We were all immersed in the moment, navigating our way through a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. Now we must turn our attention to how we return children to school and how we focus on students’ learning.
1. Start with fun: Build relationships early and often. Remember how important icebreakers are? Multiply that by 10. Remember, kids are not only returning from summer break, but from a world-altering event. It is sometimes hard to know how impacting this can be. You can bet your stimulus money it was far more impacting then we adults, distracted by our return to normal, may recognize. We cannot ignore this. We should embrace and leverage it for the benefit of our students. Do this strategically by embracing the progressive nature built in here.
Here are a few tips:
a) Query kids about what they learned from the pandemic. How did they benefit from it? Did they get to bond more with family members? Pets? Did they gain a greater appreciation for friendships? Did they learn something new about themselves or the world in shifting through the phases of the world, their school, or their families’ response to it?
b) Offer kids some perspective about the pandemic. Show them the statistics and data on how the 1918 pandemic was tragically worse. Stage this in a game format, such as a trivia game. Think of fun online activities that show high student interest like Kahoot!. This can be expanded into a social studies or literary experience later.
c) Just have fun with them. Ask them to share a funny experience they encountered while shuttered into safety with their family, or an online digital experience (did their grandma have the camera positioned straight up her nose?!?).
d) Do not dismiss the sheer reality that some children may be returning to school with the loss of one or more family members or close friends. Think about it like this–if there is even just a 1 percent fatality rate (lower-end estimate), that means that in a school of 500, 5 families are directly affected. That matters and schools must be prepared for the support of children suffering from a loss, with counseling and other trauma-related interventions.
2. Give a lot of small, incremental assessments: This may sound counter to the first icebreaker/relationship building step, as you may be worried kids will react with, “Oh no, back at school and already testing?” But wait–consider how you can strategically do this, help extend students’ learning, and gain a firm understanding of your students’ readiness.
First, think tactically. Do not just usher in a 2-hour assessment and expect this to either work, or engage students, let alone gain authentic data on student progress. Start small and stream your mini-assessments in compact, regular doses. There is a tremendous body of research that reinforces small, formative types of assessments being just as predictive of students’ learning and success as larger summative measures.
Second, do not think of this as a pop quiz, or your kids will, too (“Oh no, not again, why does she/he surprise us like this?”). Instead, use opportunities like the social awareness bonding and perspective building with comparisons to the 1918 pandemic. These illustrate a better world, recovery, awareness, etc. as literary opportunities, or in math, when gauging the numbers in each pandemic as a data skill.
Third, some of the best, most genuine assessments are those that are quick and yet inform the teacher concisely about students’ learning and progress. These are also robust bursts of learning for students. Think of “Do Now” introduction activities, following the prior day’s lesson, or an exit activity at the end of a lesson.
These real-time assessment activities offer an accurate outlook on the child’s current understanding of a skill, and are sharply focused on one or two skills, not a battery of broad knowledge bases. Incrementally administering these is both subtle and cumulative, because over a week, you can evaluate a half-dozen or more student proficiencies. Extrapolating this data progressively will provide a surprisingly larger and more tangible set of performance areas to focus on.
Use technology to accumulate data on student progress. Utilize tools like Google Forms from student activity responses. Short mini-assessments also make room for you to examine a student’s understanding on a shorter-term basis, such as weekly, and then provide the support needed either individually in small groups to your students during the mid-section of your lesson.
Utilizing short probes is a great way to develop a knowledge base for your students’ readiness levels. This method is far less intrusive to the well-being of children–a factor emphasized in Point #1–and also provides at least nearly as accurate a picture of their aptitude, while increasing retention of skills learned.
3. Challenge students to set goals just above their current ability/comfort zone so they are achievable and progressive: When students are challenged just above their current level of comfort, they are motivated to achieve, and this slight elevation in tasks is manageable.
Students can develop goals along a course that sets the stage for manageable, consecutive steps and re-evaluate these regularly following the mini-assessments that measure their progress, and allow for small wins.
Employing this 3-step process encourages learners in an effective and strategic way that is synergistic; combining manageable approaches to transition for students. It does not assert to solve every problem brought on by trauma. Rather, it will help smooth the transformation that must be confronted by hundreds of thousands of educators to provide a foundation for students returning to school.