Lindsay Bruggeman is a high school English teacher currently working toward her Masters of Arts in Teaching with the Ohio Writing Project at Miami University. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @MrsBruggemanLHS
So, where do we go from here?
We can start by holding on to the good bones of our classrooms. We can hold on to the routines, community, voice, choice, and words that we’ve created and devoured together this year as we dive into unknown and unfamiliar territory. We can take a beat and take a breath, and then maybe we can consider this time as a victory lap of sorts. This is a chance for our students to show-off all they are capable of. This is their chance to create content alongside us if we give them the freedom, agency, and space to do so by asking them to create rather than complete.
Relationships over content
If we are going to ask our students to create alongside us during this trying time, we must be welcoming, inviting and flexible. In the classroom, I can observe and watch the learning happen. I can spot problems with my assignments or directions almost immediately, see when two friends are suddenly not speaking, and a student can quietly whisper to me that they are having a bad day and they need to take a break. Even during traditional classroom teaching times, I see a fraction of my students’ lives. We need to honor that this is still true during remote learning. So what does this look like? This looks like welcoming students back in when they return to learning after taking days or weeks off from remote learning. This looks like implementing very gracious grading policies if you are being asked to grade right now. This might mean starting a conversation with “what can I do to help” rather than “you need to do this.” As much as we can stress and worry about content delivery, assessments, and progress during this time, I have a strong feeling that our students won’t remember the content so much as they will remember how we made them feel supported and loved while encouraging them to continue to grow as learners.
While reading any text:
Let students guide the conversation! Ask students to submit their own clarification or discussion questions. Then, they can respond to their peers’ questions. I’ve been using Flipgrid to do this, but you could also use a shared Google Doc or Padlet. I used Loom to record a quick mini lesson reminding students of the difference between clarifying and discussion questions, and I modeled creating questions for a shared text we read earlier in the year before asking them to submit their own questions.
Creating spaces to write together:
Give students the opportunity to submit writing prompts. This past week, students submitted prompt ideas to help us create a remote writing marathon. Each student submission included a location and a prompt. For example, one student suggested sitting in your bed and writing about your dreams. After they had all submitted their prompts, I compiled them together in one document. Students selected a few prompts from the list they had created, and we all participated in writing marathons remotely.
Using a variety of mentor texts:
Mentor texts blend reading and writing together so beautifully while giving students the chance to write and think in many different ways. I have a mentor text folder in my Google Drive where I drop interesting things I see on Twitter and Instagram. For example, this week students viewed a Tweet I saw from @JessicaSherburn, and then we created our own pie charts of what’s on our emotional plates, snack plates, screens, minds, etc. We also read a poem titled “When this Over” by Laura Kelly Fanucci. The poem inspired a variety of types of student writing: poems, short stories, and lists of gratitude. Tomorrow, they are going to view texts between my dog and I from my notebook inspired by Texts from My Dog. Spoiler alert: my dog blames ME for chewing up the family room rug.
Long term, this remote work may result in students creating podcasts, vlogs, or multi-genre projects. I’m not 100% sure what our end products look like; they will evolve and change with us over the coming weeks. We will need to be flexible and understanding as we try to address a variety of student needs. We will need to consider what is fair and what is equitable for all of our students while assigning work and grading. I’m not 100% sure how I will feel tomorrow, next week, or next month. I do not have it all figured out, but I do know our classrooms have good bones. We can continue to build on those good bones during these trying times. By viewing the coming weeks as a victory lap and a chance to shine, we can create something beautiful, together.