Planning for a High-Quality, Comprehensive Learning Experience

Remote and in-person models have strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. Our hope is to capitalize on the strengths and as possible mitigate the weaknesses. Through all models of learning we are guided by our drive to create an engaging and positive learning environment that supports the development of our students - academically developing the mind, physically developing the body, and engaging students through the social lens. 

Regardless of the learning model, the Somerville Public Schools will continue to implement our existing curriculum in alignment to the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks. Curriculum programs may be adapted to meet changing conditions and arising student needs. This includes the addition of skill development, including those needed to engage in adjusted learning models, and the incorporation of foundational curriculum lost as a result of disrupted instruction during the Spring 2020 semester. Incorporating social emotional learning into the instructional day will also be an important component of the learning experience, as will providing opportunities for students to engage in safe social interaction and enrichment through partnerships with Community Schools, Somerville’s Parks and Recreation, Citizen Schools, Enroot, and others. 

Relationship Building

We learned during the Spring closure how crucial strong teacher-student-family relationships are in order to promote student well being and effective learning. The actions we plan to take to support strong relationships are:

  • Providing time early in the year to allow for educators to reach out - be it in virtual or in-person, safe outdoor spaces - to meet directly with families to begin building relationships and connections beyond the screen. 
  • In conjunction with educators, creating and sharing resources to help educators build strong classroom communities and explicitly teach and embed social emotional learning skills in the first few weeks of school. This involves valuing and celebrating student identities and perspectives in order to make them feel welcome and engaged in this new learning environment. The district has adopted Second Step as its primary social emotional learning curriculum in grades preK-8 and will continue to utilize this evidence-based curriculum to help students develop the social-emotional skills they need to succeed as they build a strong foundation for lifelong learning.
  • Providing professional development to educators around increasing student engagement and building relationships in a remote learning environment.
  • Creating space in the schedule to allow for weekly classroom community meetings.
  • Increasing outreach and support to families who may not have engaged or participated as much as desired during the Spring closure, as well as continuing to identify and remove barriers that prevent families and students from fully engaging. 

Instructional Platforms

During the unexpected closure in the Spring it was important for educators to use platforms they were most comfortable with to ease the transition into remote learning. However, we have learned that less is more, and when it comes to instructional platforms as much as possible we need to minimize the number used within schools and across the district. This practice also supports families with multiple children across multiple schools to facilitate the scheduling and organization of their children. The actions we plan to take to support this effort include:

  • Limit the general platforms we use for assignments and communication. Google Classroom, Zoom, and Class Dojo were commonly identified in surveys by staff and families as the most effective platforms.   
  • Purchase district-wide and school-wide licenses to a handful of the most effective content-specific platforms (ex. Lexia, LaLiLo, Zearn) to increase collaboration and understanding.
  • Ensure that students and families can use the same username and password login (single sign on) to log onto the various platforms they will be using.
  • Provide explicit instruction to students and families about how to access and use these platforms (ex. videos produced by the EL department this summer). We are in the process of creating these instructional videos and will make them readily available on our website. 

Curriculum Supports and Adaptations

Delivering curriculum in a remote environment is challenging for even the most seasoned teachers. As much as possible, we want to support teachers in this endeavor so they can focus more of their efforts on building relationships with students, meeting with small groups of students, and providing feedback. We are also cognizant that unlike the Spring closure where DESE identified priority standards, we are required this year to cover all grade level standards in addition to having to circle back to any previous year’s standards that were not covered during the Spring closure. The actions we have and will continue to take to provide curriculum supports and adaptations are:

  • Starting this summer, reallocate time from our K-5 ELA and K-8 Math coaches’ schedules to develop Google Slide decks and instructional resources that educators can use when they are providing synchronous instruction to their students.
  • Beginning in June, convene and stipend groups of K-8 educators in subject areas other than ELA and Math to develop Google Slide decks and instructional resources that educators can use when they are providing synchronous instruction to their students.
  • Reworking our pacing guides to include standards not covered in Spring 2020, to allow for sufficient community building/technology instruction time in the Fall, and to account for the updated 170 day DESE guidance.
  • Partner with other organizations to work with groups of educators to create effective supports and adaptations.  Examples include working with our Lesley University partners through the Biogen grant to adapt our Gr. 6-8 Math and Science curriculum; working with our Boston University Wheelock College of Education partners to adapt our newly developed K-5 science units to be delivered in a remote environment.

Meaningful Learning Opportunities for Individual Students

During these unusual times where a computer screen often separates teachers from students, we know students respond differently to remote learning and have varying access to resources and support. Therefore, we will regularly ask What is the individual student experience? Providing education in a pandemic has highlighted many inequities we knew to exist. We recognize there is much work to do and will continue to act with an equity lens in decision-making and educational design choices. The actions we have and will continue to take involve providing students with rich and varied learning opportunities depending on their experience and needs, along with any appropriate accommodations and modifications that students may need. To support meaningful learning opportunities for individual students, we will:

  • Maximize the amount of quality time teachers and students get to interact with each other. Examples include stopping points during live lessons to have discussions, small group breakout sessions within a lesson, sharing ideas on virtual bulletin boards, playing a virtual academic game as a class, and writing feedback sessions. Doing this well requires providing professional development to educators and built-in time to collaborate to promote productive teacher and student interaction.
  • Implement more small group and individual learning experiences that better engage students, increase personalized learning, and target the needs of individual students by differentiating instruction to embrace different needs and learning styles.
  • Incorporate frequent opportunities for students to receive various forms of feedback - verbal, written, peer, among others - to guide their learning and development.
  • Provide meaningful independent work for students that is tied to previous instruction and is accessible with minimal at-home adult supervision. This could include work on online platforms that adapts to the needs of a student, project based learning, or small group collaborative assignments.
  • Create and distribute K-8 grade level kits of materials to each student that will help them better engage in learning in both in-person and remote environments. This could include items such as number lines, whiteboards, phonics reference sheets, math and ELA workbooks, and basic supplies (crayons, markers, pencils).
  • The state requires that grades be given during the 2020-21 school year in all models of learning. Therefore, we will implement a system of grading that is reflective of existing district protocols balanced with the recognition of the challenging and evolving environment that will require an empathetic and adaptive approach. Foremost, our actions are guided by the purpose of grading to assess where students are and what they need, providing constructive and motivating feedback and guidance on how to improve, and helping students and families better understand specifics on what students need to work.

Preparing Families to Support Students

We understand that support from home is a vital part of the remote learning experience. We will prepare families to support their student by:

  • Ensuring access to a device and stable internet connectivity so students can engage in remote learning. The District is also prepared to provide headphones as needed . 
  • Clear and regular multilingual communication between families and schools. This includes the sharing of daily schedules and weekly instructional plans so families understand what students are learning. 
  • Providing access to learning opportunities and resources to support families in engaging their students in remote learning.  
  • Using an engagement tracker to record student involvement and Aspen to track student attendance. When a student is struggling during remote learning, counselors, Deans of Students, Redirects, and school-based Administrators will reach out to students and families to encourage engagement and provide additional supports. 
  • Incorporating social emotional learning into everyday instruction, and providing mental health and additional academic support as needed. 

Professional Learning

We recognize that providing instruction in a remote environment is different and more challenging than engaging students in in-person learning. To support educators in making the transition we will:

  • Continue to offer professional development sessions that explore new means of instruction and meet the needs expressed by teachers. Beginning in the spring and continuing through the summer we will offer Accessibility and Accommodations for Remote Learning, Best Practices in Remote and Hybrid Learning, and Understanding Trauma and Trauma-Sensitive Schools in the Midst of Covid-19 among other PD opportunities to address requests. For additional details and offerings see the Professional Learning section in this document. 
  • Prepare educators to engage students in various models of learning and in the practices and protocols necessary for safe in-person learning. The Massachusetts Commissioner of Education has provided school districts with a 10-day planning window prior to the return of students, in addition to the two days SPS already calendared. A portion of this time will be used for educator learning. SPS will prioritize professional development on equity, Covid-19 procedures and routines, best practices for remote learning and engagement, utilizing online platforms (Zoom and Google classroom), trauma and social emotional learning, engaging in effective student and family outreach, and exploring means of productive assessment. Educators will utilize time during the 10 additional days to plan collaboratively in grade level and subject specific teams.