Fall is for Me

Pumpkins,

Gourds, all colors and crazy shapes.

Cider,

Leaves, bright yellow, red, and orange.

Apples,

Cider doughnuts, applesauce, and pie.

Farm visits,

Fun, even with masks and no hayrides.

Cooler temperatures,

Bright skies, brisk wind, and sweaters.

Fall is my kind of season.

Fall is for me.

Finding Their Voice

My first graders (who are learning from home right now) have opinions, ideas, and are really funny, so it took my by surprise to read their first pieces of writing. For the most part, the writing (a personal narrative across three pages) was focused, well organized, and the spelling was pretty conventional. The sketches were detailed and a few students added labels. I guess that’s all pretty good for early first grade writers, but I was surprised by the lack of voice.

Where was S’s love of frogs, T’s love for numbers, A’s great sense of humor, and the other A’s quiet, but strong personality? Did they think that writing was about being organized and spelling the words correctly? What could I do to show them how to put themselves on the page?

I decided to ask my first graders to find an object in their home that is important to them. I’ve asked them to bring the object to our Zoom meet tomorrow (I’m curious to see what they bring! I may end up with dogs and baby brothers.). Maybe if I have my students share their objects and talk about why these objects matter to them, and then ask them to tell a story that involves the object, I’ll see more of their personalities, and hear more of their beautiful voices.

We’ll see what happens!

How much?

I’m currently a distance learning teacher. I teach incoming first graders on Zoom. Our day together starts at 9:00 and goes until 11:45. The second half of the day consists of a special and some at home work that I assign. Every other Wednesday will be asynchronous learning for students while we teachers have grade level meetings, professional development, and some planning time. The kids in my first grade class are beyond adorable and they (and their families) are working so hard, but I keep wondering how much is enough and how much is just too much for this kind of on screen learning for our youngest learners.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve attended a lot of webinars and workshops and meetings and family Zoom calls over the past six months, and I have trouble staying focused when these sessions go beyond two hours even when the content is interesting and meaningful and the speaker is dynamic (If I’m being honest, I’d say an hour might be my max right now.).

I’m trying to make my Zoom teaching and learning look and feel like the good in-school workshop teaching and learning that we have been striving for when we are in the building. I try to engage students in the learning, teach them something, try it together, and then send them off to work independently. I end each section of the day by calling everyone back at for some kind of share. This goes pretty well during the first part of our morning, but as we near the break, I can see that kids are getting tired, they take a while to come back to the screen, some keep their cameras off for a bit longer. The break seems to help, but after another 30 or so minutes on screen again, I can see the attention fading (theirs and mine). I give a movement break, I try to be more entertaining, I try to schedule more active learning, but they are tired.

Maybe it’s just the beginning of the year.

Maybe the kids just need to build stamina.

Maybe I need to find new ways to engage them and hold their attention.

Maybe I should cut back.

Maybe it’s too easy.

Maybe it’s too hard.

This will be my year’s work, so I’ll be tweaking and tuning until we get it just right.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

We are in this together!

First Day

Today was my first day teaching a group of first graders who have chosen to start the year learning remotely. I haven’t been a classroom teacher in a long time. I haven’t taught math in an even longer time, and I’ve never taught a class of children virtually.

So….I was nervous.

Would Zoom work? Would I be able to see all the children? Would I be able to share my screen and use the document camera and read aloud and use breakout rooms? Would we be able to build the kind of connected community that we need to do our work? Would my first graders be able to mute and unmute and access their Google Classroom and Google Calendar? Would they remain engaged for 2 hours ad 45 minutes? Would I be able to stay energized and focused for 2 hours and 45 minutes? And what about the parents? They are kind of in my classroom too? Would they be on screen? Would they be watching?

So….I was nervous.

9:00 came. Children started entering the Zoom call. We introduced ourselves. We danced. We sang. We read. We wrote. We even did some math. Zoom worked. Videos played. Most of the kids found their Google Calendars. Parents came when needed, and stood back when kids were independent.

I couldn’t have asked for a better start.

So….I’m still nervous, but I have hope.

What’s Essential

What’s essential?

We have just over an hour each day to teach literacy in our new hybrid schedule.  Just over an hour to teach reading, writing, and phonics/word work.  Just over an hour to fit in Read Aloud, Shared Reading, Interactive Writing, Guided Reading, Strategy Groups, and or course Independent Reading and Writing.  Just over an hour to hold conferences, get to know our students, and complete assessments.

What’s essential?

As Literacy Coaches, we’ve spent part of the summer trying to figure this out in an effort to help teachers make decisions in their planning this fall.  This has really driven us to ask, over and over, “What is essential?”  We’ve tried to curate units of study by selecting the most important lessons, we’ve looked across a week (instead of a day) to make sure we are including the most essential elements of Balanced Literacy.  We’ve reconsidered pacing and the number of units we might teach in a year. We’ve tried to plan for some flipped lessons where students prepare at home for what will be taught live at school, and we’ve thought about what can be done independently compared to what really needs to be taught in the classroom.

All the literacy work seems important, essential even, but this situation is forcing us to look hard at the work we do and make decisions about what really matters for kids.  In the long run, I think working with teachers to make decisions about what is essential  will have a powerful payoff.  Another silver lining in these difficult times.