Don’t Miss a Beat: Writing Workshop with a Substitute

As flu season progresses, it’s likely you’ll be out at least once over the next few months. Leaving plans for a substitute can be stressful and time-consuming. I used to feel like I had to abandon workshop for that day because it was too complicated to explain to a sub. But with a little advance prep, and some knowledge about screencasting tools and Google forms, leaving plans for a sub is now easier and faster, and workshop can continue running smoothly.

Create a daily agenda that students can follow in your absence

Every day my students enter the classroom, they are greeted by a digital agenda. My computer-users immediately pull up the agenda on their computers (there is a link on my class website).Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 1.55.12 PM

Other students simply reference it but know they can return to it at any point in the day (or from home if they are absent). I make the agenda in Google Slides and have a template that I cut and paste into a new slide every day and complete with the day’s information. I hyperlink to any and all handouts so student can access them digitally, now and later.

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It’s simple, but it works. By year’s end, I have a deck of Google slides that provides a blueprint of my class, and coupled with my planning book, becomes a useful tool in crafting lessons for next year.

I leave the same agenda slide for the students when I’m gone, and ask the substitute to direct them there. Because they see this agenda every day, asking them to use it in my absence is not taxing or confusing.  The only difference is that I’m not there to guide them through: not there to time notebook time, transition them to the minilesson, do status of the class, etc. But the students are fine without me: they proceed through the lesson at their own pace, many of them spending a few more minutes on notebook time than others, some going through the minilesson more than once if they need clarification. In fact, they could probably “do” class without a substitute there at all.

Make a screencast of your minilesson

Rebekah recently posted on flipping minilessons using screencasting technology. In addition to flipping instruction, screencasts make for a great instructional tool in your absence. This year I started using Screencastify, a Google Chrome extension that lets users capture video in 10 minute chunks (bonus: this features ensures my minilessons stay under 10 minutes!).

The other benefit of using Screencastify is that it syncs with Google Docs. The first time you use it, Screencastify automatically creates a Google Folder into which all your screencasts are stored. This folder can be shared with students, too.

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The Screencastify interface offers a simple toolbar in the bottom lefthand corner.

Another tool I like for creating lessons for the substitute is EduCanon, an interactive video learning website. With EduCannon, you can post instructional videos you find on YouTube and then embed questions within the video to assess student learning in real time. (Full disclaimer: sometimes, when I’m home sick, and I can be at the computer, I’ll sit waiting for my students’ responses to come in!)

A third tool I like for creating digital lessons to use when I’m absent is PearDeck. PearDeck is another tool that syncs seemlessly with Google Docs. In PearDeck, users can create a new presentation or open to an existing PowerPoint or Google Presentation and embed interactive formative assessments on top of the presentation.

Assess student learning with a Google Form

If I don’t have a lot of time to prepare for a substitute, I create a quick screencast of my lesson and then type up a simple Google Form to solicit feedback from my students. Below are a few forms I used recently to assess their takeaways.

I usually close each Google Form with the following question: How did you spend your workshop time today? What can I expect to see in your notebook or writing folder when I return on Monday?


Assign students to take attendance and leave a class report

I am always looking for ways to integrate writing into the classroom in a meaningful, authentic way. In the same way that a business person might leave notes or a summary of what was discussed at a meeting, I sometimes ask my attendance taker to leave a paragraph response, addressing the following questions:

How did things go today?

Can you summarize the lesson in your own words?

Were there any problems with the technology?

What questions did the class have about the minilesson?

If you had to give the class a grade for their engagement and behavior, what would you give it? Please explain your answer.

I find notes left by my students to be far more helpful than notes left by subs. Substitutes who don’t know my students names or the routines of the class simply can’t leave detailed notes. The students know exactly what I want to know!

When things go smoothly in your absence, it can be a bit disconcerting at first: do my students really need me?!? But take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Your students’ independence was made possible by the routines and structures you’ve set up. Your class is running beautifully without you. Also: it won’t run by itself forever, so enjoy it while it lasts!

What do you sub plans look like? How do you keep workshop running in your absence? What tools aid you in leaving writing workshop plans?  Leave us a comment below, find us on Facebook, or Tweet us and @allisonmarchett.

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September 2015

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