being a teacher

WriteReader – A Powerful Book Creator for Students

My own kids have been busy writing. In this time of virtual school where screen time is seen as both exciting and dreaded, and school is mostly something to be done with because they have been sitting in their rooms dictating, writing, and creating books for each other to read, running excitedly out to show me their latest creation.

Ida wrote a 5 pages story about a witch who lost her way.

Oskar wrote a story about candy and how he is the coolest, clearly.

Augustine continue to play with her letters as she tries to figure out how to best write the few words she knows how to spell in her story about her puppy.

The glee is contagious and the writing is furious.

What has gotten my own kids so fired up about writing, even the 6 year-old who has repeatedly told me that she does not need to learn how to write?

A research-based web-based book creator that not only allows for exploration of language but also drives them to expand their stories through letter-sound tools, recording capabilities, and a variety of templates that let them control the look of their book.

Why are we loving it so much at home? Because my three youngest kids with varying degrees of writing capabilities are totally engaged in their books and the excitement for writing is contagious as they create, publish, and read.

Ida’s book about a witch that had to find monsters was a big hit with her siblings as she recorded the story.

There are a few things that are really pulling my kids in with the biggest for me the less is more approach. As my own kids are inundated by “educational” games that are more focused on the gaming aspect rather than the learning aspect, WriteReader is a breath of fresh air. This tool is used for creating beautiful books, for exploring their writing skills, for written language acquisition, and for feeling accomplished. The kids can easily navigate it on their own, have figured out how to add pictures, speech bubbles on the pre-loaded templates, and also how to record their own voice. The reward is the creation process, the ability to be authentic writers beyond just the teachers’ eyes, and seeing their published books being read and shared, not points or tokens.

Augi’s book about a frightened puppy is taking shape

I also love how this product offers kids a way to learn through creation, taking chances with their writing and still feel like accomplished writers. This looks and reads like a book that they have created. There is no dumbing down of the work they are attempting and the finished product looks polished. The pride is palpable in my own kids.

Another lovely feature is that the books can also be printed, which my kids wanted to do immediately of course. They can also be shared with others through a link, so you bet the family is getting some reading materials right now.

As a teacher, I can see using this tool in many ways implemented into stations and throughout writer’s workshop and even though it is geared more toward younger students, I do think that older students could also use it for things like flash fiction and prompt writing. You could create templates for the students to go into and edit and students could see each other’s books as they are published. All it takes is an account for students to log into and they are ready to go. If students want to share their book in a broader way, the sharing capabilities open up great potential for impacting others with our words.

In our virtual learning right now, I keep thinking of how important it is to build community. For years telling stories, creative writing, and sharing our stories has been the cornerstone of my classroom. We have seen how storytelling can bond us all so why not use a tool like WriteReader to share our stories? We may not all be together right now but on the bookshelves in our classroom we can be. The free version allows for up to 100 books to be created plus other basic features, a great way to get started with this tool.

Still not sure if WriteReader would work for your students? My 6 year old just asked me to bookmark it so she can find it any time to write more stories and then told me that she didn’t want watch TV because she would rather tell more stories. I don’t know what further testimony you need.

I am not getting paid for this post, this post is written to hopefully help others discover this powerful tool, a way to pay it forward since I was lucky enough to be shown this tool myself. So where could WriteReader fit in for you? Perhaps as another powerful writing tool that can seamlessly fit into the components you already have? Or perhaps a much needed boost that brings our students together in a world that seems upside down?

Wherever it goes, I think you will be as excited about it as I am.

I am excited to announce that I am doing virtual speaking and consulting right now. If your district or organization would like more information, please see this blog post.

being a teacher

Helping Students Navigate the COVID Reading Slump

One of the most common conversations I have had with students over the last 7 weeks has been a description of what COVID has done to their reading lives. How they haven’t read a book since March, how their attention just seems to not be there, how they cannot seem to find the time, energy, or even the books they want to read. They know they should read but…the world just seems too big right now, their work is piling up, they are just too tired, and they just can’t. And we are not even together, I teach fully virtual, a constant reminder that here in Wisconsin, much like many other places, COVID is exploding and claiming more and more lives. The kids are not okay and neither are the adults.

It’s not just in our classroom that this is playing out. I recognize this disconnect from reading in my own life. Since March 13th, the world has been heavy. The work has been heavy. The books call quietly but I look at my to-be read shelves and it feels like work, not like an escape. Not like something I can do to relax. When I speak to educators globally, they share the same stories; the kids are not reading, how do we help them find joy in reading again? How do we make reading something important to us all when there is hardly any time to do anything?

So in room 203, we have focused on connecting with each other again. We have focused on meaningful work, conversations, and access to books. Is it fully working, not yet, but I am seeing a difference using the following tools to bring them back, one by one, and I think they are seeing a difference too.

