being a teacher

The Smallest Ideas that are Helping Me During VIrtual Teaching

I don’t think I have ever gone so long without writing on this blog. Through job changes, house moves, the birth of our twins, and then the birth of a very premature baby, this blog has been constant. My place to reflect out loud, share the big and the small, and let others see what it means to try to change your teaching one day at a time, from one small idea to the next. And yet, it has been almost a month since I last wrote. 4 weeks since school started fully virtual for us here in Oregon and Madison. 4 weeks of trying to engage these incredible students that have been placed in my care through 35 minute virtual classes. 4 weeks of trying to navigate my own kids learning virtually right next to me without being able to support them at the same time. 4 weeks of my husband student teaching also virtually and co creating tech-ed curriculum with an incredible team of dedicated high school teachers.

All day sitting in this chair…

Every ounce of energy I have left after our much too long of days seem to go into trying to come up with the next small idea to try in order to create a more engaging virtual learning space for all of my students. And many of those ideas don’t work. Or haven’t yet. So what do you share when you are fully depleted most of the time? What can you really reflect on when the task itself is this exhausting? Because the truth that I face along so many others is just how unsustainable this is.

That I teach to mostly silent students right now despite my many tries of helping them share their voices.

That I feel inadequate every day because I know what our learning can look like when we are face to face and yet that is not what is happening now in this virtual world.

That I have never spent so much time sending and answering emails, messages, video conferencing with students, checking late work and missing work and yet I know how much that one message, that one connection can do.

That I worry so much about the future, that I wake up too early, that I work too much, that I go to bed too late and yet it still doesn’t feel good enough but I am not so sure what good enough is any more.

So in order to not lose my mind completely, I have had to change a few things in my beautifully laid plans from this summer. And perhaps, within these changes, there is a small glimpse of hope for you as well if you happen to be in the same boat. Because while this may be unsustainable right now, I don’t want it to be. I want to love teaching again. I want to be the best teacher I can be for these incredible kids who are showing up in the ways they can and trying to make this work. So what have I changed?

Original plan: Scheduled reading conferences every afternoon for 10 minutes for each student so I would see all of my students within a two week period.

Reality: I need more than 10 minutes, I have to have one afternoon where I can do other meetings, and what happens with the kids who forget or don’t show up?

So now: Every child is scheduled via a Google Calendar invite for a 15 minute reading conference every three weeks. We discuss how they are doing, how school is going, and then how their reading goals are coming – in that order. I have Wednesday off as our collaboration day for adults and kids who miss their check-in meeting can either reschedule with me or do a Flipgrid video where they answer a few pre-determined questions and I at least get a small glimpse into how they are doing. Then we try to meet again in the next cycle.

Original plan: Small pieces of accountability work and reading data collected in their digital reading identity notebook every week.

Reality: Kids didn’t want to do it because it was one more thing to do that didn’t seem meaningful. Also since the digital notebook it is an all-year assignment and thus not being submitted until then, I had to scroll through each page to see if anything had changed. This was 50 pages worth of scrolling for each kid, you can imagine the time that took even when my internet was stable.

So now: The reading data pages and accountability pages are gone from the notebook so we are down to 34 pages instead which also allows for much quicker loading times. Kids do a weekly reading survey on Monday in class where they estimate how much they have read in the past week, they share the current book they are reading, any book titles they may have finished, and also whether they need a check in with me or with a counselor. So far almost every single kid has done it every week and it takes less than five minutes to do.

Original plan: Weekly or twice weekly free writing prompts in their digital writing notebook done during class time.

Reality: The notebook took too long to load so kids ran out of writing time. Some kids didn’t do it so I would once again scroll through empty pages and come up short handed. Kids saw no real purpose in it so many just skipped it altogether.

So now: Free writing has been moved to a once a week assignment with a few prompts to choose from. I want to expand the prompts and also give them free choice if that is what they want to do. They are asked to write for at least 10 minutes but know that the writing is not assessed so I just check to see if they did it. I am hoping this will also ease up some of the fear kids have about writing and whether their writing is any good. This one needs more tweaking, but this feels like a good step in the right direction. As usual their writing can take many forms: journaling, poetry, drawings, stories or if they have another idea to try they just run it by me.

Original plan: Check late work as it is submitted, grade and assess every day so kids’ work is fully updated at all times.

Reality: Hours and hours of work every day. No time for planning better lessons, assessments felt rushed, let alone the fatigue this created.

