The Right Kind of Feedback

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/.

Walk and Confer: Another Way Back

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. 

 

Positives from this Pandemic

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, ILOn 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.

Connecting With Students During Distance Learning by Shelby Scoffield

About a week ago, I adopted a cat. I named her Covie. 

I have no idea why I bought her. I am not a cat person. I am not even an animal person. But there is something about having a ball of fluff sitting on your lap when you are staring at your computer teaching via webcam all day long. 

Because of my impulse buy, I have learned something about myself. I like people. I like talking, socializing, and connecting with them. So much so, that I adopted a cat to fill that void. 

If I am craving some sort of connection to an outside human being, I can only imagine what my students are feeling at this time. 

So how can we help our students still feel some sort of human connection? 

We can connect through social media. I have always used Twitter in the classroom and now I rely on it more and more. I am constantly posting articles for students to read, prompts for them to respond to, or book recommendations. Doing this not only cultivates a sense of classroom community, it lets students know that they still have a teacher who is invested in their education. Recently I even created a classroom SnapChat. Students enjoy the challenges that I send out to the group, and better yet, they enjoy seeing pictures of me being goofy. 

We can connect through book chats. A colleague of mine does a daily YouTube live stream where she recommends books that students should be reading. Another colleague of mine has developed a virtual book tasting activity for her classes. Regardless of what you do, talking about books with your students gets a conversation going. Better yet, it might even inspire them to pick up a book instead of binge watching T.V.

We can connect through our virtual classrooms. After holding one of my virtual classes, I have started asking a student to stay “after class.” I ask them how they are doing, how their families are doing, and how I can help them be successful during distance learning. 

We can connect through writing. Now more than ever, I am seeing the importance of letting students choose what they want to write about. By letting them have this power of choice, students are able to express opinions, frustrations, and accomplishments. This can be done in something as simple as an assignment, or a virtual entrance or exit ticket.

— We can connect by showing them we are human. The other day I was holding a class session and my new cat knocked a box off the shelf. After the box came crashing down, my students were not interested at all in the material we were discussing. Instead, they wanted to see my cat and talk about her “weird” name.

Not too long after that, my nephew started screaming in another room while I was teaching the same class. In my haste to get out of my room, I ran into a shelf. Yes, the wonderful moment was broadcast to all 35 students who were watching me. Distance Learning is not very graceful or elegant. Students are going to see a side of us that we normally don’t reveal in the classroom. However, by letting students see this human side of us, we are connecting with them and letting them know that it is okay to talk about “normal things.”

How are you establishing a connection with your students during distance learning? I would love to hear your ideas!

Shelby Scoffield is a teacher at Mountain House High School in Mountain House, CA. She has recently discovered that she really likes cats, macaroons, and the Hamilton soundtrack. You can follow her on Twitter @sscoffield1.

Powerful Popular Podcasts by Tosh McGaughy

Confession: My alliterative self wanted to add another “p” word to the title of this post but the only thing I could think of was pandemic. My plan for this blog PP (pre-pandemic) was to share some work around “rhetorical ladders”, but in our current very surreal new teaching paradigm I decided to share something simple and, a different “p” word, practical

The International Literacy Association defines literacy as, “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, compute, and communicate using visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context”. (2017) The verbs, adjectives, and nouns in this definition push our traditional thinking about messages, texts, and even reading into a more global perception of literacy.

As language teachers, we cultivate our students’ skills to interpret and create messages. As thousands of us scramble to redesign how we deliver our instruction right now, the distance learning (e-learning, virtual learning, digital learning, at-home learning) that we are relying on due to the necessity of social distancing actually pushes us to tap into some different multi-modal messages. Critical listening is included in every strand of my state’s language arts standards, but it does not get the same focus as reading, writing, or even speaking in teachers’ lesson plans. Podcasts (easy to link in online plans and easy for students to access on cell phones) provide teachers with readily-accessible audio “texts” for students to critically listen and respond to during this time. Helping students think about critical listening as message-interpreting can be helped by using a simple checklist. Critical Listening Checklist.

And, if you are wanting to lay the foundation for more rhetoric work later, then this podcast listening guide (Podcast Listening Guide) adapted from a TED.com TEDTalk analysis handout can guide students to think of the speaker, audience, message, and context of the podcast. Previewing (pre-listening) to podcasts before offering them to students is advisable especially for the older grades where language and subject matter can vary greatly episode to episode even on podcasts labeled as “educational”.

