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Adapting Curriculum to a Digital World

Adapting Curriculum to a Digital World

Ann Leghorn

Ann Leghorn

Reading Specialist & Instructional Coach

Ann teaches reading skills to high school students and coaches teachers to embed literacy strategies into classrooms in New York City.

Instructional Coach Ann Leghorn walks us thought a variety of ways to bring curriculum into the digital world. 

This has been the year of flexibility and adaptation for all schools. At my school, we are continuing to find ways to adapt to life in a remote classroom. As an instructional coach, I have leaned on the experiences of our teachers who had been tasked with quickly transitioning the curriculum last March to meet the emergency online environment.

Prior to the pandemic, our school did not have the access to provide 1:1 technology to students. We became worried at how students would work from home using unfamiliar technology during a pandemic. Collectively we have worked to adapt our existing curriculum to meet the demands of digital learning by slowing down the curriculum, varying our methods of teaching content, and incorporating more student choice.

Slowing It Down

One way in which we have learned to adapt our curriculum to the digital world is by slowing down. Online learning has pushed us to be more flexible in our pacing and to think about how we can extend units of study that are most important and of interest to students.

We have learned that more time must be spent guiding our students and providing comprehensive feedback, rather than just pushing through content because it’s on the map. Part of this had to do with the need to simultaneously teach how to engage with online learning and digital documents in conjunction with the content.

We worked during common planning time to determine key assignments, revise plans to provide more time for students to work on them, and incorporate more opportunities for revision.

In English classes, teachers opted to extend some novel units in order to give more time for reading, discussion, and reflection of the books that students found most interesting. We want students to be exposed to a variety of literature but also want it to take place in a way that students comprehend and is meaningful to them.

In addition, slowing down serves as an opportunity for social-emotional learning and growth to take place. As we extend some of our curriculum and place more emphasis on growth, we have deepened our connections with the students who are taking the time to reflect and revise their writing using teacher feedback.

Now, teachers can provide more intentional feedback and encourage more frequent revisions of assignments. While we must still plan with an eye on the potential state standardized tests looming at the end of the school year, we are adapting so that the curriculum happens with students and not to them.

Variety in Content Delivery

It is abundantly clear that the same methods used to deliver content in a typical in-person school day do not all translate to the online learning environment.

At a high school level, student discussion and interaction has been harder to achieve on a regular basis. It isn’t as easy as circulating the room to monitor student discussion, provide quick notes of feedback and encouragement, and ensure everyone is on task. Students are more hesitant to unmute and share or take public risks. Some students have never met their peers in person.

Using add-ons such as PearDeck, our teachers have begun to provide instruction in much smaller chunks with more frequent stops in which students can practice the new skill, respond to a higher order thinking question, or begin to make connections.

When submitting their responses nonverbally, such as through the interactive PowerPoint or in the chat, more students feel comfortable taking risks. They don’t have to raise their hand and attempt to answer with fear of embarrassment of getting it wrong in front of others. They can instead choose to submit responses directly to the teacher and receive immediate feedback.

Here's a sneak preview of what you can do in Kiddom: plan lessons that include all sorts of interactive materials (slides, documents, assessments) for students to engage with.

Teachers can quickly show student responses anonymously to spark discussion and highlight exemplary work. While we still love to hear our students’ voices, the increased opportunities for immediate nonverbal submissions and feedback has expanded the options for student participation.

Some teachers have adopted a flipped classroom model to avoid the lecture style. Students learn some of the content via videos with embedded questions before they come to synchronous class. This allows students to spend more time applying that new knowledge while working on the hands-on portions of assignments through writing, discussions, or collaborative analysis. Our school's new investment in technology and hotspots opened up the opportunity for flipped classrooms, something that wasn’t readily available before.

Teachers have also expanded use of leveled readings to grow student background knowledge prior to classes. This provides students with texts on their instructional reading level so that they are appropriately challenged but not overly frustrated when working independently.

