5 Tips for Creating Lessons that Work Equally Well Online and in the Classroom
Designing for a Dual Reality
Patience and flexibility are certainly two buzzwords in the education community as we implement any number of combinations of the elements of hybrid education this year, from full-on virtual learning to blended learning to fully in-person instruction. Add to that the desire for many districts to attempt to move seamlessly between models depending on federal, state, and local guidelines, and it’s no wonder that we’re all feeling so overwhelmed. If there was ever a time to work smarter and try to get the most bang for your instructional planning buck, now is the time. In that spirit, here are five tips for creating lessons that are flexible enough to work both online and in the physical classroom.
1. Reel Them In: Put Effort Into the “Hook”
Think of the penultimate episode of your favorite binge-worthy show. Chances are you can remember the show’s “teaser” that stoked anticipation and whet your appetite for everything that followed. That’s because the first five to ten minutes of a show, a presentation, or the introductory paragraph of a persuasive essay all serve the same purpose: reeling in and engaging the audience.
No matter whether you are in the classroom or online, plan great hooks that immediately engage students. Return to the hook throughout the lesson to hammer home its relevance. For example, let’s say you’re teaching an environmental science class. Your hook is to present a real-world problem, say, light and noise pollution generated from your school. Linking this problem to the objective, by the end of the lesson your students have developed several ideas for construction and landscaping features that solve the challenge presented. No matter whether you are in-person or online, that’s an engaging lesson that students will always remember.
2. Let’s Get Together... Online
All due respect to Hamilton, but the classroom is the real room where it happens. This doesn’t change when you’re implementing online instruction. Personal time with students is critical both in the physical classroom as well as in a distance learning format. One way that works well in both formats is to build an anchor period into the master schedule—a time devoted to specific, targeted lessons. These lessons can be taught in many different formats—soft starts, social emotional checkpoints, academic assistance, and more—but they all have the impact of helping to maintain security and calm amidst the high seas of the rest of the day.
Online anchor periods can be difficult to schedule. During in-person instruction, it’s a lot easier to get students to attend an advisory period or a 30-minute quick check-in by placing it on their physical schedule. In an online environment, consider beginning with five- to 15-minute check-in sessions, which you can always extend throughout the year, if needed. You’ll have to be intentional about assigning students to mentor staff members and sending the message that remote check-in time is just as critical online. But the payoff can be tremendous for your lessons: increased student engagement, better relationships between students and staff, career and leadership skills and advice, and more.
3. Use Matched Materials
Sarah Schwartz, writing in Education Week, pointed out that publishers typically include digital materials in their packages that match their analog counterparts. Using the same or similar supplemental materials in both scenarios will allow you to maintain the pacing of the curriculum (and your sanity) while serving as the supports for a guaranteed and viable curriculum across your course offerings.
Take a look at your curriculum map and related materials. As you consider pacing and resources for the year, think about how lessons will play out in each scenario and be mentally flexible. As Education Week reported, “…companies have created new online interfaces specifically for this moment.” It should be possible to match materials and resources to maintain pacing no matter the learning scenario.
4. Create Collaborative Opportunities that Work in Both Settings
We are social beings. One of the hardest things to recreate in a remote learning setting is the togetherness and collaborative opportunities that are present during in-person instruction. Take some time to think about collaborative strategies that work well in each setting, look for commonalities, and bring the two worlds together.
For example, collaborative discussions and debate are tried and true strategies during in-person instruction. The related strategies that would work for both in-person and remote learning students would be to build in time for all students to engage in a deep and meaningful asynchronous discussion board post, to conduct a Socratic seminar via video responses on Flipgrid, or to work together on a vlog or podcast with clearly defined objectives. When classes go remote it can feel like there is an immense pressure to become the “sage on the stage” again. Fight that urge and develop activities that get students to collaborate more than ever before.
5. Use Your Learning Management System as a Hub for All Students
Whether in-person, online, or both, as in a blended learning or hybrid education model, take steps to get the most out of your learning management system (LMS). An LMS supports in person students both in the classroom as a source of curated materials, resources, activities, and more, as well as a 24/7 hub for discussions and activities after the school day is over. For online students, the LMS connects students to the teacher, the school, and each other. Just about everything that is taught in the physical classroom can and should be incorporated into the LMS. When all students view the LMS as their one-stop shop, lessons take shape regardless of the platform.
Always Rely on Good Teaching
Some schools are already back in session. Others are waiting to go back until after the Labor Day holiday weekend. Nobody is certain how it will all play out. What we do know is this: Educators stopped on a dime in the spring and engaged in digital triage. In preparation for the fall, you’ve been asked to reinvent the field—and yourselves. You are being asked to teach remotely, in blended environments, in-person, and every combination thereof. You can do this. Be patient, be flexible, and use your resources to plan lessons that work in multiple settings. As you know so well, good teaching strategies always reach students, no matter where they are.