Classroom Planning for Intentional Connectedness

A few weeks ago, I shared how our Jigsaw Learning team plans for strategic connectedness every week for our organization, through something we’ve described as intentional layering. For our team of educators, having intentionality in the way we layer support, connectedness and accountability is incredibly important when establishing an effective and manageable plan for our work. But what could this look like in the classroom?

Essentially the same structures could apply, with some slight adjustments. The following template can assist in planning for intentional connectedness at the classroom level, which we’ve adjusted for several partners we’re working with over the past number of weeks.

Goal for the Week

It is important to establish your goal for the week - what is going to be your primary focus for your students? We have referenced a sensational document from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that shares thoughts related to what learning should look less like and what it should look more like during the shift to re-imagined learning environments.

It is important to understand that we should not be trying to recreate school at home, with a focus on numerous subjects and trying to maintain a typical scope and sequence for learning. Focus on the big rocks. What is my primary goal for the week? Perhaps it is a theme that I can wrap a number of subjects or topics of learning into, or an essential outcome that is central for the learning. Narrowing the focus for learning is critical and helps to then attend to the other layers of connectedness.

Overall Messaging

This is the focus for a general weekly communication out to students and their families. What is it that students and their families need to know this week, in relation to the Goal for the Week? This communication is intended to be one-way communication and should be brief. Another important consideration is the medium. We can’t assume that all families have the ability to view a video (although a video is a great way for students and families to continue to “see” you leading the learning). Consider sending the same message through multiple mediums! A great way to do this is using YouTube live streaming, capturing the transcript of the video and then sending that out through alternate means (text, email, etc.). The intent of the weekly message is to always be present for students and families weekly, demonstrating focus and intentionality for what learning is intended to happen this week.

Whole Class Connection

Opportunities also need to be built into the week for ongoing class connections for the whole group. However, the purpose of these sessions really need to be thoughtful, particularly if we move to a scenario where some students are physically present in school buildings, while others are online. Here are some thoughts in relation to the whole class connection:

  • Don’t make the focus of this time to be strictly whole-class instruction or delivering content. If that is the purpose, it is much more productive to put this content into a video or other medium to be reviewed prior to the whole class connection. The whole class connection is a great time to answer questions, provide examples and make it truly engaging for students.
  • Ensure students have an opportunity to have a voice and connect with their classmates. Start with a “check-in” - a question for each student to provide a brief response (i.e. “What is one characteristic that comes to mind when you think about our focus on Heroes this week?”). Have students “pass” the question to a classmate to respond next. A check-out could also be considered.
  • Keep the time purposeful and focused. Remember that many families may have limits on data, multiple children trying to connect, or shared devices in the home.
  • Consider how to involve students who may not have access to video. How could they join by phone, or have an alternate means to connect through some of the other layers discussed below?

Small Group Connection

When engaging in learning online, the most authentic interaction between the learning, the student and the teacher is likely through the small group connection, when small groups can engage in learning with focused feedback and direction from the teacher. Again, these groups will shift weekly, based on the focus and the individual learners, as well as some of the access considerations discussed above. How can you use smaller groups to add another layer of connectedness for students that can likely focus on more robust teaching and learning than the whole class connection, but is more efficient than trying to do that through a large number of individual interactions?

Student to Student Connections

Consider this the “small group or partner work time”. How can you purposefully place students in small groups or partners to engage in their learning together? Although this will entail trial and error, as well as some support for students regarding how to do this well, explicitly assigning students to work on assignments or learning activities together can further enhance the connectedness to classmates that is desperately lacking for many learners currently. Once again, connecting to the Goal of the Week is important, as well as strategic differentiation when thinking about your learners. Are there some learners that this will actually increase anxiety and how can we adjust for that? Inequities to online access also needs to be a thoughtful consideration - perhaps helping to structure a phone call between partners working on a project will be needed? It is important to understand that learning cannot solely be an individualistic endeavour - we need opportunities structured to have students engaging together in their learning, understanding it will look different than it would have in the classroom.

One on One Connections

Students still need to have opportunities to connect individually with their teacher, but it is important to recognize that this is going to be highly differentiated. Here are a number of considerations to have at the forefront when thinking about those individual connections, recognizing that equal frequency of connection is not the goal. Some students will need to have more or less, based on a number of factors:

  • What is the preferred method of communication? Is this a student/family that will excel with more or fewer personal connections through that preferred method?
  • Are there certain times that work better for some students than others?
  • Is the student going to need more frequent check-ins, in order to stay motivated, ask questions or assist in the learning connected to the Goal for the Week? Which students would you normally be checking in on more frequently if they were in the classroom?

Obviously, some initial research is needed to determine each individual student/family situation but individual connections are still an outstanding way to maintain relationships with students, while potentially enhancing the relationships with families.

There is no “One Size Fits All”

A single template or idealistic layering of different types of connections is definitely not going to fit all situations, or even work perfectly from week to week. That is actually the point. If we can be intentional and mindful about what we are trying to accomplish, it is easier to look through the lens of multiple ways of connecting and determining which will be most effective. However, we need to be able to understand that there are multiple structures to consider as a classroom teacher, with the ability to maybe do some more small group learning that is focused than we could have possibly been doing back in our classrooms, when there are multiple students and distractions competing for our attention.

Please share your thoughts and learnings on this topic, as everyone is in this new space of learning currently and in the foreseeable future. All the best and thanks to all the educators doing amazing things for their students, families and communities!

Author: Kurtis Hewson