authentic learning, Be the change, being a teacher, Personalized Learning, student choice, student driven, students choice

Choose Your Own Learning – 5 Opportunities for Learning as We Continue Emergency Remote Teaching

Note: Yes, you may adapt this to fit your own needs, please just make a copy because these are my original documents. Please give credit and also do not adapt it to sell it online or in any way benefit financially beyond your salary as an educator.

We got the the news yesterday; school will be physically shut until the end of the year. The emergency remote teaching will continue. I cried when I heard. I know it seems so silly in the grand scheme of things but I miss our community so much, we didn’t say goodbye, I worry about them, the work I am assigning and everything in between. While the year is not over, it still feels so final. Who would have thought that this was it when I told them to take care of themselves and have a great weekend on March 13th?

And yet, we have also prepared for this type of teaching and learning without even knowing it would be needed. As detailed in my book, Passionate Learners, we pursue independent choice-based learning in almost everything we do all year, not by happenstance but by design. We focus on creating opportunities for students to be independent while figuring out how they learn best as individuals. We focus on choice, personalization, and giving tools for students to speak up for their needs. We do self-paced learning throughout the year and have introduced tools to them as we need. We didn’t plan to finish the year apart, but we are as ready as we could be.

The first round of choose your own learning was fairly successful. Many students appreciated the choices, many students enjoyed the opportunity to pick something that would fit their own learning needs right now and then pursue it with different levels of support from their teachers. Many students clearly showed off their learning and found it worthwhile, fairly stress free, and interesting.

As I would in our classroom, I asked for their feedback before kicking off this second round and tweaked a few things. I also added a new option for them; the daily writing exercises as a way for students to flex their writing muscles without worrying about a long piece. I added better instructions a few places, added in a check-in virtually for others. I am sure there is still much that can be done.

This second round will last a little more than two weeks hopefully. If we need to adjust we will, if we need to change it mid-flight we will. And yes, I share so that perhaps others can use it, please adapt it to your own students as this is made for the ones I know. I will try to give links here to everything that I can.

I welcome the students every time with a slide show posted in Classroom. This is where they will see me welcome them back in a video, see the choices and also make their selection on the survey toward the end. To see the slide show, go here it is short and to the point on purpose.

Three out of the five projects require a weekly meeting with me, students are simply asked to sign up on a form that looks like this.

So what are the choices?

Choice 1:  The independent reading adventure.  

On this adventure, you will use a self-chosen fiction chapter book to further your reading analysis skills.  Read and either record or write answers to questions that show your deeper understanding of your chosen text.

Students are given a choice board where they select 4 “boxes” to do with their book. Every box has a video to help them in case they are stuck. These are mostly lessons from me so if you use this, i would encourage you to make your own lessons for your students using language that is familiar to them.

This used to be a much more art-based project, I modified it to fit a written response, only because I am not sure if kids will have access to art materials. However, kids can still choose to illustrate and use art to answer their selected questions. All of the questions are review, so we have done this work before but they get to practice by applying it to a new book. This was inspired by the one-pager project, my colleague does and I am grateful for her work. 

This required more independence from students then I think some realized and so a tweak I have made for the second round is that students need to check in once a week with me to discuss their progress.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

Choice 2:  The picture book read aloud.

On this adventure, you will listen to a picture book being read aloud every day by lots of fantastic people.  Then you will write or record a response to a specific question every day.

This was a popular choice the first round because a lot of students felt it was easy to manage; listen to one picture book read aloud, write a response a day. I love it because it honors the picture book read alouds we have done throughout the year, and it allowed me to gather fantastic picture book read alouds that have been shared. I tried to make sure that all choices here are following fair use and copyright guidelines as I do not want to harm any of the creators whose work is being shared. Sample questions can be seen below and the rest is found in the links.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

Choice 3:  The Inquiry Project.

Ever wanted a chance to just pursue a major topic of interest for yourself?  Now is the chance, craft a learning plan for yourself with Mrs. Ripp, learn more about your topic and then showcase your learning to our community. The students who chose this in the first round, really liked it and said this was easier than they thought, so don’t be afraid to try this project.

