This week on the Truth for Teachers podcast: Let’s talk about resilient teaching, or more specifically, how to create resilient designs or lesson plans whether your school district will be using a remote learning/remote teaching model, hybrid learning/blended learning model, or conducting in-person classes. This episode will include teaching ideas, learning activities, and teaching resources that will help you create lesson plans that will stand despite the last-minute changes in schooling due to the outbreak. 

Can you really create ONE set of lessons that work face-to-face AND online?

It’s a challenge for sure — but I think this needs to be our goal for the 2020-2021 school year, and there are some emerging best practices that can help.

I’m basing the ideas here on a term called “resilient pedagogy” that I’ve seen credited to Michigan State University. I’ve also found some good thinking on it from Joshua Eyler, who wrote in a Twitter thread, “Essentially, resilient pedagogy is a combination of course design principles and teaching strategies that are as resistant to disruption and to change in the learning environment as possible.”

I really like that, and want to tweak the wording a bit here to “flexible, resilient pedagogy” because that implies there is no one right or optimal way to make this work, and we’re adapting to whatever our students need at the time. 

Aiming to make our plans both flexible and resilient will allow us to roll with any changes that might come, and will carry us through to post-pandemic teaching, as well. After all, “flexible, resilient pedagogy” is a release from our rigid, standardized, pre-pandemic approaches that didn’t meet the needs of all learners before.

I believe this is the model that will get us through the crisis and help us emerge with more equitable, sustainable, and relevant ways of teaching and learning.

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What exactly does flexible resilient pedagogy look like in practice?

The idea is for your lessons to be as resilient as possible to any needed changes in the format of the instruction. The essential qualities of your lesson plans will be in place, no matter the context. For example, you might have a video (of a mini-lesson, book read-aloud, etc.) which kids watch whether they’re at home or in the classroom, and then discuss either in person or in online breakout rooms. You’re using the same basic structure either way. 

One way to think of this is by planning as if everything is virtual. This is a good model for hybrid instruction, or if you anticipate switching from remote learning back to in-person teaching in the near future. It’s also necessary if you are required to live stream your in-person classes for remote learners. In other words — flexible resilience is a sound approach for just about everyone.

That’s because kids in-class are receiving nearly the same instruction as the kids at home. This approach is more equitable and also easier to plan for. Use any in-person class time to provide additional support, and then during your planning period/after school, provide additional support to the kids at home.

You might have students read a text and then respond to it in SeeSaw or Google Classroom. You can also build in paper options, particularly if you don’t have enough devices in class and/or you want to limit students’ screen time (students could write/draw a response on paper instead of in Seesaw or Google Classroom.) 

This kind of lesson plan can be followed for remote-only instruction, as well as in-person-only instruction. 

For a hybrid model, you’d ideally be using this plan in-person with some kids and having other kids complete it asynchronously at home with a live meeting happening for check-ins and support at some point. If you’re live-streaming or providing a recording of in-person instruction for the kids learning at home, they should be able to complete the assignment just like the kids in class do with few if any modifications.

I know that some teachers working on staggered scheduled (where kids alternate days of coming to school and learning from home) are planning to have an in-person lesson plan and a virtual lesson plan both running on the same day. The kids in class get lesson plan A and the kids at home get lesson plan B, then they switch the following day. I like this approach in that it allows you to maximize the in-person opportunities as well as the remote learning possibilities rather than trying to make every lesson fit both. However, this seems more complicated to plan and execute, so you may want to consider this approach only after you feel comfortable with managing staggered schedules for a few weeks. At first, have all kids (at home and at school) doing the same or similar things each day so there’s one flexibly resilient lesson plan.

Lesson activities that can be done in-person and remotely

This may not be as hard as you think. Here are just a few examples of activities you probably know how to do in-person but can also be done virtually via free tools:

With flexible resilient pedagogy, you’ll create ONE set of activities that can work both face-to- face and when online teaching. It won’t matter if you’re teaching in your classroom or remotely next week, or if some of your kids are home and some with you in school, because you have a plan that works for any scenario. What I envision is creating structures and frameworks that can be reused over and over again, not only throughout this school year, but for many years to come because they are flexible and resilient to circumstantial change.

Flexible resilience keeps equity and sustainability at the forefront

This approach is at the intersection of what’s sustainable for teachers and what’s best for kids. It’s best for you, because you don’t have to create multiple versions of every lesson and redo things last minute with COVID changes. This is by far the most manageable approach to teaching I can imagine for the coming school year. It’s absolutely untenable to ask teachers to create online lessons and face to face lessons, much less conduct them both simultaneously. Resilient pedagogy simplifies the workload for teachers. 

And, it’s best for kids, because it provides consistency and helps ensure that kids have equitable access to learning whether they are at home or school. Accessibility is at the forefront with resilient pedagogy, rather than simply “covering content” or rigidly adhering to curriculum and expectations. It’s a more trauma-informed approach, as well, because it is flexible and responsive to kids’ needs. 