So now: Less work is assigned as we move into October, all late work or resubmitted work emails bypass my inbox and get put into folders where I then access it three times a week: Monday, Wednesday, Saturday. On these days I have more time set off to clean up as much as I can thus freeing me up for better planning and also time away from the computer.

Original Plan: We will kick off the year discussing what we need to feel safe and this will help kids be excited to engage and invest in their virtual schooling because we will finally be back together. This motivation will give us all a boost so participation, engagement, and excitement for the community will build.

Reality: I was fooling myself here (and I knew it but I was hoping…). Kids are exhausted from the screen, they miss their peers and normal life, many have incredibly huge things going on in their lives and are simply trying to stay afloat, being all virtual is strange when we have never been together a s a group, and it takes a lot of courage to unmute and share your voice.

So now: Every child is greeted as they enter and they share their voice as they speak to me in an effort to hopefully help them feel better about speaking in our virtual setting. I ask kids how they want to participate that day. Cameras are optional but encouraged. I do check in-questions throughout the class where I ask each kid to share outloud or in the chat box. We have work-time in class while we stay logged in so I can answer questions.

A few more simple ideas:

Only doing two breakout rooms rather than six. I have amazing co-teachers in my classroom for special education and we can split the kids between us. Or doing no breakout rooms at all as we try to navigate things together.

Asking kids to leave mics on for easier conversation. The whole act of unmuting seems to be a big one for many so those who can can choose to leave their mics on so they can speak like we would in class. I am hoping I will start to see a larger change in participation as we get more comfortable and kids can just speak rather than raise their hand or have to unmute.

Creating an independent study path for those kids who want to be challenged and are in a good space to do so. Students applied to do a 3-week independent study path for personal narrative, they will still be with our live classes for the beginning of class but then have work time as they navigate video lessons and mentor texts on their own. I will continue to teach and give choice to all kids who do not choose this path.

Using the 321 Enter or waterfall method as shared by Alex Shevrin Venet who also was passing on the idea. All students are asked to write their response in the chat box but no one hits enter until the teachers says to. This allows for further processing and wait time and also gives kids a chance to formulate their own thoughts without feeling like everybody else is going to say the same thing.

Inserting video timers on my slides while we are working or thinking of answers. Super simple I know, but having a visual timer (in Google Slides just insert a video timer for however long you want it for) help us all take our time and also stay on track.

Being a lot more comfortable with awkward silences. There are so many of them. I am just embracing them right now until we get to know each other better.

Walking at 6 am with my husband during the week. It is dark, it is getting colder, we are both tired but that weekly 2 mile walk makes the biggest difference.

Eating my lunch and not working. No more quick checking email, the news, social media, whatever thing I could just quickly sneak in. I am focusing on my food and staring out the window or speaking to my kids who are also eating lunch at the same time.

And finally….

Original plan: As long as I plan enough and bring enough enthusiasm, it will be really close to what it “normally” is.

Reality: We are teaching during a global pandemic in a county where we just yesterday broke the record for how many people have died of COVID-19 in a single day.

So now: I am reclaiming my boundaries and that of my own children. I am exempting work when kids tell me they are overwhelmed and trying to catch up. I am telling my own children to skip work when they have sat in front of their computer for way too many hours. I am trying to give myself grace and realize that this will not be best practice teaching but best practices for now. That the most important focus for me right now has to be the welfare of the children I teach and my own kids as well but that doesn’t mean I need to sacrifice myself in the process. I will raise my voice to discuss how unsustainable this all is. How there are not enough hours in the day for me to create a classroom experience like the one we normally have. How just because I am a teacher doesn’t mean I have to sacrifice everything in my own life just to make it work. And I am sticking to that.

While I am sure there are other things that have changed, all of these minor things have made a big difference. In fact, today for the first time, I was done with all student meetings at 2:30 PM, had an hour to plan for Monday, and I only have 4 pieces of work waiting for me to leave feedback for. The to-do list is still intense, my eyes are blurry, and yet, after hanging up with the last student today, I felt a moment of gratitude that has been buried in stress the last four weeks (or possibly even longer). We are trying to make this work, no this is not perfect, nor great, nor healthy, but small steps have been taken again to reclaim my own life and hopefully still create a decent experience for all of the students.

