Teachers at the K-12 and higher-ed levels are finding themselves aligning curriculum during some combination of in-person, remote and hybrid interactions—interactions that are fluid and changing over time. School systems that have already aligned their curriculum have an advantage here, of course. UnboundEd, for instance, an organization that supports teacher leaders in disrupting systemic racism in districts and classrooms, is one example of a school that had already employed an aligned curriculum when the pandemic hit. This allowed them to make technical changes in how coursework was taught without needing to make major changes to what was being taught.
In other situations, though, curriculum may not be aligned, or aligned to the extent necessary to provide educators with guidance as they navigate the need to teach in different settings in different ways. Administrators play an important role in ensuring curriculum standards and helping instructors navigate these fluid times.
Aligning Curriculum Across Age Groups
For schools that are able to provide education in a hybrid model, there are some important considerations to be made in terms of which model or models work best at various grade levels or with certain types of content. Administrators can provide information and resources to guide instructors in making these decisions and ensuring both vertical and horizontal alignment in education.
Arash Fayz is executive director of LA Tutors 123, a test preparation, academic consultation and private tutoring company based in Los Angeles. The best form of remote learning will depend on the student, says Fayz. Younger students, he says, “will benefit from the consistency and direct interaction associated with synchronous learning.” That will also provide consistency for parents, he notes, as they take steps to align their own schedules around their children’s class and homework times. Hybrid options, he says, can work well for all ages “if the space is available and efforts for safety and consistency are taken.”
Divided hybrid classes, though, Fayz says, can be most challenging for educators—“they are concurrently running a face-to-face class with children who have various levels of safety discipline and an online class with the children who are at home that day, essentially running twice the number of classes.”
Asynchronous classes work best for mature K-12 and higher ed students, says Fayz—it’s ideal he says “for learners who need to balance work, often with changing scheduling and/or multiple jobs, family, self-care and educational responsibilities.
Conversations and collaboration can help instructors aligning their curriculum to reach the best decisions for how to work with students of different ages or studying different types of content.
Dealing With the Need to Teach Children at Various Age Levels
Another challenge that both teachers and parents of young children may be facing these days is the need to address the learning needs of students of varying ages. This is where vertical alignment of education can come into play—teachers coming together across grade levels to discuss and plan instruction.
Lisa Collum is an author, educator and mother of four “on a mission to empower parents to give their children the education they deserve.” She’s the owner and operator of Coastal Middle and High School in Florida, an accredited private school. “Many educators and parents starting homeschool groups are having to teach students in various grade levels together in one group,” Collum points out. That might mean two or more grade levels all together during the day. It’s a challenge that can be addressed, though, she says. “Although most curriculum is specific by grade level, most of the skills are the same across each grade.” Consequently, she says: “It is very easy for teachers and parents to teach multiple grade levels in one group.”
For example, when teaching subjects like reading and science, Collum says that one curriculum can be used but lessons and activities can be differentiated. “For example, let’s say you have a group of sixth to eighth-grade students. You could all read the same novel or story, but for the activity, you may have one group who does short answer questions, one group that has higher level extended response questions and one group that has to answer an essay question.” The same can be done with science, she says. “You can teach from one curriculum and even use the same activity, just differentiate based on the grade levels.”
Building and Sharing Best Practices for Student Engagement
At the onset of the pandemic and remote learning, one of the top concerns was how to keep remote students engaged. Over the past several months, teachers have had plenty of time to experiment and troubleshoot—and they’ve learned what works best with various types of students. But there are some best practices to be aware of. Administrators can help instructors aligning their curriculum select and develop the models most likely to meet student learning needs.
Brian Galvin is the chief academic officer at Varsity Tutors and an expert in virtual learning. While online learning is creating confusion and frustration for many during the pandemic, especially in terms of facilitating personal interactions between teachers and students, Galvin says that he believes online learning “has the power to be more interactive and participatory than in-person learning for many teachers and learners.” He acknowledges, though, that “getting there has a bit of a learning curve.”
One recommendation that Galvin offers teachers is to identify the channels of communication available in their online classes and how they will best leverage each of them. “You don’t, for example, want to have to juggle dozens of private chats throughout the class for something that a poll or a fast-moving group chat can aggregate all in one place for you. For example, he says, an instructor might communicate to students how they should use these tools to interact during the class:
- Private chats are for questions that students have for the teacher, but not for their quick answers to you. Students can also ask those verbally, but if you have a question and don’t want to ask publicly, private chat is the perfect choice.
- Public chat is open for any and all on-topic short commentary during class
- When I ask for a short-answer question, type that in public chat
- When you see a multiple choice question on the screen, use the poll
- If you have a question or a longer-than-a-sentence answer, raise your hand and you can use the microphone to ask.
It’s also important Galvin says to “set a culture of communication and interactivity.” This can be done by “regularly asking easy, or even frivolous questions,” he says. “If you can get students frequently chatting short answers, responding to polls, etc., then when you really want them interacting they’re already used to it.”
Attempting to get interaction by saying “any questions?” isn’t the best way to get interaction even in person, says Galvin. Instead, he recommends saying something like “I’m going to pause here and I want everyone to type in either a question you have or a comment on what you learned” or “click the emoji that reflects how you feel about this last section.” Don’t assume students will automatically know how you want them to interact. Asking for participation and making it clear how they want students to participate can go a long way to boost interaction.
Your teachers likely also have learned some tips and best practices in their efforts engaging students and aligning offline with online curriculum. Building teacher collaboration school-wide can help facilitate the sharing of these best practices.
Offering forums for instructors to have these conversations can help build both vertical and horizontal alignment in education while ensuring curriculum standards are met.