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Project Planning During A Pandemic

“The devil is in the detail” – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe or Anonymous

When I was asked to come up with a “light and fluffy” art project for a segment of my students recently, my mouth dropped because it hit me hard that I don’t know how to do that. I was rendered speechless. And it got me thinking. 

I’ve been teaching art for nearly 17 years following 7 years as a regular classroom teacher with six years in third grade and one in fourth. And that followed a twenty year career in the printing industry (another story for another post).  As an elementary educator who listened hard to Dr. Howard Gardner in the mid-1990’s, I am someone who has internalized his statement: “I think that we teach way too many subjects, and we cover way too much material, and the end result is that students have a very superficial knowledge—as we often say, a mile wide and an inch deep. Then once they leave school, almost everything has been forgotten. And I think that school needs to change to have a few priorities and to really go into those priorities very deeply.” (Big Thinkers: Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligences)

Consequently, I’ve never been a “one and done” teacher. In writing curriculum and planning lessons for my lower middle school art students, I always tie together the acquisition of at least a few skills within a project. This allows for multiple concepts to be embedded within a final project, giving the students an authentic purpose for combining and utilizing the skills. Applying the skills to a project requires problem solving and decision making. Over the years, many of our projects have been collaborative and have utilized the design process. I have researched and employed the principles of Project Based Learning as well as STEAM curriculum design in my curriculum development. All of my projects include the three phases of Explore – Create – Share (search “Project Based Learning” on this site for examples).

Looping

Because I teach both fifth and sixth grade, I technically loop with my students, so instead of differentiating lessons by grade every year, I have created a two year curriculum that changes often. There are many ways to teach concepts and because I enjoy creating curriculum, I rarely repeat lessons. I usually teach common or similar material to both grades, adjusting for newness to materials or technology by grade level. 

All of the above is well and good when we are physically in school during normal times. Teaching art during the COVID-19 pandemic requires something completely different.

Simplification 

Having taught throughout the early pandemic education chaos last spring and worked on school reentry guidelines for statewide arts organizations almost all summer, I know the limitations of wonky schedules and prohibition of shared materials during the pandemic. I teach 18 different classes during hybrid time, with my original 8 classes divided in half to accommodate in-class physical spacing plus two new fully remote classes. On Wednesdays, the original 8 classes plus some of the fully remote students alternate coming to class weekly. It is worth noting that this juggling could have been reduced if students were limited to one elective per term rather than two electives each semester. Students would have experienced 4 electives this school year either way. This would have simplified everything for the students and the electives teachers and allowed for better relationship forming with the more frequent interaction. I proposed this to my administration in August and it was rejected. I simplified my own program in every way I could.

Here is how I simplified:

  • Common curriculum for every class
  • One Google Classroom class per grade level (75+ students in each rather than 18 different classes)
  • One posting for each project on Artsonia for both grades to upload to
  • Checking attendance on class lists plus maintaining one roster of all 150+ students listed alphabetically to record assignments
  • With the help of a COVID grant and my regular budget, I purchased and distributed art kits for all students so I could plan lessons based on materials I knew everyone had in the kit

These simplifications have helped a lot. What I couldn’t anticipate was the sudden jolt created by the district going from fully remote (starting on September 16) to hybrid on October 13. The fully remote period had gone exceedingly well. I was able to get everyone enrolled in Google Classroom and on Artsonia. The kids learned the necessary fundamentals of photographing their artwork for upload, how to upload, and our system of communication and resources within Google Classroom. They learned if they hadn’t turned in an assignment they would receive a reminder email from me the day after it was due and another email also addressed to their guardians if it wasn’t turned in the next day. We met twice a week as robust groups of 20-30 students where we began to build community in our virtual classes. And then we went hybrid.

Remote to Hybrid 

The day before we entered the hybrid mode I watched as my class lists shifted and changed right before my eyes – in real time. Twenty new students were added to my roster. October 13 was like the first day of school all over again. It created a jolt that shook up everything we had accomplished to date. Suddenly I only saw my classes only once per week, which diminished the instruction from introduce/practice/check progress to introduce/practice. Most challenging for me AND the twenty new students was the sudden switch of schedules to include students who hadn’t had the foundational experiences the others had benefitted from. And these students’ schedules were so packed there wasn’t time for remedial sessions with them.

Because of medical concerns, I am teaching remotely while the school is in hybrid mode. My students and I are supported by an in-school monitor for the class who is responsible for making sure the kids are doing what they should be doing academically and maintaining protocol in the physical space. I see his motion around the room in the backgrounds of my student Zoom screens and sometimes he pops into a student video to ask me a question or say hello. He has become a trusted educational partner.  

Remote Classroom

For the past two months I have been hyper conscious of the way I introduce and assign work. During our fully remote first month we began to get into a rhythm. I could introduce a project at the start of the week (because I saw every class on Monday or Tuesday) and could check in and provide studio time during the second class of the week. Kids are used to Monday – Friday schedule, and they were comfortable with this. During hybrid mode (this past month), I have taught half of my classes on Monday and Tuesday and the other half on Thursday and Friday. Because the second group is on their own on Monday and Tuesday, I had to shift away from the comfort of the Monday – Friday schedule. Many student routines were upended by this shift. They are 10 – 12 years old and although incredibly resilient, most are just learning these independent organizational skills.

I experimented with a few different approaches and tried to balance the in-person introduction to projects with the independent introduction so both cohorts took turns with each situation. I’ve taken notes and spoken with the kids to get feedback. Over the past two weeks I’ve implemented a unit planning change for hybrid mode. I almost hesitate to say this, because the moment I do, we’ll end up being back fully remote…but, I think I’ve got it! 