Project requirement:  

  1. Identify an inquiry question you want to pursue – remember, inquiry questions are not straight “Googleable,” they will need learning from many sources or experiences to answer.
  2. Fill in the learning plan to show what you will be learning and how you will challenge yourself.
  3. Do the learning on your own, checking in with Mrs. Ripp every week virtually.
  4. Create a product of your choice to showcase your learning – you have many choices of what to create.

Independence expectations:

  1. This is a project that will require discipline and focus. Because you will not be creating a day-to-day product, you are expected to produce a larger final learning product to share your learning.
  2. The inquiry question you choose to pursue can be one that you already know something about or one that you know very little about, it is up to you. 
  3. There should be NEW learning though that happens throughout, not just a summary of what you already knew.

Students will be asked to do a learning plan, so I can support them if they choose this project. It looks like this:

We have done two other inquiry projects so I have seen students navigate this before, I am hoping this will give kids a chance to explore what they would like to explore rather than all of their learning choices being dictated by adults. The few students that chose this the first round loved it and I hope their enthusiam gives other students a chance to try it as well. It was wonderful to see students immersed in learning that they chose again and also thinking about how to showcase it in a way that they may not have used before.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

Choice 4:  The Creative Writing Project.

Have a story to tell?  Here is your chance to use dedicated time in English to pursue your own writing craft and put some of those sweet writing moves you have been working on into action. Decide how you want to grow as a writer, discuss with Mrs. Ripp, and then start writing.  Teaching points will be based on what you are hoping to work on. 

The few kids that chose this loved it. They loved the choice in lessons and the feedback that allowed them to write something meaningful to them. To help with lessons, students are given a video bank of lessons that they can choose from every day, as well as the option to find their own lessons and post those. They are asked to create a daily writing lesson plan so that I can see they are working. The once a week check-ins worked well as well because they were just like the writing conferences we would have in class.

Project requirement:  

  1. Identify your areas of strength as a writer – what do you already do well in writing?
  2. Identify areas of growth in writing for yourself – how will this project challenge you?
  3. Actively work on those areas of growth through independent study of craft techniques and conferring with Mrs. Ripp.
  4. Choices:
    • If a mini-story:  Produce 2 or more pages of a full story.
    • If a longer story (part of a larger piece):  Produce a scene or chapter from beginning to end.
    • If poetry:  5 or more poems or a short story in prose form.
    • If a graphic novel or comic strips:  Discuss with Mrs. Ripp

Schedule a conferring time with Mrs. Ripp each week – that is twice over the two weeks.  These will be via Google Meet.

Independence expectations:

  1. This is a project that will require a lot of discipline and focus. Because you will not be creating a day-to-day product, you are expected to produce a larger final learning product to share your learning.
  2. The creative writing project you pursue should be meaningful to you and show growth in your writing tools.
  3. There should be NEW learning that happens throughout, not just a summary of the skills you already have.
  4. You will need to fill in a  learning plan and submit it to Mrs. Ripp for approval.  It will be posted in Classroom.

Those who chose it loved it but some chose to do poetry rather than story writing so I added some guidelines for that. I also added videos that were shared by students to our daily lesson video bank.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

Choice 5:  Daily Writing Exercises.

Have you wanted to expand your writing techniques and craft?  Here is your chance to be introduced to a new writing exercise a day and then trying it in your own writing.   

Project requirement:  

  1. Watch the video posted for each day (preview in the table below)
  2. Respond either in typing in the box or by submitting an image of your writer’s notebook if you are handwriting. 
  3. You will be given a separate document to record your answer in, this is what you will turn in.

I spent time pulling together ideas for stand alone writing exercises and am incredibly grateful to Amy Ludwig VanDerWater for sharing her daily writing exercises, as well as other resources out there.

I wanted this opportunity to be a way for kids to just have some fun with writing and also have a project that mirrored the manageability of the picture book choice, allowing them do one thing a day and not having to attend to a longer project. I am excited to see how this one will play out.

To see the overall directions for teachers and for students to make their choice, go here

To see what students are given to do the project, go here

A note on choices: Students will indicate their choice on the survey form – this will offer me a pathway forward so that I can send the proper resources to them. Because Google Classroom allows me to only give certain things to certain kids, I can easily provide them the next steps in their choices such as learning plans or other tools. I am encouraging them to choose something else than what they did the first round but have already discussed with one student who would like to continue working on their story. There will be exceptions made as needed in order to make sure this is meaningful to all kids.

A note on grades: You may have noticed that these projects encompass different standards, this is okay because both of these. rounds will be counted toward the same standards. I have also decided that if a child shows any kind of effort then it is an automatic “3” or higher. This is not the time for me to do deep assessment because all I am assessing then is their access to the learning, it is not fair to students, there are way too many inequities playing out for me to pretend that grades would be fair or objective. As far as if a child does not “show effort” then I will be reaching out and discussing with them.

A note on support: I will be individualizing support for my students. For some this will mean just check-ins, for others it will be sharing further resources for their learning. Most kids were successful the first round, some were not, so I will adjust support accordingly. I also have support from an incredible special ed teacher, as well as para educators that I can ask for help from.

If you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page. I offer up workshops and presentations both live and virtually that are based on the work I do with my own students as we pursue engaging, personalized, and independent learning opportunities. I also write more about the design of my classroom and how to give control of their learning back to students in my first book, Passionate Learners.

being me

This Is All We’ve Got

Our youngest daughter has just slammed her door for the fifth time this morning. At least, I think it’s the fifth, I’m not sure by now. Wedged in between her epic door slams have been big statements. “I hate school!” “I don’t want to do this!” “Why do we have to ever learn anything?!” She comes back out every few minutes, tries to sneak her school issued computer into her room so she can go on it. We stop her, ask her gently to try again, she does, and then throws another fit. We have yet to get through her teacher’s 42 second morning message. Perhaps another break is needed? Perhaps let’s try something else?

Our other daughter isn’t far behind. “I hate Spanish!” “I want to go back to school!” “I don’t get this…” but instead of slamming her door, she slams her computer, slinks off the chair, buries her head. Goes into her room to listen to music. Then comes back out and asks to try again. The minute the words pop up, she is trying hard to hold it together, but soon the frustration takes over again. “I can’t do this!” Slam the computer, run into her room. Rinse, repeat.

Our son is happily clicking through as fast as he can, not really reading what he is supposed to do at times, sometimes pausing for just a moment and recognizing what he needs to do. We are trying to slow him down. Trying to have him reread directions, actually watch the videos, slow down, do it right, stop clicking random things. Did you actually do it or did you just submit? How do you unsubmit? Oh you can’t, ok, well then that’s what your teacher will see. He says he is done within 15 minutes. He is not. We try again. One-on-one support to see if that makes a difference.

Our oldest is 5th-grade independent, holed up in her bedroom where she is hopefully doing her school work in between Youtube, zoom hangouts with friends and lots and lots of tutorials on stuff she hopes to do every day. She sends emails to her siblings throughout, “Hi!” they say with lots of emojis. She comes up once in a while. We ask her to check her work, she shows us, doesn’t want our help. Tells us she’s got this in that way that 5th graders do (I love 5th graders) and goes back to her room.

My husband? Trying to help us all as he finishes his last semester college classes virtually, helping us take deep breaths. Helping us start again. Mediating when it is needed and pulling from his infinite source of calm, he helps us all while trying to do his own work.

And me? I am on my 3rd cup of tea, trying to be present for my own students, answering their emails, planning lessons, reaching out, meeting virtually with colleagues while sitting next to whichever child wants my help. Trying to come up with activity ideas that will sneak learning in without them even knowing it. Taking a deep breath when needed and trying again.

So you could say that this whole emergency remote teaching homeschool online learning business we have been in for the past week is going great.

And so we take the breaks.

We offer choice.

We give snacks.

We step away.

We come back.

We try again.

We limit when we need to.

We direct when we can.

We try again, and again, and again, and again.

And we hope that perhaps this next time we try again, the result will be different. And if not, then we will try again.

Because here’s the thing. This is not because of what they are being asked to do. Their incredible teachers have created age-appropriate, fun-filled, choice-based mini activities for them to do. They have broken it down, recorded videos, given them hands-on learning, checked in with them as much as possible. They are standing at the ready, eager to answer questions, offer help, tuned into the needs of each child and telling us to do the best we can.

And it’s not because my kids are hungry. Or don’t have a safe place to stay. Or have a lot of insecurity in their lives. They are luckier than most, more privileged than many. They have what they need yet it is not enough because we cannot provide them with the one thing they so eagerly long for; normalcy. Despite having everything we need, my kids still feel the world as acutely as we, adults, do. They long for the every day, for the back to school normal, and when they fail to find the words to tell us, they show us instead.