A flexible, resilient approach will help ensure better equity so that the most vulnerable kids don’t bear the brunt of challenges ahead. Resilient pedagogy goes hand in hand with trauma-informed pedagogy, culturally responsive pedagogy, and anti-bias/anti-racist pedagogy. Each one enhances the other. 

Here are some links for further reading on emerging best practices — remember that resilient pedagogy is a term that just began surfacing in spring 2020:

Advice and practical guidelines for making this work for your instruction 

1. Use the same “flow” each day and each week.

Create a routine that you plan to keep basically the same for the first month or quarter of the school year. Every Monday, this happens; every Tuesday; that happens. Do the same for your daily routines: think of ONE good way to start class, ONE good way to deliver instruction, ONE good way to allow for student practice, and ONE good way to close class. Repeat these flows daily until students are confident and comfortable with the routine, then slowly begin to mix in a second type of activity, then a third. Remember that consistency is always good for kids, but even more so this year when there are so many new routines to adjust to. 

2. Use online assignment organizers to help students and families see at a glance what your flow is like.

All links to resources and assignments should be accessible from one single page, whether that’s a web page, Google Doc, hyperdoc, etc. Students should know to always check that one place for information, and use it like a checklist to see at a glance what they need to do and when. Use that page to spell out exactly what kids need to read, watch, participate in, and turn in each day. If they’re doing long-term assignments or bigger projects, break the work down into manageable steps with 1-2 steps scheduled per day, so they know what they need to accomplish in order to stay on track.

3. Keep consistent due dates and collect assignments weekly when possible.

Try having all assignments posted on Monday and due Friday, or posted on Friday and due the following Friday if you’d like kids to have 7 days instead of 5 to get their work done. This allows students flexibility and choice over when they get their work done and prevents you from having to track assignment submissions on a daily basis. They can work ahead in the online assignment organizer if they’d like, and if they have a less productive day, they can see exactly what needs to be done to catch up and have time to do so before the weekly deadline.

4. Assign kids to “pods” they collaborate within the classroom and virtually.

This can work similarly to how you might have students sitting in teams or working with assigned partners for various tasks during a more typical school year. The pods may be heterogeneous groups so students always know who to meet with during virtual breakout sessions. Foster community-building within pods in addition to whole-class community building, so that kids get to know this small group of students well and they can rely on each other for support. If you’re doing a hybrid model, having kids stay in their pods for both classroom and virtual breakouts can provide additional consistency (and also minimize the number of peers for whom they’re in closer physical proximity). Be sure to check in with kids regularly and make adjustments to groupings as needed.

5. Choose just a handful of open-ended tech tools for the majority of your lessons so you and your students can get really proficient.

It’s important not to overwhelm yourself — or your students — by using too many different tech tools right away, particularly if you or your students are inexperienced with online learning/assignment submission. So at first, incorporate just a few open-ended, high-quality tools into your daily and weekly flow. You may discover there are more functionalities within a tool you like, and with experience, you can explore additional ways to integrate those tools over time. For now, keeping things simple can be more effective than using lots of different apps and websites. Just a handful of tech tools can drive 80-90% of your instruction, such as these (click the links for teacher resources/tutorials):

6. Re-purpose video instruction in many ways to maximize their value.

Creating videos or screencasts of your lessons is obviously time-consuming unless you’re recording live instruction (which has its own challenges, of course). However, having video instruction provides so many benefits in the long term, and you can re-use the videos for years to come. They will make planning for substitutes easier and help ensure quality instruction happens when you’re absent. Videoed lessons allow kids to rewatch, rewind, and fast forward as needed (a great benefit for students who are new to English, have special needs, etc.) Videos also give parents a window into your instruction when needed (i.e. if they don’t understand the methodology for solving a math problem). Yet another advantage of video instruction is that you don’t have to repeat yourself every class period, if you teach the same content to multiple groups of kids. And, you’re free to focus each day on the practice activities, monitoring student learning, and providing feedback instead of planning what and how to teach, and dealing with the energy drain that comes from delivering instruction. Keep your videos super simple, and as short as possible (think mini-lessons). If you can batch this task by planning multiple videos and recording them all at once, you can get ahead. I also recommend collaborating with colleagues or even teachers at other schools in your district to share the workload. You may not need to create all the videos yourself. 

7. Grade fewer assignments, and focus more on feedback.

Even pre-pandemic, I’ve recommended taking the minimum number of grades required by your district (typically 2 per subject, per week, for a total of 18 grades per quarter). Only grade the assignments that are a true, accurate, and comprehensive measure of what students know and are able to do. Before giving assignments to students, plan which assignments will be graded (you don’t necessarily have to announce this, of course) and ensure those particular assignments will be simpler for you to assess. (An assignment that some kids are doing on paper and then scanning/uploading for you is probably not going to be one you want to grade.) For everything you are not grading, focus on giving constructive feedback. You can create a comment bank in Google Docs or record an audio/video message of yourself giving verbal feedback (for example, responding to kids’ Flipgrid videos with your own), which tends to be much faster than typing out lengthy responses. 

