We have learned so much in the past year. Our extensions and bookmarks and padlets are brimming with new tools.
But the other day I was reminded, for the 452nd time, that sometimes going back to the basics is powerful. In this case, the basics is Google Docs.
In the “before” times I loved a good silent discussion (here’s a nice explanation of the strategy from NCTE). We’d gather around a piece of chart paper upon which I taped a poem or a snippet of text or an image. We’d all grab markers (remember when we shared markers!), and start writing and responding to one another.
Sometimes we’d pass around notebooks and write in each other’s spaces, scrawling words and thinking. Or we’d trade post-it notes, adding layers to the thinking.
But, as we all know, we’ve had to put on pause so many of those treasured strategies. But the need for rich, meaningful conversation is still there. And if your students are like the ones I see, they’re not actually doing a lot of talking right now. If you’re in person, masks are cumbersome. It’s exhausting to repeat yourself. Or they’re behind devices, likely staring at multiple screens.
While I worry that we’re turning our teenagers into zombies, leaning into existing technology can be beneficial when trying to recapture the energy of a silent discussion. We’ve tried discussion boards, padlet threads, and Nearpod collaboration boards. This is the time of year, though, when those routines start to feel a little stale.
This week, during a professional learning session, our ELA teachers used the comment feature in a google doc to have a conversation about a text, and it was the richest and most meaningful discussion we’ve had all year!
We watched Rudy Francisco recite his poem “My Honest Poem” on Button Poetry (thanks to @Mr_Georgeclass for introducing and to @colleencourt for reintroducing).
In our writers notebooks, we collected words and phrases during that first reading.
We opened the google doc and read the text again. This time, we found the places where we liked the wording, or we thought about connections we’d like to make, or places where we want to talk back to the text.
After some time, I encouraged folks to go now and read each other’s comments and to extend the thinking in some way. With students I might give them some sentence stems like “I agree with this because…” Or “On the other hand…”
We came together and debriefed. Then we wrote our own “Honest” poems.
Using this simple tool was great for so many reasons:
Everyone knew how to use it, so we didn’t have the lag of learning a new piece of technology, or signing up for an account.
Participants were able to talk directly to the text. They didn’t have to copy & paste anything and put it into a new spot. It was all right there, and that created an immediacy to the experience.
Layers upon layers. Multiple people could comment on the same thing, and have different reactions. They could also comment to each other and it was all right there. They didn’t have to go back and read posts and then comment on those. They didn’t have to read through comments and post on at least two other people’s comments. It was there, happening in real time.
Instant. Real time conversation. Yes we were all looking at our computers but we were active, not passive. We were creating connections and challenging ideas.
During the debrief I asked “what are you noticing?” And once again everyone was silent. I used to think that the silence meant folks weren’t engaged. But the evidence of engagement was written all over the page. That pushed my thinking about what it means to be engaged.
Sometimes I worry that we’re looking for engagement in the wrong places. Are screens on? Are they talking? What if instead we thought about finding different ways to engage? Using google docs for a silent conversation reminded me that this can be a simple yet rich experience.
What are some tools that are helping you build community and connections?
Angela Faulhaber is a literacy coach in the Cincinnati, OH area where she supports K-12 teachers. When not working, she’s been busy driving kids to sledding hills and dodging yellow snow with her dog.
Hey readers! It’s been a while since you’ve seen anything from us at Three Teachers Talk. We, like all of you, feel like we’ve been trudging through this year. Between the zooms, the Nearpods, the screencasts, the quarantines, the cleaning protocols, the bandwith issues…well, you get the picture. It’s been a lot.
Now we’re at the half-point of this year and so many are struggling with engagement. How do we “hold kids accountable” in the midst of all this? And what can we learn that might go beyond the crisis teaching we’re doing now? I’ve been loving following Tyler Rabin’s (@tylerrabin) journey around these issues and invited him to share his thinking with all of you.
We hope you’re safe. We hope you’re well. We hope this helps.
I’ve gone through this cycle more often than I’d like:
Realize that grade penalties on late work are bad.
Eliminate all grade penalties.
Immediately get overwhelmed by late work and a lack of organization.
Rush to reimpose late penalties.
I would argue that in most classrooms, grade penalties don’t exist because the teacher likes them; grade penalties exist because we don’t feel like we have an alternative.
On top of that, they work. For some things. The things they work for are the easily visible pieces. Do students hand more things in with grade penalties than without? Typically, yes.
