserve academic and creative rigor.

  • Providing Professional Development: First, it cannot be said enough how important it is to provide teachers with ongoing professional development, coaching and time to expand their expertise in using online platforms, creating lessons, collaborating with their colleagues, and delving deeply into the tools and content they will use to help students succeed in a distance learning environment. Through ongoing professional development, time and practice, teachers can begin to build rigor into their daily lessons that engage students, embrace higher-level thinking, comprehension, and the use of activities where the learner directly interacts with the content, peers, and teacher.
  • Project-based learning (PBL): A highly engaging strategy, PBL integrates lessons where students actively explore real-world problems and challenges to help deepen content knowledge. Examples of this strategy include students exploring racism and social justice in language arts through the use of articles, poems, songs, documentaries, and books like “The Hate You Give” and “Just Mercy” to address relevant issues. Teachers can also assign history lessons that compare and contrast the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Death in the 14th century.
  • Combining Synchronous and Asynchronous Activities: The strategic combination of “synchronous” learning where students meet regularly online with their classmates and teachers, with “asynchronous” activities where students think deeply and engage with the subject matter or with other students independent from the teacher, is another key to engagement.  Additional efforts must include an in-depth understanding and focus on creating lessons designed specifically to lead students successfully into the content and build on prior knowledge and foundational elements to support complex hands-on skills. [1]
  • Parts, Purposes, and Complexity: Another practical approach for distance learning is Harvard’s Graduate School of Education Parts, Purposes and Complexity “make students’ thinking visible through creating lists, maps, and drawings of the parts, purposes, and complexities of various objects and systems.” This strategy provides students the ability to look beyond obvious features of an object to stimulate curiosity, identify questions for further inquiry and engage them directly in the content. If students are trying to understand a system, such as a “democracy,” having them create a list or draw a picture of what they believe the parts of a democracy might be can help identify what they understand a democracy to be. Participating in a discussion about a democracy can build background knowledge and help students engage in the content.
  • Technology Tools: Through high-quality professional development, and time to explore and implement new interactive resources to keep students engaged, teachers will have the resources to keep the use of worksheets, textbooks, and other paper to pencil activities to a minimum in their lessons and explore more interactive and multimedia resources. Practical tools such as Flipgrid allow students and teachers to record short, online videos, WeVideo, an online video editor that can be linked and directly uploaded into Google Drive, Storyline, an excellent resource for read alouds that has many videos of celebrities reading popular children’s books and Mystery Science, that provides great science lessons for students to work on at home and engage directly in content in ways that are not static.

Importance of self-assessments, feedback, independent learning and organizational strategies

  • Student self-assessment/feedback: A key strategy to increase rigor and allow students the opportunity to understand gaps in their learning and explore additional content to help address these gaps. Quizzes and tests should be considered not only for a grade but as a resource for students and their teacher to relearn and reteach until new knowledge is obtained. There is no stronger support for rigorous distance learning than feedback. Feedback begins with the teacher and should also include the parent/guardian who is accessible to help at home to support the student. This should include scheduled check-ins to directly engage with the student and their parent/guardian to help facilitate their social and emotional needs and thinking and learning in an online environment.
  • Independent Learning/Organization: In addition to providing students the ability to engage in dialogue and work with others, it will be important to give students opportunities where they engage with the content independently as well to learn at a pace that works for them. For example, in one study, students who were allowed to watch assigned videos in any order, fast forward, rewind, and replay them significantly outperformed those who had to use the videos in a pre-determined standardized fashion. It will also be important to be intentional in efforts to provides students with a choice on how to engage with content and help students organize, self-manage, and regulate their time at home to ensure they are in an environment that allows them to focus on learning.

As we raise the stakes for rigor in a distance learning environment, we must understand the pressures teachers will be under and help to avoid traps that include more homework, more content, and more static resources. Instead, we must support their efforts through professional development, time and coaching to provide quality lesson design, teaching and learning, that assures quality not just quantity. Administrators, teachers, and parents must fight the natural tendency to want to push through these learning gaps to recover lost learning all in the spirit of rigor. While we understand the sense of urgency and the pressures and the importance of addressing the learning needs of all students, learning in a new environment takes time, and we must get this right–students, educators, and families are counting on us.

[1] Darling-Hammond, L., Schachman, A., & Edgerton, A. (2020).  Restarting and reinventing school: Learning in the time of COVID and beyond.  Palo Alto: Learning Policy Institute.

AUTHOR

Tom Armelino

First Months of School: What Have We Learned?

Our educational system is in the most extreme re-envisioning and retooling process in history. For many, school is no longer a building, but a dedicated URL, a screen, and a new toolbox of online instructional strategies. So, what has been learned since mid-March that has informed the first months of school?

Focus. Address the most urgent needs first. Successful schools and districts focus on the basics. They concentrate on infrastructure, attendance, and maintaining system coherence. Then they turn to curriculum, instruction, and assessment and the specific needs of students at risk of sustaining deep learning losses. Teachers focus in similar ways by reaching the child first, then bridging to the content. They master the tools of Zoom chat boxes to check for understanding, breakout rooms for small group work, Google Jamboards for students to chart and collaborate, and office hours for one-on-one conferencing.

Engagement. At the heart of engagement are relationships. Educators have always understood the challenges of school engagement but never with this sense of immediacy. Fortunately, in this two-dimensional world we inhabit, the fundamental understanding that school, in whatever way it manifests, is based in relationships has remained constant. Teachers and staff also need engagement opportunities that focus on wellness and managing the stress of our changing educational context. Teachers are still the most impactful factor in student learning and cannot effectively function without the expertise and support of their leaders. Engagement and connection reveal themselves in our new world to be both conceptual and literal, vital to students and adults alike. This includes your wellness!

Basics. What was always important is even more so now. The pandemic has exponentially increased the need for professional learning, especially for teachers to successfully shift to online learning. However, stay focused on the basics of teaching and learning. Remind educators of the importance of building relationships with students, structures, clarity of the outcome and demonstration of student learning. Making connections to what prior instructional focus areas that the district or school has been implementing is the right direction to go.

For ideas and resources to support you, please go to the CCEE website and CCEE Continuity of Learning Playbook.

Creating Safe and Supportive Classrooms in Distance Learning Environments

With the severely disrupted 2019-20 school year behind us, the majority of students receiving their education in virtual settings, and the pandemic still front and center in our communities, the need to connect and re-envision partnerships with students and families has never been more important. Historically, engaging with families to reduce barriers and partnering with them to support their children’s learning needs has never been easy. Moreover, fostering an inclusive environment that elevates student voice and agency and allows them to contribute to their own learning can be challenging in a virtual setting. It is crucial that we reimagine these efforts to assure students are safe and develop plans to reach out directly to students and families to assure they have the supports necessary to succeed both academically, socially, and emotionally in a virtual setting.