Because student choice is even more important right now as our students grapple with the unprecedented restrictions in communities and homes, offering options for students to choose from for podcast listening is thankfully easy with the many great options available. A sampling is provided below:

16 Great Learning Podcasts from Common sense Education

50 of the Best Podcasts for High Schoolers from TeachThought

26 Best Podcasts for Kids in Elementary, Middle, and High School from WeAreTeachers

Personal Note: Usually I struggle to stay under the recommended word count, but this is all that I have right now, friends. Stay well. Know that your time, love, energy, flexibility, and dedication to “crisis teaching” is appreciated by families and fellow educators.

The Power of Our Notebooks

This is the third week away from my students and classroom, and it feels like three months. I miss my kids. I miss our daily conversations. I miss seeing that little spark in their eyes when that light bulb goes on. I miss just…well…everything. “Teaching” from home, though better than nothing, just isn’t the same.

Back on March 16th, I didn’t know where to begin. Sure, I had begun planning for this in my head, but my ideas were a jumbled mess. The two things I knew my kids needed? Daily reading and writing. I’ve read countless studies–like this one–that prove the volume students read and write has everything to do with their gains. Like with any sport, they need that daily practice to improve. We let our children choose the sports they want to play so they will practice more. The same should go for reading and writing.

As I continued my planning and searching, I found help in two very likely sources: Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher. They put on paper what I had been trying to organize in my head. They also started daily “digital conversations” with one another that they shared via Twitter. (Click here to view the padlet that Penny put together.)

Once I had my idea, I pushed it out to my students, along with the beginning of my own notebook work. I was hesitant to do this at first, but, yes, I’m putting my own notebook on display. Though I have shared many entries with them in the past, I have never given them complete access to my notebook. This is a different time though. My students need me to be brave, courageous, bold. They need to see my struggles and mistakes, as well as all that I am proud of. More than anything else, I want them to feel like I am still there with them, for I am, but in a much different way.

So, after giving my students time to peruse through the guidelines, I posted photos of all my daily notebook entries, along with my “Reading Record” (pictured above) that shows them what, and for how long, I was reading. My students had a lot of questions. (I was ready for that.) They asked how I got my ideas. (I was ready for that too.) We even had a virtual chat so we could catch up, and I had a “think aloud” about what I do when I have writer’s block. (We all get stuck sometimes.)

Are there still kinks we need to work out? Sure. Are there students who I am still trying to connect with? Yes. There are so many road blocks in this very new process, but over time those blocks will begin to flatten. All we can do is keep trying.

Sarah Krajewski teaches 9th and 12th grade English and Journalism near Buffalo, New York.  She is currently in her 18th year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing.  You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.

Teacher Communities

I have been struggling to write this month’s post. I intended on writing about synthesizing multiple texts and color coding as a strategy for middle schoolers. But right now, that no longer seems important or for that matter, relevant.

We are in unprecedented times of online learning and trying to connect and continue to build relationships with our students when we cannot physically be with them. We worry about their health and safety and overall well-being. In struggling to do all of this, we also worry about keeping our own families safe and healthy and for many, providing homeschooling for our own children.

This stress can take its toll on our own mental, physical, and emotional state. One of the things I have found that has helped me the most is keeping and building on-line communities with other teachers. Some days they are my lifeline when I need to talk to other people who are going through the same thing.  Other days it is just a time out of my day to laugh, to encourage and be encouraged, and to share our stories.

Teacher communities come in many different forms, but can be beneficial not only to our growth as teachers but also as humans, especially right now.

Here are a few communities that I am a part of, which you may want to check out.