But, let’s also point out some of the things we know about how extrinsic motivators, especially punishments, impact student learning. This blog captures some of the key points from Daniel Pink’s work on motivation well, and the first point that we have to be aware of is that, while extrinsic motivation does increase short-term motivation, it actually hurts it long-term. This means that we can use it once or twice to convince someone to do something, but eventually that ends up no longer being motivating. Sound like any students you’ve had?
The second piece is the more concerning piece. Extrinsic motivation increases someone’s drive to complete basic tasks, but it hinders their ability to engage in complex process. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but I believe learning falls under the latter category. While I wish I could put this softly, I don’t know a way around the harshness of this fact: an emphasis on late penalties values compliantly completing a task more than it does the student’s ability to learn.
Now, here’s where we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Late penalties are, in essence, a barrier to learning, but in most cases, there doesn’t appear to be a sustainable alternative for teachers. We don’t want to have to use grade penalties, but we are human. We need to have lives, and the constantly ebb and flow of late work is exhausting and time-consuming.
This concept was weighing heavily on me a few months back. I too often criticize the act of using grade penalties without acknowledging the reality of our context or providing possible solutions. As I wrestled through this in an attempt to provide a solution, I recorded the most helpful info I could into the longest thread I’ve ever posted on Twitter. However, as it always goes on Twitter, it lacked the depth the conversation needs.
As such, I’ve broken the thread into segments so that I can provide additional details about how to address the late work issue in meaningful ways without using grade penalties and without losing your sanity.
Part 1: Organizing Assignments into Essential vs. Non-essential
This Tweet probably needs the most explanation. If you remove grade penalties and allow students to turn in ALL their work whenever they want, you will lose every ounce of free time you have. The key is to really identify the assignments that carry the most value. This isn’t to say that the non-essential assignments aren’t valuable, but the non-essential assignments should mean that their function is to allow students to practice specific skills and demonstrate their current level of understanding. They should have more than just that one opportunity to do that for each skill. But…I’m getting ahead of myself.
Part 2: Non-essential Assignments – Multiple Attempts for Learning
The key with these assignments is that the student will have further opportunities to demonstrate their learning, but these missed assignments demonstrate a need for a different type of support, a support that grade penalties just frankly don’t offer. For your sake, don’t take late work that falls into this category. Tell the student that they missed this opportunity, but they will get another shot at it later. However, if you end there, kids will receive the message that every educator fears: deadlines and completing assignments aren’t important.
This is why there must be a system or process set up to hold students accountable in a way that actually focuses on building those skills. Like I mentioned, my favorite is to have them stay after class and schedule their week with me. I can also put them on my list of students who receive my Remind messages about upcoming assignments. Somehow there has to be a clear next step for students who miss these assignments so that they know (a) you’re paying attention, (b) it’s important, and (c) you want them to get better at self-management and executive functioning.
Part 3: Final Evaluation
All of this comes down to the fact that we should be averaging scores over time to determine a final score. Not only does that result in an inaccurate report of student learning, but it means that missing assignments will almost inevitably factor into the final grade (unless you drop scores, which I’m always a proponent of).
At the end of a term, the goal is that you are doing a summative evaluation (preferably with the student) where you are looking through their data to determine their final scores. If this step isn’t happening, missing and late work usually ends up being a significant factor in a student’s grade.
Now, I know a lot of people are thinking, “What about the student who doesn’t turn in ANY work?!” At some point, a lack of evidence is a lack of evidence, and that student hasn’t given you enough to demonstrate proficiency in the skill. I have found that this happens WAY less often than we think it does, though.
Part 4: Authentic Consequences for Authentic Assessments
While I probably don’t need to elaborate here, I want to make sure one word shines through: authentic. How are we creating experiences where students get to apply their learning in authentic ways so that the cost of not doing something is actually meaningful for the student? Is this a one-size-fits-all thing? Absolutely not. For a consequence to be meaningful, there must be an element of choice in it. The student has to have had some control and ability to bring in their full self – their passions, interests, goals, etc – to the project. That is when the consequences become powerful.
Part 5: Final Thought
This is why I get so worked up about grade penalties. I know we do them because it feels like we don’t have an alternative, but so often these grade penalties are just kicking a horse who’s already down. These are students who often have already been told they’re bad at school, maybe not explicitly, but the message has been sent over and over. They don’t need another reminder that they can’t do it. We teach them nothing when we add penalties on top of self-doubt. What they need is someone who notices they are struggling, but instead of blaming the student and calling it good, that person goes, “Here’s how we’re going to do better next time. Let’s let this one go and move forward together.”
