We are teaching in a pandemic. I am teaching first graders who are learning from home. I have decided to use the SOLC as a place to reflect on this experience. I hope this reflection will help me become a better teacher, a better learner, a better literacy coach, and a better person. Maybe it will help others too.
31 Things I’ve Learned from Being a Remote Grade 1 Teacher
I’ve been following Stephanie Harvey for most of my teaching career. I had the honor of listening to her again last night on the TC Supper Club, my weekly meal of professional learning and inspiration. The evening began with a discussion of the professional text Strategies That Work (a text that has been revised three times). I could instantly picture the brick colored book (a later version was green, I think) on the shelves of my first classroom, rubbing up against texts like Mosaic of Thought (Keene and Zimmerman), Lasting Impressions ((Harwayne), Invitations (Routman), The Art of Teaching Writing (Calkins), and so many of my other guides for teaching and learning. I can picture Strategies That Work open on my desk at school and on the dining room table at home on Sundays as I planned for the week ahead. I can picture it in my first reading room, on my desk at the Central Office where I worked as a literacy curriculum coordinator, and today, on the shelf (next to many of her (and her co-authors’) other professional texts in my literacy coach office.
Stephanie (I feel like I know her well enough to call her Stephanie, but not Steph…yet) has guided me and shown me the power of comprehension. She has taught me that we are not teaching reading strategies, but instead thinking strategies. We are teaching children the strategies they need to make meaning from art, music, social situations, mathematics, and reading. This idea has guided my thinking about how to teach, learn, and coach others.
Last night Stephanie shared so much wisdom:
-Address questions, don’t answer them. When you answer a question, you shut down conversation.
-What striving readers need are more comprehension strategies.
-The more you know, the more you wonder.
-We spend most of our lives striving. Only occasionally do we thrive.
-Give kids a wide range of entry points (books, videos, podcasts, images).
And then she said this:
-Follow your students.
I have always believed this. Maybe I started thinking about this because of Stephanie Harvey, who knows? I’ve always believed in the idea (maybe from David Pearson?) of the teacher’s role as one of setting the conditions and getting out of the way. I’ve tried to make my teaching responsive to the children in front of me. I’ve tried not to blindly follow units of study, but to use them as a suggested journey for my students. I’ve tried to be the “guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.”
This year, I’ve been able to put some of these ideas into practice with my first graders. Even through a screen, I’ve worked hard to follow them. They have led me to new places. They have provided new ideas. Stepping aside and following their interests, passions, and meeting their needs has given incredible energy to our classroom. It hasn’t always worked. I’ve followed them down some black holes, but I plan to keep following and hoping for high engagement and high academic and social/emotional success.