I don’t know if any of this is shareworthy, but there you have it. Sending love out into the world to those who need it.

being a teacher

Virtual Book Speed Dating – A Tool for Online Book Browsing

I am starting virtually all first quarter on Tuesday and getting actual books into the hands of my 7th grade students has been at the forefront of my mind. With the help of our incredible librarians, we have a twice a week pick up system set up after kids have requested books, but I wondered; how can I book talk a lot of books quickly like I normally would in our classroom so that kids can start reading?

Our book wall will not be browsed by students for awhile

Asnwer; virtual book speed dating. I happened to catch this tweet and share from Haley Lewis

To see the original, click the picture

And knew that I could do the same. I wanted to make sure I used a wide range of books both maturity level and format/genre, and I knew I wanted to make sure I had multiple copies of the books on this first round so that all kids can hopefully get the book they want.

After browsing through our book club sets, I had my list of titles and created this slide show for students to browse through. Using Loom, which is my favorite tool right now for recording my screen – it is so easy – I added a video explanation, and also created a simple Google form for students to be able to request a book.

So the second week of school, students will be asked to browse through this slide deck and find some great books they want to try. They will be able to request books and then pick them up the following week, if a child cannot pick up their book then I will get it safely to their mailbox or other pick up point. I am excited to try this method out to see if it will help get kids reading or keep them reading. I will keep track of who gets which books in a simple spreadsheet so that, hopefully, I will know where our books end up.

Click the picture to see it

I wanted to share this idea, in case you were wondering how to do something like this. I am so grateful for all of the ideas shared right now, so if you want, you can absolutely make a copy and change the titles to fit your students.

If your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually or live throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely and in-person as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in an in-person, virtual or hybrid model throughout the years and would love to help others as well.

being a teacher

Dear Teacher

Dear Teacher,

Perhaps like me, you are sitting behind your computer screen right now wondering what else you can get done tonight? Perhaps, like me, you just drank another cup of tea hoping that the warmth and caffeine will give you the boost you need to get through just a few more things. After all, the list grew today, as it seemingly has done every single day since the first decisions about the upcoming school year rolled in. Perhaps you just promised yourself to get up early, before the kids are awake so they don’t see you working again, but you can get so much done at 6 AM in the dark.

Perhaps this is not how you envisioned your night. Perhaps like me, you had promised yourself that tonight you would make a healthy dinner, you would sit down and listen to the stories your kids had to share, after all, you were gone most of the day working in your classroom for in-service. Perhaps you had planned a movie night but then remembered that one big thing you needed to get done before 9 AM tomorrow and now you sit with headphones plugged in trying to find the words you need to express just how heavy this load feels right now.

Perhaps, like me, you worry about sounding ungrateful, perhaps you worry that it sounds so much like complaining when in reality our situation could be so much worse. I am not forced to go back to teach right now, we go back virtually. I have a job, a roof over our heads, our health. I have resources and support in a country that doesn’t share freely of either. I work in a district that truly cares about not just the kids but also the adults in charge of their learning.

And yet, I feel like I am in pieces right now. Like my to-do list has a to-do list. Like every day something new needs to be done as we try to meet a moving finish line based on how great the educational experience should be for all of our kids despite the global pandemic and a nation filled with rightful protests and anger. Like my emotions are right at the surface, like sleep eludes me and I forget to eat because it is easier to just keep on working. Perhaps if I learn another idea, another tool, if I create another thing the kids that are trusted to me will feel seen, will feel valued, will care about our time in English this year. If I read another article, attend another session, collaborate with someone else, it will make all of the difference. It will make the biggest difference.

And I will reach them all through the computer because they will see my carefully laid out plans, my inviting virtual classroom and know that I am ready.

And my husband tells me to stop. My kids ask me to come play. My own body sends all of the signals that it needs for me to hopefully understand that this is serious. That this is not sustainable. That this is not what we signed up for when we chose to be educators. That it is time for us to raise our voices because perhaps finally this nation, with its emphasis on the perfect teacher myth has pushed us to a breaking point. I am at a breaking point. I know I am not alone.

I have never seen so many educators resign.

I have never seen so many educators retire.

I have never seen so many educators cry.

And you can say that we signed up for it. That we knew what we had to do. That we are in it for the kids and that should be enough. That everyone else is figuring it out so so should we.

That we shouldn’t project our fears. That we need to man up, buck up, pull up our big girl pants, and stop whining so much. Grow a pair, shut our mouths, and finally know what it feels like to have a real job where we don’t get to have the summers off or leave at 4 PM every day.

Or perhaps we should schedule more self-care. Go for more walks. Do more yoga. Take care. Take a break. Take a breath. Take a step back.

But back to what?

Because my brain doesn’t stop churning. My head hurts.

Because I care so deeply. We all do.

Because I want this to be the best experience that I can make it. We all do.

Because when you say that the kids can’t learn as well I want to prove you wrong. We all do.

So piece by piece, I am pushing myself to extinction. Piece by piece, I have blurred the lines between my work and my life. Fed into the American notion that you are your job. That teaching has to be the biggest calling for you to be good. Higher than being a mom. Higher than being a person. Teacher first, everything else second. That if you don’t sacrifice as much as you are asked then you must not care enough. That when we say enough we are immediately suspected of not being in it for the right reasons, for not being innovative, for not truly knowing how to be a teacher.

But piece by piece, I am going to reclaim my own existence. I am going to say it loudly so that I can hear it through my own stubbornness. My own dedication to doing just one more thing. My own crazy commitment to constantly pursue something more, something better. Rest, Pernille, reflect, Pernille, remember everything you already know and give yourself room to breathe.

This is my public plea for others to do the same. To set boundaries now before the year continues. To repeat to me that I will figure it out. To repeat to me that I don’t have to sacrifice myself for 7th grade English to be great. That I am only human and that I cannot and shall not do this alone. That I am only a piece of a larger societal puzzle that needs to engage in deeper soul searching about who and what we value in this nation.

We are all just pieces.

So perhaps, you have already reached this conclusion and you feel better. Perhaps you are not there just yet. Perhaps, like me, you doubt your own words and fancy commitments even as you write them.

Perhaps there are great moments where you know how exciting this year is for growth. Perhaps those moments will last, but they won’t if we don’t notice them.

So dear educators, this is me sending love out into the world, letting you know that it is okay to say no. To say no more. To set boundaries and stick with them. Just like we teach the kids. Just like we were taught so many years ago. Don’t let others make you forget that.

And perhaps, you can let yourself believe that it will be okay. That no amount of preparation will ever truly make us ready. That as we search for that one more piece what we are really looking for is the kids themselves. That once they are with us, we will feel better. It happens every year. It will happen this year too. We just have to believe it.

Love,
Pernille

being a teacher, books, Reading, Reading Identity, student choice, Student dreams, student driven

Centering Reading Joy in the Virtual Classroom

Our class lists were released yesterday and with it came the excitement for the upcoming year. While it may not look anything like I have ever taught before, the year will still start, the 80 or so students will still arrive, and the work with kids will continue much like it has in other years.

This year rather than having a luxurious 5×90 minutes a week with every child, we are fully virtual for the first quarter at least, a decision I am inherently grateful for. That means that I will see my students 2×70 or 4×35 minutes depending on when I have them during the day. They will have 60-90 minutes of asynchronous work to do as well throughout the week. A huge reduction of time and thus also a huge need to really focus in on what we will do together, the learning journey we will be on. As I sat in a meeting with my fantastic colleagues last week, one thing immediately became clear, we all wanted to preserve independent reading during our live time, but not just that, we wanted to center it in reading joy.

But how do we do that when the students are not right there? When we don’t have the tool of proximity, body language, and being able to physically hand them a book? When the time is much shorter? When we can’t read the room or pull them in for a quick conference? When everything has to be pre-planned, pre-scheduled, and done from afar? Well, there is a way to do so.

We will center it in identity. I have written a lot about how (re)discovering and continuing the development of their reading identity is at the center of the work we do. With tools like our reading identity digital notebook which centers in discovery, goal setting, ad honest reflection, this is the work we do all year. That means that within the first week, our students will do their initial reading survey (slide 13 on) in order to establish a baseline for how they are starting and where they need to go. This also offers me a chance to get to know them and their journey up until now. I ask for their honesty but also know that some students rightfully so don’t trust me yet. After the survey, the very first reading conference we have discusses their answers and helps them evaluate the goal they have set. The survey offers me a place to start and a place for the students to reflect back upon as they grow.