Recognizing the enormity of the world. We will never work through this if we don’t recognize and try to understand the unique situations that students are working through. With the pressure to do school like normal when our times are anything but, we can easily forget that this is not normal, that it makes total sense that kids are not reading, and that assigning more accountability work is not going to be the way to bring them back to reading, far from it. So resist the urge to assign more work with their reading so they have to get a grade or get it done, more than likely assigning all of that extra work surrounding their reading is going to push them farther away from wanting to read rather than the opposite. Instead focus on each child’s humanity, recognizing that we are all doing the best we can everyday and that while that means for some reading is not a part of their life at this moment it doesn’t mean it won’t be. But we cannot plan and teach as if the world is not upside down.

Assigning less work. If I want kids to read then they need time to read, this means I need to assign less asynchronous work in order for them to actually have more energy to read. But it cannot just be English class, across the board we should have a schoolwide conversation about the work being assigned because if we are piling on so much work that kids don’t have energy or time to read then we have lost our way on the experience we should co-create for all kids. I know many of us are striving to keep the work challenging and plentiful but let’s not sacrifice reading joy on our way there.

Physical book access. I have marveled before at the comprehensive plan our librarians created to make sure students could still request physical books from our library and how they have helped us get books out to students. And it is working, one book at time, we see kids get excited about the stack of books they are either picking up or having delivered. Students can request both books from our school library or classroom collection using different forms, they can request specific titles or a bag of books that fit their interests and needs. While we also have digital access to books, the physical books seem to be making the biggest difference.

Continued conversation. I have written before about the daily reading conferences I am doing with students and how much hope they bring me. 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. The conversation is casual and centered in their reality. It allows me a chance to check in on them as far as how they are doing, if I can support with anything and then we talk about reading. There is no judgment as far as where they are at in their reading and whether or not they have been reading, but instead a conversation about how they can work on their goal. Do they need books? Do they need a new goal? Do they need help in some way? As one student ended our conversation with last week, “This was so nice, I really needed this,” and I couldn’t agree more.

One of the pages of their reading identity digital notebook can be seen above, this is the 6-week reflection page they will be filling in tomorrow.

Setting 6 week reading goals. Within our Digital Reading Identity Notebooks, students have a place to set a 6 week reading goal. We do it in class together, discuss what realistic goals can look like, and then discuss it during our individual reading conferences. Goals range from slowing down their reading to actually reading outside of class time and many other aspects of their reading journey and identity. Tomorrow in class, we will spend time reflecting on their first goal, write about it, and then use their reading data to come up with a new reading goal for the next 6 weeks. Their goals should be specific to their journey, challenging in a realistic way, and also something they actually want to work on. This gives me yet another glimpse into who they are and how I can best support them.

A snapshot of some of the question on their reading survey.

Weekly reading reflection. Every first class of the week, students do a very brief survey that allows them to take stock of their reading habits for the previous week and allows me a quick glance at their reading and what they may need from me. This is the data they will look at tomorrow when they reflect on their last 6 weeks. The survey takes less than 5 minutes, the students think it is easy to navigate and best of all, they answer honestly, knowing that it is a tool to help them not punish them because there is no grade attached to their answers (or to their independent reading for that matter).

Tomorrow’s book talk slide

Daily book talks. I am still doing very casual daily book talks featuring new or old books. While they are not having the same impact as when we are face to face, a few books have been requested after I have book talked them and that is enough for me to keep doing them. The booktalks are short and sweet, I have the cover on a slide and then discuss what I loved about the book, then I read the blurb. It takes us less than 2 minutes but allows the students to get a feel for the books we have available to the them in class.

Book Speed Browsing is coming back in November

Book Speed Browsing. I wrote about the September book speed browsing here and how it gave students a larger glimpse of the books we have available to them. I am currently working on one for November, the major change is that students will be asked to read about each book rather than just choose 5 and there is not a form they have to fill in but instead that students can choose to request books if they would like. This tool is meant to give them a broader access to our library and hopefully entice some more reading for the kids.

Independent reading in class. The first thing we do after I have greeted all students is to read. While we have a lot less time together than we would normally, the most important part of our time spent together is the time we dedicate to independent reading every class. We read at least 30 minutes in class spread throughout our two classes of the week. Students start to read after I have greeted and spoken to them, I ask them to keep their camera on if they can or once in a while they flash me their book cover quick as they read. Are there kids that don’t use the time for reading? Absolutely! We are working on that just like we would in class when kids choose to fake read or not engage at all. But many kids are reading and for some kids it is the only reading they are doing every week. This will always be the most protected activity we do. I cannot tell students that they should read outside of class and then not give them time to do so in class.