The pandemic has left many students and adults struggling and in crisis, according to a nationwide Gallup poll in June, with 70% of parents reporting their child is experiencing either major or minor  challenges as a result from being separated from their classmates and teachers. It’s not just being separated from school in which students are suffering. In a recent presentation by the Department of Justice, “Protecting Students During the COVID-19 CrisisRecognizing and Responding to Child Abuse and Sexual Exploitation” statewide reports of suspected child abuse have dropped 28% from April to August compared to the same time period in 2019. This would normally be good news, but with educators serving as the largest reporters in the state with 21% of all reports, many cases of child abuse are going unreported in virtual settings without the ability to assess the health of children in our classrooms and schools. Based on the same Gallup poll mentioned above, we also know that adults too are struggling with social distancing practices and closures, with 15% reporting that they are experiencing harm to their own emotional or mental health. The pandemic has only deepened deeply rooted social and racial injustices and perpetuated educational inequities due to a lack of access to school learning for those who have always been underserved in our school systems. Add in the economic downturn, unemployment rise, racial injustice, political differences, and undisputed pressures educators are feeling to provide a more robust distance learning program, all while the global health crisis still rages in our communities.

The need to connect directly with every student and their families is paramount to the success and safety of children, with in-person instruction, academics take center stage and the “soft skills” that include empathy, self-care and understanding are often addressed when a behavior is observed or arises at school.  In a school setting where educators see students daily in their classrooms, they are able to greet children with a warm hello, high five, hug, or handshake as they get on the bus, arrive at school or enter the door of the classroom. They have opportunities to observe firsthand, face-to-face, the wellbeing of their students. In virtual classrooms, the teacher-student connection is more challenging and heightened mental health problems are not as easily detected. It is imperative that educators make it their number one priority to create and implement systems that are intentional in their efforts to reach out to children individually and on a regular basis to assess and determine the support their students need as they continue to adjust to a distance learning environment.

Prioritizing family engagement must also not fall solely on teachers as school and district leaders will need to provide additional support staff to meet with families, listen and understand the realities they’re facing, and help them address the needs of their children at home. Dedicating staff and multidisciplinary teams can include school counselors, social workers and other stakeholders such as school nurses, teachers, and related community members who have access to resources and possible roots within the community to reach across racial and bilingual divides. This too will require access to resources to help support these efforts as they check in with students weekly, biweekly or in calculated intervals to determine if students are safe from harm within their own homes, adjusting, coping, succeeding and/or failing academically, socially and emotionally in their distance learning setting.

Office hours and hotlines can also provide access to help students and families reach out to the school for support, but we must be careful to assure that this is not the only way families can connect with the school, nor should it be the sole responsibility of students and/or their families to contact the teacher of school. Families need to feel confident that the school welcomes their concerns, ideas, and contributions, provides opportunities to discuss how their child is adjusting, participating, and identifies how much time their children are spending online and completing assignments. Districts should also consider where possible universal mental health screener tools to gather and analyze data, recognizing that 80% of chronic mental health disorders begin in childhood and approximately one-third of children display signs of stress during normal times. Access to this type of data will help focus resources to assure those students most in need are being cared for and can succeed while continuing to learn in virtual settings.

With child abuse reporting at an all-time low, we must provide educators with strategies to help identify children who may be experiencing abuse within their homes. This can include looking for physical signs of abuse such as bruises on the torso, ears or neck during check-ins with students, changes in behavior between each check-in that may include high anxiety, depression, aggression, as well as lack of hygiene. Other strategies can include adjusting the speaker view in Zoom or in other online platforms that provide opportunities to bring students front and center on the screen to see, hear and observe their well-being. Student absences also provide clear indications that a child is not experiencing success in the virtual environment or may be at risk of abuse. In these cases, we must reach out daily and if necessary, make home visits to assure every student is accounted for, safe and receiving ongoing, regular emotional check-ins. In some cases, it may be the difference of providing not only a safe haven for learning, but an escape from additional violence and harm to a student in their own home. Administrators must support their staff with resources and regular opportunities to meet regularly and discuss students in need to determine the resources needed to provide these students with the support they need.

Local Efforts To Address Mental Health And Wellness

#COMEBACKCASCHOOLS

  • Marin COE offers resources to support mental health and wellness. Click here to hear Marin County high school students discuss mental health, wellness, and student engagement with their district leadership teams.
  • San Juan USD offers a virtual Wellness Room for students, families, and staff. Additional resources can be found on SJUSD’s Online Family Resource Center and Family Resources Hub.

Resources To Support Mental Health And Wellness

CALIFORNIA PARENT & YOUTH HELPLINE

CHILDHELP NATIONAL CHILD ABUSE HOTLINE

CASC COVID-19 K12 COUNSELING

ADDITIONAL READINGS

We must all call attention to and recognize that adults too are struggling and in order to address the needs of our students, we need to assure we are taking care of our teachers, staff, and school and district administrators. Educators who have experienced their own trauma are being asked to teach in settings that are foreign to them, and in many cases, are also managing their own children or caring for sick and elderly family members while working from home remotely . Even a teacher’s classroom, once considered their space and place to design as their own, has changed with desks spread out, plexiglass, masks or shields in place and other changes designed to keep a safe distance from students, eliminating teaching strategies like proximity and other forms of care that provide comfort for students. School leaders too are scrambling every day to address a situation for which they have a limited playbook to support students, staff and families often in the midst of criticism. Our school personnel need similar supports and check-ins to assure they are well and have the resources necessary to assure the wellbeing of those they serve. And of course we must recognize this is during a time when the pandemic is still present and many are in fear of acquiring the virus or giving it to one of their students and bringing it home to their families. These fears are real and in order for the adults to take care of students, they too need the same kind of supports and opportunities to gain trust that they will be safe and the school has systems in place to assure they are well.

In this month’s CCEE newsletter, you will find additional resources and tools to provide students and staff with the support needed to foster their well-being in distance learning and hybrid settings. As California schools continue to reopen and children reacclimate to school, new social, emotional, and mental health challenges will continue to be amplified, calling for a reimagining of traditional home-school partnerships and additional efforts to foster strong relationships — and we must be prepared to act.

AUTHOR

Tom Armelino, Executive Director, CCEE

A Conversation with Dr. Catlin Tucker

Hybrid Learning: The Gateway to Reopening Schools

DESCRIPTION

Although distance learning has been the primary instructional model for many LEAs during these past eight months, hybrid learning has always been the next step along the pathway to offering in-person instruction. To maximize students’ learning experiences in this new era of online and blended learning, educators continue to reimagine teaching and learning through an equity lens.