This is why we have to stop depending on grade penalties. They are a way of washing our hands of the responsibility of educating our kids, of helping them see their best selves. We can do better. It’s not easy, but we can do it, one small change at a time.
Tyler Rablin is a current instructional coach and National Board certified high school language arts teacher in Sunnyside School District in Sunnyside, WA. On the side, he is a consultant with Shifting Schools, contributing writer for Edutopia, and a Google for Education certified trainer. His educational passion is focused on the ways that meaningful technology integration, modernized assessment strategies, and strong cultures of learning can allow us to provide meaningful, powerful, and personal learning experiences for each of our students. In his personal life, he enjoys reading, running, and spending time hiking and camping with his wife and two dogs.
Distance learning is over, and I don’t know about you, but I’m finally able to take a deep breath and reflect on the most unique three months of my 18-year teaching career. Yes, it was tough, but I learned a lot.
In my previous post, I shared my thoughts about the right kind of feedback our students need in order to be successful students. The kind that leads to learning, not compliance.
Growth over numbers.
Over the past three months, it was my conversations with kids that fostered learning and growth, not any numerical grade I gave them. My students didn’t even see a numerical grade until they wrote me a letter in June to argue for their final average. When I looked back at my notes, I saw real, helpful data proving my students learned a lot about reading and writing, as well as themselves as learners. No number could have shown me, or them, that. I knew then that I couldn’t go back to a traditional grading method.
So, I continued reading. Learning. I searched for proof that not only were points no longer needed, but my students were more successful without them. After finding and finishing Sarah M. Zerwin’s book, Point-less: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading, I had all the information necessary to prove why this change was essential.
What does going pointless, or gradeless, actually look like? To me, it’s a student-centered, feedback-driven classroom. Students read, write, revise, and reflect often. They take risks, for a number is not attached. Teachers serve as a model and coach, not an authority figure. Conferences are a regular occurrence. Open communication is visible in the school grade book where teachers, parents, students, administrators, and counselors can see written feedback. In other words, it’s everything children need to learn and grow.
So, will a change like this be possible? I’m going to argue yes. It must. When it comes to education, our country has been obsessed with the wrong kind of data for far too long. Our country’s grading system is an archaic one of oppression that needs to go. Teachers, it’s time to speak up and change that. It’s time to obsess over learning and growth, and going pointless will allow for that.
For more information about going pointless, start by checking out these sources:
Point-less: An English Teacher’s Guide to More Meaningful Grading by Sarah M. Zerwin
Reimagining Writing Assessment and Rethinking Rubrics by Maja Wilson
The Schools Our Children Deserve and other books and essays by Alfie Kohn
Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School by Starr Sackstein
Sarah Krajewski teaches 9th and 12th grade English and Journalism near Buffalo, New York. She just finished her 18th year of teaching, and hopes to get back to her classroom in September. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.
My neighbor Crystal brought me to my knees. I am new to the neighborhood, and she’s been the most inviting.
Crystal is a Black woman, a strong, affable, beautiful mother of three elementary-age children.
We stood on the side of the porch, talking about plants, vacations to the beach, schooling at home, her trampoline and my crazy barking dogs. We talked about books and bonded over Victorian romance novels.
She told me her background–how her family doesn’t understand why she moved to the country “to live with the whites,” how she wants her children to have more than she ever had growing up, how she works from home, so she can “always be there for my kids.”
Crystal told me of the neighbor across the street and three doors down who called the cops on her son when he got in a scuffle with his friend, a little white girl who hit him first.
He was six.
Then she grinned and told me how she loves to walk by that house, and while the kids are “no longer friends,” her family smiles and waves as they walk by.
That “incident” was three years ago.
Crystal then got solemn. She looked over at her daughter, looked back at me and said, “I’m so glad to talk to you this way this morning. Last night we watched CNN–all that’s on the news–and my kids ask me: ‘Why don’t they like us?’ You talking to me is good. My kids need to see us talking.”
Like you, I imagine, my thoughts and emotions are a mess. Nothing compared to my Black friends, I’m sure, but a mess nonetheless.
My family is interracial. My grandsons bleed Black blood. The injustice I see is personal. But even if it wasn’t, my soul would scream for an end to all the cruelty, the disparity, the inequity and inequality. The destruction of Black lives.