We will center it in our reading rights. As a class, we will create our reading rights much like we have in the past, but instead of being able to post our reasons for why reading sucks or why it is magical, we will do it on Padlet. Students will then work in small breakout groups to notice patterns and decide what type of rights they would like to have as readers in our community. I know there are a few rights that they will have no matter what they come up with; they have the right to choose books that matter to them, they have the right to abandon any book, they have the right to do meaningful work, they have the right to read with others. Every year, the students create fantastic rights that create the foundation for our learning together, to read more about the process see this post.

We will center it in personal goal setting. For several years, I set all goals for students and then grew frustrated when there was no buy-in or little progress on the goal. Now, students set their own goals, determine steps for how they will reach them, and reflect at set times on their progress, fine-tuning what they need to work on and (hopefully) noticing their own progress and developments. (Slide 7 on). Diving into the 7th grade reading challenge and discussing what a goal may be beyond quantity has been instrumental to the work we do as it allows kids to see beyond the page number for worthwhile reading habits. Reading growth comes in many sizes and it is important that we acknowledge, protect, develop and praise that. To see more about our reading goal setting, read this post linked here.

We will center it in choice. Getting books in the hands of kids is at the forefront of our ELA departments mind and in collaboration with our incredible library staff, it will happen. We will book talk books during our live time; I do a quick read of the blurb and give my opinion encouraging kids to write down potential titles on their to-be-read lists. We also have static book recommendations as found in our class hub which is housed on our class website. Our librarian will also be booktalking and highlighting books. Students will be able to request books both from the library and from our classroom collection through a simple Google form (here is what mine looks like) and they will have the opportunity to be “surprised” – adding in additional books they may like with every pick up order. They will then have twice weekly pick-up times where books can be grabbed following safety guidelines. If a child cannot pick up the books, we will find a way to get them to them. Book access is paramount for all kids, no matter their access to transportation. For those looking to book browse and shop safely while in class, please see this post for ideas.

We will center it in time. Even though I will have less live time with students than normal, we will still spend time reading together. For the class that only has me for 35 minutes a day, it will be 10 minutes of uninterrupted reading time (mics off), for those with 70 min in a day, it will be 15-20 minutes. I will be working behind the scenes with kids who may not have books, don’t want to read etc during this time. I will say again; if we say we value reading as one of the biggest components of student growth then we have to spend time on it and not just assign it assuming it will happen. Of course, I will hope that the students will also read outside of class but recognize that for some that will simply not happen. The very least I then can do is make sure they have time to read with us when we are together.

We will center it in talk. Reading conferences usually happen when students are doing their independent reading and while that would still be super convenient to continue, I have a feeling that during that time there will be plenty of “in the moment” things to take care of. So instead, I will ask students to confer with me every two weeks where we will have a private ten minute conversation in regard to who they are as a reader and how their goal is progressing. Not only will it give me a glimpse into their reading life, but it will hopefully also serve as a way to get to know them better. Students will have a choice to do it virtually or via the phone, I wrote more about the set up and process here.

We will center it in read aloud. Using read alouds, picture books in particular, has long been a mainstay in our community. This year is no different as I kick off the year with a picture book read aloud, We Don’t Eat our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins, as a way to dive into what we need to feel safe. I will read it live holding it up to the computer, but as the year progresses, I will scan the pages in so the students can see them in a slideshow while they listen to my voice read it live. Reading aloud bring joy, invites reflection, invites conversations, and offers us a springboard into topics that matter to us; identity, consent, fighting oppression, curiosity and many other aspects of the world. Sharing texts, whether short stories, long form, or picture books, allows us a shared language so we can speak books to one another.

We will center it in time. Building a community centered on reading joy takes time. For some kids they are already invested and ready, others will work on it all year. I know that this year presents additional obstacles that make the road seem even longer, the climb even steeper, yet I can honor every child’s journey by giving them all year to grow. By getting them books. By helping them discover personal value in reading beyond what the teacher asked them to do. I can center our practice in what we know is good for children; choice, time, meaningful work, skill development, community, and access.

We will center it in acceptance and celebration. Our students come to us with so many different emotions tied to reading. I will not help them if all they feel is judged within our virtual walls. I will not help them if I determine their path or tell them how to be a reader. Instead, I can create a space where kids feel that wherever they are on their journey is okay, that however they feel is okay. We will do meaningful work together, we will share read alouds, we will speak about what it personally means to be a reader and develop the skills we need to be stronger readers. We will use reading as a tool of transportation, as a tool of growth, not just in the skills we develop but also in how we view the world. There is room for every child’s reading journey on this mission, there is no one size fits all approach needed.

