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Teacher to Teacher: Planning for the New School Year

by Lynne R. Dorfman

What will this new school year look like?  As the federal government and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention change their guidelines, we need to remain flexible in our thinking to create a plan of action for the 2020 – 2021 school year. There is so much we have no control over, but we can prepare so our classroom can function as a face-to-face, remote, and hybrid model. Many districts in our area are doing some kind of a blend model, and some school districts are offering a virtual school for teachers and students who prefer distance learning until a vaccine or treatment can be offered to everyone.

As you organize your content for instruction, consider co-planning with a grade-level colleague. If you feel you shine when teaching writing, find another colleague at your grade level in your school or across the school district. You and your partner could offer a series of videotapes to extend instruction into your students’ homes when they are not in school. These can be planned as the minilesson with places to ask questions and pause for active engagement where students can be placed into breakout rooms and discuss how they will use a writing craft or strategy. Returning to whole group on a platform such as Zoom, the teacher will link the strategy learned in the minilesson to the work students will now do during independent writing time. If you ask students to keep the cameras turned on and their sound muted, you can give them 20 minutes of writing time and use the chat to talk with students who may have questions for you. Pull students back for reflection time. Be sure to pose a reflection question or two using the whiteboard feature or place them in the chat right before students begin their independent writing time.

If you are meeting with your students in a virtual or hybrid meeting, it is important to establish a sense of belonging but more difficult to do than in a face-to-face setting. One thing you may want to do is share some things about yourself to help your students get to know you. I like to share 3 – 5 photos about myself and explain a little bit about each one. If you enable share for all participants, students can share a picture slide they have placed in google drive or email it to you as an attachment. Ask them to share 2 – 3 photos they can talk about. For the first three weeks, select two or three students to share each time you meet on Zoom. Here is my picture slide. What can you learn about me?

Introducing Myself with Photos

Or create an “About Me” inside-outside chart.

These can be shared on a chart in a face-to-face or hybrid setting. Ask students to create their own, drafting in their writer’s notebook and then using markers and/or colored pencils to create a larger chart on poster paper. If your school does not allow any display of students’ work, let them create their charts on their devices and talk about them with a partner, maintaining social distancing norms or send to you to display several at a time on your large screen/whiteboard.

About Me INside Outside chart

Ask students to send you a baby picture of them. Create a Pinterest board or build a photo album to share virtually or in a blended or face-to-face session. Give students a chance to guess whose baby picture is displayed on your screen. Ask students to write a piece “Once I…. Now I…. and use their baby picture and a current photo to add to the writing. Students can repeat this scaffold several times.

Lynne baby pic 3 Corgis and me in snow

Once I just hung out with Mom and took it all in. Now I hang out with my three Corgis and take in the beauty of all the seasons during long walks in our neighborhood.

Some examples to share wit your students>

Once I rode a tricycle, but now my pink two-wheeler takes me all over my neighborhood with my friends.

Once my favorite school subject was math, but now my favorite subject is science.

Use Status of the Class for writing and/or reading workshop. This quick check-in is a great formative assessment that gives you a quick glance of how your students are using their independent reading and writing time. Status of the class emphasizes process. For writing use “P” for planning, “D” for drafting, “C” for conference, “R” for revision, “S” for research, and “F” for final draft or publish. Before independent reading time, ask students for the title of the book they are reading and page number. Make sure to record the date. Code our responses for the following information: “F” finished a book, “A” abandoned a book, “S” ready to start a new book, or “C” are ready for a conference. This information helps you praise students who are completing a book and encourage students who are moving slowly. Check in with those students who are not finishing a book for a long period of time to see if you can offer support. In about three minutes time, you know what all your students are reading!

It doesn’t matter if you are doing a virtual, hybrid, or face-to-face model; you need to build a consistent routine with lots of opportunities for choice and self-pacing. Build your community. It is a much more difficult task if you are totally virtual, but take the time to do it in order to have students who are engaged and motivated to learn. It is well worth your efforts!

Lynne R. Dorfman is a Writing Project fellow (1989). She is currently working on a new book for Stenhouse Publishers with Brenda Krupp, Welcome to Reading Workshop. Right now, Lynne is reading Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy by Gholdy Muhammad and Next Year in Havanna by Chanel Cleeton.