It has for the years I’ve spent in the classroom, teaching mostly children of color–learning about their lives, hopes, plans, and dreams–and hoping, somehow, I can help them achieve, what seems to be all too often, the impossible.
Therein lies the problem. Their Lives should always be possible.
Black Lives Matter.
And as an educator and as a white woman, I will keep listening and learning. I will keep advocating for authentic and humane teaching practices that honor the lives of the most vulnerable until they are not most vulnerable. I hope I see that day in my lifetime. Today would be good.
I know social media has been inundated with resources of late–many solid reading lists, much needed as white people work to educate ourselves. I offer three more:
This article lists Black owned bookstores. I ask that you support these enterprises. If you read this blog, you already know the power of books and reading. Please support these business owners and invest in this power.
This article includes an interview with Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of the book Just Mercy. I read this book in 2014 when it was first published. It’s one of a handful of books that have challenged and changed my core.
Follow #31daysIBPOC on Twitter and read the posts by these brilliant, passionate, inspiring educators. They challenge, charge, and call for change. They have helped shape my thinking both professionally and personally, and I am grateful for their voices.
We cannot remain silent, sheltered, or shrug off the responsibility. We must be actively anti-tacist in thought, word, and deed. All the time.
Crystal and her children deserve more. And they deserve it every second of every day. Never should a Black child anywhere at any time ever feel “Why don’t they like us?” Ever.
Argumentative research is a skill our freshman English team has always built up to and focused on at the end of the school year. We had planned to start this process in April and were thrown a curveball when COVID-19 arrived and shut everything down. Instead of throwing out all the work we have done, we regrouped and revised our approach to “research” at home. Here are the steps we took to make “research” manageable for our students.
Step One: Change the topic
We had originally planned to have the students research teen issues and argue which one has had the greatest impact on teen’s lives today, but with all the struggles our students are facing we didn’t want them to research that at home without the mental health supports that our counselors and social workers provide when needed. So we changed it around and had them research something more “positive.”
Our new topic: Positives in the Pandemic
Step Two: Narrow Their Topic Choices
Instead of giving students free rein, we gathered resources around four topics that continually popped up in the news and on social media and created DBQ style documents to help them manage the research they were expected to do on their own. While this scaffolding decreased the actual “research” our students had to do, we did challenge students to find a source on their own using the LibGuide created by our school librarian.
Step Three: Chunk and Keep the Process Manageable
After seeing our students struggle to manage big projects in other classes, we decided we needed to break down the process into even smaller manageable chunks that would hopefully be easier for students to follow: chunks by date and process step, video directions, models, and a lot of Google Meet options for students to get extra help.
It worked! The students spent the past three weeks synthesizing the documents and organizing all their ideas into their essays. This was the best work they have submitted all year and all done from home.
As I reflect on this final writing process piece, there is a lot I learned and will apply to the classroom next year. Whether we are in school or teaching remotely, making work more manageable, and providing additional sets of video directions (to review when they are away from the classroom) will be the new norm. As you think about these last few months of school, what ways did you make research or big projects more manageable? What will you continue to add to your teaching strategies next year?
Melissa Sethna lives and teaches with her husband in Mundelein, IL. On a regular school day, she is so busy coaching teachers and planning professional development (along with co-teaching her English class). Under this mandatory school closure time, when she isn’t helping her colleagues, she is catching up on her to-read list, binge-watching Veronica Mars, Northern Rescue, & Never Have I Ever, and making time to workout at a normal hour. You can follow her on Goodreads and Twitter @msethna23.
Since my kids have been home from school, they have reinvested themselves in their basement Lego worlds comprised of an embarrassing number of Lego sets. The kids disappear for an hour every now and then and build, and they don’t really need my help but sometimes appreciate my approval. That’s the kind of mindset that I’d love for my students to have as we think about writing in this online world. Dad’s not here–now I can finally build what I want to.
Coates family basement Lego world
In the best of circumstances it is difficult to teach writing. To do it online for the past six weeks has felt at times impossible. But as I look back I can see how it’s forced a few shifts that have helped push me closer to a Lego mindset as we consider how to prepare for an uncertain fall.
