There should be no “best practices” for in-person teaching during COVID-19 – because it shouldn’t be happening

By David Nurenberg

As a teacher preparing to begin an unprecedented new school year in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been consumed with reading, and writing, tips and best practices for online and remote education. Preparing for this new world alone is an enormous task for teachers already grappling with all the other stresses of this time. But as September draws near, I am feeling even more nervous, and even less prepared, about how to conduct in-person education in this new climate.

The federal and state governments are requiring schools to develop plans for both full and partial/“hybrid” returns to school. That means teachers’ plans for setting up our classroom must account for disinfection and hazardous material handling. We must somehow figure out how to conduct class activities without ever bringing students closer than 6 feet from one another, how to conference with students or intervene in discipline situations from that distance. We have to figure out how to cover required content and meet student learning goals when classes might be meeting only half or one-third as frequently. We must include, and teach, entirely online and remote versions of every lesson for absent students, find ways to catch up students who miss large amounts of school, and figure out how to emotionally support anxious students – and ourselves.

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The Spider Web Approach: How to Facilitate Effective Online Discussions

By Alexis Wiggins

Most of us are facing another school year in which at least part of our classroom work will need to be translated to an online environment. Some teachers worry that it isn’t possible in the distance learning environment to have the kind of effective discussions facilitated in the classroom, but I’m here to say that by following some key protocols and staying flexible, teachers can absolutely design for strong online discussions.

I’ve spent the last 15 years immersed in the research, design, and practice of student-led discussions. It began with a job early in my career at a Harkness School and eventually developed into a method I call Spider Web Discussion, which asks teachers to train students how to begin, facilitate, and assess their own discussions while the teachers themselves are mostly silent. (You can see it in action in a ninth-grade classroom here.) In the current environment, I’m getting a lot of questions about how to conduct class discussion online.

Here are my tips for success:

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Getting Started with Teaching Online…Again

By Mary Burns

As we put the never-to-be-forgotten school year of 2019-2020 in our rearview mirror, we turn our attention to the 2020-2021 school year. And though we all wish otherwise, the upcoming school year will likely involve more online teaching. During the initial pandemic outbreak, many teachers focused on learning technology at the expense of instruction. Now that we’ve taken some time to learn new technologies, this school year should be about focusing on effective online teaching. 

Over the last few months, I’ve been helping teachers get started with online instruction. I’ve organized this blog around their most common questions about teaching online.

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Feedback as a Critical Tool for Distance Learning

By Matthew Johnson

The first time that it fully dawned on me just how much Covid-19 might change our lives and our world was when I saw those pictures in early March of sports teams around the world playing in front of empty stands. I remember looking at those images and wondering what it must be like for the athletes to play without the cheering, jeering, and general noise of thousands looking on. How strange it must have been to suddenly hear every crack of the bat and kick of the ball and to have more than a few moments of silence in between.

Little did I know that within a few weeks, I, too, would suddenly exchange my busy and loud work environment for the relative silence of a small and hastily constructed basement office. Overnight, the noise of my day—the hundreds of tiny interactions I had with students, the greetings and goodbyes at the door, the ambient buzz of 35 bodies learning in one room— disappeared, replaced with mostly silent asynchronous education where I was separated from my students by both time and space.

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Education in a Time of Upheaval: What Can We Learn?

By Peter Smagorinsky

Two stories have dominated the news since late May. One began quietly in January and took off with urgency in early March: the Covid-19 pandemic. The second occurred suddenly on May 25 and nearly blew the virus off the news: The killing of George Floyd, the culmination of a series of spring murders of Black people that included Breonna Taylor in Louisville and Ahmaud Arbery in Brunswick, Georgia.

In the background, other stories were reported, if obscured by the immediacy of these larger events. Among them were the questions of how schools would open in August, and how ordinary citizens could help address the systemic problem of racism in the US beyond issuing noble statements of support and participating in protests.

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Building Classroom Community from a Distance

By Louise Goldberg

Since early spring of 2020, the classroom experience has changed dramatically for students across the country and worldwide. School closings, remote learning, and social distancing have created extraordinary disruptions to the classroom environment and left many feeling isolated and distraught.

Even when schools reopen, many children will continue to stay home and rely on their screens for instruction and social interaction. Those who do attend school may find sparsely populated classrooms with curtailed opportunities for group activities. What was once the hub of their social lives may prove to be an almost empty landscape void of playful encounters such as bus rides, recess, hallway jostling and joking, school lunch, and other once banal occurrences. Who knows when these activities will resume?

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Preparing for 2020-2021, When There’s No Way to Know What to Expect

By Sharon Kunde

Teachers are currently closing out the school year and laying the groundwork for the next. But there is, of course, a problem: none of us know what kind of situation we’ll come back to. While school districts and teachers’ unions discuss physical conditions that might make in-person teaching possible (things like reduced schedules, classroom sanitization, extra buses), it remains likely that many of us will use online instruction, either in a blended or intermittent fashion.

In the face of these uncertainties, teachers can prepare this summer by thinking broadly and flexibly about their educational goals. What follows are four guidelines for designing curriculum plans for new and shifting teaching circumstances.

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The Effects of COVID-19 Are Not Just Academic: Preparing for Reopened Classrooms

By Jonna Kuskey

To say the 2020-21 school year will begin a little differently than most is an understatement. Public health experts have indicated schools may still be dealing with the effects of the pandemic in the new year, which means more remote and online learning may be on the horizon, and we need to be ready if that occurs. We also need to be ready for the COVID-19 slide, much like the typical summer slide, only steeper. A study by Kuhfeld, et al, “Projecting the Potential Impacts of COVID-19 School Closures on Academic Achievement,” projects students will begin this year with “approximately 63-68% of the learning gains in reading relative to a typical school year” and 37-50% in math.1 

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As Schools Reopen, A New Inclusive Paradigm is Needed

By Debbie Zacarian and Becki Cohn-Vargas

As one school year ends and we plan for the next, we see the glaring inequities that the pandemic has amplified, and we recognize that steps must be taken to address them.  Beyond adopting new guidelines for hygiene and reducing our schools’ exposure to potential infection, it’s urgent that we focus as much if not more attention to an inclusive paradigm of schooling.  This calls for a renewed focus on the global wellbeing of students. We propose four guiding principles:

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From Our Editors: Selected Articles on Post-Pandemic Planning

  • From Mary Burns on Edutopia:

Getting Ready to Teach Next Year

  • From Emily Tate on EdSurge:

What Will Schools Do in the Fall? Here Are 4 Possible Scenarios

  • From Heather C. Hill & Susanna Loeb on Education Week:

How to Contend with Pandemic Learning Loss

  • From Gene Kerns and Katie McClarty on EdSurge:

How Schools Can Prepare for a Very Different Kind of School Year

  • From Sarah Cooper on Edutopia:

Distance Learning Strategies to Bring Back to the Classroom

  • From Susan Page on USA Today:

Back to school? 1 in 5 teachers are unlikely to return to reopened classrooms this fall, poll says

  • From David Saleh Rauf on Education Week:

Will COVID-19 Spur Greater Use of Artificial Intelligence in K-12 Education?

  • From Gina Denny on Education Week Teacher:

6 Classroom Changes Teachers Will Make When Schools Reopen

  • From Erika Christakis on The Atlantic:

For Schools, the List of Obstacles Grows and Grows

  • From Sarah Gonser on Edutopia:

How Long-Term Tech Planning Pays Off—Now and In the Future