It also gives students an opportunity to read at a level that is comfortable for them and ensures they can focus more on the content rather than struggling to comprehend. Expanding student background through video and leveled texts ensures they are better able to participate during class discussions or expand on their thoughts when writing.

Student Choice

The increased technology has allowed us to adapt to specific student learning styles. Ultimately, we can give students more choice in the matter. Many teachers have worked to provide students with options in the way they approach assignments. Do they want to watch it on video or use a step by step guide? Read silently and independently or use a read aloud feature? Draw their response or write it out?

Our teachers have worked to develop student choice boards when possible and given options for students to work independently, in a breakout room, or in a teacher-led small group. Increasing choice in the content turns ownership over to students and allows them to determine what fits well for themselves and their environment.

Teachers have used e-books, audiobooks, and graphic novels to allow students to access texts in a way that fits their needs. They may not be in a place where independent silent reading can happen easily, but headphones and an audiobook might be a better choice.

We have also begun to provide the option of a traditional novel or the graphic novel version when we can. This helps mitigate some of the comprehension barriers when students are required to read more outside of a guided classroom setting. We can still use class time to close-read sections of the original text but students can spend independent time reading with more understanding.

In Kiddom, teachers can communicate with students and groups in a way that encourages autonomous engagement with the learning material. 

Adapting our curriculum to flow in the digital world has not always been easy. It has taken much trial and error, discussions across departments and grades, and sometimes left us scratching our heads.

Our teachers have spent hours retooling curriculum, trimming and extending, and building in more opportunities for revision. We have had to redefine what we see as "participation" in order to flexibly engage students outside of a typical dialogue.

Finally, we have used the technology to expand the amount of choice we offer to students in and out of the classroom. Our community continues to reflect on our successes and struggles, and look for opportunities. We have learned many lessons thus far in the school year and will continue to look for ways to adapt and change to this new way of learning.

Kiddom seamlessly connects the most critical aspects of teaching and learning on one platform.

For the first time, educators can share and manage digital curriculum, differentiate instruction, and assess student work in one place. Learners can take assessments online, see student performance data with the click of a button, and teachers have the insight and tools they need to create individual learning paths.

 

Ready to bring digital curriculum to your school or district?

Connect with us in a 15-minute meeting to learn more about available pre-packaged curriculum, and how the Kiddom education platform can support your learning community.

You might also be interested in these articles:

Virtual Teacher Observations in a Remote World: A Changing Culture

Virtual Teacher Observations in a Remote World: A Changing Culture

Ann Leghorn

Ann Leghorn

Reading Specialist & Instructional Coach

Ann teaches reading skills to high school students and coaches teachers to embed literacy strategies into classrooms in New York City.

Instructional Coach Ann Leghorn applauds teachers for their adaptivity and shares three positive changes occurring in the culture of teacher observations – largely due to the virtual format brought on by the pandemic.

It is no secret that the landscape of education has changed dramatically since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been more changes in the last 10 months than in the last eight years of my career.

However, as a former English teacher, Reading Specialist, and now an Instructional Coach, I am continually impressed at our teachers ability to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of remote instruction. With all the changes going on, it feels like we are restarting our first year of teaching all over again.

That being said, this time has also led to an increase in openness to feedback and a greater interest in conducting observations a bit differently at my school. Remote teaching and online education has opened the door to using our digital learning platforms and new technology to embrace video observations.

Overall, these shifts in the culture of teacher observations brought on by the virtual format could be summed into three themes.

 

1. Teachers Becoming More Open to Recording Lessons

As an Instructional Coach during in-person instruction, I would ask teachers about their willingness to record lessons to use as a growth and coaching tool. Many teachers shied away from videotaping their classrooms for a host of reasons, including the vulnerability factor, fear of judgement, and the natural hesitation to try something new.