8. Make your real-time meetings as engaging and interactive as possible.

This is a good principle for both live video meetings for remote learning and in-person instruction in a hybrid models. Add in humor, socio-emotional check-ins, and lots of peer interactions (even if it’s via a device). If students are just watching you teach during live instruction, try making a pre-recorded video for them to access anytime instead, and use the time when you’re all showing up together for extra academic support and human connection. Each time you hold a live meeting that is interesting, fun, interactive, and relevant for kids, the more likely they are to show up again the next time.

9. Opt for more small-group and individual-check-ins than whole-class meetings when possible.

It can be difficult to ensure engagement in whole-class instruction via Zoom and other video meetings. so, try to limit the number of times each week that students are expected to show up for that kind of instruction, and if you can’t, then remember you don’t necessarily have to be delivering instruction for the entire meeting. Try teaching students how to work in breakout groups or independently while you’re there in the virtual room with them for support. Having regular small group meetings (with students pods, as well as homogenous groups for differentiated instruction) can help you get a better understanding of how kids are actually doing, since you’re meeting with just them and a few other students on a routine basis. You can also try allowing kids to book 10-minute one-on-one sessions with you (with a 5 minute buffer between sessions) during designated “conference/support hours” to help kids who need more individualized guidance.

10. Don’t assign work to fill time or keep kids on screens longer than necessary.

When possible, focus on just the most essential skills and standards. If, for example, you’re required to have kids working for 60 minutes, err on the side of giving them what might be 15 minutes less worth of work rather than 15 minutes more. Pushing kids to do too much on their own at home during a crisis can cause them to give up and shut down. You can always offer extra credit and optional projects for kids who want more, but it’s important to remember that schooling looks like it does right now because we are still in a crisis. Ease some the pressure on yourself and students whenever possible, knowing that our current productivity and learning capacities are likely to be decreased due to stress and trauma. 

11. Build kids’ work stamina as the school year progresses.

Give kids lots of quick and easy wins at the start of the year, so they grow their confidence and ability to be successful. Think about how video games are structured: they get harder as the player becomes more experienced, with lots of easily-earned rewards in the beginning as the player is learning how the game works. Make your classwork feel do-able for kids at the start of the year, and that positive first impression will make it more likely they’ll keep showing up as the difficulty increases. You can raise expectations and pick up the pace when appropriate as the school year progresses.

Want a PDF version of these tips & linked resources for your reference?

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A final thought here as you think about what flexible resilient pedagogy looks like for your teaching context:

Remember that you’re not going to be able to offer kids all the resources and options you wish you could.

Everything in our world right now is limited and restricted to an extent. If you go to restaurant, for example, there are limitations as to where you can sit and probably fewer choices on the menu. It’s going to be the same for your instruction: the menu of options is different, and simplified.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. We were trying to cram in way too much to our pre-pandemic instruction. Resilient pedagogy returns us to what is essential and most important, and that’s the place we all want to land. 

Recap

  • Resilient pedagogy is “a combination of course design principles and teaching strategies that are as resistant to disruption and to change in the learning environment as possible.” explains Joshua Eyler.
  • Flexible, resilient teaching in practice: The essential qualities of your lesson plans will be in place, no matter the context. 
  • Pick lesson activities that can be done in-person and or when remote teaching: the list above includes math games, reading comprehension activities, and more.
  • Flexible resilience ensures better equity for the most vulnerable kids. Resilient pedagogy goes hand in hand with trauma-informed pedagogy, culturally responsive pedagogy, and anti-bias/anti-racist pedagogy. Each one enhances the other. 
  • For more literature on best practices, don’t forget to check out the list of learning resources for teachers above. Remember that resilient pedagogy is a term that just began surfacing in Spring 2020.
  • To make this work for your instruction:
    • Use the same “flow” each day and each week.
    • Use online assignment organizers to help students and families see at-a-glance what your flow is like.
    • Keep consistent due dates and collect assignments weekly when possible.
    • Assign kids to “pods” so they can collaborate within the physical classroom and online classroom.
    • Choose just a handful of open-ended tech tools for the majority of your lessons so you and your students can get really proficient.
    • Re-purpose instructional videos in many ways to maximize their value.
    • Grade fewer assignments, and focus more on feedback.
    • Prime your real-time meetings for student engagement.
    • Opt for more small-group and individual-check-ins than whole-class meetings when possible.
    • Don’t assign work to fill time or keep kids on screens longer than necessary.
    • Build kids’ work stamina as the school year progresses.

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Discussion

1 Comment

  1. Lauritha Lane

    Thank you so much for this podcast! This makes so much sense! Prior to the pandemic, there was a lot of things crammed into a day and unfortunately I was not sure that I was my most effective just trying to cover all bases. This makes sense and by doing these ideas I can have time to actually see what is effective and time to check in.

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