By Caitlin Parker
For the 2020-2021 academic year, May is the new September. For so many students and teachers, April was the first time they may have set foot in their schools and classrooms. What we used to be able to do in September – memorize our daily and weekly schedules, teach classroom routines, organize binders, design our classroom spaces – all happened in the spring, with a little over a month left in the school year! Students and faculty are finally returning to school for in-person learning, and many new rules are in place.
Teaching during a pandemic heaped more on most teacher’s plates than ever before. We learned how to create and arrange digital lessons and classrooms, while simultaneously teaching our students how to navigate online management systems and tools. We stressed the importance of an organized and dedicated home workspace, while trying to carve out space in our own homes or empty classrooms to teach effectively. We embraced a steep learning curve for Google Classroom, Canvas, and Seesaw, staying just one step ahead of our students. And just when we were feeling we had it all figured out, we now need to return this energy and focus to physical classrooms again.
Uncertainty has marked so much of this last year, so, let’s talk about some common and consistent practices that can support all of our students as they return to the “new normal” in their schools. Landmark uses study skills, or the management of time, materials, and information, to anchor instructional practices across all grades. These skills are not just for students with learning disabilities, but are beneficial for all, and can be implemented by anyone. Regardless of what the re-opening plan looks like in your school, or what age, grade, or profile of students you work with, it is important to be cognizant of how you will structure the time you spend with them, the materials you expect your students to use and be responsible for, and the information and content you want them to learn. Creating and teaching clear classroom routines in these areas will help to relieve some of the nervousness and anxiety that students (and teachers!) have returning to classes.
Routines to Support Study Skills
Time: Carefully structuring time around transitions can help students navigate returning to in-person learning. Transitions may happen hundreds of times throughout the day now that they are back in school – as students move between classes, within individual subjects as different parts of lessons take place, leaving and reentering the classroom for specialized services, and even as students switch between in-person and hybrid online structures all day. Clearly structuring these transitional times, directly teaching what you want to take place, and modeling our expectations for our students will help to automatize routines related to time. Assuming that our students remember the expectations from last year, or that they will be able to figure it out on their own, while also dealing with new rules around personal space, mask wearing, and gathering in groups, may just set them up for failure.
For example, let’s think about students arriving at school and class each day. Students of all ages will need to be taught what to do when they enter the classroom. Provide direct instruction and modeling of your expectations – walk them through putting away their coats, lunches, and other belongings and show them what you want them to do when they arrive at their desk. Will they need pencils and paper ready each morning, or computers? Will they have turned in their homework already online, or will it be dropped off first thing in the morning on your desk? What can and can’t they do during this transition time given certain physical limitations of your classroom? Some students may do best when they get to see you model your expectations. Providing visuals and verbal cues will also support the routine. The more they practice the routine, the more likely it will become automatized and not be a skill that needs to be revisited each day throughout June. Most importantly, dedicate real time to completing the routine so that students are not missing out on the delivery of needed information, content and/or instructions from the teacher while they are transitioning in or out of the classroom.
Materials: Like the management of time, managing materials should be structured carefully. Because so much changes with the return to the classroom, consistency can help lessen the cognitive load and reduce the number of things students have to remember. Although much of this is dependent upon what the policies in your district and school are, try to have your materials management mirror what you have been doing throughout this year. If possible, use the same platforms to house materials, such as Google Classroom, Canvas, or Seesaw, since these routines have already been taught and developed. Similarly, use consistent systems for turning in work each day. Returning to in-person learning will add physical materials like paper, books, and calculators to your materials management system, so think through ideas for how you can help students manage these new physical items. Create and model consistent routines for accessing these materials located within your classroom, and clearly define and designate space in your classroom where necessary materials are located. These simple strategies will help to support all students now that they are back in the classroom.
Information: Being able to teach in-person again has many teachers understandably nervous, but also incredibly excited. Although there are many excellent tools to help teachers make digital learning multi-modal, it is a methodology that has always worked best in a traditional classroom space. So many of us are ready to be back in our classrooms where we can feed off the energy of our students and colleagues once again. We can finally play socially distanced face-to-face games, build and encourage healthy competition amongst in-person peers, and actively collaborate with and teach our students sitting right in front of us. And although there is assuredly much left to teach and learn this year, we must also remember to use this in-person time to incorporate the routine of consistent spiraling back to previously (and most likely remotely-learned) skills. Creating review games, offering differentiated ways to demonstrate knowledge from the beginning of the year (acting out a scene in a play vs. writing a paper on it), and including practice with earlier learned concepts and skills into current lessons will be key for retaining knowledge learned throughout the pandemic. If you can, create a daily or weekly learning routine that promotes active “looking back” at the skills and concepts presented during remote learning in order to actively assess your student’s knowledge, and plan instruction based on any gaps that may arise.
Returning to our classrooms may seem like the light at the end of a tunnel for some, and to make the most of this short time we have before the year ends, incorporating routines around study skills can help to ease any uncertainty students may feel during this transition. Study skill routines can be implemented by any knowledgeable teacher, in any type of classroom, at any level. All students benefit from strategies and supports to help them to manage and organize their time, materials and information, and these routines just may be paramount to their success now that we are back in-person once again.
Caitlin Parker works as a consultant and seminar instructor for Landmark Outreach. Previously, her roles and responsibilities at Landmark High School included working as the director of the expressive language program, an academic advisor, and a full-time teacher and tutor. She graduated from the University of Massachusetts with her bachelor’s in psychology and education, and she has her master’s degree in special education from Simmons University.