I know it can be tempting to create a lot of accountability measures in this virtual/hybrid Covid-19 teaching time. I know that it may seem like no big deal if we have kids log every minute, every page. If we ask for adult signatures to prove that they are, indeed, reading like they say they are. If we tell them all to read the same book over and over in order to create classroom conversation. If we ask them to write a short summary, do a small recording, take a quiz every time they finish a book. But what may seem insignificant quickly becomes a potentially damaging requirement. Writing one small summary about a book does not do a lot of harm but having to repeat the process every time one finishes a book can quickly lead to disdain for the reading process itself. Asking kids to log often leads to kids only doing the bare minimum rather than paying attention to when they have the capacity to read longer or the desire to. Asking kids to only read the same books does little to develop their independent reading identity and often makes them liars. The short-term gains from many of these accountability measures are not worth the long-term damage. So rather than focus on the quick accountability tools, take the time to really build the community. To invite the students into the governing decisions. To take stock and change course when it doesn’t work. To continually keep the dialogue open. And to give yourself grace as well. This year for many is not what we had hoped it would be. For many of us we are in entirely new territory. But we got this. We will do our best and then we will return the next day and try again. We don’t need to have all the answers just an idea of where to start.

Building reading joy is possible in virtual teaching, it may just look a little bit different than it has in the past and if there is one thing I know we educators are good at, it is embracing change and making it work. So one step at a time, we got this.

If your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually or live throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely and in-person as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in an in-person, virtual or hybrid model throughout the years and would love to help others as well.

being a teacher

Getting Ready for Virtual Reading Conferring with Students

The top of the reading check-in form I use in class

In three short weeks, the new school year kicks off in our household. No one thought at the end of last school year that we would be going back virtually but I am so grateful that this is the decision my district has made. The notion of doing everything we normally do in our day-to-day lessons virtually has been overwhelming but rather than get stuck in the emotions, I have decided to prepare as many tools and processes as I can. After all with everything I prepare, I can breathe a little easier, not because it is perfect by any means but because it gives me a pathway forward, a structure to try as I get to know the 80 or so new students that I will try to create a community alongside.

Our daily reading conferences have been a cornerstone of our literacy community for years. Just like the work we do in as we dive into our reading identity, sitting down with a child to discuss who they are as a reader and how the book they are currently reading plays into that journey is something I love and hold sacred. I know it is something I want to continue doing but also face a much different reality; going from 90 minutes a day of in-person instruction to 70 minutes twice a week virtual live instruction, going from sitting next to them and being able to hand them a book to connecting through a computer or a phone call. The coming quarter will certainly be an interesting educational experience.

So how do I plan on conferring with students?

The focus continues to be on their reading identity rather than individual skills. I have written about this before but I usually do not use my individual reading conferences to teach skills, I reserve that for our small groups which I will also be using in some way but that’s another post. Instead, we use this reading check-in as a way to hear how they see themselves as a reader and how the book they are currently reading is helping them work on their selected goal. There is a much deeper discussion of all of this in my book, Passionate Readers. This means that time-wise, I can keep these conferences to less than 5 minutes in class. Online, I envision them to be less than 10 minutes depending on tech access etc. This may need to change once we get going. I also have them choosing whether to meet with me virtually or over the phone on this form.

Students will choose their every third week time. Students are “only” in live instruction until noon every day, after 1 PM they have time for asynchronous learning and I am hoping to have students select a time slot that works for them every third week for our conferring. I used a shared Google Doc for an easy way for them to select their fifteen-minute slot that also sends them a reminder of it. The slot they choose the first week will stay the same for the quarter. While I normally do reading conferring while my students are independently reading, which they will still do as a part of my live instruction, I am choosing to keep the conferring separate from that for now. I have a feeling that at least the first few weeks will need a lot of extra attention and so while we are live, I will not be conferring with students then. For my students who have me 70 minutes a day, they will have 20 minutes of reading time each time, for the block that has me 35 minutes every day, they will have 10 minutes reserved for independent reading. I cannot ask students to read independently and tell them of its value and then provide no time for it while we are together.

After they have selected their time, I am sending them a Google calendar invite with a meeting link. Because it is recurring, I can schedule all of their first semester conferences that way.