When I speak to the caregivers of my own students, I keep sharing that it is difficult at my house as well, that I trust them to do the best they can even if it means not doing the work. That they know their child best and I trust their decisions. That right now, learning might not look like what we would like it to, and that’s okay. We will figure it out, because we always do.

It has to be okay because this is all we’ve got.

So I write this not for pity or for ideas (we’ve got plenty) but rather to share what it looks like here. In a house that should be fine but is decidedly not at times. In a home that has two teachers present, kids who are generally decent at school despite their specific learning difficulties. In a home where we have the tools to make learning accessible and interactive. This is not homeschooling. This is not remote learning. This is not online school. This is recognizing that we will all do the best we can and that sometimes that means we don’t do the school work. Sometimes that means that we take a break and we try again when we can.

As I write this, our youngest daughter just yelled out “I already know this, ugghhhhh!” as loud as she can. I told her to try it any way to show me. She has a lot of work still to try. So we sit down together, I grab another cup of tea, brace myself for the next outburst and find my calm.

Later, we will shut all of our computers off and go read a book. Ask our kids to go play. Take a break, clean their rooms, perhaps go outside if they bundle up. We will keep learning somehow.

And for now, that will be good enough.

being me, Reading, Reading Identity

My New State of Reading

Normal Design

I haven’t really been reading much. Not like I normally do. Not like when I am home and the days are long and my to-be-read shelf beckons every moment I pass by it. Where I swallow a book a day, share it with the world, eager to pick up the next one.

Right now, my shelf makes me feel guilty. The abandoned books piled around the house. Starting the same book over and over again because I am sure it is good if I can just pay attention. Reading comes in short bursts between kids needing me, my computer pulling me away, my phone a distraction. The need to sleep. To simply sit and ponder. To be outside trying to connect with a world that feels very far away right now. It’s simply hard to read right now.

It’s hard to read when my children demand attention through their yelling matches and “I’m bored, Mom…” and their school work consumes hours of our time and it hasn’t even really begun yet.

It’s hard to read when my favorite genre, dystopian, hits a little too close to home.

It’s hard to read when the to-do’s of my job keep piling on, navigating new territory every day, not quite sure if what I am doing is even close to effective.

It’s hard to read when you worry.

When breathing is harder.

When loss is present.

When sleep is elusive.

When worry is a constant companion.

It’s hard to read when the world outside is scary.

(Even when I sit in my heated house, with a fridge that’s full and my paycheck still intact.)

I read to learn. To escape into worlds and stories unlike my own. To relax. To have my imagination lit up. To be transported and while right now may seem like the perfect time to escape, the tethers that hold me firmly in place are thickened steel, and my mind refuses to settle.

I cannot be the only one that feels that way. I am not the only one that feels that way.

My students tell me that they haven’t really been reading. That they sleep a lot. That there is so much work to be done now that school is back in session whatever this means. That they don’t have books. That they can’t find a good book. That they don’t like reading digitally. That they read the only book they had. That they tried but they have to keep going back to reread, hoping to grasp the story that slips through their concentration. That they don’t know what to read next because nothing sounds good.

And I get it. My assignment of reading 2 hours a week is merely an aspiration at this time. Of saying I hope you’re safe enough to read. I hope you are fed enough to read. I hope you are okay enough to read. That those taking care of you have what they need so you have what you need.

And so we send books to those who don’t have any (a survey and Amazon direct shipment helped us out with that). We send them links to digital books. We fill our Audible account with great books. We leave book reviews on Flipgrid in case they have a way of ordering books. We read aloud to pretend that we are still together.

Because that’s all it can be right now.

An invitation to those that are in a place to receive it.

A way to offer up a slice of normalcy for those who can access it.

Not as a way to punish or grade.

Not as a way to go on with life as normal, because it is everything but.

To demand someone read right now is to fail to recognize what may be happening in their world. Is to ask for the impossible for some.

That doesn’t mean we stop hoping but it does mean that we ask a lot more questions than we might usually: Are you okay? Are you safe? Are you feeling ok? Do you have what you need? Food? Heat? Books? Do you have a safe space to read? Do you have enough time to read? And we respect that students may not tell us their truth because they don’t have to. That all we can do is ask and try, not demand and want.

