Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Power of Choice During this Online/Pandemic Learning

**Mary Lee, Franki and Julie have been talking and thinking about choice during this time of Online/Pandemic Learning.  We decided to share our current thinking about choice and writing today and would love to hear from others on what is working when it comes to choice, writing and online learning. You can find Julie's post here.

From Franki
Writing Workshop is the heart of our classrooms and we believe student choice is so important for authenticity. Typically during the school year, we do 3-4 genre-based units of study and then between those, I do other units of study that cross genres. I want my readers to know there are so many ways to study and grow as a writer and although there are specifics for particular genres, there are also skills writers have that cross genres. Learning from Other Writers, Revising, Expanding Important Ideas in a Text, and Word Choice to Improve Writing are all units we've done across the year.

With this new online/pandemic teaching, it's been a challenge to stay grounded in what we believe about writing and writers.

I thought long and hard about what this time means for writers and I realized that this stay-at-home time is a perfect time for writers to do authentic work, to commit to a project with lots of time to work, to play around and to grow, to build a stronger identity as a writer.  So I decided that choice would be the most important thing over the next few weeks.

After talking with Julie Johnson on how she was providing her 3rd graders choice, I created this board for students.  Last week, students spent time thinking about the possibilities for their writing over the next several weeks and they committed to one of the ideas on this Choice Board.

Having a writing workshop with very little live time together has been tricky so I built this board with this in mind. I knew I wanted students to have choice in genre, but I also knew that my focus for teaching as they were working on their writing would span genre. I knew I wanted them to find mentor texts and I knew revision would be important.  So I built some mentor texts into the slides so that as students explored options, they could see writers who they might learn from in each project.

This week, we will have small groups meeting to share and discuss their writing. And I am thinking about how to incorporate this brilliant idea from Clare Landrigan from Tuesday's blog.  My main goal is to support writers in lots of ways, to invite those writers who have lots of time to give to this, some options to dig  (working hours each day if they'd like) in in a way that isn't possible when school is in session.  I want them to know what that feels like they have a project they love and are committed to. I also want to give writers who don't have as much time or space for this the option to create and learn something--something they want to learn. It seems like an easy time during the year to do this as routines are set, students have goals as writers, they have learned from mentors all year and they have lots of writing ideas. 

I am already amazed at the ideas kids have shared and the work they are doing.  I am hoping this choice board meets the needs of all of my writers during this challenging time.

From Mary Lee

In our first full week of online learning, we had a very successful Flipgrid Science Symposium on Friday, where students shared their learning about food chains, food webs, energy pyramids, and the biome of their choice in a short video on Flipgrid. They loved having a project to work towards, and seeing how all of their work in reading, writing, and science could come together. In our "more of this/less of that" conversation on that first Friday, they definitely wanted more projects, and one student requested work with biographies, so I made a mental note to somehow work that in for our next project.

Last week and this week we have done some activities that are building towards an in-depth opinion piece. I wanted to weave together life science, biographies, and opinion writing. This is what I will present to the students next week. I hope I built in enough choice so that every student can find an entry point.

Students will be able to choose by person, by the person's area of science, or by the person's action -- what they're famous for. All of the links (except Julia Hill) go to our school's subscription (via Infohio) to WorldBook Student. 

Some of my students will be able to chose a topic and run with the research and the writing, but many will need scaffolding. We will brainstorm ways to make this an opinion piece. It will be very different than a "fuzzy socks are the best" opinion piece. They will need to make a claim about the importance of the person, the area of science, or the work. While they will start in WorldBook Student, they will need to do online searches and find information in unlikely places like BrainPOP.

I am struggling to get my students to keep their commitment to the small group session they signed up for, but in my dreams, those small groups will become writing support groups where we can discuss their progress and they can share their writing for peer feedback.

I envision this project lasting several weeks, and I have my fingers crossed that my students will be up for the stamina of this. Perhaps I'll have to drastically modify my expectations, or even toss the whole thing out as a spectacular failure. Time will tell, but I think it's worth a try!


  1. Mary Lee and Franki—Thank you both for helping us think about how to co-create spaces where our kids can do writing and reading work that is authentic, driven by choice, and gives them opportunities for responses from readers! Love it! Thank you!

  2. Thank you so much to both of you. The choices are meaningful and so clearly presented. I am definitely sharing these with teachers. They are fabulous.


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