  1. Teach Write – “The goal of Teach Write is to help give teachers the confidence and support they need to develop their own writing habit so that they can become stronger teachers of writers.” The founder of Teach Write has been hosting pop-up writing sessions where teachers spend 90 minutes writing together virtually. Teach Write not only helps to develop a writing habit, but they are just a lot of fun to be around.
  2. #100DaysofNotebooking – Michelle Haseltine started the #100DaysofNotebooking at the beginning of the year as a way to encourage people to begin a meaningful habit of writing and to discover the power of writing and the joy it can bring. When we started this challenge, none of us knew that by March, we would be in the current situation. As a result, the group has now become #100DaysofNotebooking and BEYOND! We will continue to write and share notebook pages throughout and hopefully, even after this crisis is over.
  3. Slice of Life – The “slicing community” is part of Two Writing Teachers. Each March they sponsor the Slice of Life Story Challenge where writers write a blog post that is a story, or a slice of life. Throughout this month we have shared our stories about life, families, teaching, taking care of ourselves, and struggles with this virus. After March, Two Writing Teachers continues with weekly posts on Tuesdays.
  4. Poetry Friday – The Poetry Friday community is a group of “children’s book aficionados and bloggers” who use their blogs and websites to contribute favorite poems or chat about all things poetry. Writing and sharing poetry has a way of bringing people together, especially in times like these.

Many educators and leaders in the field of literacy have been contributing by creating and sharing videos. Penny Kittle and Kelly Gallagher are sharing their notebooks, the books they are reading, and their thoughts each day, Monday through Friday. Here is a link to Penny’s Padlet, which houses all of the videos plus many resources. I call it my ELA teacher self-care Padlet.

These are troubling times, but we will get through them by taking care of ourselves, by lifting each other up and by working together. If you are part of a community that is lifting and encouraging you, please share it with us. We would love to hear about it!

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay strong.

 

Leigh Anne is a 6th grade ELA teacher from Indiana and doing the best she can at this e-Learning thing. More time at home means more writing and reading and she would love to connect with you in her corner of the world @teachr4 or A Day in the Life.

Our Friends the Books Are a Way Back

As I’ve scrolled (endlessly, too much, really) through Twitter recently, I’ve stumbled across some teachers (even Carol Jago!) admitting how hard it has been to read as of late. This is understandable, especially so when many of our typical access points for reading are a barrage of news and opinions and stories of COVID-19. 

As for me, amidst the social distancing and the so many unknown’s, I’ve turned to my first and truest friends: books. When friendships proved difficult and sometimes elusive growing up, many adults in my life offered me books. Books provided companionship that taught me much about my own humanity and the humanity of others. Perhaps that’s why I’ve reached for books now and why I’m using them to connect in my home and to all of you. 

I’m including in this post a book that I am buddy reading with my fifth grader; books that my fifth grader has recently read; and books that I have read or am reading. There are friends that give me ways to share stories and grow with others. There are friends that challenge me, stretching what I’ve known into what I can know and become. There are friends that are old, inviting me back into their pages so that I can find solace and laughter. There are friends that will help me find my way back to all of you when next we socially convene. 

 

Screen Shot 2020-03-25 at 2.39.22 PMMy fifth grader and I are currently reading Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. According to the eleven year old (11yo): “I think it gives a really good idea of the history of racism and anti-racism, even though, as Jason Reynolds says, it is NOT a history book.” When I asked my 11yo what it does, he explained that it goes through every detail from the earliest period on and tells a really good story through it. Although we aren’t finished yet, he would recommend it to other kids and adults because “it shows how bad people have been.” One example is what happened to Black soldiers from the 25th Infantry Regiment: “they were kicked out of the army and some of them had been falsely accused of killing a bartender and wounding a police officer. These soldiers had been the pride of Black America and had done much for their country.” I recommend it as well, for fifth graders to adults. Jason Reynold’s remix of Stamped from the Beginning uses a conversational tone that shifts to sarcasm at just-right points to reinforce the gravity of the history and perspective shared. 11 yo and I take turns reading, and I ask him follow up questions. I wish I had this book to challenge and expand my worldview at his age. Yet, here we are, growing together.

 

Two other books the 11yo has read recently include Jerry Craft’s graphic novel New Kid and Nic Stone’s Clean Getaway. About New Kid, it focuses on seventh grader Jordan Banks who gets sent to a private school where all the students there are white, and it shows how hard it is to fit in when you are different than everyone else. The graphic novel makes it engaging, especially where it “includes parts from Jordan’s notebook” (11yo thought this was cool!) that he keeps to process what he experiences at school. New Kid is recommended too. Clean Getaway, in 11yo’s estimation, “tells the story of a kid who sneaks away and ends up on a road trip to Mexico with his grandma, where he learns more about his grandpa and his past on the journey. There are lots of surprises throughout and the pictures and point of view of Scoob make it exciting and fun to read.” Each of these books helps 11yo explore and engage with different perspectives. 

