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Reliable Learning Models for Hectic Times in Schools

By: Justin de Leon on September 23rd, 2020

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Reliable Learning Models for Hectic Times in Schools

Teachers  |  Classrooms

School boards across the country are experiencing marathon meetings as they listen to hours and hours of public comment, review guidance from local health officials, and review plans for what it will look like to bring students back to buildings and on what timeline. Some districts have already returned to in-person learning, only to transition back to distance learning when there is an unfortunate increase in COVID-19 transmission rates.

For many students, teachers, and families, switching from distance learning to in-person learning is at best a bumpy ride and at worst a confusing, chaotic mess. As educators reflect on how to bring consistency, reliability, and predictability to the student learning experience, regardless of being at a distance or in person, consider the three learning models outlined below.

These models are also being highlighted because, by design, they create space and time for student-centered learning. That is, they include opportunities for 1:1 or small group instruction, they call upon teachers to review data to drive decision making, they use content flexibility, and have opportunities for student choice. Keep in mind that one model is more than likely not the best fit for all students across a school or district. Rather, a mix of models might be best given the needs of students and the current state of learning in a particular classroom and school.

Broadcast Model

In the broadcast model (also known as the “pizza model” if you are looking for a friendlier name), classroom teachers play pre-recorded videos of lessons made by expert “video teachers”.  This approach reduces planning time around instructional design for the classroom teacher and provides ongoing modeling and touchpoints for professional development. 


What does it look like in action?

  • Students join their regularly scheduled Zoom class. The teacher welcomes the class, takes attendance, and sets the stage for the day’s lesson. The teacher plays the pre-recorded lesson from the “Video Teacher,” stopping when prompted to facilitate discourse, checks for understanding, or student practice.
  • Whether students are at home or in the classroom, video lessons can be used to introduce or re-teach concepts, plus students can re-watch videos at any time. 

Use this model if…

  • ...your school or district is trying to embed teacher PD.
  • ...teachers are struggling to plan and facilitate effective synchronous learning sessions.
  • ...you want to limit the use of new applications into the learning experience.

How does it help to facilitate student-centered learning? 

  • The video teacher takes the lead in lesson planning, freeing up time for the classroom teacher to check-in with students; review student work, and provide 1:1 and small group support.
  • Daily formative assessments provide data to inform how classroom teachers differentiate student support.

What must we consider if we use this model?

  • Who will record the videos?  
  • How will students with limited device access or connectivity participate?
  • With what frequency will you facilitate PD between video and non-video teachers?

Playlist and Choice Board Model

Playlists and choice boards are nothing new when it comes to K-12 education, but they provide a new type of value in our unpredictable world. Teachers or teams can create and post a playlist or a choice board on a regular, predictable basis and to the same location, whether or not students are at school or at home. This way, whether at home or at school, students are using a consistent routine to understand learning expectations and submit work during any given week.


What does it look like in action?

  • Each week (or at a set cadence), teachers or teams of teachers create and post a playlist or choice board to a set location (i.e., LMS, shared document, class website, etc.).  Students work through the material at their own pace. Teachers monitor student progress and pull small groups for differentiated instruction.
  • To bring consistency to the learning experience, teachers can post the playlists and ask students to submit their work to the same location whether at home or at school.

Use this model if…

  • ...your district or school has prioritized personalized learning.
  • ...you are trying to increase opportunities for student ownership. 

How does it help to facilitate student-centered learning? 

  • Playlists and choice boards give students control over the pace of their learning.
  • Classroom teachers can use small or whole group mini-lessons to pre-teach, re-teach, or extend concepts, based on student need.

What must we consider if we use this model?

  • How will you teach students to make decisions and monitor progress?
  • How will students submit their work?
  • Who will create the playlists or choice boards?
  • How will you model more complex activities for students?  

Station Rotation + Core Curriculum

The station rotation model can be effective online and at a distance, especially when paired with the instructional materials aligned to your core curriculum.  The “Core Curriculum” here refers to the instructional materials, aligned to the core curriculum, that are housed in a district-wide LMS or core online content provider (e.g., Edgenuity Courseware).  

What does it look like in action?

  • Students begin the class with their teacher checking in, taking care of housekeeping items, and sometimes experience a mini-lesson. 
  • From there, students break into groups (e.g., independent, small group, independent reading). During the independent station, students can work through the next lesson in the core curriculum. During small group, teachers can preview, re-teach, or extend some or all of the lesson based on student performance.
  • If class periods are on the shorter side (e.g., 45 minutes) the teacher might meet with only one small group each day and students might experience one full “rotation” through the stations one time each week.

Use this model if…

  • ...there is a wide range of proficiency levels within single classrooms and structures must be in place to support various student needs. 
  • ...your district has prioritized small group instruction.

How does it help to facilitate student-centered learning? 

  • Students will meet with their teacher at least 1x/week for small group instruction.
  • Classroom teachers can use small or whole group mini-lessons to pre-teach, re-teach, or extend concepts, based on student need.

What must we consider if we use this model?

  • What curriculum and aligned instructional materials will be at the core of the learning experience?
  • How will small groups be managed in the distance learning setting (i.e., small groups attend at a predetermined time;  a co-teacher or para support students while the teacher meets with small groups)?

Regardless of the model you are using or aspire to adopt, remember that clarity and consistency for students and families are critical right now. Students must be crystal clear about what is expected of them and what fully participating and engaging looks like if they are to get the most out of school–at home or in the classroom. More important still, is to select, design, or customize a learning model based on the needs of your students and the learning objectives you hope that they achieve.

A Free Downloadable Guide – Teacher Guide: Best Practices for Virtual Classroom Facilitation

About Justin de Leon

Justin de Leon is a Partner and joined Education Elements in 2012. He began his career in education teaching English at Brownsville Middle School in Miami-Dade. In his first year, he shifted from a traditional model to a blended model as a way to personalize and saw management issues disappear and achievement increase. During several school years, Justin worked with Teach for America to provide mentoring, coaching and professional development to ELA corps members. After moving to the west coast, he gained experience in the charter world while teaching ELA at KIPP Heartwood Academy in San Jose, CA.

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