And we wrap our students in patience rather than demands. In understanding rather than expectations. And we fully sit with the knowledge that this reality is not like anything we have seen before and therefore our approach must change as well.

That perhaps a child can read but not think clearly. That perhaps a child doesn’t have the room for deep analysis right now. That perhaps they don’t have the energy to write but could speak? That perhaps a whole book seems much too much but a short story is accessible. That perhaps picture books are all they can do right now.

Choice, personalization, and giving options for students has to be central to what we do right now, to what we do all through the year.

That what we may be working through in our tiny slice of the world may look nothing like what our students face.

That if we, professional adult readers, are struggling, how does it feel for the kids?

Today, I am going to try to read. I have been fighting what my doctor assumes is Covid-19 but a mild case and the exhaustion is all consuming. I am going to get through 2 or 5 or 10 pages and then congratulate myself. Be happy that I tried, even if normally I would be able to finish a book quickly. Even if I normally would feel lazy if I didn’t read at least a book a day.

Today I am going to try again because yesterday I tried too. And I am going to encourage my students to try and to to keep trying. But I am going to continue to know that sometimes trying is all we can do. Trying is what will happen rather than completing and that is good enough for now.

Right now is nothing like normal. Let’s not push normal expectations on kids either.

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

being a teacher

To This Kid…

I thought I was a pretty good teacher until I started teaching 7th graders. Their love language was so foreign to me. Gone were everyday stories of home, the drawings, the accidental slip ups where they called you Mom. Gone were having all of the time in the world, vowing to get to something later because we could, all day field trips, class parties, and hugs at the end of the day as they went home. Now it was 45 minutes of teaching content. So many kids whose names I desperately tried to learn as quickly as I could. Very little family contact unless it was needed. One teacher among many, teaching a subject that many students had decided they didn’t really need in their life. The smell of failure was real, the mistakes were often, the sense of never being enough was as pervasive as the stacks of things to grade that followed me home.

I cried so much as a beginning middle school teacher.

I thought my second year as a 7th grade teacher would be my last. I decided to give it one more shot before I made a decision of what to do next. Because if I tried one more time then I surely would realize that I wasn’t cut out to be a middle school teacher. That the gap between the 10 year olds I used to teach and the now terrifying 12 year olds was so much more than just a few years. That I was not the teacher I thought I could be. That they deserved so much better than me.

And yet, that second year something quietly happened; I started to get my feet under me. I realized that I could share my worries about being a good enough teacher and I could ask them how to grow. I could be vulnerable and share the stories from my own life as we started to trust each other more with all that we were. I got their names down in less than a week by studying them every moment I had. I asked them over and over how I could be a better teacher for all of them. I took their advice, changed whenever I could and always kept a door open. In turn, they opened up, teaching me as much at times as I taught them, and together we grew to be a community that made me realize that perhaps 7th grade English was exactly where I needed to be for now. That behind the thorny facades, the eye rolls, the hurried explanations of how reading just wasn’t their thing, or how English was just too hard, there was love. There was respect. There was a quiet commitment to what we were trying to establish together. They showed up every day, so I did too.

At the end of that year, we once again ended with our This I Believe assignment. A moment of grace where kids chose to share beliefs that they fully believed in as a speech in our final days together. Where some kids chose to share pieces of themselves that made me hold my breath and tears run down my cheeks as they laid it all out for their classmates to see. As they proved to me that we had created exactly what I thought I would never be a part of again; a place that was safe. Where kids felt accepted. Where they could be whomever they were, and with us, together in those 45 minutes, they would be okay. It was never perfect, but for the most part it was ours, and that was something.

For years in my Passionate Learners keynote I have shared the story a child who chose this final speech to share something that he knew would potentially change how others saw him. How when he slid his computer in front of me to read his first draft, he didn’t tell me what to look for but instead sat back, crossed his arms and watched me in silence as I read. How his second paragraph made me gasp, my eyes well up, as I realized how he had chosen to share a part of himself, how he was not really looking for my editing skills, but for my protection and care with his words. How he was watching for my reaction to see how it would go. As I looked up, I only had one question, “How can I help?” And he told me, “You already have” and pointed to a small sign behind me.

