Educators outline key considerations for academics and achievement as the new school year creeps closer

Building a strong academic scaffold for the 2020-2021 school year: Part 2

Educators outline key considerations for academics and achievement as the new school year creeps closer

In the first installment of this series, we highlighted our belief that educators nationwide are unsure if the school year will begin with in-person instruction, remote learning, or a hybrid of both. We also explained that we believe that no matter where instruction is taking place, students need a strong academic scaffold to build upon. Finally, we offered a series of suggestions on how to do so in a remote learning environment.

In this article, we share with you four ways to begin to build a strong academic scaffold for your in-person learning environments.

1. Rely on your peers in the surrounding grades. Many educators we know are saying they will spend time reviewing/re-teaching content that was covered during the period of remote learning this past spring. However, we believe there is another approach to filling-in missing concepts for students that will produce stronger results in the classroom.

Instead of spending weeks reviewing skills that some students mastered, some were exposed to, and some are unfamiliar with, allow this learning and scaffolding to occur naturally in the unit(s) the work builds toward.

For example, in our district during spring remote learning, the characteristics of quadrilaterals for 5th grade students were excused and moved to 6th grade for the fall of 2020. 6th grade teachers are now required to build this work into their instruction where it makes sense, not just a disjointed review at the beginning of the school year. 6th grade students will now learn the surface area of 3-D shapes and area of composite shapes. To be successful with this work it will be imperative that students know the attributes of quadrilaterals, which is a 5th grade concept.

As a 6th grade math teacher I would add components to lessons that address the characteristics of quadrilaterals. Are we finding the surface area of a rectangular pyramid? Then we need to cover characteristics of rectangles: side measurements, angles, parallel, perpendicular. Then immediately, students use that knowledge to calculate the surface area. This is where the bridge needs to occur, inside of authentic learning opportunities. This strategic link will provide genuine learning and meet student needs more than a detached series of lessons.

As grade levels, how do we gain this insight into curriculum from both the previous grade and how do we share our insight with the adjacent grade? Through discussion with our peers in other grades. If this type of discussion is not happening where you are, then as teacher leaders we must start the conversation.

Don’t forget: The grade levels educators adjacent to you are depending on you to share your expertise of your standards and the students are depending on you to provide new material that is relevant and engaging.

2. Create thoughtful intervention plans. Students that require a deeper level of support will need thoughtfully created intervention plans. These plans must encompass a first level of intervention inside of classroom instruction, a second level of intervention providing additional support for grade level material, and a third level of intervention that fills gaps in foundational skills. Here are some suggestions for these types of interventions:

A) Level one intervention: A level one intervention is where teachers deliver the core curriculum that all students receive. Instructors teach grade level material and provide scaffolding inside the daily instruction as needed. This scaffolding may be small groups, adjusted assignments, or graphic organizers, to name a few. Your success will depend on your knowledge of the most crucial standards. Think, what are the most important standards that all students need to master? Which standards carry the most weight for the following years of learning? These major works are where you spend the most energy developing strong, in-depth lessons and the most class time focused on this instruction. As teachers it is our nature to believe that every single standard is the most important. However, if we are to strategically and realistically going to fill gaps, we will only focus on the most pressing standards. Students are exposed to your entire curriculum but with time and resources that are limited, narrowing our focus for our students’ mastery on major works, will be key. Knowing these major works ties into the work for level two intervention.

B) Level two intervention: During level two interventions you are providing additional support to the students that did not show a level of mastery for the major work during level one classroom instruction. The school must set aside time for each grade level to provide additional support for major work and this support must come outside of the regular classroom time (not during lunch, recess/P. E, or the arts). Adding additional time for this type of intervention may be met with push back (where will we find the time, we don’t have the resources, etc.). However, when faced with this type of push back, the place to start would be with your school’s “why.” Why are we here and what is our number one goal? When a school staff comes to consensus that their role is to provide the best opportunity for students to learn, then they can agree for all students to succeed, some will need additional time to develop mastery of major works (and that we have to be creative to find it during the school day for them). How do you determine who needs support on the major work? Your team develops a short, quick check on a narrowed skill (i.e. who can add two-digit plus two-digit numbers, who can multiply a fraction times a whole number). The key to your quick check is that it has to be narrowed and focused on one skill. If you focus on multiple skills, you will have students with gaps in many areas and it is difficult to determine exactly where to intervene. You want to fill one gap in their learning at a time. Students are placed into groups to meet their individual needs. These groups are determined as your team analyzes the student work and looks for common errors of learning. Student groups are created based on level of mastery. From here intervention or enrichment lessons are designed and taught. As students learn, movement in student groupings becomes fluid. This means when students become proficient in the area they were struggling; they move to an enrichment group or to another group to deepen their understanding of the skill. This is why understanding your major works is so important because you will not be able to intervene at this level on every single standard. However, when we determine what is most important for future success, we can afford the time for mastery on that standard. During level two intervention you will continue providing intervention on a major work as this is happening your classroom level one instruction may have moved on to another standard.