Having been coached using video observation myself, I would cringe when listening to the sound of my own voice, the volume at which I spoke, and the drama with which I waved my hands when delivering a lesson or directions to a group. For these reasons, as an Instructional Coach during in-person instruction, I did not push back when a teacher gave me the usual “I’d rather just read your feedback on the lesson than see myself on tape” response.

It relegated us to more directive coaching sessions using my low-inference notes taken during the observation and our memories from which to identify strengths and plan next steps. It felt like a very traditional form of coaching.

The remote learning world has increased our teachers’s willingness to record parts or all of their lessons and use these within more collaborative coaching sessions.

2. Video Observations Shift the Culture of the Observation Cycle

There has been a culture shift that has allowed for more openness to use video as an authentic artifact during coaching. During the fall, I had the opportunity of attending a three-part professional development series with Laura Beacher, Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at the School of Education at Hunter College, City University of New York, where I learned more deeply about the benefits of video observations in coaching.

I encourage you to read her writing around the topic to better understand how video observations can shift the culture and experience of the observation cycle in schools (start with one of her blogs from May 2020).

Using video observations when coaching allows the teacher to more deeply reflect on what happened in the classroom and unveils areas of growth that they may not even have known they had. Professor Beacher presented this in terms of The Johari Window (Luft & Ingham, 1961) in which we can, sometimes inadvertently, hide our blindspots or not be able to identify them at all.

The increased opportunity for video observations during remote learning flips the observation debrief conservations from the coach speaking 80% of the time and the teacher speaking 20% to a more balanced or teacher-driven reflection process. Our conversations now focus on what teachers want to prioritize and see as opportunities to grow their practice rather than nodding along as the observer reviews the notes and next steps without truly owning the process themselves.

After all, teachers should be empowered in the coaching process to self-reflect and set the course for growth in service of their students.

3. More Opportunities for Peer Observation & Group Coaching

As teacher interest in video observations has increased, so too has our opportunities for peer observation. I believe that teachers often learn best when learning from their colleagues. They are eager to see best practices in action with students in other classrooms and determine how to bring those practices into their own classrooms.

During remote learning, this eagerness has grown as even the most veteran teachers learn to navigate the virtual world. During in-person instruction last year we worked to set up team learning walks so that peers could see each other in action.

However, we sometimes struggled to match up prep periods or find necessary coverage. With video observations, more teachers can witness another teacher’s classroom without needing to shift their schedule considerably.

Using online video tools embedded into our platforms also make the logistics easier. We plan to share these videos across grade levels and departments so that more interdisciplinary observations can occur.

We are also designing a small group coaching pilot program in which teacher to teacher observations will play a pivotal role. This will allow our coaching program to reach groups of teachers, no matter their content area and schedule, as opposed to solely participating in one-to-one coaching.

In Conclusion

I will certainly not pretend that the newfound interest and access to video observations has solved all of the concerns that remote learning has served us. However, I feel privileged as an Instructional Coach to utilize video observations to work in partnership with a teacher as we watch, analyze, and plan using authentic, real-time snippets from their own classrooms.

Virtual observations have proved to be another way to support our teachers in finding opportunities to work collaboratively in service of a better learning experience for our students.

The abrupt shift to remote learning pulled the rug out from under us all. I have found it helpful to identify the silver linings for myself and grow those into my daily practice. I hope that the increasing teacher and coach use of video observations is one such pandemic practice that is here to stay, allowing for a more connected and collaborative education landscape.

How are educators using Kiddom to effectively impact teachers? Read our the webinar recap here or watch the video below.

Kiddom seamlessly connects the most critical aspects of teaching and learning on one platform.

For the first time, educators can share and manage digital curriculum, differentiate instruction, and assess student work in one place. Learners can take assessments online, see student performance data with the click of a button, and teachers have the insight and tools they need to create individual learning paths.

 

Ready to bring digital curriculum to your school or district?

Connect with us in a 15-minute meeting to learn more about available pre-packaged curriculum, and how the Kiddom education platform can support your learning community.

You might also be interested in these articles: