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Online and Blended Learning: Six Steps for Instructional Success

By Scott B. Freiberger
Online and Blended Learning: Six Steps for Instructional Success

Taipei 101 provides perspective on the way schools should consider unobscured learning overviews and curriculum road maps.

With conflicting connotations and myriad misunderstandings regarding online and blended learning, what should international school leaders do to ensure an exceptional academic year?  How could colleagues show concern, continue to collaborate, and coalesce effectively in blended or remote learning environments?  Finally, how do we ensure emotional balance for all while maximizing student achievement?  Here are six steps to consider for instructional success.  

1. Plan for Instructional Success

First, with the new school year well underway, staff members should have a clear focus and collaborate to create a safe, welcoming, compassionate environment. 

An Understanding by Design (UbD) framework could help guide instruction and the knowledge and skills students should be acquiring. Formative and summative assessments to measure intermittent student progress should also be carefully considered with learning goals clearly in mind.

With key stakeholders informed and involved, their voices could lend credence to the decision-making process and help the entire school community better fathom the reasoning behind established administrative designs and instructional approaches.  

Be wary of requiring remote classrooms to precisely mirror in-person ones. A Google Classroom may teem with educational life, but in a unique way compared with a traditional classroom setting. In a similar vein, assigning excessive work may lead to early student (and teacher) burnout, and not necessarily enhance learning in any environment. Give teachers and students space to breathe, whether in-person or in virtual spaces.

2. Consistency is Key

Next, communicate with staff and students on a regular basis.  Clear and consistent communication is more important than ever when we are physically isolated. Decide on communication methods, establish intervals, and set meetings. Additionally, establish routines, continue to connect with all members of the school community, and ensure the mental well-being of staff and students.  Students not only require academic rigor, but also time to create, connect with family and friends, and reflect. Students should also have opportunities to share feelings and thoughts along with classwork. 

In addition, with such an abrupt halt to “normal” learning and in reaction to horrific world events showcasing glaring instances of racial injustice followed by social unrest, students may be experiencing trauma, and teachers should continue to show care, concern, and empathy.  Teachers should also ensure that materials selected represent the beauty of diversity and tolerance for other views.

3. Check In to Prevent Checking Out

Third, check in with students to prevent them from checking out, and this same tenet also applies for all staff members. In order to take academic risks, even in blended or remote learning environments, social-emotional learning (SEL) has become particularly pressing given our current circumstances.

Remain flexible.  Give parents the option to enroll (or un-enroll) children in remote or in-person classrooms at set intervals based on covid-19 infection rates or on whether students are experiencing difficulty adapting.  Effective communication tends to engender transparency and better proverbial “buy-in” from the entire school community.

4. Authentically Assess for Student Success

After that, infuse authentic assessments into student learning to promote choice and voice, spark creativity, and improve motivation.  Rather than asking students to memorize and recall facts, authentic assessments ask students to actively participate in situations that require them to apply the principles they’ve learned about in the instructional material.

Teachers should also be trained on practical applications to use with students (and their families). Consider tools such as Screencastify, Loom, Voicethread, and Flipgrid to…deliver clear, specific, helpful, and timely feedback.

A steady stream of surprise pop quizzes and comprehensive unit tests may also prove detrimental.  If students are struggling, myriad distractions may be impacting student concentration and academic performance.  To fine-tune instruction, reach out and ask for clarity. Continue to offer students assessments before, during, and after assignments to gauge understanding and determine next instructional moves.

Direct, immediate feedback with actionable next steps may also prove more calming and motivating than general praise. “That’s great!” may serve to temporarily boost self-esteem, but it does little to help students understand precisely how to improve their performance.

5. Follow-Through with Flexible Team Leadership

Fifth, follow through with flexible team leadership.  Start “thinking in chunks” and planning for enhancing the online ecosystem: Building a one-stop shop and sharing a weekly learning plan with students and parents gives them a birds-eye view and road map of the curriculum. Beware of the “silo mentality,” especially during the pandemic. 

Dwelling on problems? Start finding solutions. Now more than ever, a growth mindset is necessary to overcome obstacles on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Share ideas, resources, and feelings.

To continue to engender trust among colleagues in the workplace, share everything: teacher-created materials, freely available resources, curated course content, successes, challenges, and even total fails. Also, continue pre-planning, co-planning, and post-planning to ensure student success.

6. Culturally-Responsive Education: From Initial Awareness to Sustained Action

Last, but certainly not least, develop an equity mindset to ensure best instructional practices support all learners, especially those from traditionally underserved backgrounds. Ensure the curriculum highlights that all members of the educational community reject racism and refuse to tolerate discrimination and harassment. 

In addition, consider lessons rife with kindness and compassion to augment rigor and high classroom expectations. Infuse pedagogy that celebrates the beauty of cultural diversity and ensures equity and curricular access for students of all races, religions, and backgrounds across grades. 

Since uncertainty may yield negativity, be sure to provide positive perspectives and complement contemporary classroom instruction within rich cultural contexts. Spark student motivation via project-based learning (PBL) and guide with reasonable rubrics coupled with standards-based benchmarks. 

To sum up, planning for instructional success means striking a balance between health, physical safety, academic rigor, and mental well-being.  Ensure lessons across grades are infused with SEL and enough time for students (and teachers) to recharge and reboot, away from continual screen glare.

During this tumultuous time, ensure students and staff members can tap into talents and discover much-needed inner peace. Above all, retain your sense of optimism and humor because, my virtual friend, this too shall pass. 

Scott Freiberger, a passionate Instructional Coach/EAL Specialist and aspiring school leader, is honored to be the 2018 TESOL International Teacher of the Year. He is on Twitter @scottfreiberger.

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