Dr. Catlin Tucker, a bestselling author, international trainer, keynote speaker, course creator, and blended learning expert, defines blended learning as “the combination of active engaged learning online and active engaged learning offline” (Tucker, 2019). Dr. Tucker joined Executive Director Tom Armelino and Dr. Michelle Magyar, Assistant Director of Business, Operations, and Strategic Engagement, in a conversation on supporting educators with hybrid learning. The trio discuss how various blended learning models can be effectively integrated in a hybrid schedule to enhance student engagement and create genuine moments of connection, while also maintaining instructional momentum.

The discussion is summarized in a three-part series, with each part providing the Q&A text, video/audio clips, and resources.

INTERVIEW PANEL

Dr. Catlin Tucker

Tom Armelino, Executive Director, CCEE

Dr. Michelle Magyar, Assistant Director of Business, Operations, and Strategic Engagement, CCEE

PART I

Many teachers understand the flipped classroom model — where traditional lessons are delivered via video for students to watch at home while class time is reserved for students to collaborate and apply their learning. Can you share how in a hybrid schedule, flipping the classroom can serve as a great way to maintain instructional momentum?

Embracing Flipped Learning

Tucker: More teachers are like, oh, yes, I’ve heard of flipped classroom. And I’ve actually moved away from flipped classroom as a label to flipped learning kind of where just with the flipped classroom, there was this idea that we’re going to send video instruction home with kids. That will be what they do for homework, so they can control the time, the place, and the pace of their learning.

And then, like you said, when they come to class, we can do that really rich work of digging in and applying and practicing and extending on what was learned in the video, but within the context of the classroom, where teachers are there to support students who have your subject area expert in the room.

You also have this beautiful community of peers, with whom students can lean on and ask questions and problem solve and troubleshoot and there’s a lot of beauty in that model.

But more and more as I play around with video, you know, when I was teaching and now in my work as a coach, video is an incredible vehicle to just create more time and space where we as teachers can really tuck in next to kids and be that facilitator coach. So instead of always thinking of it as the classroom and we’re sending video content home with students. Really, how do we lean on video, even in the context of the physical classroom, once we’re on a hybrid schedule or once we’re lucky enough to be back in schools with kids to free ourselves from that pressure to be at the front of the room, whether that’s orchestrating a lesson, providing instruction, giving directions. Teachers, there’s so much time spent in that “expert at the front of the room” role that I’d love to see spent in direct work with groups or individual students. And so I think video can really free teachers in a way that’s exciting, regardless of whether they’re working online with kids, on a hybrid schedule, or in this concurrent classroom situation.

Addressing Mindsets

Tucker: When I think about a lot of the work that I’m doing with teachers right now., yes, it’s digging into models and strategies, but we’re also having to address mindset and where teachers place value on, in terms of their work and the role they inhabit. So what I see teachers doing is placing a lot of value on their role as expert, you know, subject area expert. And of course, we have a degree of subject area expertise that’s really important, but I’m never going to know and hold more information in my brain than Google. So if all my value as an educator is tied up in my expertise, then technology and these different models are a little frightening. And what I would love to see teachers do, is start to really value the human interaction, that human side of teaching, that coaching, facilitating and I think video can play a really strategic role in allowing us to spend more time in that other role.

Armelino:  I think what’s interesting is, that’s always been the key, that was a key before we use technology. I think having people understand is, as Catlin was sharing – that we have to be intentional about that in this new environment and recognizing – it’s not just about delivering instruction. It’s actually being able to interact with kids, allowing kids to be able to interact with each other, and trying to figure out how to use the tool as a specific strategy around doing that and being intentional around it. I think that’s where folks are struggling is still recognizing that I think there’s this, there’s this, I don’t know, it’s that, that, it’s good as the enemy of great, as folks are just they figured out how to do this. So now that we’ve done this right doing then others. We’ve got technology in the hands of kids right we’re using the camera. We’re doing zoom. I figured out how to do this, get everybody to login  then I’m doing all those other pieces and say, okay, now it’s good at teaching. Let’s get it. What we know really works. Kids and actually thinking of this as a new tool and new strategy to enhance things which I really appreciate it. You were trying to get out there is trying to have people think of this from an asset based approach. Not a deficit approach.

MindSet → SkillSet → ToolSet

Tucker: Like the theory is great, but I want the hands on strategies. I want the resources like I want something I can use right now and I very much take that mentality into the training that I do with teachers and so what I realized is and I’m, I, you know, I’m kind of still fleshing out how to do this best with teachers because the mindset piece can be tough for them. I mean, but I think it’s almost like we have to approach it from mindset, skill set, tool set,  right the mindset doesn’t change,  I can’t do much work with the other pieces. And so I think one of the ways I’ve tried to approach it is, and I did this when we were, one of the things I did for you, is really let’s have a conversation about a theoretical framework that grounds online and blended learning. Let’s talk about teacher roles in this space and where you are currently investing your time and energy and it’s not the best place for you and your students to be putting that time and energy and how do we make adjustments and think about, you know, valuing things like, I see again, and this is part of teachers feeling like their value is wrapped up in being an expert. It’s like so much more time is spent in an instructor role and you can tell kids everything you want to tell them, but where they need you is when the rubber meets the road and they’re trying to apply or implement. They need coaching, they need feedback and so really thinking about, like, I’ll tell teachers, I think, giving feedback is as if not more important than the instruction itself. Without the feedback and the guidance kids aren’t going to be successful. So it’s all of these little shifts, you have to have to conversations about grading, and in this moment, which is really sticky also, but just getting them kind of questioning “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” and “Is it serving me and is it serving my students in this moment?”

Can you elaborate on your recent blog post that discusses the difficulty of planning for a lesson for students face to face and online in which you refer to the flip-flop design?

Concurrent Classrooms: Two modalities to support instruction, one method for communication

Tucker: So I was very torn about blogging about the concurrent classroom because I did not, I did not want, I’m very clear if you read my blogs, I don’t think it,  you know it’s not grounded and research is not grounded in best practice to me it feels like a solution that is convenient for staffing and scheduling purposes. And so I wasn’t sure I wanted to blog about it because I didn’t want my blogs to be seen as this endorsement, that this is a great way to handle this situation, I would much rather have teachers totally dedicated to online learning. And then those who are just in the classroom with kids because that juggle is just incredibly challenging, and I don’t think it’s what’s best for kids and I don’t think it’s what’s best for teachers. Now that being said, An increasing number of teachers I support are being placed in that situation. They have no control over it.

So then I want to be as useful as I can in thinking through, “How do we approach this moment and make learning as rewarding and teaching as rewarding as possible?” and I think for anybody who’s trying to juggle kids in the classroom and kids online simultaneously using traditional whole group instructional strategies are going to be very frustrated and very disillusioned very quickly. You’re just going to lose kids, those kids online already don’t feel like they’re equal members of the class, just by function that they’re not in that physical room.

So because my expertise is in blended learning models I was initially like okay, that’s what I would lean on if I was a teacher at this moment. I wouldn’t be trying to keep everybody’s attention on me on a single task at one moment. I’d be thinking about leveraging these models so that students had more control over the pace at which they’re moving through and that I had the opportunity to work with smaller groups of students. So the flip flop approach which you mentioned earlier. Is really just a very simple to station rotation. And the goal was just to have the teacher be able to focus on one group of students, the in class students, the online students, at a single time because what I kept hearing from teachers is it’s chaos. I am so overwhelmed. I feel like I can’t give anybody my complete attention. I’m like, monitoring the screen while trying to address kids in class. And so there is just this inherent inequality of teacher attention in a concurrent classroom and that’s no fault of the teachers. You have kiddos in the room who can yell out or raise our hands or what they’re going to command more of your attention and time. And so for me, the flip flop and always start with those kiddos online and begin every class with , hey, I’m training my kids when they come through the physical door or when they come into the zoom room, they have a welcome task and that welcome task gives me as the teacher, a chance to welcome those online students right because I physically like wait to the kids coming through my door but as they sit down to start that welcome task, I’m on zoom, hey, how are you doing I’m checking in. I’m taking attendance. I’m doing the administrative tasks that take time at the beginning of a period and then I do my teacher lead station with the kiddos on zoom and then release them. Ideally, I know that not all teachers get to do that because there’s requirements about time spent in that synchronous mode. But at the very least release them into breakout rooms or release them on their own, so they can do self paced work and then I shift my attention to these kids here. 

Tucker: One of the other pieces that I found particularly useful to address that inequality of teacher attention is regardless of the learning landscape the child is in, everybody uses the same vehicle to communicate questions or ask for help. So whether that is a Remind App or, you know, having a virtual queue with Classroom Q or messaging in a learning management system that way both sets of students have equal access to our attention as the teacher. So lots of challenges with that that approach for sure.

Armelino: I think that last piece. I haven’t heard that that last piece around everybody using a similar tool to communicate. Right is key, because I think folks are thinking when the kids back at school we put the technology aside and now we teach face to face and we use technology when we’re at home. You know, you bring your tool, bring your resource to class. This is a tool that we need you to always have, all your tools available.

Armelino: I really appreciate answering that question, especially with the way you prefaced it because I think that’s the struggle is we know it’s not the appropriate way to do it. And it’s a way, and I think all with good intention and often I think administrators are making these decisions around this how we’re going to meet the minutes and policy is creating some of these you know requirements and so they think they’re making it easier for the teacher because now we don’t have to plan an additional lesson. But actually what you’re doing is you’re creating somewhat of a nightmare, because now I have to plan around behaviors and kids who are sitting passively. I’ve had people reach out to me directly, both teachers and even administrators, who are saying this doesn’t make sense to me. This just doesn’t jive with what I know and I’m like, yeah, I can’t find anything that doesn’t jive with what I know about good teaching with and so we appreciate you giving that perspective.

Tucker: Well, and I think they’re like, oh, but it’s the highest flex model adapted for k 12 and I’m like okay, but if you think about the way in which most college courses are run and the teaching the strategies used, it’s a such a different experience that you’re using this high flex approach for at the post secondary level. And so I did some serious digging into the research to try to find, I mean I literally could not find a single reference to this being done in K 12. I found some awesome shout outs in post secondary but it’s just like apples and oranges, you can’t really compare those two and say, oh, well, they’re doing it here, we’ll just do it over here.

PART II

How can teachers effectively use in-person class time for students to work through an assignment first modeled online?

Establishing Shared Collaborative Virtual Spaces

Tucker: I wrote a blog about like really thinking intentionally about synchronous versus asynchronous learning kind of activities and how I would love to see that precious synchronous time. And that doesn’t quite frankly – it doesn’t matter to me whether we’re talking about synchronous in a physical classroom or in a Zoom room to really create time and space for the learning activities that benefit from human interaction, social learning. And so, giving kids a chance to bring whatever they have – notes or the beginning of something – to that synchronous time where  the teacher doesn’t have to give the instruction, doesn’t have to go through a model hoping everybody’s paying attention. The kids have had access to that. And quite frankly, if they didn’t watch the video, they can still watch it during this – you know, like play it. And the teacher can get into the weeds supporting that progress and also leverage the community, that collective intelligence of this group, to allow kids to work with and learn from each other.

And I think one of my areas of frustration – I actually just blogged about this – is what I perceive is the under-utilization of shared collaborative virtual spaces online. Like, how are we honoring the fact that, in part, learning has a social dimension and kids are – a lot of them quarantined, socially distant – craving connection. And we’re not necessarily prioritizing that in the synchronous time in the way that I think would help kids take these ideas they engage with asynchronously in a video or whatever and then put them into practice or apply them.

Armelino: And you’re absolutely right, that’s the piece that I think that it goes back to. People are still trying to get comfortable, so there’s this initial okay, I’ve got to do this. So now I’m trying to do it and trying to manage the whole class. And as you said, they’re trying to be experts and so they’re not comfortable sharing the learning, sharing the teaching, knowing how to engage kids, knowing how to be able to put kids into different rooms, how to bring them back. That whole management of that piece and having the comfort level of trying to do it. I think that’s why there are so many that do this whole group. Again, going back to the regular classroom, we see the same thing. Teacher “sage on the stage” kind of thing – having to teach and knowing how to manage cooperative learning and those pieces too.

How you would structure and manage a 40-minute lesson to make sure you’ve engaged with students?

Creating Space for Productive Struggle

Tucker: It’s funny, as a coach, I would pre-COVID go into classrooms, like I would have been in individual coaching sessions where we did co-lesson planning together, and then I would get into classrooms and teachers would always lament like “I just don’t have enough time. I just don’t have enough time to get all this stuff done.” And then I’m in the classroom, I’m like, “How long is this first activity going to take?” It’s just ballooning into you know where the teachers kind of doing what they need to do, and kids are kind of just taking their time settling in, and I’m like, we need to maximize this time. And I get it, teachers have so many administrative tasks they have to deal with and checking in, like you said, with kids who have been absent or missing assignments or whatever the issue may be.

So for me, that “do now” or that welcome task, it’s to make sure we’re not losing precious minutes at the beginning and also we’re kind of squashing some of those management issues that happen at the start a class because they’re wiggly little humans who are excited to see each other. And that’s okay, but let’s train them to kind of quickly transition into a task. And what I want teachers to do is to think about all the ways they could use that that beginning time. So maybe it is some brain-based retrieval kind of activities or maybe it’s start with a feedback form about tell me about this experience, how you enjoyed this lesson, how effective was this video. So using it as an opportunity to collect feedback from students so we’re continually learning and improving on our practice. Let’s engage them in some self assessment activities, let’s pique their interest, drive inquiry. There are so many cool kinds of things we could do to get them settled where it’s not always the same task, which can get kind of old over time for kids. They’re like, “Ugh I gotta sit down and do this grammar review every time at the beginning of class.” There’s lots of ways to leverage it to engage kids in metacognitive skill building and review and practice. And you know, even an online discussion prompt where everybody gets a chance to have their, you know, add their two cents to a conversation.

