Planning and Instructional Design

Plan“To make instruction rigorous, teachers need time…to plan, to co-plan, to come up with what they think will work.”

Planning and instructional design for remote learning requires using multiple new and adapted ways to engage students as active learners. Districts and schools should prioritize common planning time for those who teach the same grade and subject. When used effectively, common planning time is an excellent form of embedded professional development and a powerful, cost-effective strategy for nurturing adult learning and collaboration. Practically speaking, teacher teams can:

  • Co-plan lessons
  • Coordinate co-teaching
  • Co-determine instructional moves

African american young woman using laptop working studying online, serious black girl student worker looking at laptop making notes typing busy on computer research, search information in internetPurposeful instructional design will determine which learning activities are best done synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous lessons are delivered live, through real-time interactions using visuals such as a slide deck, video clips, or other media to facilitate the learning experience, reinforce concepts, introduce questions, and encourage conversation. Asynchronous lessons are self-directed activities done on the students’ own time such as a pre-recorded video that students can watch on their own and then come together to discuss as a group, either through a virtual meeting or an online discussion board. If a lesson isn’t interactive, doesn’t require discussion or questioning, and wouldn’t benefit from constant checks for understanding, it may be well-suited for asynchronous instruction.

Guiding Questions

  • How do we ensure that our schools’ instructional design works for diverse learners?
  • How do we help our schools assess their instructional priorities?
  • How do we promote active interaction for all students in remote and hybrid learning environments?
  • How do we ensure that curricular materials support student learning effectively?

Professional Development Connections

  • There is no substitute for additional time for teachers to plan and develop active and engaging lessons together as interdisciplinary and grade-level teacher teams.
  • Teachers consistently said they would benefit from professional development on what instructional designs work best for remote learning that is asynchronous or synchronous learning.
Use these selected strategies and resources
High-leverage Strategies Aligned Resources

Distance Learning Model

Review your district- or school-wide plan for teaching and learning through a continuous improvement lens and maintain it as a “living” document. Ask yourself:

  • Are the instructional priorities clear? How were they assessed?
  • Does the plan align with state and district guidance?
  • Does it reflect both research and your conversations with stakeholders?
  • Is it anchored by a Theory of Action that includes all learners?
  • What does it need to communicate?

The Congrove Distance Learning Model contains clear, concise language on:

  • A distance-learning theory of action (pg. 2)
  • Sample schedules (pgs. 3 and 5)
  • Weekly individual learning plans and after-school support (pg. 4)
  • Structures and operations for non-instructional staff (pg. 6)
  • Instructional design and delivery (pgs. 7-10)
  • Learning community for school and family (pgs. 11-12)
  •  Systems for improvement (pgs. 13-15)

Instructional Priorities

Select a small, but meaningful set of instructional priorities—what will have the greatest impact on student learning this year.  Not only is this a much needed, practical step for teachers and students, it will also help families get a better grasp on instruction, especially as a counterweight to the flood of information on school operational details and safety procedures.

Deciding What to Teach? Here’s How (Education Week) is a succinct, 6-step guide to help instructional leaders streamline curricula and offer “just-in-time” support.

Use the Learning Acceleration Guide (TNTP) to help create an instructional plan that focuses on academic acceleration.

School year 2020-21 priorities from one middle school (Arts & Letters 305 United) includes four instructional priorities:

  • Learning is active and student-centered with opportunities for students to discuss, question, and grapple together.
  • In live remote instruction, smaller groups lead to more engagement, deeper learning, and equity of voice.
  • In remote and hybrid settings, individualized written and verbal feedback is particularly crucial to student learning.
  • We identify our most vulnerable students and bring flexibility and commitment to reach them.

Technology Fundamentals

Active learning requires that all students have the essential technology fundamentals. Use a district- or school-wide unit to introduce and explicitly teach the digital skills students will need to navigate remote coursework (e.g., online learning platforms, communication tools, live meeting apps). This type of unit can have lessons that introduce:

  • Online policies,
  • Required technology
  • Shared strategies for building a positive and inclusive online culture and community

Visit the Online Instruction  and Professional Development: Technology  sections of this guide for more information.

The Digital Skills Support Binder offers mini lessons and activities teachers can use to introduce basic Google tools. You can use the binder to plan what resources you will need to find or create to introduce Google tools in your district or school.

Priority Standards

Knowing that teachers may need to cover some of last year’s materials, find efficiencies by identifying priority standards that help teachers narrow the focus in order to give young people what they need most.,

This priority mathematics and literacy standards resource (Student Achievement Partners) can help you create a plan for how your school/district will identify priority standards.

Accelerate Through Scaffolds

Students own their learning more effectively when they are provided with scaffolds and strategies that let them engage from multiple entry points.  Identify some shared strategies across a grade or across the school to scaffold tasks effectively to include students who may have fallen behind during remote learning in the spring.

This set of grade appropriate strategies from the Rennie Center’s  Back-to-School Blueprint can help teachers provide tasks that engage everyone. In addition, EL Education offers supports for thinking about how to scaffold effectively for all learners.

Curricular materials

Research (Center for American Progress) indicates that high quality curricular materials are almost as important as a strong teacher in terms of delivering student outcomes. In a year that may be fractured, with students who may be coming from a disjointed school experience last year, it is critical that curriculum materials are strong. Schools can review materials to identify strengths and weaknesses, prioritize sections aligned to priority standards, and strategically use materials to support student learning.

EdReports offers reviews of many math, science, and ELA curricula. Schools might look at the specific curriculum they are currently using to identify strengths and gaps. There are also materials around updated key technology information.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

To ensure that online teaching and learning serve all students, teachers should incorporate the features of UDL into their planning. UDL assumes that barriers to learning are in the design of the environment, not in the student. UDL is based on brain science and evidence-based educational practices. It also leverages the power of digital technology.

Include these UDL resources in your teacher professional development: