being a teacher

Switching to Remote Learning While Still Offering Choice

Unknown future Design

I have never experienced a world so quiet before. Not for this long. Every day as I look out our window, I am reminded of the quiet that shrouds us all on January 1st where the world holds its breath and we sit with our dreams in hand, hoping for a new start.

Many now sit with fears in their hands instead, a pervasive uncertainty that permeates even the smallest moments. But the hope is still there, a hope for a world that doesn’t quite feel so unwieldy and uncertain. That doesn’t promise us death, financial losses, and long-term fall out.

And so we went into self-isolation the day after I turned 40, trying to do our part to keep the rest of the world safe, while knowing what it would do for our own children to shut the door on the world as much as possible.

On day 1 of isolation, I thought of all the things I would catch up on during this time; sleep! Books! Cooking! Learning how to play guitar! Writing a book!

On day 2, I was reminded of how extroverted our kids are compared to my husband and I. Do they ever crave quiet? (The answer is; not yet…)

On day 3, I realized I needed to take control over my newswatching or my fear for the world would grow. (CNN check in’s only a few times a day as well as with local news and purposeful social media use).

On day 4, I was reminded of how much I love being a classroom teacher because I love the everyday moments, not just the big ones, the check ins, the community, the being able to reach out to make sure a child feels seen and valued. And I miss it a lot, the putzing around, the excitement to see plans come to life, the moments where it doesn’t work and you have to find a solution. I continue to be a classroom teacher because of how much I love the kids.

On day 5, I recognized that we all needed a moment of space. That our schedule works for the most part but who knows how long it will. That while planning it down to the 30 minute mark works for our kids not going crazy, it doesn’t work for us, the adults, and that there needs to be a balance. That my books are calling and so is my creativity at times.

Turns out the new normal is anything but.

And so as we are told by our district to prepare for our remote virtuel learning, knowing how inequitable that is, and also how I am decidedly not trained in online learning, I keep thinking about what our community has been built on the whole year; read aloud, reflection, inquiry and choice. How in this uncertain time, there are certainties I can hold up for our students; that I will do everything I can to support from afar. That I want them to find success not insurmountable challenges, that I want this to work for them in any way I can. That I want them to have each other.

So rather than assigning one thing, they will have different choices for the un-foreseeable future.

All will be asked to please read for 20 minutes every day something of their choice with nothing but joy and value attached to it.

They can choose to read a fiction book of their choice and do some analysis as they progress through it, using an online one-pager assignment. If they have books at home they are set or they can access our Audible account to choose one to listen to. They can record or write their response to the prompts, whatever seems to work for them the best.

They can choose to do an inquiry project into something they want to learn about, craft a learning plan for me to discuss with them and then create a product at the end of it to teach us about their topic. We have done an inquiry into inquiry and also just finished an inquiry into a self-chosen topic for their TED talks. Their final product should showcase their deepened understanding in some ways, ideas will be offered and support will be based around their learning plan.

They can choose to listen to a picture book read aloud every day by a different creator and then record or write a response to the question I will pose along with it. Questions will range from what is the theme and how do you know? What does this thing (insert specific thing) symbolize and how do you know? How would the message of the picture book change if we changed the narrator? Whose perspective is missing and how does that impact the story being told? How did the perspective of the narrator influence their actions in the story? How did the main character change throughout? How does this picture book connect to your world? If you were to teach this picture book, which questions would you ask to start a discussion?

They can choose to write a story, alone or by themselves, working on all of the tools of storytelling we have been discussing through the year. Before they begin, they will be asked to identity how they want to grow as writers, how they will work on that, and then how I can support them (this is what we do throughout the year). The story can be fiction or from their own lives and teaching points will be based on what they are working on.

Throughout the year, we have done a lot of learning, now is simply the next step to put it all into action. Can they use what we have learned on their own? Have the skills been transferred? How can I continue to support them on a meaningful journey that will help them grow while also recognizing the realities of this world we are faced with right now. While also recognizing that right now schools in Wisconsin are closed indefinitely and so I don’t know how long of a timeline I am even preparing for.

Will it be perfect? Absolutely not. Will it be okay? I hope so. After all, that is the best I can do right now. To be here, to keep trying to connect, to reach out and be there for all the kids.

What are your plans?

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. 

15 thoughts on “Switching to Remote Learning While Still Offering Choice”

  1. Thank you for this, Pernille. I am looking forward to sharing these choices with our teachers who are also so uncertain.

  2. Due to the inequity issue, our district is not going to online learning at all. I understand
    but it makes me sad at the same time. We are encouraged to communicate with our students but cannot require anything from them. So each day I post ideas of things they can do for each subject, hoping that it will provide them some structure and help us keep connected at the same time. I miss them deeply and especially miss our read aloud, IDR, book clubs, and #classroombookaday times. We found out we were not returning from spring break while on break so I keep thinking of what books I would have sent home with them and how many hugs I would have given them as they walked out the door. I look forward to being back together with them!!

  3. This is a lovely post, Pernille! Giving students space to read and process their responses at their own pace is a gift. At Actively Learn, we just introduced a free new Library for Students to encourage independent reading and critical thinking for students in grades 2-12. They’ll find more than 1,000 short articles, fiction, and even novels. Students can sign up on their own, or a parent can help them get started:

  4. Thank you for this post, Pernille! Reading it has brightened my day and made me feel as if I might be on the right path with my second graders. In grade 2, we are just beginning to really use online resources, so distance learning will look different for us. However, we have been focused on literacy and choice all year. I hope we have done enough as a community to have the children in my classroom to read, write, and love literacy every day that they are away.

    1. I completely agree. We have payed the foundation for learning so continuing to offer choice and inquiry, just as we would in our classrooms, is key. I know this will be a learning curve but I am looking forward to this journey. Thanks for your insight!

  5. You mention your audible account. How does this work? I have one personally and would love to have one so students can access it but I have no idea how that works. I am the Reading Teacher at Badger Ridge in Verona.

    1. We have a classroom account under my login that students can access. They don’t purchase the books, I do through our school. Amazon has said it is like having a book accessible in the classroom for kids to use so I have been going by their notion that it does not break copyright.

  6. Thank you Pernille for the wonderful post! Our district is rolling out remote learning on the 30th with the week before to do our planning. We have all been very anxious about what this will look like, what the expectations are, and what we should expect of our students. I now have some great ideas for where to start.

    1. “Will it be perfect? For our prekindergarteners , “Maybe not” but it “Will it be more than okay”, I
      Don’t just hope so, I know so. After all, that is not just the best I can do right now, it IS THE BEST I AM DOING RIGHT NOW WITHIN MY CAPACITY “To be here, to keep trying to connect, to reach out and be there for all the kids.”
      For our prekindergarteners, It’s in a face, it’s in comforting words and gestures, it’s in retaining socialization, it’s in inciting and propelling the imagination, it’s in soothing, compassion, mutual affection, encouragement, reassurance and infinite love, that they will continue to thrive… Because we care, because we Never Give Up, because we have faith that “Every instance of Change” is meant for lives to “Change”

  7. This post put so eloquently into words exactly how I am feeling. I have shared it already with my school leaders and hope it acts as inspiration to all those who are feeling anxious about their perceived lack of experience in an unknown field. We encourage our students to be life long learners.. this is the ideal opportunity for us to model this is our own practice.

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