Flexible Instructional Strategies to Meet Students Where They Are

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education instructors have experienced the value of designing classes that can be adaptable in the face of unexpected events. While the pandemic itself has been a unique historical event, disruptions to teaching will likely be felt in the future again. 

Instructors and students alike benefit from approaching their course design with some room for flexibility. As Beth Buyserie, Rachel Welton Bryson, and Rachel Quistberg (2021) explain, “pedagogies of productive disruption seek to create learning opportunities and spaces that engage with and respond to evolving and unpredictable disruptions in the virtual, material, and psychosocial landscapes in which teaching and learning take place” (p. 37). Even if future disruptions are not as widespread as those of the pandemic, students and instructors alike may face disruptions in their personal lives, such as unexpected illness or a care-taking event for a family member or friend, that could impact their abilities to engage with their educational experiences.

History professor Kevin Gannon (2019) writes that “If we want our students to learn, we have to pay attention to all of the things that either assist in or interfere with that learning” (Gannon, p. 59). Part of paying attention to those things is proactively anticipating what students might need to be successful in a course.

Provided below are four evidence-based approaches designed to help you meet students where they are in their learning.

Design Self-Assessment Activities

Use metacognitive strategies to help students observe patterns in their learning and study practice. From these patterns, students can identify what is helping (or hindering) their learning.

Prioritize Depth Over Breadth

With many unexpected changes to our teaching contexts, consider prioritizing depth over breadth as a strategy for designing flexible and inclusive courses. Provided below is a non-exhaustive list of resources to help you design equitable learning experiences for your students.

Revise Your Evaluation Tool

Evaluation tools are designed to communicate how students are expected to demonstrate their learning. Rubrics are used on both high- and low-stakes assignments, such as homework, in-class participation, research papers, and project work. Explore resources for (re)designing your evaluation tool.

Collect Student Feedback

Collect student feedback at strategic points in the semester to learn more about your students' needs and use this information to inform changes to your teaching practice and course plans while the semester is ongoing.