#79 – Design for Flexibility; Be Ready for Multiple Teaching Scenarios

Unpacking Education February 16, 2022 30 min

As COVID surges through communities and schools face shutdowns, districts are often forced to consider unexpected or sudden changes in their educational delivery model. They might need to switch to fully remote or hybrid options. This uncertainty adds additional stress to the already difficult job of teaching. In this week’s episode, we explore ways to mitigate these types of disruptions and reduce the workload for teachers. Specifically, we look at how to design flexible lessons that may help reduce the disruption these shifts in delivery may cause to the classroom. If lessons are flexible enough, teachers will not need to redo lesson plans every time their delivery model changes.

Paul Beckermann
PreK–12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
STEM Facilitator and Digital Learning Specialist
Dr. Winston Benjamin
Social Studies and English Language Arts Facilitator

Flexibility is the key to stability.

John Wooden, basketball coach and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame


How Can We Design a Flexible Lesson That Can Be Used Both Remotely and In-Person?

While there are important differences between in-person and remote teaching, there are also many key similarities. If we can focus on the similarities and leverage the most flexible and versatile strategies in our lesson planning, we can develop strategies that will work in multiple learning environments: in-person, remote, synchronous, or asynchronous.

  • Support students who are absent. Not only will flexible lessons reduce your planning workload, but they will also help students who are absent catch up. Your students can take responsibility for much of the work that they’ve missed if they know where to find it, and you will save time communicating with each absent student.
  • Leverage your learning management system (LMS). Create a clear and well-organized LMS presence and use it consistently. If students routinely use this when they are present in your classroom, they will be better able to catch up when they are absent or when they are asked to complete asynchronous or remote lessons. Clear and consistent routines and expectations are key so that students can work independently when needed.
  • Prioritize synchronous learning. Ask yourself what learning activities require face-to-face time and which tasks students can do on their own. Typically, you will want to use synchronous time (either virtual or face-to-face) to maximize discussion, interaction, and collaboration.
  • Flip the learning. One-way dissemination of information, like lectures, should be flipped to videos. Recorded lectures allow students to view content at a time and pace that works for them, and the recorded content can also help families better understand content being taught.
  • Repurpose tools that students already know how to use. To reduce the cognitive load, use easy tools that students already know how to use. Easy tools do not mean easy learning; they simply mean that the tool will not get in the way or cause a barrier to learning. Google Slides or Microsoft PowerPoint presentations are great examples of simple tools that allow for many applications, such as sequential directions, embedded videos, links, text, collaboration, and interactivity.
  • Design student-centered learning experiences. Inquiry learning and project-based learning work well in both in-person and distance learning environments. They are motivating, flexible, and engaging. These approaches also push students to use valuable higher-order thinking skills.
  • Include discussion and a chance for student voice. While discussions and sharing may look different across various settings, they can be done in any learning environment. Consider tools that can be used to capture student ideas when you are not face-to-face. Options include discussion boards, Flip video discussions, live video chat features, and virtual polls.
  • Use digital collaboration tools. Similar to discussion tools, these can be used with both in-person and remote learning. In the physical classroom, students can use them to collaboratively contribute to the work, giving all students an opportunity to provide input and ideas. Remotely, students can see each other’s ideas and input content, even if the process is asynchronous. Great tools to consider include collaborative documents, slideshows, and spreadsheets; virtual whiteboards; Flip; Padlet; and even programming tools, like Scratch.
  • Implement blended learning. Both playlists and station rotation models are very versatile. Station rotation can include both virtual and in-person stations. Playlists allow students choice and the ability to move along at their own pace. Both strategies work well in multiple learning spaces and formats.

Guiding Questions

If you are listening to the podcast with your teaching team or would like to explore this topic more deeply, here are guiding questions to prompt your reflection:

  • What different learning models and environments do you need to prepare for: face-to-face, remote, hybrid, and/or concurrent?
  • What learning do your students need to do in face-to-face or synchronous settings, and what can students do on their own?
  • What flexible strategies and tools can you implement that will work in multiple learning settings and save you planning time?
  • What other planning challenges are you currently facing, and what strategies and tools might help you overcome these difficulties?