At the start of remote learning in the spring, my district was delayed in announcing its official plan because of the need to distribute adequate technology. During this delay, a colleague and I began to create plans. The two of us had been planning and implementing monthly professional development in our building around blended learning and student-centered learning. We knew we would be looked to as leaders during this rapid transition. We were lucky to have already trained our students in how to use all the tools we would be leaning on. We planned to use the Google Suite and Edpuzzle as the main tools, with some others sprinkled in when needed.
We created playlist templates and were ready to share them with the rest of the school. But our plans were upended when the district plan was unveiled and the expectations were different than what we had anticipated. The district plan contained a limit of assigning two hours of work per week per class, and we were not allowed to require synchronous class meetings. We were still determined to use the playlist as the main driver of our classes and understood with the district plan, we would need to use screencasts with elements of the flipped classroom model as an essential element of the remote classroom.
The first playlist I utilized was for an essay assignment in my Philosophy class where students were writing their personal philosophy. The playlist gave steps to complete the assignment from the organizer until the final product. I also created pacing to work within the two-hour weekly limit. The playlist allowed students to choose how much of the organizer they needed to complete and how they wanted to go about the process of writing. I created screencasts of myself modeling the work and explaining the requirements to allow the students to access my instruction as needed. Check-ins with students had to take the form of feedback I provided on their documents and optional meetings during office hours. I also began to convert lessons that were done previously in a station rotation into a playlist format to allow students agency in the order they accomplished the stations and what resources they used while working on them.
It was difficult to achieve differentiation because I had little communication with most students, and I received work and feedback from students at variable times. Without being able to determine what was preventing my students from engaging with the class, my differentiation strategy evolved into adding as much accessibility and choice for the students as possible, along with the differentiation that I had been employing in the classroom for the students. I achieved this by adding different methods of accessing content, such as:
- screencasts of myself modeling skills and working with content,
- Edpuzzle videos,
- utilizing primary and secondary sources within the same topic, and
- giving choices in how to represent their knowledge.
I recommend that teachers setting up Google Classrooms for remote learning build in a permanent feature, such as a form or Padlet, for students to leave their thoughts about what is and is not working with the class, along with any individual issues they may be having. I suggest establishing norms around the expected forms of communications at the beginning of the class, making sure students understand how and when to access them. Another key suggestion is establishing the procedures for conferencing with students. It is also important for students to become familiar with some basic playlist templates that you plan to use during the year so they can understand the expectations without you needing to explain each time. The ability to repurpose templates and offer consistent expectations for how work should be done will not only save you time in the creation process, but also will facilitate an easier process for students to access the content of your class.
Once you establish this foundation, I suggest you increase complexity by allowing students choice in what types of materials they work with as they go through the content of the class. Mixing in primary and secondary sources is the norm for Social Studies classes, but adding choice in which is used can allow the students to have agency. I would also personalize learning by utilizing methods such as the Question Formulation Technique and tools like Padlet to allow students to voice what topics they are interested in.
The last conversation I had with a graduating senior that took my elective law class illustrated this point to me. He had taken several classes with me over the years and had never been the best with completing assignments. He did not need this law class to graduate and could have simply ignored it for other classes he did need to pass. Instead, he was regularly active in my class. When I saw him at the drive-through graduation ceremony, I asked him why he chose those assignments, and his answer was simple; “I was interested in the topic.” Conversations like this one help me to remember that I worked so hard on my lessons to help students, and they are the ones that know what will engage them best.
With remote and hybrid learning pushing teachers to redesign and repurpose their old materials, it is the perfect chance for social studies teachers to give students more control and choice over their learning and for teachers to embrace the world of tech tools that provide more feedback about your students than ever before. I encourage you to start out small by trying shorter playlists. Find a new tech tool, like Edpuzzle or Flipgrid, and add it into your regular rotation to add to your formative feedback. Using tools like Padlet and Google Docs can still allow for the collaboration you are accustomed to in your classroom and the collaboration can happen asynchronously. If you have other ideas for how to teach social studies in remote and hybrid learning, please reach out to me firstname.lastname@example.org.