Classroom practices to support continuity of learning during teacher shortages
As all teachers know all too well, Australian schools are facing unprecedented teacher shortages. With more than four thousand high school educators expected to leave the classroom by 2025 (Clare, 2022), teachers are working in a highly challenging and unstable environment at the moment.
Unfortunately, change isn’t going to happen overnight. But we have heard from our community of teachers that they need immediate solutions to ensure learning continuity. Educators are looking for practical ways to maintain student engagement, motivation and attainment in the classroom today, so the students sitting in front of them today are still motivated and attaining key learning outcomes.
In this article, we’ll explore some classroom practices that support high student engagement and attainment:
- Establishing a classroom routine,
- Assigning open-ended projects,
- And, using online resources.
These activities are all easy to implement and create meaningful impact without adding to your workload.
Establish a classroom routine
Whether we like it or not, sometimes classes are combined or supervised by non-specialist teachers. This makes it difficult to plan lessons that are both engaging and of high quality. A simple way to ensure learning continuity is to establish clear classroom routines. This way whether a teacher is assigning work from home, or a specialist teacher is providing work for a colleague, you know what is being completed in each lesson.
In addition, the structure will help students thrive (either at home or in the classroom) as they know exactly what is expected of them (Adesuwa and Joy, 2021). Research tells us that students who have clear classroom routines and rules have greater academic outcomes, as well as fewer behavioural issues, something most teachers can get behind (Adesuwa and Joy, 2021).
While every situation is different, I have used this routine with many of my classes and seen great success:
This is a task students do within the first 10 minutes of class. They come straight in and start work on it immediately—giving the teacher some time to take the roll, complete any administrative tasks or just take a breath. The aim here is to settle the class into work mode and demonstrate your expectations for the class.
Ideas could include:
- A challenging question from the previous lesson,
- Watching an Atomi video,
- Or, something unrelated to the course content such as answering a provocative question (e.g. should school uniforms be banned?).
Teacher instruction time
This is an instructional period where students are given their learning outcomes, success criteria and any information they may need for the lesson. This could be content-related or simply instructions on how to complete the activity. This is what I call “teacher time”, and I often put a timer on the board to show students how long they need to listen. This can help manage behaviour.
This can be difficult if a classes is especially large or a teacher is absent, so videos are a great option—particularly for explaining the content.
The heart of any lesson involves an activity. Students love to be collaborative and get stuck into some great learning tasks. Using choice grids is a great way to ensure students are working at their own pace, on tasks they enjoy and can easily translate from the classroom to home. In addition, if classes have been collapsed, these activities can be done in small groups and gives students the chance to work with peers they don’t normally meet with in class.
Try to avoid activities that only last for one lesson when dealing with staff shortages. Planning one larger task will actually decrease planning time while also increasing engagement and attainment, as it forces students to go beyond surface learning (Shin, 2018, Chen & Yang, 2019).
Exit tickets are a great resource for both students and teachers. This activity asks students to reflect on their learning by writing down key learning statements, thinking of unanswered questions or rating their confidence with the content. They’re an effective way to help answer any unanswered questions and build student autonomy (Izor, 2019). It also wraps the lesson up nicely ending their thinking and linking the learning back to the initial goals (Izor, 2019). This is both important for students at school and at home who may find it difficult to transition between subjects.
Exit tickets also provide teachers with an accurate image of student understanding (Izor, 2019). This is important as it helps teachers ensure that student learning is on track, regardless of any disturbances and allows for early intervention where necessary.
Some ideas include providing students with a 3-2-1 exit ticket (like this one) or completing an Atomi quiz to gather more concrete data.
This is just a suggested routine—think about what might work for you and your students and formalise your classroom structure to help both teachers and students thrive.
Rather than focusing on planning individual lessons, creating activities that span over multiple classes reduces the workload for teachers, whilst also increasing student motivation and engagement (Shin, 2018). And luckily for teachers, there are multiple ways to do this:
Project-based learning (PBL)
This student-centered approach encourages students to develop critical thinking by working through authentic and often real-world problems (The University of Queensland, 2022). While they may take some time to set up initially, once going, teachers can step back and become a facilitator of learning—meaning specialised knowledge is not constantly required. In addition, students develop content knowledge, social skills, cooperative learning strategies and critical thinking (Shin, 2018).
As mentioned earlier, choice grids are another alternative to ensuring students have enough work to last multiple lessons. These can be designed to work over a week, or even a whole term. Typically students would be presented with a variety of activities, each varying in complexity and difficulty and therefore worth a different amount of points. Students are given simple parameters around how many points they must achieve and also the type of tasks they must complete. From there students are off on their own, working at their own pace and on the types of tasks they find enjoyable, increasing engagement whilst also gaining content knowledge and skills (Theesfeld, 2021).
We know that students love to work together, so providing them with structured tasks that allow them to do this is a great way to keep them engaged and learning. From a research perspective, not only does collaboration positively affect student attainment, but also helps develop social-emotional skills (Backer et al. 2018). Almost any task can turn into a collaborative activity from task cards to PBL and simple activities like creating posters.
These tasks can be ideal for collapsed classes as well as juggling students at home. Students can use online tools such as Google Powerpoints, Canva and even Minecraft to demonstrate their learning and work with students who are still present in the classroom.
As mentioned earlier, online resources are highly valuable when dealing with staff shortages. Atomi is one example of how students can access carefully curated curriculum-specific resources, including video lessons, quizzes and extended response practice. These tools can help facilitate student learning in the absence of a teacher, but still ensures the work they are completing is meaningful.
This is a very challenging time for schools. Teachers, students, parents and administrative staff are constantly put into difficult situations, most of which are completely out of their hands. We big changes needs to happen, these practical tips may help to ensure learning continuity without adding too your workload.
Finding what works for your classes might take some time and a bit of trial and error, but educators are versatile and creative—attributes that are sure to flourish in these challenging times. Trying to select one or two ways that resonate most with your school setting would be the best place to start. You will begin to see the impact quickly with how your students begin to engage with the new lesson material and hopefully, some of the initial pressure can be alleviated.
- Adesuwa, I. & Joy, A. O, 2021, Rules and routines as effective classroom management techniques on perceived students’ academic achievement in shorthand in Edo state, Nigeria, Indian Journal of Commerce and Management studies.
- Shin, M. H. 2018, Effects of Project-based Learning on Students’ Motivation and Self-efficacy, English Teaching, Vol. 73 (1).
- Chen, C. H. & Yang. Y. C. 2019, Revisiting the effects of project-based learning on student's academic achievement: A meta-analysis investigating moderators, Educational Research Review, Vol 26.
- Clare, J. 2022, Teacher workforce shortage issues paper, Minister's media centre.
- Izor, K. 2019, The effect of exit slips on student motivation with the classroom. Bowling Green State University.
- The University of Queensland, 2022, Project-Based learning, The University of Queensland.
- Theesfeld, S. 2021, Effects of student choice on student motivation and engagement within an elementary classroom, Minnesota State University. Moorhead. Backer, J, Miller, J & Timmer, S. 2018, The effects of collaborative grouping on student engagement in middle school students. St. Catherine University.