C) Level three intervention: The last level of intervention is provided for the very small number of students that need instruction to fill gaps in foundational skills. For example, a 5th grade student that hasn’t yet mastered the parts of ten. This conceptual skill plays a role in many aspects of math learning and application. This small group of students will need additional time to work on this level. As teachers many times this is where we feel inadequate due to our inexperience with the previous grade’s work, don’t fear reaching out to the teachers of lower grades for help and resources. To help our 5th grade students master parts of ten, we reached out to our first and second grade teams. These teachers and assistants taught us games and helped us curate materials for our students. These teams were willing to help because of our school’s collective responsibility for the learning of all students. Providing intervention for students outside of normal classroom time is a challenge and hard. However, we all agree that filling the gaps in the work has to be done to give these students a chance at future success.

Don’t forget: Start somewhere and begin to fill in the student gaps, don’t fear failure. The collective goal of a school staff is to fail forward, allowing for us continual growth as we meet the needs of all students.

2. Strengthen and support your hard to reach parents/guardians. There are parents in every class who are challenging to meet with, connect to, or develop meaningful relationships with. Building a bond with these parents is crucial for student success when we return to instruction in the fall. Regardless of the student level of digital participation in the spring, there must be a strong parent relationship built, from the ground up in the fall. No longer should educators only host parent sessions with school-wide evening events. Teachers must design new and creative ways to connect with parents while making it personal.

Consider hosting monthly small group parent meetings (face to face or on a digital platform), inviting parents with similar work schedules to engage in a short session on occurrences in the classroom. This small intimate meeting should be surrounded with easy discussion and highlight positive trends in the school or classroom.

Another option would be to host a weekly digital drop-in for your “office hour(s)”. This is a time you would allot for parents to reach out to you at their convenience and need. They may have academic questions, social questions or behavioral updates to discuss with you. Making yourself available for “office hour(s)” provides parents with a time they know they can reach you live, not by email, phone message or an office note. We know that choice is important for students in the classroom, why not offer choice to parents/guardians as well? Parents have many different careers and are communicated with differently.

Educators need to use these modalities to increase engagement. For example, parents may have a preference to receive texts, emails, or videos. Use these to your advantage by delivering the information the way they would like to access it.

Another way to engage parents is to show exactly what their child will be learning soon and how to support them. Consider releasing a video introducing units of study. In the video you can share the topics being studied, exciting activities and examples of exemplar work to guide them to the end goal of the unit. Changing the way, you connect and build relationships with parents will change the way parents perceive their child’s education.

Don’t Forget: Re-entry to the school this fall is the perfect opportunity for you to set new expectations for yourself and your parents. By investing early in relationships, the outcome of academic success will be stronger.

3. Put the whole child first. Teachers are already accustomed to sharing their love daily with each student and maintaining a pulse on students’ energy in the classroom. However, as the movement to return students to the classroom gains momentum, educators and building officials must precisely tune into the social and emotional well-being of their students. Previously, this type of learning has primarily been addressed with school counselors and support staff. However, the extended absence from the classroom will result in an increase in student needs.

Schools and districts are currently anticipating this increase. Classroom teachers will spend additional time addressing students’ social and emotional learning (SEL). Many districts are preparing for this need by requiring SEL lessons during the first months of school. As teachers prepare for instructing students in this area, they must have access to quality resources. Areas where teachers will need support include managing social and emotional wellbeing and educating students on how to work through their SEL needs.

One free resource to consider is Soar with Wings: Social Emotional Skills for School and Life. This program provides a virtual field trip, learning activities, video resources, and home connections for K-5 students. The goal of the program is to equip teachers with printable lesson guides and PowerPoints that focus on SEL in the classroom and activities for home.

Another resource to consider is SEL with Discovery Education Experience. Discovery Education has designed a course for classroom teachers within Experience called Managing Social and Emotional Well Being in a Virtual Environment (learning is easily adapted for face to face). This course is an excellent launch for your own SEL learning. It informs teachers on how to manage SEL and provides practical strategies, K-12. Discovery Education also curated a resource titled, Hot Topic: Social and Emotional Learning. This resource provides lessons, activities and a webinar for CASEL’s five competencies. Discovery Education’s resources support these competencies with relevant content and engaging instructional strategies. While Discovery Education is a paid service, they offer a free 30 day trial.

Don’t forget: Regardless of the avenue you use for your SEL lessons, every teacher will need to be prepared to meet the social and emotional needs of their students on day one.

Next Up: Building the an Academic Scaffold in a Hybrid Environment

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.