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Give Your Students and Yourself Grace

by Chris Kehan

Flipgrid, Seesaw, Padlet, Canvas, Bitmoji classrooms, etc. seem to be all that we hear from our colleagues and administrators in preparation for a virtual start.  If you are like me and gearing up for the start of this unprecedented 2020 school year, then you are probably overwhelmed by EVERYTHING we need to learn as teachers for our students to be successful online.  As I sat in my library office thinking about all that I needed to do to get ready for this year, my heart started to race and my head was spinning.  Then, I took a deep breath as I looked around at all of the books in my library, and my heart rate slowed and my mind became more open to the possibilities that books can offer me, my students, and the teachers during these tech-filled times.

These first couple of weeks should be used to give our students and ourselves grace to ease into this extraordinary school year.  What better way to do that than through picture books?  No matter the grade level or subject you teach consider using picture books to open the necessary conversations we need to have in order to get to know our students, find out how they feel, and get a sense of how to proceed with care–the curriculum can wait.

Before becoming an elementary school librarian, I taught for 19 years in a regular classroom.  My two favorite things to do were read aloud and use a Writer’s Notebook.  Now as a librarian and starting a school year during a pandemic, I intend to use the same two tools to get the year started.  Picture books provide opportunities for quick, meaningful read-alouds which can lead to an entry in a Writer’s Notebook and follow that up with sharing and/or discussion.  The following titles are a small sampling of books to use to get your year started or use them periodically throughout the year to maintain community and care in a virtual world:

Thankfully we have the technology to connect to our students as we start the year online.  However, we cannot let it get in the way of what is important–getting to know our students and letting them know we care.  In the end, a good book, a pencil and some paper (or a Writer’s Notebook) is all we need to get started connecting to our students and building the community necessary to navigate the year.  So, take a deep breath and give your students and yourself grace.

Chris Kehan is a library media specialist in the Central Bucks School District.  She became a PAWLP Writing Fellow in 1995 and a Literature Fellow in 1997.  After teaching 4th & 6th grades for 19 years in the regular classroom where she amassed over 4,000 books in her classroom, she decided to take her passion for literacy to the library where she teaches children in K – 6th grade.  She has been sharing her love of reading and writing with the students and teachers at Warwick Elementary School for the past 10 years.  Follow her on Twitter @CBckehan

A Twist on Shared Reading for Grown-Ups!

During the past year I have been enrolled in a certification course organized and run by a wonderful professor.  Until late March, the classes were held on campus.  When the schools shut down due to the pandemic, we moved to meeting on online each week.  In addition, the professor saw a need to be filled beyond the weekly meetings for class and offered a virtual shared reading option to help us stay connected beyond the course content.   As a result, he set up through the university website a twice a week opportunity for us students and for anyone who wished to join.

Since its inception, our little community of lovers of literature has been meeting each Tuesday and Thursday after work hours for one hour.  The beauty of the community is that it is not the common place book club.  In the traditional clubs, members choose a book, read in advance, maybe have guiding question and then gather together to discuss what was read and learned.

In our shared reading meetings, we do not prepare by reading anything in advance!  Whew!  That takes that pressure off, doesn’t it, in terms of needing to find time to read what was assigned?!!

Through the magic of Zoom, the prof started us with Ray Bradbury’s novel, Dandelion Wine. He used screen share to show us the book from his Kindle app.  A novel of about 300 pages, it is not the typical Bradbury book and takes place in the Mid-West in 1928.  One could say it is part autobiographical when the author was a 12-year-old boy. The imagery, the scenes, the vocabulary, nuances and threads are delightful even though somewhat dark.

At the beginning of each of our meetings, we would take a few minutes to catch up with each other and then the prof would begin to read aloud.  He would stop at any place in the text that he felt was a good spot to go back, analyze and discuss what he read.  Then each of us would take turns reading aloud if we wished,  choosing a point to pause in which to have discussion  and simply share our insights of the writing such as what Bradbury was trying to convey to the reader, why he used the language he did, what was part of his real childhood, how did each section connect and where would it go next.

As an extremely brilliant person who was an English major about 45 years ago and lover of the classics, the prof’s skills in asking open ended questions solicited from each of us our thoughts and personal connections to the text, all the while being done without judgment.  Each person was free to share whatever came to mind on one’s own or in response to someone else’s comments.

In May we finished the book and the semester ended.  I must say I never would have read that book on my own and even if I did, I never in a million years would have gotten so much out of it!  True learning as a community!

