Blog / Enabling High-Quality Teaching and Learning

Pandemic Era Teaching and Learning: A Fundamental Question Remains

Connie Wehmeyer

Posted August 5, 2020

Tag IconCurriculum, Instruction, Instructional Leadership, Professional Development


Like other teachers and education leaders across the county, “Teaching and Learning during a Pandemic” was not a required course when pursuing my bachelor’s or advanced education degrees. Yet, today, that is the charge.  I want to applaud the dedication of the many educators who have gone beyond the call of duty on behalf of our nations’ students during this challenging time. The health and well-being of students and teachers, logistics of classroom space and handwashing stations, instructional delivery options, and the looming budget implications are among the weighty issues to prepare for the coming school year. In these uncertain times, many decisions are beyond local control.

What is known and can be controlled about teaching and learning, even in the face of a pandemic? Whether school opens remotely or face to face, a fundamental question remains for every school district in the country: “What are students to know and be able to do in reading, writing, math, science, and other important disciplines at each grade level or course?” Last spring, the rush to remote learning left many teachers answering this question in isolation from the broader district curriculum. Student learning outcomes became largely dependent upon the quality and will of the teacher. We must do better. Our students cannot afford to lose months of learning again this school year.

We cannot “pick up” where we left off nor can we spend weeks reteaching the previous year’s content and risk deepening learning gaps among our most
vulnerable students.

Strategic planning must lead to student readiness “for” and learning “of” grade-level content standards this year. This task will not be easy. District leadership should create teacher teams led by content experts to identify the essential learning expectations for this year. Based on those grade-level expectations, districts teams can then backward map pre-requisite learning from the previous grade-level content standards to guide teaching and learning for the coming school year. Decisions gleaned from this work will inform revisions to written curriculum documents such as a scope and sequence and become the “concrete” learning focus that will benefit both teachers, students, and their families. Successful planning must also result in a defined curriculum delivered using either a synchronous or asynchronous approach to ensure equitable access.

While many states and districts are necessarily putting standardized testing on hold for the moment, teachers can use existing formative data to guide instruction. Specifically, teachers can use formative data that details student learning proficiency toward standards-based knowledge and skill to further identify pre-requisite learning priorities to address individual student needs.

Most districts offer teacher professional training to learn technology platforms and tools to deliver curriculum, essential topics worthy of our time. But don’t forget the time needed for teacher training and collaboration to ensure understanding of the revised written curriculum and the alignment to district instructional resources and assessments. Districts who have completed the foundational work of identifying essential grade-level standards will have an advantage. For those who have not, external expert support may be needed. FourPoint has partnered with districts on this crucial work. While the task is not easy, teachers often report the process as one of their most beneficial professional learning experiences.

Amid critical decisions needed to open schools in the fall, I challenge you to spend some time focused on that fundamental question, “What are students to know and be able to do in reading, writing, math, science, and other important disciplines at each grade level or course? Our students deserve it!

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