Designing Balanced Lessons

The theme of balance has been top of mind for me lately. I have a book Balance with Blended Learning coming out in January. I started a podcast called The Balance focused on exploring issues related to balance in education. I also spend a significant amount of time helping teachers to design balanced lessons in my role as a blended learning coach.

When I design a lesson with a teacher, I stress the importance of balancing the various elements within the lesson. There are a few reasons that I think it’s critical to consider balance when designing lessons. First, I do not want the teacher to do the majority of the work in the lesson. Second, I want the learning to be a partnership between the teacher and the student. The lesson must be designed to encourage students to take an active role in it. Third, I do not want teachers to isolate learners. Instead, I want them to leverage the power of their learning community by designing lessons that encourage conversation and collaboration among students.

If teachers design their lessons with intention and strive to balance the various elements within the lesson, students are more likely to be interested and engaged. A more balanced approach to designing and facilitating lessons will also afford teachers more time to work directly with individual students or small groups of students to personalize their learning experience.

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Record Video Directions and Maximize Your Minutes

Few things are more frustrating than repeating yourself over and over. Yet, many of the teachers I work with repeat the same information and directions multiple times in a lesson. Sometimes this is the result of students who are distracted or not paying attention. Sometimes a student walks into class late and needs to know what to do. Other times a student may need to hear the instructions again because they got started, hit a bump, and need clarification. Whatever the reason, repeating directions or instructions steals precious class minutes and often leaves the teacher feeling frustrated.

Video directions are a game-changer.

First, it saves time. Writing or typing detailed directions is time-consuming. Instead of typing out step-by-step directions, record a quick 30-60 second video explaining the steps. This is particularly useful if you are using blended learning models, like station rotation or playlist, or if you create hyperdoc multimedia lessons and want to work with a small group or individual students.

Second, video directions put the students in control. Students can access the explanations when they need them as a learner. Even really young students in kindergarten and first grade who may not be able to read, can press play on a video and watch the teacher explain how to complete a task.

Third, students have 24/7 access to the teacher’s explanation and directions. The videos live online so students can access the work and their teacher’s instructions from home if they are absent or fail to complete the assignment in class.

If teachers record their videos with Screencastify, the videos are automatically saved in your Google Drive and sharable with a link. Teachers can create two types of video directions using Screencastify.

  • Desktop recordings are screencasts. It will record what is on your computer screen if you are explaining how to do something online or you just don’t want to physically appear in your videos.
  • Webcam recordings are videos of you. This is great for modeling or showing students how to physically complete a task. Younger kids, in particular, love to see their teacher’s face on the screen. It tends to hold their attention longer.

Once you have recorded a video with Screencastify, it will save automatically in your Google Drive and you can “copy link” to share it directly with students. If you use Google Classroom or a learning management system, like Schoology, that is the easiest way to share your links with students along with any materials they will need to complete the task. If you don’t have access to either of those at your school, the next best option is to use a URL shortener, like Bit.ly, to create a short customized link that you can write on the board, like bit.ly/TutorialScreencastify. If you are working with tiny humans that might struggle to type in a link, I suggest creating a QR code with your link that they can easily scan.

For anyone who has never used Screencastify, here is a video tutorial to walk you through it.

I hope this simple strategy saves teachers time during their lessons! If you have any other tips you have found valuable when it comes to maximizing your minutes with students, please post a comment with your tip!

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The Balance with Catlin Tucker: Featuring Tiffany Wycoff

Is your teaching practice sustainable? The answer I hear most from teachers is “no.” Teachers enter this profession determined to do it all – design and facilitate lessons, communicate with parents, monitor and track student progress, provide timely feedback, and grade everything

This unsustainable approach leaves teachers feeling tired and disillusioned. Disappointment in our work lives can wreak havoc on our personal lives. But what’s the solution? As educators, how do we empower ourselves to create boundaries both inside and outside the classroom? What strategies we can implement to reinforce those boundaries, day after day? 

As an educator with 16 years of teaching experience, I have dedicated the last several years to training, coaching, and supporting teachers. I want to help educators establish and maintain balance in their teaching practices and in their lives. In each episode of The Balance, I’ll talk with a different thought leader or educator. We’ll explore this complex issue and strive to find ways to achieve a healthier work-life balance.

In this episode of The Balance, I talk with Tiffany Wycoff, a mother, an educator, and an entrepreneur. We explore issues related to the balance or, more accurately, the imbalance of power and responsibility in classrooms. We question the current role many students occupy as passive consumers. We discuss the need to model a growth mindset for our students and what is needed to cultivate classrooms where we celebrate experimentation, risk-taking, and failing forward. We talk about the potential of technology to connect learners as opposed to isolating them. As advocates of blended learning, Tiffany and I explore both the pitfalls and potential of integrating technology into classrooms. 

If you are part of a professional learning community, the questions below are designed to facilitate a conversation–in person or online–about the issues discussed in this episode of The Balance.

  1. Have you had moments in your career when you struggled to engage your students? How did you respond to those moments? What strategies did you use to combat the students’ reluctance to lean into the learning?
  2. How do you stay current when it comes to new teaching strategies, instructional models, and technology tools? When and where do you learn–school organized professional development, engaging on social media, listening to podcasts, online courses, reading books or blogs? Which of these strategies have you found most useful in continuing your informal education?
  3. How do you currently use technology? What role do devices and technology tools play in your curriculum? Are you using technology primarily to transfer information and facilitate personalized practice? Do you use technology to engage students in the active construction of knowledge? If so, how?
  4. How do you model a growth mindset for your students? Are there strategies you use to create a classroom culture where taking risks and failing forward are encouraged and celebrated?
  5. What can teachers do to partner with their students and give them more responsibility and agency in the classroom? What would giving students more agency look like in a typical lesson? How might giving students more choice and voice impact your classroom culture?

Find The Balance on iTunesBreakerStitcher, and Podbean

Thank you to StudySync for producing and sponsoring this podcast! StudySync is committed to helping teachers find balance in their lives by providing them with a robust multimedia ELA platform that simplifies lesson planning, automatically differentiates tasks for learners at different skill levels and language proficiencies, and blends online and offline engagement to help students develop as thinkers, readers, writers, and speakers.

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