And so when it came time to give his speech, he stood up there boldly sharing his story, asking us all to protect it, to protect him, to help him feel safe, to be true friends when he needed it the most. And the kids did, applauding at the end, some patting his shoulder, others writing compliments, a few wiping tears. Me, I cried, and recognized that in that moment there was no other classroom I would want to be in. That perhaps 7th graders had a space for me, just like I had for them.

And he went on to 8th graders, we passed in the hallways, sometimes stopping for a quick chat, a check in. I saw him last year at the high school, checking in when he passed me on a visit there. He had a big smile. He told me he was reading. He looked happy. But we weren’t in touch, he didn’t know how much his trust had meant to me. How much his faith in the community we shared changed me as a person. That’s just how it goes sometimes.

Tonight, we got the news that this child, this child with his big heart and smile and a bright future ahead, has died.

And for the second time with him, I gasped, and the tears came and I had to sit with the quiet realization that something that had never happened to me has now happened; we lost one of our kids. We lost one of our own. We lost him.

And so I write this through tears as a final goodbye and so long for now to this child who trusted me. To this child who trusted us. Who made our community more than I ever could have thought it would be. To this child, who may have been gone from our team for years, but still was one of our kids, will always be one of our kids.

To this kid, who more than once throughout the past years has reminded me of what it means to fight for kids. To fight for them to be their full selves in our classrooms even as others tell us their lives are against their religion, are immoral, are not natural. To this kid, who saw something in me I had not seen in myself at that time. To this kid who is now gone.

So while I find no peace in this moment, I will say that my life was made better because of his. That I will continue to carry his story with me. That his life will continue to matter in mine. Because this kid, the kids who was, will always be a part of me. A part of us. Whether he knew it or not, but I hope he did.

Five years ago, he wrote, “…everyone should feel wanted, cared for, and believed in by someone who isn’t in their family.” May we all have that. May we all have this kid in our lives, even if only for a brief time.

I send love out into the world to those who need it tonight.

Signing off,

Pernille

being me

Good Enough

We got the news last Sunday at 2 PM, while we were standing at our public library, stocking up just in case. “Schools are closed until April 6th.” The two days of goodbyes we had planned for getting food, devices, and books to kids no longer an option. Of giving phone numbers and reassurances. No “see you later,” no clean out your locker, no what do you need? Nothing.

So, as parents, we went home and did what we do best; plan. Create a schedule for the very next day where some sort of home learning would have to happen. Try to explain to our own kids, ages 6, 7, 7 and 11, what this meant. Answer their questions in a factual way without scaring. Try to come to grip with this new unprecedented reality. Take a deep breath and simply do the best we can.

We have been doing the best we can since then.

We all have.

And now as we face schools being closed indefinitely, we will continue to do so.

Yet the best we can is very much dependent on the day. Yesterday, I felt on top of the world. My kids did their academic work we have scheduled for an hour each day. They invented adventures together, I baked a cake with my son and it tasted good. I wore earrings as I prepped for my Facebook Live in our Passionate Readers community. The kids liked dinner. We laughed, we danced, we went outside, and we learned things about the world, letting our curiosity guide us. This whole deal – we got this.

But today, my kids slept in, they didn’t want to get up. They decided it was pajama day. They decided that they didn’t have to follow the rules of math that have been around for thousands of years because they “don’t like them.” They didn’t want to hold their pencils right, or trace the words, or read because “reading is stupid.” They couldn’t do their enrichment packets sent from their schools because all of the instructions are in Spanish, and their dad and I don’t speak Spanish. They left a mess in the kitchen, upended my teaching supplies, and decided that they were done. Just in general done. As my son exclaimed, “I hate the Coronavirus.”

And so I tried different methods, and I took a deep breath and tried again, and I gave them choice, and I gave them rewards, and I listened to their feedback, and I chunked it out, and I problem solved with them.

But the learning; that still wasn’t happening.

Despite having the tools. Despite having the time. Despite being an experienced teacher. Despite being able to provide a life filled with privilege when it comes to the basic needs of us all.