I may use a form rather than my normal conferring sheet. While I normally take all of my notes on this conferring sheet, the first quarter I am considering using a form to fill in their information. This will hopefully allow me to organize our conversation a little better as students will not be met with alphabetically and I want to make sure I pay full attention when I am meeting with them. The form linked here is just a working example as I do not know the names of my students yet and the form I would use would have their names in a drop down menu for easy retrieval. I am also not sure I like the form quite as it is so consider this a rough draft.

We will discuss their next read and book access. While this is typically an ongoing conversation and a casual one woven throughout our classroom time, I know that virtually, I need to make space for it. This is why it will be a specific question asked during our reading check-ins so that I can guide them to the right step to make sure they have physical books to read. Our fantastic district librarians have created a safe plan for all kids to be able to pick up books from our collections, this will happen twice weekly and will be one of the components I will showcase to students in first two weeks. The pick up times also provides me with an opportunity to add any books from the classroom that they might like and I have a book request form that looks like this housed on our class website. Our awesome librarian, Christine, is creating a hub for the students that we can use with students in order for them to be able to pick up their books. We also have options in place in case students are not able to pick things up and we need to get it to them instead, all following CDC guidelines for safe handling.

Throughout the years, I have tried to hone my conferring skills, moving away from “just” focusing on the practical skills to looking more at the whole child and what they may need to discuss when it comes to their reading identity, centering them in their goals and the habits they have formed. These brief conversations, while never enough, offer us both an invitation into a partnership and relationship that is centered on the needs of that individual, their hopes for our year together, and the specific needs they have for me as their teacher. While the tools and access may look different, the heart of what I am doing does not. This is still about human connection, about finding time to just meet and discuss who they are and how reading fits into their life. This is one of the components I am looking the most forward to as the new year kicks off; meeting all of these new students, speaking books with them, and hopefully traveling on this 7th grade journey with them.

Do you have any questions or ideas? Leave them in the comments or join our Facebook community for Passionate Readers.

Also, if your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely and in-person as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in an in-person, virtual or hybrid model throughout the years and would love to help others as well.

Be the change, being a student, being a teacher, new year, PD, student choice, Student Engagement, student voice

Final Free PD Masterclass: Getting Ready for Going Back – How Do We Learn Best?

This summer has been one of worry. Of anxiousness. Of too much time spent thinking about possibilities that seemed to shift every day. Of waiting for answers. Of too many times trying to not think about the fall. But the countdown to go back to school has started for many of us, the future, while still uncertain, has at least been hinted at, and I still have so many questions.

A few weeks ago we were told we would be fully virtual for the first quarter and with that information I knew that I could stay overwhelmed and anxious or I could move into solution mode. To take it day by day, rather than try to figure out my whole quarter; focus on the first week, and then have an idea for what might come after. It has helped calm me as I think of all of the unknowns. (Not that I am feeling calm by any means).

And so, as I move ideas into action, it is time to invite you into the thoughts and discussion in my final masterclass of the summer: Masterclass – How Do We Learn Best – Embedding Authentic Choice and Voice. While some of the underlying research and ideas will not have changed from May when I offered it last, I have updated it with ideas of how I plan on establishing conditions to build community, to determine how we can feel safe with one another, how I will embed choice and space for students to speak up and change our time together as we start fully online. This class dives into why it is vital that we center the voices and identities of students as we plan on our instruction and interrogate the systems we have in place. It is meant to inspire, spark discussions, and also offer practical ideas. The accompanying office hours will allow you to ask follow up questions, to share your ideas, and also to have a collective of experts help you with your problems of practice.

So join me for this free PD session offered through CUE and sponsored by Microsoft, just hit the “Join this Session” at the time listed and it will allow you access. Spread the word if you think this masterclass will be helpful to others. This will also be the final free PD I offer for a while as the school year looms large and I have to balance the virtual schooling of my own four kids with the needs of my 80+ students while also trying to keep my sanity.

The class sessions will be:

  • August 13th 7 PM PST/9 PM CST
  • August 20th 7 PM PST/9 PM CST
  • August 27th 7 PM PST/9 PM CST

The office hour sessions will be:

  • August 15th 8 AM PST/10 AM CST
  • August 16th 8 AM PST/10 AM CST
  • August 23rd 8 AM PST/10 AM CST
  • August 30th 8 AM PST/10 AM CST

Don’t forget to check out the other incredible free PD sessions as well that are still being offering during the month of August.

Also, if your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely and in-person as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in an in-person, virtual or hybrid model throughout the years and would love to help others as well.