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July 1, 2021

Tell Us About Summer 2021

Readers share how pandemic-era teaching has influenced their lesson planning.

Instructional Strategies
Photo of young students in a classroom wearing masks

The "Fake Test"

When is a test not a test? When it's one students have to take during a worldwide pandemic.

The pandemic has made me completely re-examine the planning and purpose of a traditional Latin test. Is it so students can prove they've mastered the dative case? Or the academic skills they need to practise as engaged learners? Or is it the chance to develop that sense of connection that students so deeply crave? Rather than choosing just one, why can't our lesson have it all?

With students on board for the experiment, we set about planning how to have our cake and eat it too. I created a "Fake Test" assignment, which was broken down into three steps. In the first step, I asked students, either individually or in small groups, to come up with test questions. These were used for their practice and preparation, not for the actual "Fake Test" experience. For step two, inspired by their exemplars, I composed the actual "Fake Test." Although students completed it under "real" testing conditions, I told them the test would not be graded, and so the stakes were low.

Afterward each student received the answer key to a different section of the test. Then they paired up to share their test responses. Their partner would identify errors by coaching them through making corrections (answering questions, giving clues, explaining concepts), all without giving away the actual answer. This allowed our physically distanced and cohorted students to connect, share, and support each other in their learning.

The "Fake Test" results were fascinating. Students who usually struggle on tests really learned and ended up "owning" their errors, feeling more confident about their understanding of the concepts. Students who traditionally do well on tests found it a welcome challenge having to make their thinking process explicit, thus also consolidating their learning. I definitely plan on continuing this experience with students upon our return to in-person learning.

Diana Pai, Classics teacher, Languages Curriculum and Department Leader, Saint Clement's School, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

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Becoming More Tech-Savvy

The challenge was to figure out how to use best instructional practices while teaching remotely. I chose to get Level 1 Google Certification and become a Seesaw Pioneer to make the task easier. I used that knowledge to recreate my assignments, projects, and formative and summative assessments in digital formats. Like most teachers during the pandemic, my technology knowledge increased, and I learned many new apps and programs. I have a Viewsonic Viewboard and a tablet, so I was able to have the whole class on the viewboard and teach small group on my tablet. This allowed me to do reading and math groups. I also had material pick-ups so I could give art and project materials to my students. We took several virtual field trips through the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Walk Through Ancient Civilizations, STEMapalooza, and Earth Day websites. I was put to the test with distance learning, but I truly feel that I provided my students with an engaging, quality 6th grade year.

Roseann Graf, 6th Grade Teacher, Wickman Elementary, Chino Valley Unified School District, Chino Hills, California

Less Is More

"Less is more" has been the greatest change in the way we have approached lesson planning. We identify priorities in our standards and ensure time is spent on checking for understanding, using strategies such as cold calling, waterfall chat, and constant questioning.

Teaching for "stickability" has helped remind us about what it is that we want students to learn. What do we want them to take away and remember from that day's lesson?

We've focused on one activity and allowed students time to go deeper into the learning rather than moving from one activity to the next without time for students to stop, learn, and consolidate. We also try to talk less and listen more. Giving students time to explain their thinking and reasoning has helped them to clarify and articulate their understanding.

Another change has been to find creative ways to help students use resources available at home to develop understanding. We are always asking ourselves what everyday materials our students can access easily at home for math, science, PE, and other subjects.

Student voice and choice is a priority in lesson planning. We build in time for one-to-one chats with students every week, which has led to the development of positive relationships and also deeper knowledge about the individual child. This, in turn, has provided us with information about student interests and passions.

Sneh Wadhwaney, Cross Phase Leader, The British School Delhi, New Delhi, India

Modelling Skills

As a remote English language arts teacher, I needed to strategically plan during the pandemic. Not only did I need to focus on the content, but I also needed to examine my technological practices. I created exemplar models that would support my 4th graders as writers.

For example, I asked students to write a paragraph about how they overcame a challenge with the help of someone else. I gave them the following model:

Paragraph one: Introduction

  • 1st and 2nd sentences: Hook—gets the reader excited

  • 3rd sentence: Support from who—family, classmates, or friends

  • 4th sentence: Example of support reason #1

  • 5th sentence: Example of support reason #2

My model:

Do you know what my hardest challenge was? I will never forget the endless hours to complete and defend my dissertation. I couldn't have done it without my wonderful parents. They gave me helpful advice. My parents made me not want to quit.

I used this type of concrete model to help my students to become confident, engaged, and proficient writers.

Todd Feltman, educator, Hunter College, New York City

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