Opinion Blog

Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Teaching Opinion

Ten Ways I’ll Be Teaching Differently Next Year

By Larry Ferlazzo — May 21, 2021 6 min read
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(This is the final post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The question-of-the-week is:

What have you learned from distance learning that you think will alter your practice in some way when you return to pre-COVID-19 teaching?

In Part One, Kayla Solinsky, Sarah Said, Pamela Mesta, Olga Reber, and Jason Anderson share their ideas today. Kayla, Sarah, Pamela, and Olga were also guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show. You can find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

I published that previous post in late January of this year.

As we near the end of this school year—and, if you’re like me, it can’t end soon enough—I wanted to revisit the question. I always take time in May/June to take stock of the year while things are fresh in my mind and think about what changes I want to make during the following year. If I don’t, I’m sure my addled brain will forget some important points. And, this year in particular, I’d definitely like to clear my mind for awhile after the last day of school!

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Here is my answer to the question:

In Part One, I briefly shared about how forming Leadership Teams in each of my classes has had such a dramatically positive impact on my classes this year. Members are responsible for leading small groups, mentoring other leaders, answering questions in the chat, and “debriefing” after classes where we evaluate how it’s going and what changes need to be made. I feel like I’ve always generally valued “student voice,” but this pandemic year challenged me to make it much more integral to my practice. I’ll certainly be carrying over this idea next year and in future years.

Though I’ve always had students do one or two “get-to-know-you” activities at the beginning of the school year, I spent a full month on them during this year of mostly remote teaching—and it paid off big time! Though I don’t think I’ll repeat that amount of time, it’s clearly worth spending the first three weeks on community-building activities, many from Facing History’s Activities For A Remote Or Hybrid Start, which are equally usable during “normal” times.

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I’ve never been a big user of textbooks, most of which I’ve found boring, much less accessible than they should be, and overladen with extraneous content. Nevertheless, I’ve used them more than I like because sometimes it’s just … easier. Since the online versions of many of these textbooks have been even worse, I’ve been forced to identify shorter and more accessible materials this year. Having students engage in creative ways with this kind of content has proven to be much more productive, so I expect to continue using short texts in this way and use textbooks even less than I’ve done in the past.

Providing choice is an essential element in developing conditions for promoting intrinsic motivation. Now that every student has a laptop, I anticipate offering them the choice of how they want to do any kind of writing—by hand on paper or online. I’d like to be able to offer a similar choice in reading materials—as long as it means I can print out copies on my printer. I want to provide choice, but I just can’t go back to spending hours in the school’s copy room.

Though I always made a priority of regularly checking in with students verbally—and sometimes in writing—about their well-being, doing online weekly check-ins using Google Forms this year have been invaluable. Surveys are useful, of course, unless you don’t act on the information you gain from them, and the follow-up I’ve been able to do on these weekly results has had a huge, positive impact on my relationships with students. I’ll certainly be continuing this online activity.

All of us teachers use retrieval practice in some way or other. This year, since we haven’t had daily classes, it became clear that making it more of a priority was necessary in order to make some learned content “stick.” One simple routine I used was having one of the questions students had to answer in writing during each “Warm-Up” at the beginning of class was, “What was the most interesting or important thing you learned in our last class, and why do you think it interesting or important?” Students then shared their responses in small groups, and a few contributed to the entire class. Not only did they have to “retrieve” the content, they also retaught each other. This practice will continue to have a place in my classroom next year.

I discussed community-building activities earlier. Though I’ll be emphasizing them during the first few weeks of school—as I did this year—they have to continue during the entire year to truly build a community of learners. A simple way I did that this year, and will continue in the future, was by adding a more personal question to the Warm-up, along with the one on retrieval practice. Questions like, “Can you describe one member of your family?” or “What was your proudest moment” helped continue to strengthen personal connections.

I used a ritual I learned from Edutopia to also strengthen a sense of classroom community and I’ll be continuing it in the future. Students took turns dedicating that day of learning to someone who inspires them.

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A student can go an entire class day without hearing their name said by a teacher, and that experience definitely does not help create a sense of belonging. This year, I’ve made a point of greeting each student by name as they enter Zoom (and elbow bumps for the few students who come in person since we reopened), and there is no reason why I can’t continue to make that a priority in the fall. In past years, I’ve tried to do that kind of recognition. This year’s experience has taught me, as Yoda says, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Though I’ve used the Remind tool off and on over the years to communicate with students or parents, it’s been essential this year. I’m able to easily send group texts to entire classes (lots of students don’t pay attention to Google Classroom email notifications), and individual text to students complimenting them on something they’ve done (which they can easily show their parents) or checking in with students about their well-being if they’ve missed class. It’s easy to have students sign up for a class list and it will be something students will be doing the first week of school. There are also plenty of alternatives to Remind.

That’s my list. What’s yours?

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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