11 min read

Over the next few weeks, teachers across the nation are wrapping up their instruction for the school year and preparing for what is sure to be a non-traditional summer in uncertain times. 

I have a great deal of anxiety around how the 2020-2021 school year could look. How do we prepare for the “new normal” that we cannot even define yet?

I am nervous for the new teachers just graduating college. Some of them didn’t get to complete their student-teaching practicums. Many of them were hired through online interviews, so they didn’t get to visit the school to see whether they felt like the school’s environment and culture is a ‘good fit’ for them.

We have to be creative when ending the school year to make it enjoyable and healthy for our students, teachers, and future colleagues:

  • Have a virtual End of Year Celebration
  • Have each of your school’s teachers and staff members send in a brief phone video introducing themselves and giving a positive statement about their experience in the school family. Turn that into a video and share it with new-hires for the next year.
  • Complete a closing virtual parent conference with each family. Take notes on important struggles and learning a-ha’s their child had while schooling at home and share them with the next teacher to have the student.
  • Call each child on the phone or virtually meet with them individually to give them a positive send-off.

As I meet with all of the teachers I have supported this year, several questions keep coming up. I have made each of these questions into active links so you can jump right to the ones that are swimming in your head as you read this.

Last week, I promised an article on differentiation by content, process, product, and affect/environment for this week. I have embedded it here while focusing on questions that are extremely pertinent now. Putting a positive spin on an old idiom: I am feeding two birds with one scone. In the event that we return to traditional schooling for the next year, here is a quick-read on content-process-product-affect/environment differentiation from that perspective.

Preparing to Start a New School Year Virtually

Use Your Freetime Wisely and Be Ready When the Year Begins

  • Become Familiar with High-quality Edutainment
  • Use Online Training and How-to Videos to Improve Your Virtual Practices
  • Increase your Understanding of Online Teaching Strategies
  • Build some high-impact virtual lessons to start school just in case. If you make videos about your online/hybrid behavior expectations in a way that they can be used during in-person lessons, too, it is win-win. Digital Citizenship, active listening, self-regulation, and asking quality questions are some examples of mini-lessons you could create now and use both online and face-to-face.

Watch Out for Seductive Details as You Build Resources

In order to make educational materials such as textbooks, slideshows, and virtual lessons more engaging, the creator may choose to add elements such as photos, videos, music, cartoons, and text such as quotes. The catch, however, is that some of these could be what is called seductive details

By definition, seductive details are:

  1. Interesting to the learner, but
  2. Not aligned with the learning objectives/goals

Research has shown that these unaligned features may lead to poor information retention for the lesson overall and difficulties in transferring (applying and generalizing) the actual content of the lesson. This is referred to as the seductive details effect.

Critics of this claim might argue that seductive details may increase learner engagement, especially when presenting “dry” content or content which does not intrinsically motivate the learner. 

Some examples of seductive details:

  • During an earth science lesson on the causes of extreme weather patterns, such as lightning, the teacher includes a video clip of a woman walking her child in a stroller as lightning suddenly strikes less than three feet away
  • An algebra textbook includes photos and illustrations around the theme of a beach to make the pages more visually appealing (even if the application story problems include the same theme)
  • A technology lesson on the use of email etiquette for business communication includes a slide discussing the evolution of written communication includes a picture of a famous actor dressed as a postman from one of their recent movies

If you include seductive details, be very clear with yourself on why you are including them. For example, if you include a cartoon for the purposes of building rapport and unity with your learners through inducing laughter or to give comic relief during a lecture on a stress-inducing concept, recognize that you will need to intentionally redirect your learners back to the goals and objectives of the lesson. 

Instead of seductive details, see if you can provide elements that are actually aligned with the content and learning expectations. Going back to the examples of seductive details above, here are some elements they could have used instead to avoid using those that were not aligned:

  • In the lesson on lightening, the video could have shown examples of the three types of lightning: cloud-to-ground (the most commonly known type), cloud-to-air, and cloud-to-cloud
  • An algebra text could use visuals that model a strategy for solving the application problems with base ten blocks in lieu of including palm trees for visual interest
  • The technology lesson on email etiquette could use a colorful timeline modeling the evolution of written business communication

A Mix of Online and In-Person Instruction

While blended learning focuses on the combination of offline and online instruction, hybrid learning seeks to find a balance that promotes the best experience for individual students. 

Blended learning combines in-classroom instruction with asynchronous exercises and content that are consumed outside the classroom. Hybrid learning, on the other hand, is the method of teaching remote and in-person students at the same time via virtual instruction solutions.

It is important to understand the different types of blended learning.

Consider The Flipped-Classroom Approach

What if you had more time to do application activities and project-based learning? With a flipped-classroom approach, you can. 

In traditional schooling, students receive content during class and complete problems or application activities at home. In a flipped classroom, the students receive content while at home through videos, readings, etc. Then, they come to class to apply the content as the teacher facilitates application activities, reteaches, corrects misunderstandings, and differentiates.

