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Digital One-on-One Conferences with Office 365 and Teams

Lauren Heimlich Foley

With social distancing and hybrid learning, my students and I needed to find a way to hold individual writing conferences.

Gone are the days where I can plop myself down on a stool or rug next to a student. While my one-on-one writing conferences look and feel anything but normal, Microsoft Teams and Office 365 have helped.

Regardless if students are in class or at home, sharing documents and screens haven proven more effective than I ever imagined. If we are able to social distance, students and I will speak six feet apart in the classroom. If this is not possible, then we have our conversations over Teams the way I conference with my 100% virtual students. Teams and Office 365 make it possible for us to “sit” next to one another. In Teams, students and I can both share our screens, enabling us to look at the same documents and resources. I can send our conference notes and materials through the chat for later reference. We can also work together as they revise and edit their piece on their computer.

In past years, students and I would be able to work on the same computer and/or paper copy, both marking it up and making changes. Students could get feedback on new techniques, ask specific questions, trouble-shoot problems, and revise their writing as we conferred. I might demonstrate or model a skill right on a student’s document, record a bulleted list for them to complete once our conference ended, or act as their voice-to-text phone app, recording their words as they spoke to me. These instances were some of the most crucial in my workshop and the most crippled by social distancing. Without simultaneously seeing, accessing, and talking about the writing piece, the possible outcomes of the conferences were stunted.

I cannot remember the exact date that my students and I re-discovered Office 365 and Teams, but it must have been early January 2021. A student shared his writing piece with me at the end of class for feedback. As I began reading it, I wanted him to focus on paragraphing. Instead of making the changes and emailing him back, the next day in school we conferred. I pulled up his writing on my screen, asked him to pull up his copy on his screen, and we were able to speak six feet apart. (Since then, I have used the same strategy with students at home; we talk via Teams.) At first, I read, pausing to talk through why I would add paragraphs at certain points. After a few practice paragraphs, he began adding them on the same document. We both had the document open and were both editing it. Although we didn’t use the same computer, the technology enabled us to seamlessly move back and forth between modeling and application, student and teacher editing—writer and writer. It felt like we were sitting next to each other swapping one computer back and forth.

Every day offers new possibilities and new struggles. I learn along with my students what is and what is not working in our digital, hybrid writing-reading workshop. I am excited to see what we happen upon next. I would love to hear how you are conducting one-on-one conferences!

PAWLP Social Justice/Anti-Bias Study Group: Our Story Continues By Janice Ewing

             Our December meeting was a time to celebrate endings and to look ahead to new beginnings. We started by checking in with ourselves in the present moment, prompted by the suggestion that we each reflect on and share one word that expressed our current mood or mindset. The words shared included: Exhausted (twice), Grateful (twice), Saturday, Balance, Believing, Courageous, and Ready. We recognized that the words speak to our multiple identities as educators, colleagues, and members of a learning community.

            Following that, we turned our attention to completing our fall discussion of Gholdy Muhammad’s Cultivating Genius: An Equity Framework for Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy, which we had finished reading. We shared both overall and specific reactions to and takeaways from the book. Of course, we’re never really “finished with” a book, nor do we want to be, so Muhammad’s ideas will stay with us and find expression in a variety of ways. One specific goal that we set for ourselves, based on the book, is to adopt the idea of a preamble. Muhammad connects preambles to the practices of Black literacy societies throughout the 19th century” (127), and describes them as  “powerful statements of intention and objective” (128). We are each planning to bring a draft of a preamble for our group to our next meeting. Our thinking is that the reflection and sharing of that work will help us to hone our sense of purpose and actions moving forward. We have many issues to explore, including how to bring our learning to life in our families, schools, and communities; how to determine what is and is not in our sphere of influence; how to share our work with a larger audience; how our various areas of study within social justice intersect; how to persevere in the face of the frustrations and obstacles that we encounter along the way.

            At our next meeting, on January 16th, we will share our preambles to see the patterns that emerge, where our ideas align and where we need further clarity of our common purpose. We also plan to share the independent reading and reflection that we have been engaged in, to help expand our thinking and growth, to explore how our various social justice learning paths intersect, and to guide us in selecting our next shared text. Along with these goals, we are also exploring ways to incorporate our story into the larger story of PAWLP as a whole. We are looking forward to our virtual PAWLP Day on March 6th, at which Tiana Silvas will be our keynote speaker, with the theme of “Decolonizing Your Classroom Library.”

            We ended our meeting by revisiting the concept of gratitude, from our opening activity. Together, we expressed gratitude for the community that we have created and are working to sustain, and the opportunity it affords us to grow together, with humility, vulnerability, and openness to learning. We are a work in progress.

            This is the second in a series of posts about our group. You can read the first one here. We welcome comments or questions about ideas that resonate from these posts, or about the group overall. Thank you for following our story.

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Muhammad, Gholdy. Cultivating genius: An equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy. Scholastic, 2020

Janice Ewing has been a reading specialist and literacy coach, and an adjunct instructor in the Reading Specialist Program at Cabrini University. She currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project, of which she is a 2004 fellow. Her interests include teacher inquiry, collaboration, and mentoring. She and her colleague, Mary Buckelew, are the authors of Action Research for English Language Arts Teachers: Invitation to Inquiry (Routledge, 2019).