As a group and as the pandemic has continued to impact our ability to be with each other, we chose to keep the group going.  So, in June, we began to read classic poems and excerpts from classics that the prof would bring to us. Poems by Baldwin and Emerson; text by Woolf and Williams.  We have even enjoyed analyzing song lyrics such as those by Bob Dylan by listening to the songs and reading the lyrics a piece at a time, digging into the mysteriousness of each item we explore together.

Currently we are reading a more modern-day novel, Open City.  We have been on a new journey as a group, learning about the life of the narrator who is Nigerian and is a psychiatrist living in NYC around the year 2008.   Very different than Bradbury or the other texts yet lends to in-depth chats on what is happening, may happen and any connections to today’s world or to past texts we have shared.

Despite summer’s end approaching and the possibility of more of us returning to working in our actual work locations, however long that may last, we plan to keep going if we can into the fall and beyond.  I must say the shared book reading community has been a wonderful gift to me.  I have only missed 2 sessions and consider the meetings as highlights of my week.  To dig into literature that I never would have considered or taken time to pick apart has been enlightening and joyful.   I have learned much from the community while we have also gotten to know each other.  I have made new friends through the enjoyment of a pressure free  ‘book club’ . It has been a splendid experience and is one that I highly recommend to others who are passionate about literature.

I have to admit that when the idea was presented, I was not so sure of joining, mainly because of the book that had been selected; the Bradbury book, since he is not an fav of mine.  But, being that it was my prof who I greatly admire and respect running the community as well as  due to my intense drive to learn all I can through whatever experiences come my way, it became  a door to a new world.  By the end of the first night, I knew I was hooked.  What a way to stimulate my thinking and connecting in a non-judgmental way with other adults while in isolation and physical distancing!  And thank goodness for platforms such as Zoom to help ease the influence of the pandemic on all of us!

May I invite you to take the initiative to create shared reading groups with colleagues, friends and/or family to expand your horizons? I am certain you will find it enriching and fulfilling in so many ways!

Happy shared reading!

What I Know to be True

Summer comes to an end for me today. It was a summer like no other. There seemed to be little physical rest, even though I have maintained a tight lockdown at my house and canceled so many plans. There was little brain rest despite a nearly empty calendar. The pleasure books on my shelf were mostly untouched, and despite my every intention to unplug, I was online more than ever before. 

This summer, I actively worked to make sense of virtual teaching and learning, and I spent hours and hours looking for information, ideas, webinars, and workshops so that I could feel more prepared and confident to turn my brick and mortar classroom into a virtual one. My teacher toolbox overflows with ideas and strategies.

Anxiousness, uncertainty, nervousness. I try to remain calm. I’ll face this challenge. 

But so many tools and tips, platforms and PowerPoints, blogs and Bitmojis clog up my browser that I find it more than daunting to decide which few will work best for me, my students, and my subject area. When choosing the tech I will learn and use, I know for sure that I want to stay true to my pedagogy, my beliefs about learning and learners, teaching and teachers. After all, I am the same teacher though the method of delivery has flipped me upside down. 

In their book 180 Days, Gallagher and Kittle (2018) begin at the beginning: “Start with Beliefs.” How do our beliefs shape our practice? What matters? The authors recognize that it is hard to “break out of the herd,” but “planning doesn’t start with what and how questions. Planning starts with why.”

When we are stressed, we tend to rely on what is comfortable. We revert to our old ways, even when we previously incorporated a new practice. There is no doubt that this year will bring stress and discomfort. How can we stay true to our beliefs, to what matters, to what we know to be true?

As I create interactive lessons and digital documents, my beliefs become my litmus test. They anchor me as I make decisions about reading and writing, as I prioritize choice in a “pacing guide world”, as I structure synchronous and asynchronous lessons, and as I interact with students, caregivers, and colleagues. My beliefs serve as the foundation for my practice.

What do I know to be true?

  • I know that choice equals engagement.
  • I know that providing choice is a form of social justice.
  • I know that our reading lives matter.
  • I know that talk is essential to learning.
  • I know that volume does not equal rigor.
  • I know that when I serve as facilitator, I create an environment that supports student ownership over learning.
  • I know that we all deserve do-overs.

I identified these beliefs a few years ago and wrote them on a sticky note that hangs on the desk I will not use for several months. Now they live on a digital sticky note on my desktop. 

What are the philosophical underpinnings that anchor your actions? What do you know to be true about your students and your practice?

Take some time this week to curate a list of a few belief statements that are close to your heart and guide your teaching. Write them down and post them at your workstation.

May they be your anchor. May you remain true to your beliefs even when pulled into the many platforms and PowerPoints, blogs and Bitmojis that distract us from the real center of our work, our students. 

Abigail Turley is a 2019 Writing Project fellow. She is beginning her 22nd year as a high school English teacher in the West Chester Area School District, and she works as an independent literacy consultant. Abigail is currently preparing for virtual teaching and learning alongside her husband, also a teacher, and her three children who will be completing 5th grade, 9th grade, and freshman year in college online. In her free time, she enjoys peace and quiet and books. You can connect with her by searching the hashtag #twominutepd on Instagram and by emailing abigailturley28@gmail.com

THE VIRTUAL SYLLABUS

by Abigail Turley

Last fall, I decided I’d had enough of the traditional syllabus or course outline that either sat in my students’ notebooks untouched or ended up in the trash unread. I’d rather get to know my students before I put on paper some kind of calendar or sequence of units, which I’d never be able to stick to anyway.

My co-teacher and I came up with an interactive stations activity to help students physically navigate the classroom, get to know the teachers and the classroom norms, and learn about the course content through collaboration and inquiry. We were thrilled at the results: loads of engagement and a culture of community and respect.

We vowed to never handout the traditional syllabus again.

Now that we are virtual, I’m thinking of ways to turn the traditional syllabus into an ACCESSIBLE and ACCESSED online resource for students. The purpose of this “syllabus” changes a bit when we are in a virtual environment, doesn’t it? I want to create a culture of trust, autonomy, respect, and community while introducing some important information that students will need to know for navigating this new learning experience. I need to introduce them to the learning space, help them create new understandings of participation, and encourage them as they rethink collaboration. My syllabus needs to be constructed in a way that supports them in these endeavors.

The platform is important. Of course, your LMS would be an easy way to create and post the info. But linking to Google Slides or Padlet would offer some visual appeal as well as streamlined organization. Keeping all of the important beginning of the year info in one place will be helpful to my students and their caregivers.

Now let’s make it visually appealing. How about embedding a video where you talk through a part of your syllabus, demonstrate how to use an online learning platform, or introduce yourself? Those trendy Bitmoji classrooms provide visual hyperlinks to resources and information.

How do we decide what to include in this new syllabus? I’ve been thinking about what I would need as a virtual learner: a syllabus that addresses my fears about virtual learning, what I want to know that I can’t find out by looking around a classroom or asking the kid next to me, and what will help me as I work independently and asynchronously.

Check to see if a student can answer all of these questions by referring to your virtual syllabus:

  1. How do I reach the teacher?
  2. What is this course about?
  3. What are the major units of study and how will choice be part of the units?
  4. Where do I find (materials, resources, assignments, recorded lessons, live Zoom links)?
  5. How do I access texts, both assigned and independently chosen?
  6. What do I do if I’m going to be absent or need an extension?
  7. What are your expectations of me as a learner?
  8. What are my rights as a learner?
  9. What do my caregivers need to know to support me at home?
  10. How do I know that you trust and respect me?

What I will not include:

  1. Weighting, points, or any other mention of grades
  2. A late policy or anything that deducts points for lateness based on any formula

These two things go against my pedagogy and do not fit my purpose: to create a culture of trust, autonomy, respect, and community while introducing some important information that students will need to know for navigating this new learning experience.

I don’t envision this new virtual syllabus as anything like my old once-and-done, set-in-stone photocopied paper. It’s a living, breathing, evolving space. I imagine it will grow and change as I get to know my students and their strengths and needs.

Out with the old, in with the new. Let’s toss that old digital file in the trash and rethink the syllabus.

Abigail Turley is a 2019 Writing Project fellow. She is beginning her 22nd year as a high school English teacher in the West Chester Area School District, and she works as an independent literacy consultant. Abigail is currently preparing for virtual teaching and learning alongside her husband, also a teacher, and her three children who will be completing 5th grade, 9th grade, and freshman year in college online. In her free time, she enjoys peace and quiet and books. You can find more of her virtual teaching tips by searching the hashtag #twominutepd on Instagram.

Call for Blog Posts

The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! How has distance learning and/or summer professional development helped you to prepare for the 2020-2021 school year? How are you re-envisioning your brick and mortar best practices to meet the needs of online and hybrid teaching?