Remote Classroom

Considerations

I’ve come up with a way to plan that looks like it will be successful during hybrid times. I’ll go through it now to help you understand and because I want it written down for myself for the next time we make this shift from fully remote to hybrid. We’ll start with the situational realities of teaching to three modalities:

Hybrid students in our electives classes are:

  • In school 2 days
  • Fully remote synchronously every other Wednesday morning
  • Fully remote asynchronously 2 days 
  • In art class (physical) once a week
  • Expected to be in asynchronous art class once a week

4 Day students are:

  • In school 4 days
  • Fully remote synchronously every other Wednesday morning
  • In art class (physical) twice a week

Fully remote students are:

  • Fully remote synchronously every day
  • In art class once a week (synchronous) 
  • No asynchronous art class time scheduled

Needless to say, keeping 150+ students engaged and knowing exactly where they’re at in order to support them has been challenging. I have rosters by class, sorted into Cohort One, Cohort Two, 4 Day, and fully Remote students. My fully remote students are integrated into my hybrid classes, they simply attend through Zoom. I have rosters by grade level in alphabetical order to keep track of completed work. I check both Google Classroom and Artsonia multiple times a day. I honestly think this is the best I can do with an ever-evolving roster.

The Four Part Project

Essentially, what I’ve learned over the past month is that to be prepared for these multiple modalities and unique situations, I have to design lessons that can bend and flow. Or lessons that at least have a few parts to navigate between. With that in mind, I recently developed the approach pictured and described below.

I’ve created a 4-part project with a skill builder practice at home and a skill builder practice at school – both with different materials because the art kit stays at home except for the sketchbook. I’ve developed two final projects – one to be done in school or synchronously on iPads and one to be completed during asynchronous times at home. Right now it’s working!

In order to know which to introduce during a class, I keep not only a plan book, but class lists broken down by cohort and remote with notes at the top of each section about what was introduced during each class – basically the plan in the plan book and the reality on the class list. For example – while Cohort One is at school, they practice ZoneDoodles in their sketchbooks with a pencil preparing for the Art Kit Cover ZoneDoodle project that they’ll complete at home. Meanwhile, Cohort Two is home learning about and practicing Typography on their own. Both practice pieces get turned into Google Classroom. The next class for both cohorts, I check in on the practice work and then introduce the Digital ZoneDoodle project and allow time to work on it in breakout rooms. While that’s happening with one cohort, the other is woking on Art Kit covers on their own. These exercises are planned for 45 minute synchronous classes and the expectation is that the kids will take another 45 minutes asynchronously. 

It is important to note that I make short instructional videos rather than doing the same live instruction 16 times. The problem with live demos is that they inevitably differ as students ask questions, timing within classes differs, or I forget to include something. By making a video using my phone to record and iMovie to add narration, delivery of instruction is consistent and centralized through posting the videos on Google Classroom. Let’s break down this unit:

Skill Builder Practice at Home – Typography: 

Share the at home (asynchronous) practice assignment in Google Classroom – 

With the four attachments below:

Font Worksheets PDF – click here to download

Link to Typefaces PDF – click here to download

Skill Builder Practice in School – ZoneDoodles:

Share the in-school (synchronous) practice assignment in Google Classroom

With attachments:

ZoneDoodles PDF – click here to download

Final Project at Home:

Share the at home (asynchronous) final project to Google Classroom:

With attachments: 

 

Final Project in School:

Share the in school (synchronous) in Google Classroom:

With attachments:

Link to gallery of ZoneDoodles from a few years ago.

Early Finishers

A couple of weeks ago I introduced the Every Day Drawing Challenge to all of my students and shared the 365 drawing prompts with them. They have already completed one response drawing and uploaded it to Artsonia so they know the routine. It is likely that some students will finish their projects before others as they all work at different paces. Early finishers are encouraged to make another response drawing and upload to to the Artsonia gallery.

Summary

Although students will accomplish all four of these assignments, there are still some subtle differences. The regular hybrid cohorts are reminded each time we meet synchronously of the four parts and how they mesh together. I give brief intros sometimes fast forwarding the videos so they know what to expect without taking up our precious time watching videos they can watch on their own. This is a modified Flipped Classroom approach. The fully remote students technically don’t have a second art class in their schedule, so I ask them to allot 45 minutes during whole-school asynchronous time on Wednesday afternoons. I hope this actually provides a little brain break from academics for them. Meanwhile, the 4Day students are working on the Digital ZoneDoodle during one in school class and their Art Kit cover in school during their other weekly class. The 4Day students have an Art Kit at school for this purpose and an Art Kit at home should we suddenly go fully remote again. All of the other students are keeping their art kits at home because they are too easy to leave behind at home or school and excess travel will cause wear and tear.

I look forward to sharing the work from this project with you at a later date. With the Thanksgiving holiday break approaching, my 18 classes are especially divided, and my school has shifted the Tuesday Cohort One schedule to a Thursday Cohort Two schedule, which means because I actually have four cohorts, I’ll see the Thursday group of classes three times while I see the other three groups two times between now and December 4. Interesting. And one more things to plan around. But, as I mentioned above, I think I’ve got it! 

Questions and Ideas

We are all meeting the expectations of many different routines and schedules, not to mention our different demographics. I’m curious how you are managing your planning during this time. Feel free to reach out to me on the socials or at amgentili@me.com. Best wishes!

 

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