And then when it comes to the strategies I feel like teachers could use to engage kids, I go through and talk about lots of ways to structure like small group teacher-led experiences in a classroom. But even on a Zoom call, so many teachers, the go-to is like, “I’m going to lead with instruction. I’m going to lead with modeling.” And sometimes that’s all they ever do in those sessions with kids and you know, I just want them to consider what if you use like a “Hook the Group” strategy where instead, you lead with an unfamiliar problem. Maybe it’s a math problem you’ve never gone over or maybe it’s an unfamiliar task you are asking kids to tackle. And you let kids kind of sit in this space of productive struggle where they can chat, they can think creatively, collaborate with their peers. It could be in a breakout room, it could be in the physical classroom, and they just wrestle with it. And as a teacher, you learn so much just by listening and observing those kids at work. What strategies are they using? What questions are they asking? What prior knowledge are they drawing from? Where are the clear gaps that I need to make sure I address? And then once kids have had a chance to kind of struggle together in this productive way and you debrief and you let them kind of share out. What did you do? Why’d you do it? Then they lean into the explanation. They kind of want to hear the instruction because they’ve sat in the space of productive struggle.

I talk about modifying – like if you want to model something, let’s make that really robust and interactive, and you know, do kind of like that “I Do, We Do, Groups Do, You Do,” and create space for that. If you are going to do some direct instruction like remember that working memory in the brain is really small. So chunk your presentation and follow kind of a “Present-Pause-Discuss” strategy. I present for five minutes. I give you some time to catch up on your notes, process what you heard, identify your questions. And let’s have an informal conversation so you make sure anything that’s unclear, I’m able to clarify before we move on. So there’s all of these little approaches. I have one that’s like a “review, bridge, build.” Let’s start by reviewing something we’ve already done. Let’s create a bridge between that and what we’re going to talk about today. And then I have instruction. So just thinking about how do we make this interactive and engaging for learners so they’re not just passively listening to a teacher talk for an extended period of time in class or on a Zoom call because we all know that’s not going to be really exciting for kids.

Supporting Parents with Hybrid Learning

Armelino: What’s different now too, is that kids are home and the importance of – the parents have always been important, but many times, we’ve relied on the parent to do things separate from school. So we want you to support but school’s ours, it’s our domain. And for many parents, they’re comfortable with that. If my kid, they’ll come home and I’ll make sure they to do their homework. Now, especially for young kids, kindergarteners and those younger primary students, who now, you have an adult, you have an opportunity. Again, it goes back to that same mindset, skillset, toolkit. I love that piece. How do we be more intentional to make sure that we’ve engaged the parent to be able to support their student  and be a partner with us in helping to educate them.

Tucker: Yeah, I think parents are a critical part of the equation. And like you said with younger learners, they’re really like the…they’re the coach at home. And we can equip those parents with resources to support them in being successful. And I don’t know that that’s always happening. Like our conversation about video instruction, video models, even ever young learners, video directions and making those available so that whoever is at home with the child – the parent, the grandparent, the caregiver – that they have access to resources and tools they can use to support this learner.

I think it was a podcast with Zaretta Hammond maybe, where she was talking about really like – it’s the one where she uses the Apollo 13 analogy, which I thought was beautiful – and she talks about really engaging the parents, the first teachers right, and engaging them in supporting this learning. And pulling them into the conversation in a really intentional way so that when the teacher and parent talk, it’s not always that “oh my gosh, we’re in some kind of a conflict or some kind of a problem.” And I think often those moments between teachers and parents, which are so stressful as a teacher, they come from a breakdown in communication.

So some of the the best success stories I’ve heard from teachers are like teachers who are doing the legwork to position students, even young learners. It’s really sweet to see like second graders doing a share-out of the work they’re most proud of for the week, and the work that was the the toughest that they struggled with and why. Even if it’s just an audio recording on Class Dojo or remind and sending it home to to parents or sharing it via Seesaw, like a little portfolio pic for the week. Those teachers who use things like multimedia digital newsletters like, “Hey, this month, this is what we’re working on. This is how you can support your child. If your child needs more of this, here’s a an enrichment choice board you can use or whoever supporting your child can use.” And even hosting like periodic Zoom calls for the parents like, “How’s this going? What are your kids doing? How can we improve the situation?” I think those are the stories where I feel like teachers have done, they’ve done a lot of work to open that line of communication, but they sure have gotten a reward in feeling like parents are their allies and they’re not necessarily in this alone.

I mean, I encourage teachers to do this for students, but I can see the value as you’re talking of teachers doing this for those parents too. We know why we’re doing what we’re doing. But we’re not always very good at articulating that why for students or for parents. And so, you know, I remember one time a student like referenced something I had asked them to do as busy work and I just about fell out of my chair. I was like, I was so offended. I’m like, “I don’t give busy work. What are you talking about?” And they’re like, “Well, that thing that we did and this other thing we did.” And I had to take a step back. Once I like got my bearings and I was like, I have not articulated the value of this work very well if this child, this student does not understand why I’m asking them to do this particular thing. And that’s on me. I need to make my “why” visible. And I could see in this moment, teachers who are working with children who have parents in the background, really purposefully explaining the “why.” Like, “Okay, we’re gonna learn these sight words because when you get to reading,  this is going to help you.” And just knowing that okay, now I’m pulling everybody into a conversation about why are we doing this and what is the value or purpose.

PART III

In the Station Rotation Model, “students rotate through learning stations either on a fixed schedule or at the teacher’s discretion” (Tucker, 2015). Learning stations can include small group instruction, small group work, collaborative projects, or online learning, but a blended learning model comprises at least one online learning station. How a teacher can check for understanding and create re-teaching stations for students struggling with a particular concept, while other students pursue enrichment or extension work?

Personalized Learning and Formative Assessments

Tucker: I think the goal is to feel less like we have to manage everything. And it’s scary to let go and trust that kids can do it, but they are so capable. Doesn’t mean they won’t need some, you know, skill building and some redirection at times, but they can do it. And if the tasks are interesting and engaging, some of those management pieces kind of fall away eventually anyway. But that’s another, that’s another conversation.