More frequent, shorter tasks: In class we tend to focus on timed tasks or processed tasks. My favorites, though, tend to be the pieces that take a day or two. They’re often more polished and experimental than timed pieces and more lively and raw than processed pieces. As we moved online, my goal was for students to continue to read and write independently each week. Here is how I tried to manage the writing portion:
Week 1: Writing Challenge 1 (300 words)
Week 2: Writing Challenge 2 (300 words)
Week 3: book club discussion boards (2 posts+replies)
I tried to find lengths and formats that allowed for a sustained, multi-paragraph thought but were still short enough to ensure weekly completion without overwhelming a student facing a list of tasks from seven different teachers.
More choice: Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle recently published a terrific piece called “The curse of helicopter teaching” in ASCD. In it they argue, “When students haven’t been required to wrestle with difficult writing decisions–and when much of that decision making has been done by the teacher–they lose their sense of agency and their confidence as writers.” Teaching remotely definitely thwarts my helicopter tendencies. I’ve tried to take advantage of this in each of the writing challenges by giving a bigger variety of prompt options (in topic as well as in mode). In addition, I worked to bring in structural choices to push the thinking: based on the topic I chose, what structure makes sense? I think this lines up pretty well with what Angela Faulhaber said about focusing on content before form…what you say should drive how you say it but it’s hard to get there in class sometimes if we’re all writing an argument essay. Since the tasks were short, they were a little more willing to experiment. See a sample task here.
More challenges: This idea comes from John Warner (see his article “I’m never assigning an essay again”), though he calls them “writing problems.” The idea is to give some parameters that foster experimentation rather than a rubric that restricts choices. It’s a narrower focus for the writer, which I think works well remotely. For example, in the first task I challenged students to focus on the specificity in a reflective piece about their Covid-19 experience. For the second Writing Challenge they chose a specific structure to explore (deductive, inductive, anecdote, listicle). The idea is that by narrowing to one aspect of writing they’ll have more space to consider their decision-making. This also allows for more targeted feedback on my end.
More personalized options: Each task I’ve given remotely has included an option that allows students to focus on their current personal experience. For some it’s clearly therapeutic. For others it’s a chance to document their experience. It’s an easier entry point if they’re home alone and stuck than if we used a traditional academic prompt. But they can still practice specificity and structure; they can still work on adding complexity to their observations. I’ve had to loosen up but it’s empowered them in positive ways. Examples we’ve tried:
from Writing Challenge 1: What was the moment that you knew things were not normal, that this was going to be different? How has your life been disrupted? What’s been good, bad, memorable?
from Writing Challenge 2: Describe something you’ve been learning about one (or more) of the following: yourself, your family, remote learning, politics, science, your faith, a new hobby or interest. This piece is more personal in nature, so you’ll likely tell a story as you did in the college essay.
More feedback, fewer grades: Instead of grades, then, the focus in our remote learning environment is on feedback (see Sarah Krajewski’s recent tips on feedback here). I try to articulate what they did well and what I noticed about their attempts toward meeting the challenge. Essentially, and I think this is true for in-class writing, too, it’s not about giving more grades but giving more ungraded opportunities to build and experiment. I was also really challenged by this feedback article from Harvard Business Review to reconsider what helps and what hurts, especially if the feedback I give is not face-to-face.
Online writing has got to be more like the end of the first Lego movie, when Will Ferrell realizes that if his son has some freedom about what he can build and is allowed to recombine and go beyond the direction packets, he finds more joy and ownership over the experience. Our feedback can help cultivate this kind of mindset in the writing process whether it’s online or live.
Nathan Coates teaches junior English at Mason High School, a large suburban district near Cincinnati, Ohio. He has really grown a lot this year from being allowed to post some reflective pieces on Three Teachers Talk. His first Lego set was the classic 1980-Something Space Guy set. @MHSCoates
Student access and student choice are important now more than ever, so it’s time to share what is working!
Before our school went to distance learning, we could see it coming. We knew it wasn’t a matter of if, but of when, so the teachers in my department made extra space and time for our students to go to the school library during English classes to check out books. It was a good idea and I’m glad we did it, but those books are running out. Many students have read through their check outs and then some, and are looking for something new.
During regular school days, I always shared a new book in the form of a book talk. It’s hard to keep that up without our classroom library right at our fingertips, but it’s still important.
That’s where the online book talk comes into play.
I’ve been posting and talking up books every day of our online learning time. I have tried to find books that are free and relevant so that there aren’t any unnecessary barriers for students.
One resource that I’ve particularly loved is Epic! because they have so many graphic novels, and right now their content is free for teachers and students until June 30.
They have more than just graphic novels, and their collection is very kid-friendly.
