Pandemic-Flexible Lesson Planning – An Idea

Pandemic-Flexible Lesson Planning – An Idea

What Will Fall Look Like for Teachers?

For me, Distance Learning, or Remote Instruction, or whatever your institution called it, has been “building the plane while we’re flying it,” as one colleague put it. Will be flying steady by Fall 2020, though? We teachers know things won’t be normal, but we also know we don’t want another semester like the one we’ve just struggled through.

There’s a lot, and I mean a lot, to sort out. I want to focus here on one question: how will we design and deliver instruction?

My assumption is that it will be some combination of on-site teaching and online teaching. I’ve looked at a lot of resources on “Hybrid Learning,” but here’s the thing. Those resources are talking at planning to meet on Tuesday, have an online discussion board post due Thursday, that sort of thing.

But that’s not what we’re facing in the fall. We’re facing a situation where our plans will have to change at the drop of a hat. Sudden closures. Partial closures. We might be in school for a few weeks, when someone in the community tests positive for COVID-19. Or when the governor declares schools closed again. In other words, we have to plan for the unplannable.

I’m particularly concerned about project-based classes, which rely heavily on on-site resources, equipment, and supplies. How will these pivot to home instruction? We surely can’t continue to teach art, design, chemistry, physics, etc. the way we’ve had to teach these subjects this spring.

“Hybrid Instruction” isn’t the right label for what we need to plan for this fall. Instead, it needs to be something fluid. Something that — especially for project-based classes — can nimbly pivot from on-site to online and back again.

Planning Parallel Projects

I don’t know what to call this approach. Pivot-Ready Teaching? Fluid Instructional Design? Nimble Cyber Education? Man, that last one sounds like a Japanese Kawaii Metal band.

But I have a concept for how to plan instructional units so that they are streamlined and sturdy. So that, if school is closed, or twenty of your students are suddenly home-bound, you can keep on trucking.

My idea is to plan project-based units, and have a parallel project that can be completed at home. This assumes, like in hybrid instruction, that you have an online platform — something with a calendar, file sharing, etc. Google Classroom, for example.

Here’s the basic idea:

Parallel Project model

When planning your unit, you record your initial lesson or lessons. (For tips on video lessons, see this post.)

After you’ve planned your unit, you send a “home materials kit” home with every student. It’s a “just in case” kit. They shouldn’t have to use it unless they are quarantined or school is shut down.

Then, stagger your project chunks and formative assessments. And design your formative and summative assessments so they can be completed either at home or on-site. And so that they assess either home or on-site work equally and fairly.

Example Parallel Projects

Imagine a makerspace-type course. Very dependent on on-site machines, such as laser cutters and 3D printers.

Here’s a Parallel Project unit for such a course.

2D Design: Lasers and Lattices

The students will use a vector drawing program to design a repeating geometric lattice design to be cut into heavy card stock and folded into a simple lampshade. Students at school with prototype and render their final design using the laser cutter. Students at home will design for the additional constraint that their design must be scissor-friendly (able to be cut from edges or folded edges). They will print their vector drawings on a home printer (if available) to create cutting templates.

Schematically, the unit looks like this:

Parallel Project example

Here’s another example, for a 10th or 11th grade English class.

Flyting, from Essex to Eminem

The students will study and example of “flyting,” a poetic exchange of insults, from the textual and cultural perspective. They will annotate broadsides published about Cromwell, the Earl of Essex in 1540, and then annotate rap battle bars by Eminem. Students will compare the rhetorical and poetic strategies, as well as the cultural reception of these works, and then write and perform their own “rap battles.” Students on-site will use the sound system in the auditorium (including microphones and backing audio), while students at home will record and edit video performances. If possible, the on-site performances will be recorded and uploaded. Assessment will include peer critique of both text and audience reception.

Here’s a schematic of this unit:


Now let’s think about all the ways the flow of the unit might be broken, and test the Parallel Project model.

Scenario: lockdown interruption

Students begin the unit at school, completing the first chunk of the on-site project, and the first assessment. But a four-week lockdown ensues. The first chunk of the on-site project is now counted as practice. The at-home project starts with chunk 1, and with  online support from the teacher, the students continue directly to chunk 2. This is followed by an online quiz, the completion of the project, and a final online assessment.

Scenario: return of the quarantined

A student begins the unit in quarantine, then joins the class
on site. However, the student is too late to begin the on-site project. Working with the teacher to make accommodations or adjustments, the student instead completes the at-home project with on-site resources.

Scenario: quarantined teacher

Students begin the unit at school, but the teacher is quarantined halfway through the unit. The substitute facilitates on-site assessments, but doesn’t have expertise with on-site resources. So, the project is modified, using the at-home project constraints as a basis. Project completion leans on video instruction and the teacher’s online support.

Scenario: serial lockdowns

Students begin the unit in lockdown, but then school reopens and the teacher starts the on-site project, building on the students’ at-home practice. Lockdown unexpectedly resumes, and students resume and complete the at-home project. The incomplete on-side project is counted as practice and/or class participation.

Scenario: 50% of student body locked down

School is open, but with 50% of students allowed on campus — either because the other 50% are in quarantine, or because social distancing measures require the school to halve its per-room capacity. Half of the students complete the on-site project, and half complete the at-home project.

(This assumes the same 50% are always home.)

Scenario: alternating attendance

School is open with 50% of students allowed on campus, on an alternating schedule (e.g. A-days and B-days). All students complete the on-site project, but on an extended time scale (as they are only in class two or three days a week). The at-home project is modified and becomes independent practice.

Scenario: 50% to full attendance pivot

The unit begins while school is open for 50% of students. Half of students (Group A) begin the on-site project, half (Group B) begin the at-home project. But then, after the first assessment, school fully opens. All students now complete the on-site project, but are out of sync. Project chunks and/or assessments are modified so that Group B can complete on-site project chunks 1 and 2 on the same time scale as Group A completes chunk 2.

Further Thinking

I’ve tried to “break” the parallel project model in every way I could dream up. As my example scenarios above demonstrate, I haven’t stumped myself yet. This might mean I need other brains to throw scenarios at me. After all if I’m both setting the goalposts and kicking the ball, it’s pretty hard to fail.

To that end, I invite your comments. What problems do you foresee with the “parallel project” scheme? What second-wave pandemic-induced pedagogical madness do you foresee that I’m not considering?

Thanks as always for reading.