 

Two books I’ve read recently, in addition to reading Stamped, continue to challenge me to be a better human: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.  Just Mercy tells the story of the founding of the Equal Justice Initiative and its work to seek justice and mercy for those whom our system and policies consistently fail. I appreciate its call to action–that “all of us can do better for one another. The work continues.” In How To Be An Antiracist, Kendi interweaves his own story with critical history to distinguish between racist, assimilationist, and antiracist, culminating in a powerful analogy, one that should inspire us to do better. Both books are accessible to high school students and would be excellent reads for AP Language, AP Government, or AP US History classes. 

And, I’ve found myself thumbing through old favorites like Mary Oliver’s poems from Red Bird (and her other volumes), which remind me to look to the birds, look to the brilliance of their energy, look to all that’s thriving as spring blooms. Your students might respond to Spring, The Sun, Red Bird–each with their own light. When I’ve needed a laugh I reach for Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half, excerpts of which you can find  here; the stories about the birthday cake and the dinosaur costume spark laughter for their graphic depictions as well as the persistence of the young Allie Brosh and the insistence of her memories.  I’ve found needed solace by re-reading J.K. Rowling’s(okay, and maybe watching the movie, too) Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, resting in Dumbledore’s assurance that “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Perhaps, as you connect with your students in the days ahead you will consider sharing the words on which you lean.

 

Screen Shot 2020-03-25 at 8.19.44 AM

Finally, in my ever-expanding curiosity about instructional coaching, I chose to read Jim Knight’s Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other To Be More Credible, Caring, and Connected. I appreciated the simple statement that “When trust exists, there is learning, joy, and love,” and this point seems most poignant as I think about connecting, face to face, sans screen. It won’t be just about physical closeness, but emotional, too.

Books remain steadfast friends, the friends I have that will lead me back to all of you, a better person, ready to do the work alongside you. 

Kristin Jeschke is, besides a reader, a mom to an eight year old and an eleven year old, who are also readers. That is to say, books are among our dearest friends. She also serves as an Instructional Coach at Waukee High School in Waukee, Iowa. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kajeschke.

A great text for introducing analysis

Disclaimer: this is a non-Covid-19 post; I needed a break from it and from re-planning and re-organizing, though I’m sure some of it is adaptable to remote learning activities.

I’ve been using the following passage from The Sport of Kings by CE Morgan ever since I read it because it gets so many things right and it has so many uses in the work we do of urging our students to become more thoughtful consumers of information. The passage is stripped of context and can stand alone as one person’s argument:

I like to use a pretty simple frame to work through analysis with students: we start by figuring out what the text says or claims, we consider how it’s said, then we formulate our opinion or response to the text.

What she says: an argument for analysis

This is a perfect first-day-of-class reading to establish the kind of mindset we want students to have. It provides a language to come back to (avoid “the quick easy answer” and don’t sleepwalk) and sets a lofty goal. I’ve been using the text to introduce our analysis unit because Morgan defines the need for analysis so clearly–for slowing down to think and notice and not just consume. She essentially establishes the problem–our sleepwalking culture–and tees up the mental work of analysis as the solution. It’s a great way to set up why analysis matters in the big scheme of things, and why it should matter to us individually.

Once students understand her claims and position, we move on to noticing how the ideas are built.

How she says it: a chance to practice analysis

This passage is short but offers good entry points for discussing the choices authors make. For example:

  • Students can pinpoint the two most interesting words in the passage.
  • They can define the tone of the passage (and which word choices contribute).
  • They can identify the claims she makes, then argue the validity.
  • They can discuss and debate what elements are left out of the argument.

What do we say?: our response

I like the progression of moving from what an author says and how they say it to considering what we think about it. Once we have accurately interpreted or analyzed the message we can better decide if or how to consume it. This small excerpt can work as a mentor text by using a couple of different starters:

  • ask students to replace “sleepwalking” with a different metaphor to describe their culture
  • use the sentence frame “America has no greater ill than…”

The text could also be used to respond in an argumentative essay or students could write a short analytical paragraph. You can add a Covid-19 connection here…maybe something about whether or not Americans are mindlessly consuming Covid-19 coverage. Are we settling for easy answers?