Another one I love is Simon Teen’s offerings of lots of current YA lit. They rotate their free offerings each month, and most of their content is the full read.
I’ve definitely used these options for my virtual book talks. In fact, today I’m book talking Want.
Some of my students have discovered that listening to books is more appealing to them than traditional reading, so audio books are more and more popular in my classes. Audible has made their content free until the end of the school year, so it’s a great resource. They’ve got titles for all ages, from classics to teen lit all the way down to picture books for little ones.
This is certainly not a comprehensive list. There are many, many resources out there for our students and teachers. These are a few that I am familiar with and I like. I hope they are helpful for you and your students. Feel free to leave more ideas and resources in the comments below!
Julie has been teaching secondary language arts for more than twenty years, spending the first fifteen in rural Central Oregon, four in Amman, Jordan, and the most recent school years in Managua, Nicaragua.
This morning, I opened my email to find that a student of mine was the topic of a long chain of emails. She is a senior that has not completed any work throughout our 6-plus weeks of distance learning, so she is failing every class for the 4th marking period. As I scrolled through the various responses, I noticed a pattern. There was no mention of her mental or physical health, or any thoughts about her current situation at home. Grades were the concern, not her.
Are grades themselves all that vital to a student’s success? I’m going to argue no. From what I’ve seen, grades often create more problems for both teachers and students. Students have been taught to rely on them. That at the end of the day, a number matters most. Instead, grades are hindering learning. I’ve watched talented writers do a minimal amount of work, knowing they are capable of so much more, but still earn 100s. Other students have jumped numerous hurdles only to be kicked in the shins with 65s. Why? Because the rubric said so. Yes, our public education system perpetuates the problem, but I think there are ways that we teachers can push back. We can teach our students to value the learning, and it all starts with the right kind of feedback.
Think about one of those days you returned pieces of graded writing that you devoted countless hours to. You left those margin filled with ink. Suggestions galore! Do your students even read the comments at that point? Take them to heart? I doubt it. By then, the assignment is over and done with. The guidance, nudges, and praise we give our students throughout the writing process is where the learning takes place, not at the end when an assignment is returned.
This is where conferring comes in. Though we may have to get creative in our techniques, conferring can still take place during distance learning. First, a time to check-in. How are you? I miss you. Can I help you with anything? Then we can slowly pull–sometimes drag–out the various talents hidden inside every child by offering up a brief amount of time for more chat about the piece of writing. What was your goal with the piece? What do you need help with? We search for a place of beauty to highlight and an area that, with a nudge, could inspire growth.
So, back to my senior. We spoke today. I miss you. How are you? Her response shook me. She needs help, not a reminder about her failing grades. We shouldn’t be worrying about a number, but instead finding new ways to motivate and help each child.
This week, I’m setting up private Zoom conferences with each of my students. We will meet for 10-15 minutes sometime within the next two weeks, and just talk. I’ll listen, question, and coach. I’ll highlight accomplishments and encourage risk-taking. Oh, and grades? Yeah, I know I still need to give one. That will come from a discussion between me and each student at the end of the year.
Sarah Krajewski teaches 9th and 12th grade English and Journalism near Buffalo, New York. She is currently in her 18th year of teaching, and hopes to get back to her classroom soon. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.
The eleven year old (11 yo) and I–and sometimes the 8 yo–have been going on a lot of walks. Usually initiated by me, he readily (and sometimes the 8 yo but usually if we scooter) accepts. On these walks, I mostly listen. I’ve learned much about Star Wars, the Percy Jackson series, the Harry Potter series, LEGOS, Minecraft, the history of baseball, birds… and whatever else he’s been reading and viewing and creating. As we walk, shoulder to shoulder (he’s getting taller!), looking at the trees and for birds, we connect. But I’ve also discovered that I can ask questions. Yesterday 11 yo offered his opinion that books are really preferable to movies because the movies always leave out or change key details (yep, full on book nerds in this house). So I asked him why he thought the movie makers would choose to leave out details. He launched into an animated explanation involving the Harry Potter books versus the movies. Our walking and talking, at times it seems, has been connecting and conferring. We’ve been moving together toward shared meaning.
This kind of meaningful movement may be just what we need when school resumes. When my 8 yo learned about her first class meeting over Google Meet, she was delighted to learn that she too would get to be the little box on the screen. I laughed, but it’s heart-wrenching. We’ve all become little boxes on the screen. And the limited dimensionality of that is an effect of this shared trauma. When school resumes, then, how do we move together toward shared meaning with the now larger than life persons gathered between our four walls?