And so I yelled, even though I knew better. I shared my frustration because even though I am the adult; the world seems really scary to me right now too. Because my worries are stopping me from sleeping; I am the lone income in my family and while I am grateful for my teaching job, with my extra work all being cancelled, the threat of financial insecurity is real. I am worried about my students. I am worried about the community that is lost. I am worried for our economy. For all of the many inequities we see play out and how it will affect the future we are looking toward. And the worries are real even though I know they are not helpful, and much like my kids, I am just trying to do my best.

And the yelling did nothing. Only splintered the day more. Instead, I stepped back, let my husband take over and crafted a new plan.

So today, we are doing recess. We are doing art. We are doing bike rides. We are doing reading if we want. Games if we want. Videos if we want.

And we are going to call it good enough for today. Good enough for right now because right now is all I can influence.

And so I share this as reminder; that what we are doing right now is not homeschooling.

That we cannot ask the adults who care for our students to become teachers overnight. That we cannot ask adults who are carrying the weight of their families on their back to also shoulder the responsibility of becoming their teachers.

That as schools plan for this remote/virtual/online learning that we are all expected to be able to do now, that we cannot for one moment think that it is going to be like school. That even if we invent amazing learning adventures to go on using online services, those websites may not be able to handle all of our traffic. That even if we provide devices and hotspots that doesn’t make our learning equitable. That we cannot ask our students to sit in front of screens for hours each day, trying to patch together what would have been the learning we would have done together. That we cannot expect our students to be in a healthy place for learning. That even if we send home work to do, it may not get done. And we need to be okay with that.

Because we are not together. Because we are not there to support. We are not even there to hand out paper, or pencils, or ideas if needed. So how can we expect those at home to take over?

What we can do though is simple; be ready. Be ready to pick up the pieces and help the students that return to us wherever they are in their learning journey. Be ready for push back. Be ready for the reality of what this new path will look like. Be ready to be okay with good enough. Be okay with being partners and not always leaders.

Because right now is maintenance. Keeping kids in the game of learning. Of drilling down to the most important essence of what education can be; community, connection, relevance, and grace.

That while the adults surrounding our students are facing an unsafe world, we need to make sure we do not do more harm than good. That we push back against district mandates that will further inequities. That we keep our reality in stark focus so we don’t add further stress to an already unpredictable world.

Right now is not normal, and nothing we invent or create or implement will make it normal. So perhaps like I had to, we all just need to take a deep breath and be okay with good enough for now.

And my kids? Well, I have recess to go do. A new adventure awaits and tomorrow we try again.

Take care, I’m here to help.

authentic learning, being a teacher, choices, Personalized Learning

Choose Your Own Learning – 4 Learning Options As We Go Virtual/Online

Note: This has been updated to have 5 options in the second round as well as to clear up any confusion for students, please see this post to see the updated version. The final round had 9 different options and the slides for that can be seen here.

Yes, you may adapt this to fit your own needs, but please give credit and also do not adapt it to sell it online or in any way benefit financially beyond your salary as an educator.

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned how I wanted to honor the work we have already been doing in our community as we switch to virtual learning starting next week. Because this shut down of our school does not come with an end date at the moment, I am pacing out instruction by weeks rather than days. If we go back sooner than I expect, which would be incredible, then I can switch this particular project to in-class as well.

We were also given guidelines yesterday from our district; plan for about 35 minutes of learning time for each class, I have a double block but am trying to keep it to around that time still, instead with the extra time, I am hoping kids will find the time to read. Kids are not expected to sit in front of a computer all day. We have guidelines in place for making sure kids are connected to us with virtual office hours. We also need to check in if we are not hearing from kids or seeing them do any learning. We are trying to think of things we cannot even think of yet.

We are trying to keep it relevant, accessible, and not overwhelming.

We are trying to help kids continue their learning even when we are not right there with them.

So, for our students, I have created a “Choose Your Own Learning” two-week exploration. This, hopefully, continues the honoring of their individual needs and desires, while still helping them with their growth. There are different levels of independence for them to choose from, as well as choices for recording or writing their responses. There are different levels of teaching involved that will unfold once they select their choice.

From a longer letter welcoming kids into our project

Choice 1:  The independent reading adventure.  

On this adventure, you will use a self-chosen fiction chapter book to further your reading analysis skills.  Read and either record or write answers to questions that show your deeper understanding of your chosen text.

The connect-four template we use for this.