A final idea is to use this text at the end of the year as a way to evaluate the course. Do students feel like our reading, thinking, and writing experiences have made them more awake? Have they been equipped with tools to think longer and harder, to become choosers and not merely receivers? Are they truly independent readers? 

Nathan Coates teaches junior English at Mason High School, a large suburban district near Cincinnati, Ohio. He is currently reading the second book in the Wrinkle in Time quintet aloud to his kids while they are practicing social distancing.

In times like these…

I am not sure about the rest of you, but I am scared. I put on that brave front for my own family, for my students, for my colleagues. But, the reality is that I am scared. I am scared of this virus – how it is spreading so rapidly and we aren’t able to contain it. I am scared my family will catch it and someone will be hospitalized. I am scared that our economy is plummeting, my children’s college funds will disappear, and local businesses & companies won’t be able to recoup everything they have lost. I am scared that “social distancing” is going to cause an increase in the already high rates of depression and anxiety in our country. I am just plain scared.

When I start to feel this way, I am always grateful to see posts here on Three Teachers Talk that remind that my fears are normal and we will be okay. Friday’s post, It’s Okay to Not Know What to Do Next, hit me hard. Last week was rough at my school. Thursday and Friday we were in crisis mode. Small teams of coaches worked tirelessly to make sure we had everything in place for both students and staff if our schools shut down and we had to move to an eLearning model for an extended period of time. While we are a school that gives Chromebooks to all students, we have never believed in the philosophy that students in all classes, all day, should be using their devices. That being said this “new normal” is going to be hard on all of us. We weren’t prepared for this. Angela’s post reminded me that no matter how hard this will be, we can get through this together.

Keeping it Real…

Yesterday afternoon as I was stumbling for words to finish this post, I opened up Amy’s post, Early Morning Thoughts and a Couple of Ideas, took a deep breathe, and thought about all that I am grateful for – there is so much that brings me happiness during this time of uncertainty.

  • My family – My husband is a teacher and we are supporting one another (and many of our colleagues) as we figure out eLearning. We are getting outside, taking our pups for walks, and enjoying movies and tv shows we never have time to watch. My boys are finding ways to deal with the “social distancing” and the cancellation of their sports and team events. They aren’t complaining and are enjoying these days of sleeping in and being together.
  • My colleagues – I love the group chats I am part of. We reach out to share ideas and to just check in with one another. We are social creatures and while it is nice to be able to go to the bathroom whenever we want, we got into this job to help kids. COVID-19 has just made that a bit more complicated.
  • The sunshine – here in northern Illinois we have not seen the sun much these past few months. It has been dreary and cold. Looking out my window at blue sky brings a smile to my face.

So what am I doing to help my colleagues and students during this time?

As Amy posted yesterday, there are so many great resources available to teachers who are being asked to teach students online. Companies like Newsela, NoRedInk, and Zoom are offering free subscriptions to teachers. That being said, in my English classroom my co-teacher and I are keeping it simple for the next few days before spring break. We are asking our students to read and write. (And we threw some grammar practice in there to see if anyone would take us up on using NoRedInk).

As you plan your lessons for the next few weeks, remember….

Our students work very hard for us when they are in school. They don’t have the distractions or responsibilities that they may have at home. eLearning is a completely different experience and they didn’t sign up to go to school online.

We need to give students more time than we would during school. Some will need it. They don’t have their normal support system by their side to encourage them that they can do it.

That some may not read as much (and some might read more.) It is important to find ways to get more books in kids hands. With libraries closed, share articles, podcasts, TedTalks, and links to get ebooks on their phones. Anything to keep them reading and engaged.

Technology is going to fail and some of our assignments won’t go as expected. IT IS OK! Really. Our kids will be okay. They just need to know we care more about them as humans than the work that they may or not get finished.

In a group chat a few days ago, my colleague reminded the group, “While kids need routine and reassurance, I think we should exercise an abundance of humanity during this time.” He is 100% right. Let’s give ourselves some grace. We will get through this… fears and all.

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 Easy Hits” on Apple Music, and making time to workout at a normal hour. You can follow her on Goodreads and Twitter @msethna23.

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