Saturday, May 02, 2020

Thoughts on Teaching and Learning: May 2

Over the past several weeks, I have found myself doing a lot of reflection trying to get this online teaching right.  I keep meaning to get my thoughts on paper but then get caught up in the day-to-day work of teaching in this pandemic era.  I know if I can catch my breath, there is a lot to learn and reflect on during this time. So, I decided that every day in May, I will share my thoughts on Teaching and Learning.  This is Day 2.

Online Writing Workshop: Creating Lessons I Believe In

Early in this online/pandemic teaching experience, I had lots of conversations with Mary Lee and Julie Johnson and Clare Landrigan about how to make the asynchronous teaching relevant and meaningful and authentic. I realized right away how much of my teaching was about listening and responding and I had no idea how to do this in this new platform.  After lots of thinking with Julie, I created this Board of Writing Choices.

Questions I asked myself:
What were things in the standards that most kids could benefit from and that could be applied to every type of writing?
How can I make these minilessons feel closer to the mini lessons in the classroom?
How could kids be active?
How could I use mentor texts as I usually do in writing minilessons?
If I use any of the fabulous videos by authors, how can I embed those in a larger lesson?

I knew the lessons would not be exactly as they are in the classroom but after asking myself these questions I realized a few things:

  • The kids were excited about their writing from the first day. They loved the choice and got started right away. I knew I could easily find skills to teach that would help kids if I focused on revision.
  • My minilessons were always planned in cycles. We never did something and checked it off the list. Instead we explored several ideas around some concept and then tried it.
  • I used mentor texts for kids that we mostly knew and I often threw in a bran new text to study.
  • When I used videos from outside authors, etc. I often embedded those as one of the ways we study an idea. It never really stands alone.
  • On the floor in the classroom, kids always have a chance to "try it" in their notebook before they go off to work on their own.
  • We would need time to talk. 

I created 3 revision lessons that spanned about a week and a half.  I created slides with audio on each slide so that I could talk to make it sound and feel as much like a mini lesson as I could. I read aloud a book on Kindle that I embedded for us to study. I embedded videos from experts and I sent kids off to read a few books on their own (free access throough Epic). I highlighted some excerpts from picture books and invited kids to stop the audio to analyze the piece as a writer and then I shared my thinking aloud.  I also pulled some excerpts from our past and current read aloud books to study as writers.  I found excerpts that were great examples of the things I was trying to teach. And then I gave them a very small spot to give things a try (like a large sticky note but on slides).   Below are copies of the 3 lessons I shared with students (I'm not sure if you can access the audio files on each slide, but you can get the idea from these slides, I think.)

Revision Lesson 1

Revision Lesson 2

Revision Lesson 3

In between these lessons, I scheduled small groups for writers. I tried to meet with all students and most showed up to one of the groups. Groups ranged in size from 4-8 and students came at various places in the writing process. They each had their writing as anchors for talk and we also had these revision lessons. So we could talk about which things had worked, share their revisions, give each other feedback etc.

This was in no way as rich as it is in our classroom with daily writing partners, daily live feedback, individual conferences and the absence of a pandemic. But these lessons felt more right and more real than any I had done up until this time. For a few minutes during each of the small groups, I forgot we were on Zoom. I hope the kids did too.

Things I am still thinking about...

  • We only have a few weeks of school left. And with all of the other subjects and the limited time we have each day, we probably only have time for one more set of writing groups. But I want to learn from this and to reflect on the things I would do differently next time.
  • It worked to have the lessons asynchronous and the focus of the writing groups on the conversation and feedback. I think the key was that the minilessons were active and had many of the same features kids expect from minilessons in the classroom (even though timing was different).
  • Things are slower in this online/pandemic teaching. I haven't quite figured out how much time kids need.  I have found that with choice, some put a lot more time and energy than expected into writing projects they love.  But without daily sharing, etc. kids shared the challenges of doing their best writing at home, writing without the support of a community, etc.
  • I want to use student work as I do in the classroom. Using student work as mentors to study.  That is such a powerful part of our classroom learning and I think that would be an easy add.

This online/pandemic teaching has made me feel like a new teacher on many days. I feel like I am not quite sure what is right for kids in this space. But I felt like these lessons helped me find some grounding and help me think about what we needed more of during these days. And they helped me think about what is possible and how to bring in more of who we are as a classroom community.

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