This used to be a much more art-based project, I modified it to fit a written response, only because I am not sure if kids will have access to art materials. However, kids can still choose to illustrate and use art to answer their selected questions. All of the questions are review, so we have done this work before but they get to practice by applying it to a new book. This was inspired by the one-pager project, my colleague does and I am grateful for her work. To see the project guidelines, go here.

Choice 2:  The picture book read aloud.

On this adventure, you will listen to a picture book being read aloud every day by lots of fantastic people.  Then you will write or record a response to a specific question every day.

I wanted to honor the picture book read alouds we have done throughout the year, so I gathered picture book recordings for the students to listen to – one a day – and then created questions to go with it such as the one below.

While I love all of the picture books I am finding, I am still changing some of them out to have a wider representation of creators shown. I am also still working through questions, so this document is very much a work in progress. To see the project guidelines, go here.

Choice 3:  The Inquiry Project.

Ever wanted a chance to just pursue a major topic of interest for yourself?  Now is the chance, craft a learning plan for yourself with Mrs. Ripp, learn more about your topic and then showcase your learning to our community.

Project requirement:  

  • Identity an inquiry question you want to pursue – remember, inquiry questions are not straight “Googleable,” they will need learning from many sources or experiences to answer.
  • Fill in the learning plan to show what you will be learning and how you will challenge yourself.
  • Do the learning on your own, checking in with Mrs. Ripp every two days.
  • Create a product of your choice to showcase your learning – you have many choices of what to create.

Independence expectations:

  • This is a project that will require a lot of discipline and focus. Because you will not be creating a day-to-day product, you are expected to produce a larger final learning product to share your learning.
  • The inquiry question you choose to pursue can be one that you already know something about or one that you know very little about, it is up to you. 
  • There should be NEW learning though that happens throughout, not just a summary of what you already knew.

Students will be asked to do a learning plan, so I can support them if they choose this project. It looks like this:

We have done two other inquiry projects so I have seen students navigate this before, I am hoping this will give kids a chance to explore what they would like to explore rather than all of their learning choices being dictated by adults . To see the project guidelines, go here.

Choice 4:  The Creative Writing Project.

I know some of us have longed to do some creative writing, so here is your chance.  Decide how you want to grow as a writer, discuss with Mrs. Ripp, and then start writing.  Teaching points will be based on what you are hoping to work on. 

Project requirement:  

  • Identify your areas of strength as a writer – what do you already do well in writing?
  • Identify areas of growth in writing for yourself – how will this project challenge you?
  • Actively work on those areas of growth through independent study of craft techniques and conferring with Mrs. Ripp.
  • Produce 2 or more pages in a coherent writing form, you choose the writing form.
  • Schedule 2 conferring times with Mrs. Ripp each week – that is 4 times over the two weeks.  These can be via Google meet, email discussion, chat, or some other mode of communication.

Independence expectations:

  • This is a project that will require a lot of discipline and focus. Because you will not be creating a day-to-day product, you are expected to produce a larger final learning product to share your learning.
  • The creative writing project you pursue should be meaningful to you and show growth in your writing tools.
  • There should be NEW learning though that happens throughout, not just a summary of the skills you already have.

We have done creative writing in small spurts throughout the year but not enough in my opinion, so this is our chance to do it more. I am hoping this will offer up those who choose it a way to sink into their writing and create something meaningful. To see the project guidelines, go here.

A note on choices: Students will indicate their choice on a survey form – this will offer me a pathway forward so that I can send the proper resources to them. Because Google Classroom allows me to only give certain things to certain kids, I can easily provide them the next steps in their choices such as learning plans or other tools.

A note on grades: You may have noticed that these projects encompass different standards, this is okay because all of the work we are doing right now is formative as per our district guidelines. As the closing continues, we will be given updated guidelines. What this means is that when the two weeks are over for this project, I will either recycle the options and ask students to choose a different option or brainstorm further learning with my students. If we switch to live school in the middle, then once this project is done we will go back to our regular scheduled learning, which is debates and Shark Tank presentations.

A note on support: I will be individualizing support for my students. For some this will mean just check-ins, for others it will be sharing further resources for their learning. I teach 76 students, I am not sure how this will look, but we will make it work.

Want to connect with me? I am going to do a Facebook live in the upcoming week in our Passionate Readers Facebook group to take questions and share book recommendations. Join me!

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