We move. We listen. We talk. We engage our learners in the walking reading or writing conference. Instead of pulling up the stool alongside the desk or sitting across the table from one another, business-as-usual acts that might now evoke anxiety and fear after months of social distancing, we walk. Walking will allow us to fall into rapport (body mirroring), to find an easiness with our body language that will make it easier to talk and to connect. Feeling scared or anxious can make it difficult to look someone in the eye, and walking removes that pressure. And knowing that learners will not only need to re-learn how to share a physical space with our bodies and with our words, everyone in the room can walk with a partner as we walk and confer with individual students or pairs of students. We can use questions or prompts (on cards to flip through) or post around the building; here and here are a few resources around walking and talking. Our typical conferring prompts remain valuable, too. Moving and conferring is another way back. Not just to each other. But to meaning and creativity and possibility and hope.
In my head, I keep hearing the words of Virginia Wolff: “Better than these walks…”. These walks with my 11 yo and 8 yo may be what I remember most about this time in quarantine. Better than these walks as learners will be when we can be shoulder to shoulder, connecting, moving together toward renewal.
Kristin Jeschke likes to move (unless her nose is in a book). She serves an active and caring staff as an instructional coach at Waukee High School in Waukee, Iowa. Follow her on Twitter @kajeschke.
I wasn’t sure what to write for this post. My teaching life has been thrown up in the air since we started eLearning in my school on March 17th. I thought a month after my last post, I would have it together and be able to share something amazing that my students and I are working on. That is the opposite from the truth. eLearning has been tough these past few weeks and finding the balance between work and home when you can’t leave work to go home is overwhelming. To keep things light I am trying to find positives in my class and at home. My hope for you is that you are able to find positives (even glimmers of hope) in your life too during this dark time. Here are just a few glimmers….
Our students are reading. Not everyone (and if I am being real honest, only 43% actually logged their pages last week on our class reading log.). But, there are students who complain about reading during our ten minutes everyday in class, that are taking the time to record the books they are reading. We built up this reading habit and now students are doing it on their own!
Students miss us. I miss my students terribly and I worry about them while they are at home. When we get emails or Remind texts from them asking how we are doing, or just checking in, that brings a smile to my face. The time we spent trying to build relationships with them first is working and students know that we care.
More and more students are starting to do work. I am not sure if our kids are an anomaly or not, but it has been a slow go getting students to be motivated at home to do their work independently. I celebrate every day that a student completes even a portion of an assignment in our class. Students need to know that we will celebrate them for every little thing they do and encourage them to keep at it!
Students are taking feedback and revising their work. With eLearning I thought that students would put the bare minimum into their work. Boy did I sell my students short. I am so proud of our students. My co-teacher and I have been giving feedback in their Google Docs and students are asking questions and taking time to make changes to improve the work they turn in. Even in this time of struggle, they care enough to keep working on something until they are happy with their product.
Self Care has become a priority. I am encouraging my students to take care of themselves (getting outside, getting exercise, journaling, etc.), and am making it a priority for my family. There is never an excuse now not to workout at some point in the day, and when the weather is nice, I push my husband (who is also a teacher) to get up and take a walk outside with our dogs to get our daily dose of vitamin D. Our school day sometime goes later in the afternoon/evenings to meet the needs of students, but life has been more manageable taking these breaks.
Family time has been rekindled. Between school and our boys’ athletic commitments, our family was lucky to have dinner together on Sundays. We spent many evenings where I had dinner with one kid while my husband ate with the other. COVID-19 has allowed my family time together every night. We are cooking together, #supportinglocal restaurants (especially those owned by families we know), baking treats, binging TV shows (#TigerKing, #VirginRiver, & #TheOffice are my new favorites) and playing games with one another.
As you reflect on this “COVID-19” time, what are some of the positives that you are celebrating in your life right now? Please share in the comments below. I would love to celebrate along with you.
Melissa Sethna lives and teaches with her husband in Mundelein, IL. On a regular school day she is so busy coaching teachers and planning professional development (along with co-teaching her English class). Under this mandatory school closure time, when she isn’t helping her colleagues, she is catching up on her to-read list, listening to “Today’s Country” on Apple Music, and making time to workout at a normal hour. You can follow her on Goodreads and Twitter @msethna23.