So one of the things that I focus on a lot in my work with teachers who are planning for online learning because I’ve been a traditional classroom teacher, I taught blended learning courses, and I’ve taught entirely online, and I do know from experience that that physical distance between teacher and student online makes it harder to kind of track where kids are at. It’s harder to have your thumb on, okay, who’s stagnating, who’s making progress, who needs more, who didn’t get this. And so being really intentional about building those mechanisms into our lessons to collect formative assessment data is critical. Otherwise it’s very hard to, at the very least differentiate learning, and at the very best to personalize learning. And so for me, just reminding teachers that you know, that can happen at three different points in a learning cycle. You can assess prior knowledge at the beginning. We know not every kid is starting from the same spot. So are we being intentional about trying to understand where they are starting from, what they already know, or what the misconceptions they’re bringing into a particular learning cycle is? Then obviously, that check for understanding along the way – what are they getting, what are they missing, what have I maybe not been super clear about? Then getting them reflecting on the learning that has happened. Taking a step back to identify what did I learn, how did I learn it, what am I still confused about? You don’t have to do all three in every single lesson but just being aware that we want to be integrating those mechanisms as much as possible, not to shove a bunch of points in a gradebook, which I’m very clear when I talk to teachers, it’s a signal for us. Where are kids at and what do they need? 

Then as we think about the station rotation, you know, when we start doing those checks for understanding, we’re going to have kids who are in different places. And so using that data, that information, to inform – “You know what, today I’m going to group kids this way because this group actually needs this, this group would benefit from this, and this group over here needs this.” So in that teacher-led station, we’re being really nimble. And it’s fascinating because over the years, what I’ve heard from teachers who that hasn’t quite clicked for them yet is, “I don’t know why I would do station rotation? I’m saying the same thing three times or four times. Why would I do that?” And I’m like well, if you’re saying the same thing, the same way, three or four times, then that’s not a good use of your time.

But kids are very different. They have different needs and skills and interests and language proficiencies and are we taking that into account when we design this teacher-led station? Even if we’re going to cover the same skills or content with each group, maybe the scaffold supports, the problems, the prompts we’re using are slightly different depending on the kids that we’re working with. And so I think that’s kind of – you almost have to get comfortable with the rotation, make the mistakes that are just typical at the beginning of trying something new. And then start layering on that complexity of like, really being diligent about building in formative assessment mechanisms and differentiating those experiences at the various stations. And start with your teacher-led station, because that’s the one that’s going to be the most natural for you to start to make those kind of adjustments.

There is strong evidence and recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics, as well as others, that school leaders should “prioritize” full-time, in-person classes for the youngest children in elementary school, special needs children, foster youth, and homeless students. What ideas do you have to help LEAs balance schedules to accommodate this approach, while the majority of students continue to learn online?

Bringing Back Small Cohorts

Magyar: I kind of wanted to get at this larger issue of  why we might be bringing the younger students back to in-person instruction or on campus in some way. We think a lot of LEAs are going to probably be adopting this approach, where you have either the cohorts of high-need students or kind of the younger students. So can you speak to the rationale behind that, some of the the pros and cons to that, anything that we could do to help LEAs accommodate this, because you’re actually speaking to how young learners can really thrive in the online space. And so I’m just kind of curious your thoughts about the waiver options and bringing these students back. 

Tucker: Well, ironically, I think the most successful young learning I’ve seen happening online, is really prioritizing getting those kiddos off the screen. You know, have them pull together, build community, give an overview for the week. And then you have like, you know, I’ve seen elementary teachers who’ve been successful in this moment – it’s not easy, but they’ve been successful – where they’ll start with one of those quick 20 minutes, almost like replicating circle time on a Zoom call where the goal is like, “Let’s make connections. Let’s have fun. Let’s figure out where we’re going this week.” And then the rest of the week, the teachers are doing a really beautiful job of small group, like pulling kids into small group instruction, spending 15-20 minutes with this group, and moving.

It’s exhausting for the teacher, but then they’ve done a beautiful job of releasing kids to do things, whether it’s printing, or going outside and coloring pictures, or identifying colors and shapes, and all these different things, where they really found a way to allow young learners to engage in that experiential, very tactile learning that is so important for them. And quite frankly, younger learners don’t have the self regulation skills developed yet to be a successful in this asynchronous learning or even synchronous online learning. We have high school kids who are struggling with that and so  I think it’s really appropriate to try to get those kids back into physical spaces in a safe way obviously as soon as possible, because of the smaller attention spans at that age, you know like I said, not having those self regulation skills, and there’s also just like the social component, right. Some of these kids have never been in school or daycare, anything beyond their home environment. And there’s a lot to be said about that social interaction, that social learning that happens when you have to negotiate with other tiny people who want to get in your space and they want your stuff. You know, so those pieces, you can’t replicate that experience online as much as we would love to. As I said, I think what should be happening in the classroom are those pieces that really benefit from social learning and human interaction. And kids that age, they just love their teachers, right, like they have such a connection. And I heard a quote on an NPR story I was listening to where they were talking to a parent and they asked the kid a question. She’s a kindergartener and she’s online. They were like, “Do you have any friends in your class yet?” And she goes, “No, not yet. I haven’t met anybody. Just seeing them on the screen.” I was like, oh my god, I want to cry.

Hybrid Learning: Getting it Right

Armelino: Hybrid, I think, is where we see people shifting towards and we hope, at least we’re getting closer, right. I’m really curious on how do we make sure we get hybrid right? How do we do this right? And advice that you have on how to manage, you know, in-school instruction. And in particular, I think what we’ve seen too is, is that the hybrid model, I think for a lot of folks, is based on scheduling, right? If I was a school leader, what advice would you give me about how to approach hybrid learning, as we think about bringing kids back to school?

Tucker: Hybrid refers to so many variations so if we were going to do a hybrid schedule, my dream schedule would be having kids in one group in class Monday, Tuesday. Wednesday is a teacher work day with some online personalized support, and then we see another group on Thursday, Friday. And I know there are some schools adopting that specific schedule, which I think is awesome. And that way, we keep numbers low and we have the cohort system and all that.

I mean, I, in my own recommendations and like the last chapter of my doctoral study was like, I love to re-examine this idea of seat time and that learning only happens in a classroom and really approach the design. Like I’d love everybody to start playing around with blended learning models and start really prioritizing, allowing kids more control over elements of their learning, both in and outside of class. But I don’t want to see those moments of learning asynchronously at home as “throw away.” There’s so many ways to engage kids in dynamic, asynchronous learning that can set them up for a much richer experience when we dive deep, when we’re all together, or when you’re with your cohort in the physical classroom. So really thinking intentionally about which learning activities do I want kids to engage in that will benefit from them controlling time, place, and pace? And which really will benefit from that social learning, that human interaction? And I’m going to start to design learning for these two different landscapes with that information in mind. I mean, that would be definitely my advice.

Armelino: Anything different for secondary?

Tucker: No, not really. I mean, I think the kinds of things we ask kids to do might be different. But no, I still think it’s really, it’s an intentionality around the design work that we do as educators. And letting kids make more decisions, right. Not feeling like we have to control everything. And actually realizing that in releasing some of that control, we actually might engage kids that  otherwise are disengaged in this moment.