Listening to tips from students. As always, our students have great ideas for how they can navigate their reading lives. A few ideas from students have been reading two books at the same time – switch between books as one gets boring in order to actually finish books and keep their attention. Try a new format – what is something you haven’t tried before, now is a great time to try graphic novels, novels in verse or audio and shake up our reading habits. Try a new topic or genre – perhaps changing up the familiar will help you. Find a new routine – our routines have been disturbed greatly and so the habit of reading may have slipped out of routine as well, when does it make sense to let reading happen?

Patience. We are facing uncertain times and even if we feel like we are ready for the Corona virus to be done, it is still here. That means that kids, and adults, will continue to have their mental health affected, that the world will continue to be heavy, that reading will continue to be a chore for many. But we can take small steps, we can continue our focus on it as a central gathering point in our class, and we can continue to encourage our students to find books that speak to them, that connect to who they are, that they can find value in even if joy is not there right now. And we can wrap that up in the best practices we know, not forcing ourselves into more accountability work, but instead allowing the act of reading independently to be something we do as a community, something that we do to take care of ourselves, something that we do because it allows us to transport ourselves to a new world, even if just for a moment, and that can sustain us for a long time.

So I hope this blog post was helpful, please share your ideas in the comments, and allow yourself to breathe. Reading is not lost for all, it may just be hidden right now, but together we can reignite reading for ourselves and help others as well, as long as we start with connections first.

I am excited to announce that I am doing virtual speaking and consulting right now. If your district or organization would like more information, please see this blog post.

being a teacher

Introducing Virtual Consulting

There have not been many silver linings in the past seven months. With a world that continues to be upside down and an unknowable future, it all can seem too much at times. And yet, one thing has evolved in my life that I am finding great joy in; virtual consulting.

When we shut down in March, we saw conferences get cancelled or moved online. For the past 7 months, the learning I have done and created has been through a computer screen, trying to help others as they face uncertain school years, as they rethink practices, as they wonder how do we make this better for the students? For ourselves? I have been fortunate to be asked to be a part of many different school’s and district’s work as they brainstorm, plan, and implement new ideas, and not so new, in education.

It has been an honor and a joy to see the ingenuity and resilience of educators as they once again rise to an unsurmountable challenge and try to keep kids at the center of the decisions they make.

And so, I wanted to alert readers of this blog to the work I am available to support you with. Virtual consulting can look many different ways but the heart of it is the same; we work together to create experiences centering students’ literate lives, centering their identities, and help one another see our way through all of the decision-making that seems to be piling up every day in this new landscape of education.

I can be brought in for an afternoon or for a longer stretch of time. Every consultation period is personalized, of course, and grounded in research, best practices, and the practical tools I have developed or am developing in my own teaching practice. It is set up to meet the specific needs of the community that brings me in while honoring teacher sustainability, identity, and joy in learning.

Fees are flexible in order to meet the needs of the community and are based on length of time, number of attendants, and also the depth of the work. I try to stay as flexible as possible with school districts as much as I can as I get the budget constraints that many are facing.

My Areas of Expertise:

  • Creating a passionate literacy community.
  • Personalized learning environments for staff and students.
  • Student engagement and empowerment.
  • Global collaboration through technology infusion.

What You Can Expect:

  • Personal attention and development of project intended to fit your purpose.
  • Prompt communication.
  • A personalized and interactive delivery that will fulfill the needs of the target audience.
  • Accessibility and an ongoing relationship after the talk.  I become a trusted resource for the audience as they move forward.

So if you feel that I could be of help during these times, please reach out. You can send me an email or through this page right here and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

being a teacher

More Picture Books to Teach and Practice Inference

5 years ago, I wrote a post sharing a few great picture books for practicing inferencing. Looking back, I realize it is time to update the list with a few new favorites as I have expanded my own collection of stories focusing on a broader worldview.

For ease sakes, I have also gathered the picture books I am sharing here in an easily accessible list on – a bookstore site that supports independent book stores rather than that big one. If you order any books through the links I share here, I receive a small kickback through the affiliate link.

I remember I was told to teach inference as a 4th grade teacher, it was one of the many skills students were supposed to develop in literacy, and I was a stickler for following the rules.  So the first year I sat with my lesson plans, every word penciled out and guided my students through the lesson.  We inferred because the book told us to.  When a child asked me why they were learning this, I answered, “Because you will need it next year.”  That successfully quieted the child, and I felt satisfied, I had been able to give them a reason for what we were doing and so they did it.

Yet, the act of inferring is so much bigger than “next year.”  It is so much bigger than learning how to read text better.  It is a life skill.  One we need to navigate difficult situations.  One we need to read other people.  One we need to become better human beings that care about others.  And so we infer, yes, but we also start to trust ourselves and our opinions, build confidence in our intuition and get more astute in our observations.  And picture books are about one of the best ways we can teach it in our classrooms.  So here are some of my favorite titles that I use, updated from home so bear with me if I left any off the list that should be on here. Let me know in the comments which ones I missed.