Blog posts will be featured in our Distance Learning column each Monday. Please email LF879590@wcupa.edu if you are interested or would like to find out more information.

What My Bike Has Taught Me About White Privilege

via What My Bike Has Taught Me About White Privilege

A Positive Mindset in the NEW NORMAL

by Eileen T. Hutchinson

At PAWLP’s winter conference, renown author and guest speaker, Angela Stockman shared her maker movement, design thinking philosophy to motivate reluctant writers towards new creative ideations. Her expertise, insights, and passion with varied 2.0 digital platforms was very contagious in keeping the energy alive in writer’s workshop. So intrigued with her diverse, successful classroom experiences, I purchased her latest book, Hacking the Writing Workshop, to add new sprinkles of ingenuity in my own writing lessons. Angela really challenged my thinking and mindset to get more tech savvy to reach my learners, but then I returned on Monday back to my remedial instruction with 6, (K-5) Title 1 groups and testing. I placed her book on the shelf for a summer read due to the daily demands of my job.

How ironic–6 weeks later, our normal teaching routines came to a halt with the sudden closing of schools due to Covid-19. In a flash, I was hit like a tsunami; I needed to readjust my paradigms pronto to reach my students with the new demands of distance learning.

The NEW NORMAL came into implementation with lots of uncertainty and anxiety. So, this distance learning curve with daily Zoom meetings or Google classroom was a 180 degree learning curve for me. While my district used Seesaw and Schoology, I only dabbled in their functions due to the demands of testing/reports, progress monitoring, and child study meetings. Exploring these platforms further always remained a job on my to-do lists.

Distance learning changed that. With a renewed commitment, focus, lots of PD training as well as 1-1 meets with colleagues, I jumped on the bandwagon, learning how to navigate Zoom sessions with wait rooms, virtual backgrounds, shared screens, and a white board with annotations. Within weeks, I was quite proud to have my 6 groups up and running with 2 live weekly Zoom sessions and follow-up activities in Seesaw, Schoology, and group emails. I even held some 1-1 sessions with readers and their parents to work on specific literacy goals. 

Now, almost through the summer, I am proud to be an employee for West Chester Area School District that has been offering continued PD opportunities throughout the last five weeks with varied topics based on teachers’ needs and interests. We have an amazing technology team who has worked relentlessly with teachers on all kinds of digital 2.0 topics for instruction. Thank goodness the sessions are recorded and archived in a digital library for review and reference. Even as a seasoned educator, I have to admit that I enjoyed learning about distance learning. The PD sessions re-energized my spirit for teaching. I highly recommend using your district PD to broaden your understanding of the platforms and resources within your school as well as taking advantage of the many webinars being offered to assist educators during this transition period.

Along with embracing life-long learning and seeking opportunities for professional growth, I had the wonderful opportunity to teach a cyber writing camp to rising star fifth graders which has opened new doors for me.

LEARN-REFLECT-DO

As we gear up for a new kind of school year, whether virtual or a hybrid model, personalized instruction with live Zoom lessons, Google classroom, teacher LOOM videos, student-friendly rubrics and audio/video comments will be welcomed on your district platforms for increased engagement and student achievement. With that said–BEWARE!! There is a wealth of platforms, resources, and learning tasks out in our ever-changing cyber world–INFORMATION OVERLOAD! My advice–Be SELECTIVE and REFLECTIVE as the old saying goes–Less is More! With confidence, find the platform/s, resources, and activities that work BEST for you to master in greater depth and understanding. Put your best foot forward each day, knowing you have your students’ best interests at heart.

Biography

Eileen T. Hutchinson is a veteran reading specialist at Exton Elementary in the West Chester Area School District. She is a proud PA Literature and Writing fellow for the project since 1999. She has been a site coordinator and writing teacher for the youth summer programs in varied districts. She has coordinated e-poetry contests previously through the project and presently in her district with writing scholarships from educational grants. With a passion for fine arts, music, and writing, she enjoys sharing her synergized visions and creative spirit in school-wide literacy events.

Call for Distance Learning Blog Posts

The PAWLP Blog would like to hear from you! How has distance learning and/or summer professional development helped you to prepare for the 2020-2021 school year? How are you re-envisioning your brick and mortar best practices to meet the needs of online and hybrid teaching?

Blog posts will be featured in our Distance Learning column each Monday. Please email LF879590@wcupa.edu if you are interested or would like to find out more information.