Leveraging Relationships to Reengage Students

With the passage of Assembly Bill 86, school districts will once again feel the pressure to speedily match students’ needs with the appropriate level of intervention and learning supports to accelerate learning. Although the question of how schools will address the large-scale learning acceleration of students is complex, we know that students need to first feel safe and secure to learn. This will require an initial assessment—in an intentional and formative manner—of the personal well-being of not only the students, but also the adults. In this past year, students and adults alike have been “battered by difficult emotions stemming from not only the pandemic, but also the economic recession and ongoing civil rights protests” (Prothero, 2021). Data on student and adult experiences will serve as the ultimate truth teller to help understand where they are and how we can move forward in addressing the necessary protective factors to engage our students academically. 

CCEE invited Dr. Peter Senge, co-founder of the Center for Systems Awareness and author of The Fifth Discipline, to be a part of the Leading Forward 2021 initiative. In his keynote session, Dr. Senge shared a conversation he had with a group of educators about the scar tissue left on our learners and adults after the pandemic.

“They talked about scar tissue. It’s one of the first images that was used. The damage has been done, and healing is actually more important in a way than learning in the traditional sense. Without healing, without recognizing and attending to the deep social, emotional traumas that students have gone through, we can think we’re focusing on learning and we can think we’re making up ground, but we won’t make much.”

As schools prepare to reopen, we must be prepared to address the reengagement of students and what that means in our current context. This begins with building or rebuilding staff-student, staff-staff, student-student, and staff-family relationships, which are fundamental in supporting the social, emotional, and academic needs of students. Consider the following strategies to strengthen these relationships:

Staff-student: Map out relationships so each student is assigned a staff member who develops and maintains a relationship with the student through regular scheduled check-ins. Greet students at the door, organize fishbowl discussions, and design activities for students to have fun and show school spirit, focusing on strategies that strengthen relationships and build trust. 

Staff-staff: While resources and attention, appropriately, are front and center in supporting students, less focus is paid to assessing and addressing the mental health of educators who have also struggled to find balance and safety during the pandemic. Conscious efforts should be made to leverage staff-staff relationships by promoting relationship-building and peer-to-peer support through “wellness committees,” mentors, professional counselors, social workers, school psychologists, or other trained professionals.

Student-student: Facilitate the process of creating a shared agreement for classroom norms, set the expectation that every voice matters, and provide opportunities for students to develop individual relationships and build a class community (e.g., “mix and mingle” activities, “glows and grows,” team projects) – virtually and face-to-face (as deemed safe).

Staff-family: Staff-family relationships have probably never been more important. Using culturally and linguistically responsive approaches, regularly communicate with families to schedule individual check-ins and distribute climate and culture surveys. Listen to what worked and didn’t work for them during the pandemic and use these opportunities to understand the needs of their children. Additional trauma-informed trainings or resources can support families in approaching difficult conversations with their children to help them cope with changes and prepare for the transition back to school.

As schools bring more students back for in-person instruction, we must create psychologically safe learning environments to accelerate learning, while advancing equity for our vulnerable student groups. The March edition of the CCEE newsletter will feature tools, strategies, and resources focused on reengaging students and building relationships, to ensure we are addressing the whole child. 

AUTHOR

Tom Armelino, CCEE Executive Director

School Re-entry and School-based Mental Health Supports

As we prepare to welcome students back to campus, one thing is abundantly clear – status quo will never be the same. Returning students will need unprecedented access to mental health supports to overcome trauma stemming from the COVID-19 crisis, social injustice, wildfires, and a multitude of other experiences. Schools must prioritize the psychological safety of all students, families, and educators as never before. Left untreated, trauma, anxiety, and depression will impair students’ ability to engage in learning, leading to greater academic skills gaps and exponentially increased social-emotional/behavioral needs. 

The research is clear—early intervention yields positive outcomes. Key to unlocking student success are credentialed school-based mental health professionals (school psychologists, counselors, and social workers) who play an integral role in the early identification of mental health issues. These highly trained professionals must be included in each phase of the school reopening plan, as they collaboratively support the social-emotional well-being of students, families, and educators. Within the Multi-Tiered System of Support framework, they implement culturally sensitive, trauma-informed supports for the whole child by: helping teachers embed social-emotional learning into the curriculum; helping students reconnect through back-to-school events, peer buddies, looping, and more; developing and communicating re-entry plansexamining infrastructure to conduct universal screening and informal check-ins with students; and managing a referral system for students at higher risk. Administrators—now is the time to embrace your Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) team as mental health providers. 

AUTHOR

By Jeannine Topalian, Psy.D., LEP#3365, CASP President

A New Lens for Learning

As we continue to reimagine what education will look like in 2021 and beyond, we have the singular opportunity to leverage our lessons learned and increased technical capacity to ensure that every student feels like they belong in class, and the classroom and learning experience has been designed specifically around their needs. The feeling of exclusion, that one does not belong, stimulates a neurological response akin to physical pain. Many of our students are likely hurting, and as they return to school, they need to know that their school is designed with their needs in mind and is a place where everyone is welcome, respected, and valued. We can’t have one-size-fits-all Tier One instruction and expect to use interventions to support every learner left out of that initial model. To do that, we need to be flexible and reimagine the role of scaffolds, options, and student autonomy.  

“Without a high quality instructional framework, such as Universal Design for Learning (UDL), schools will continue to risk having a significant number of students fail to meet the full array of educational opportunities and outcomes that hard working educators desire to achieve. As a former Superintendent of a district that implemented UDL, I can attest that UDL provided our district a common language, common framework and common way to collaborate and communicate about how we design and implement universally accessible instruction for all students.”

– MATT NAVO, CCEE GOVERNING BOARD CHAIR –

As we continue to reimagine what education will look like in 2021 and beyond, we have the singular opportunity to leverage our lessons learned and increased technical capacity to ensure that every student feels like they belong in class, and the classroom and learning experience has been designed specifically around their needs. The feeling of exclusion, that one does not belong, stimulates a neurological response akin to physical pain. Many of our students are likely hurting, and as they return to school, they need to know that their school is designed with their needs in mind and is a place where everyone is welcome, respected, and valued. We can’t have one-size-fits-all Tier One instruction and expect to use interventions to support every learner left out of that initial model. To do that, we need to be flexible and reimagine the role of scaffolds, options, and student autonomy.  

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a flexible framework that leverages decades of research and evidence to address learner variability, the individuality of every student. Prior to joining the CCEE, my primary mission was supporting through the implementation of UDL that all students could thrive in their general education classrooms. Over the years, I’ve found it very helpful to lay out some foundational pieces to prevent any misconceptions about what UDL is and is not. 

UDL is a lens, not a checklist. Practitioners of UDL set clear, challenging goals for all students and then, based on their knowledge of the goal, their design constraints, and their students, anticipate barriers to learning and then develop options and supports to mitigate or eliminate those barriers. The UDL Guidelines are a tool that informs our work, not a strict checklist or plug-and-play mechanism.  