The first time I read Another by Christian Robinson, I had to reread it immediately; what did I miss? This wordless picture book is great for discussing small clues to a larger story.

Small Things by Mel Tregonning is also wordless and invites the reader into symbolism through inference, a great double skill to practice for kids, while also opening up conversations about anxiety and other burdens we carry with us and what they can do to us.

Another great double-hitter is The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers that works well for symbolism and inference. What does it mean when she places her heart in a bottle and why?

A crowd favorite, even in 7th grade, is Who Wet My Pants by Bob Shea and illustrated by Zachariah OHora. While the inferring may be obvious, it is a great book to introduce or refresh the skill.

What happens to the animals as the lights go out in A Hungry Lion or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cummins? A great book to not just teach inference but also assumptions.

A beautiful picture book that is written in English with Woiwurrung language interwoven leads to a gorgeous picture book experience in Birrarung Wilam by Aunty Joy Murphy, Andrew Kelly and illustrated by Lisa Kennedy. While there is a glossary and word bank in the back, this would be a great way to have students decipher word meaning from context clues using inference.

I Lost My Talk by Rita Joe and Pauline Young is a great picture book to talk about what the author means beyond her language when she speaks of the loss she has.

What does the gorilla symbolize is this touching picture book just released? The Boy and The Gorilla by Jackie Azua Kramer and illustrated by Cindy Derby is a great addition to our collection for symbolism and inference.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales has so many lines that beg to be discussed more deeply. Our daughter just used this picture book in 3rd grade to discuss author’s purpose and intent, another great way to frame inference.

Would a list be complete without a Jackie Woodson book? In The Other Side, we have to use inference to figure out the broader historical context behind the fence division. why can’t the girls play together?

I have to start with one of my favorites and the one I chose to start this year’s lessons with; I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen.  Beloved by so many, the students laugh out loud, love to infer right away, even when you tell them not to and fall in love with the simple yet devilish story of who took the bear’s hat.  Magic I tell you.

And I have to highlight the kind of sequel This Is Not My Hat also by Jon Klassen.  I use this as a follow up book, to give my students another chance at visiting the magical world that seems to be Jon Klassen’s mind and they love it as much as the first one.  I also love all of the theories of what happened to the little fish that my student concoct.

I do love wordless picture books for inferring work because they are great tools to remind kids that you can have many different theories and still be right. The Whale by Vita Murrow and Ethan Murrow is a great book to use for digging in further and trying to really decipher a story.

Boats for Papa is a picture book by Jessixa Bagley that I immediately fell in love with.  The story does not tell us where papa is, nor why the mother does what she does, leaving this open for interpretation by the students.

Knock Knock: My Dad’s Dreams For Me by Daniel Beaty is an emotional book that leaves the reader wondering where the father is.  I love the emotional connection that my students can feel to this book, as well as what they conclude.  This book will also provide us with a window into the lives of our students as they share their own experiences.

This amusing story of what really happened to a sandwich will allow you to peek into the minds of how deeply students understand textual clues, as well as how well they look for evidence.  The Bear Ate Your Sandwich by Julia Sarcone-Beach is one that makes me giggle every time I read it aloud and then leads to heated discussions of what exactly did happen to that sandwich?

Another book that is great for deeper level conversations as students try to decide why that skunk keeps following the main character.  I cannot wait to hear what my students will come up with, as well as what they would do in this situation if a skunk were to follow them home.  I have many of Mac Barnett’s and Patrick McDonnell’s book and love having The Skunk as well

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan is one of those books you can turn to again and again because of the complexity within it.  I have used it to teach Contrast & Contradictions and will now also use it for deeper inferences.  What I love the most is that each child can truly have their own unique interpretation of what the entire book means and I don’t have enough books that allow us to do that.

Yes, I am biased when it comes to Amy Krouse Rosenthal, she was a prolific author and amazing human being who left us much too soon.  But Duck Rabbit is a great inference and discussion book.  The simple text and witty illustrations means that every student is bound to have an opinion in the ongoing debate of whether that is a duck or a rabbit.  I always keep my opinion to myself or change it over and over.

Another wordless picture book on this list is The Red Book by Barbara Lehman.  Again, this levels the playing field for all students as they try to figure out what is happening in the story and have to be careful observers to support their conclusions.  Plus, I just love the message this book sends.

Another favorite is Shhh!  We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton.  I love asking my students what they think will happen if the group succeeds and what their purpose really is.

I know there are so many more out there and will update as I remember them or see them in my own collection. I also asked the question on Twitter, to see the many suggestions click on the link here

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

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.