If you are considering a flipped classroom, do your research into common mistakes that others have made and how to avoid them

One strategy that is power-packed for use in a flipped classroom is the Catch and Release strategy.

Anticipate Preparing Space in Your Home for Virtual Teaching

Whether we return to campuses or not, you have now seen the power of being able to use technology for teaching. Having space in your home pre-prepared for virtual instruction can reduce stress as we approach the new school year not knowing what it might look like. Even if all schooling takes place in the classroom, you can use instructional mini-videos make at home to enrich, reteach, and differentiate your instruction.

  • Putting videos on YouTube and linking them in your virtual learning environment takes up less space on your computer and decreases lagging. Create backdrops for your YouTube videos.
  • Rearrange your furniture to create a front of class look or themed space.

Differentiating Online Learning

There are four primary focuses for differentiation of assignments and assessments regardless of whether the instruction is virtual or in-person: Content, process, product, and affect/environment.

Content Differentiation

Content is the knowledge, understanding, and skills we expect the students to demonstrate mastery of during and after instruction. KUD, or Know-Understand-Do, is an easy to remember acronym that captures the essence well. 

It is important to note that when we plan for differentiated instruction, we must be careful to not accidentally modify the content. The same expectation of mastery and performance is maintained for all of the students unless they have an IEP or 504 plan that calls for modifications. 

Online Content Differentiation Examples

  • Provide supplemental guided notes that can be used while watching an instructional video
  • Meet separately with students to re-teach (virtually, with an individual or small group)
  • Provide alternate texts (ex. No Fear Shakespeare)
  • Make videos available in addition to the text-based material
  • Offer personalized instruction videos

Process Differentiation

The ways in which a student engages with the content of a lesson is the core of process differentiation. The students all receive the same content, but the process by which they make sense of the content and skills can vary.

Online Process Differentiation Examples

  • Provide online math manipulatives along with videos on how to use them to solve a specific type of math problem
  • If the class is creating an outline for writing a comparison essay, give a student a Venn diagram for them to use as they brainstorm how two concepts or things compare so they can better organize their outline
  • Provide Tiered Activities wherein, for example, different groups work with the same content but have different processes:

Group 1- Struggling Students:

  • Requires less difficult independent reading.
  • Has materials based on the average reading level of the participants, which is usually below grade-level
  • Has spare text and lots of graphic aids.
  • Has a low level of abstraction (i.e., is as concrete as possible).
  • Requires fewer steps to complete the assignment
  • Requires only knowledge and comprehension levels of thinking for independent work.
  • Includes supportive strategies, such as graphic organizers or teacher prompting to help students infer and draw conclusions. (i.e., use higher-level thinking skills)

Group 2 – Average Learners:

  • Includes independent reading materials from the textbook or other on-grade level sources.
  • Uses concrete concepts to help students transition to more abstract concepts.
  • Includes questions or problems that are a mix of open-ended and “right answers.”
  • Can have more steps.
  • Expects students to infer and draw conclusions with less teacher support. Teacher should count on being on hand if necessary to prompt students in this area.
  • Ensures that students can be successful with knowledge, comprehension, and application on their own, and that with help they can address some of the high levels of thinking

Group 3 – Advanced Learners:

  • Includes reading materials from sources more complex than the textbook, if possible.
  • Requires more lengthy sources because students can read faster than lower or average students.
  • Focuses on abstract concepts as much as possible and uses open-ended questions exclusively.
  • Requires students to infer and evaluate.
  • Assumes students have knowledge, comprehension, and application abilities, and that they will be challenged only if you ask them to analyze, synthesize, and evaluate.

Sourced from IRIS Differentiation Module

Product Differentiation

The product is the outcome of an assigned task that is used to measure mastery of the learning goals.

Online Product Differentiation Examples

  • While most students are writing research-based essay, this can be differentiated by having a student create a slideshow that demonstrates the key concepts they found in their research
  • If the class is taking an online math quiz and you notice that one student did them all wrong, have that student model doing a few difficult problems while thinking aloud as they record video of themselves. This can help you identify errors in thinking and give partial credit for the parts wherein they used correct logic
  • Provide product options in a choice board, such as Tic-Tac-Toe or a menu

Affect/Environment Differentiation

Differentiating student affect means modifying the learning environment to meet student emotional needs. This is more difficult to do in a virtual learning environment.

Online Affect/Environment Differentiation Examples

  • Ask a student who is struggling with anxiety during virtual class sessions what would be better for them. They may ask to answer questions asked during the virtual meeting in a document while staying muted and camera off. Then they turn in their notes.
  • If you have a student who is disrupting the online learning environment and agitating a student with sensory or attention issues, have a procedure for warning the acting-out student and mute their mic, if necessary.

In Summary…

I realize that this article is a bit all over the place. So is our knowledge of what we are heading into as we wrap up the school year and prepare for the next. Get comfortable with change and uncertainty.

Stay Strong. Stay Proactive!


D’Agustino, S. (2011). Adaptation, resistance and access to instructional technologies: Assessing future trends in education. Information Science Reference.

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