UDL is a marathon, not a sprint. UDL shifts the center of instruction from the teacher to the student, empowering students to take ownership of their learning. This transformation takes time, for both teachers and students. No one should expect UDL to be implemented overnight. Do not expect that of yourself or anyone else.  

UDL is not “just good teaching.” There is no universally accepted definition of good teaching. UDL, however, has a defined framework, backed by significant research and evidence from the field.  Teachers have hard-earned knowledge, skills, and experience; these can be sharpened and delivered with intention to address inequities through UDL.  

Developed by Tom Tobin, this is a quick way to retrofit an existing lesson, assessment, or resource, building your facility with UDL through repeated, quick application. Writing lessons from scratch takes considerable time and effort, but we all have time to make one change.  

  • Select a lesson/assessment/resource you’ve used before and intend to use again.   
  • Identify the biggest pinch point (i.e. the place that triggered the most requests for help, the question that most students missed, the place where the most students got off track). Based on your experience and knowledge of your students, what’s the likely barrier there?  
  • Once you have a hypothesis, how might you plus one – add one new support, option, revision to address the barrier?  
  • Make that change, then test it out – see if the next group of students experiences better success. 

The April edition of CCEE’s newsletter includes two articles from contributing authors who are part of innovative programs focused on inclusion and equity, each with UDL at the core of their work. We also introduce the California UDL Coalition, a partnership with CAST, the California Department of Education, and several other California LEAs and programs, that seeks to promote, align, and support UDL efforts across our state. One of its initiatives is the CA UDL Network, which holds open quarterly online meetings to provide resources, share best practices, and solicit ideas, questions, and needs from the field. 

AUTHOR

James McKenna,
Assistant Director,
Professional Learning and Leadership Development,
CCEE

CCEE CONNECTION

LAUNCH NEWSLETTER 

Connecting New Learning to Direct Implementation

A year with COVID-19 has taught us many lessons and surfaced many challenges, including the way we have approached professional learning. Gone are the days of one-and-done professional learning events. We now know that providing educators with a list of workshops to choose from simply based on “what sounds good” can lead to disconnected, single event learning opportunities with little impact on the school organization’s targeted key results for student success.

The Supporting Inclusive Practices (SIP) project, as a collaborative statewide effort amongst team members from the Riverside County Office of Education and El Dorado County Office of Education, provides, in part, technical assistance rooted in intentional re/design of systems and supports at all levels to connect new learning to direct implementation. The most requested support is with implementation of universal design for learning (UDL) as a framework to create flexible learning environments that maximize choice, so that each and every student can learn in the way they learn best

The Arcadia Unified School District in Los Angeles County is among the growing number of districts implementing UDL in our state. Knowing a one- or two-day UDL workshop would not suffice, Dr. Katherine Mahoney, Director of Special Education, offered this of their intentional design across several years: “With the support of the SIP team, the time AUSD students with disabilities spent in general education settings increased by more than 28% over five years. In 2019 the academic performance for students with disabilities increased in English Language Arts by 13.4% and in Math by 8.4% on the Smarter Balanced Assessment.”

The Poway Unified School District in San Diego County is on this same path for UDL implementation.  Megan Gross, Teacher on Special Assignment, shared, “In 2021 we partnered with SIP to begin a professional learning series focused on UDL that will continue through the 2022 school year. Our goal is to provide 31 schools (elementary and middle) the instructional design tools to increase access to general education for all students.”  

California’s educators are moving beyond one-off workshops after seeing sustained, measurable outcomes for all students with ongoing coaching and scaling of UDL over time. It is this work that is the heart of SIP! Learn more about UDL on the SIP website, which offers access to archived resources and free professional learning events.

AUTHOR

Kristin Brooks, Ed.D.,
Executive Director,
Supporting Inclusive Practices (SIP)

Reversing the “Summer Slide”

study conducted by Johns Hopkins University researchers estimates that as much as two-thirds of the achievement gap in the elementary grades can be directly traced to learning loss in the summer, or what we call the “summer slide.” With the significant loss of in-person learning over the past 14 months, learning gaps have widened even further as evidenced by the findings shared by PACE and NWEA. Summer 2021 is an opportunity for school districts to expand access to summer learning, when the need has never been greater or more important!

As districts plan for the learning that will take place over the summer, they may be faced with pressures and demands to “think outside of the box” or to reimagine schools in the form of new models for learning. In some ways, this creates unrealistic expectations and can distract from what we know has been effective in promoting student success. Quick fixes, such as programs designed to educate children in a simpler way or off-the-shelf curriculum that pledge large gains for students, are unrealistic. Rather, a balanced approach that includes a blend of academics, social interaction, and enrichment is key to engaging students, increasing their sense of belonging, and unlocking their curiosity and passion for learning.

Summer learning provides a renewed opportunity to invite various stakeholders to the table, including teachers, parents, and community partners, to collaborate as key designers of student learning. Student data should serve as a key factor to identify targeted supports to address inequities. To ensure that the learning over the summer is not a one-off, districts will need to align summer learning to what students will be assessed in in the fall when they are back within the confines of a classroom. Consider leveraging the resources and expertise of key partners like the YMCA, county-wide recreation programs, churches, advocacy groups, social services, and other community-based organizations to expand access to both academic and mental health supports available to students. 

Traditional summer school, often enrichment-based, will fall short if academic interventions are not embedded in summer learning opportunities to accelerate learning. Focused on collective efficacy and true collaboration, district teams must design extended learning opportunities that implement high-quality curriculum with fidelity and are aligned to metrics for formative assessments. Highly trained staff with experience and knowledge of the grade-level content must be at the forefront of these summer learning opportunities to accelerate learning and prevent further “summer slide,” as students prepare to return to in-person instruction in the fall. High-dosage tutoring, mental health resources, nutrition programs, high-quality early education, project-based learning, STEM, and research-based credit recovery programs will be key to the success of students this summer. To ensure that these summer learning programs serve students who can most benefit, student outreach will need to be personalized to target and recruit specific groups of students.

Districts will need to take on this new and real challenge, embracing the summer as an opportunity to reengage students, assess their needs, and begin closing the learning gaps that will likely be evident in the new school year. Recognizing that there are no quick fixes, this begins with what we’ve always known works for students – learning and relationships are entwined; advancing student learning begins with grade-level content and support; high expectations and relevant course content increase student engagement; and needs of adults must be addressed to provide safe and supportive learning environments for students. 

To support districts in this ever-challenging opportunity, this month’s newsletter will feature tools, strategies, and resources to design summer learning programs that provide the necessary settings to accelerate learning, while advancing equity for our most vulnerable student groups. 

AUTHOR

Tom Armelino, Executive Director, CCEE