My favorite period each day is my small-group Reading class. Despite the fact that they are labeled at risk, my students like to read. Together we enter the joys of fantastical adventures, real-life struggles, mysterious plot twists, and beautiful language. Together we make connections to ourselves, other texts, and the real world.
My reading workshop is grounded in the research of Nancie Atwell, Penny Kittle, and Kylene Beers. Reading conferences are foundational to our class. On a daily basis, I read with students: I read to them, and they are invited to read to me. We think aloud and engage in conversation surrounding mini-lesson skills. These conferences remind me of when I was little, sitting on the couch next to my mom. I have very distinct memories of her reading The Chronicles of Narnia to me, and reading Nancy Drew books to her. Those afternoons and evenings fostered my love of reading. They also strengthened my comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, etc.
During distance learning, my Reading class was rocked. Choice, individualized instruction, reading conferences, and think alouds disappeared. I had to find a way to re-claim my reading workshop for the 2020-2021 school year.
Since June, I have been searching for a way to overcome the virtual divide. My big question: How can I read with and to my students if I don’t have their books in front of me.
Then, one sunny, August afternoon, I drove past my local library, and I had a breakthrough: get students’ independent reading books from the library so we both have a copy!
Although separated by computer screens and Covid protocols, neither have posed a threat this year to reading together and engaging in think alouds and conferences. By the end of the second week of school, my Reading students had their books, and I had my copy.
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
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.
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.
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.