All of our lives were turned upside down when Corona hit in March and shut our world down...including our classrooms. Many of us scrambled to make this new way of teaching work, and we worked our butts off for our students! Our summers were given up in the name of preparation for the Fall where many of us are either all virtual or operating on a hybrid model. Although it would be tempting (and somewhat terrifying) to think we need to rewrite our whole curriculum to accommodate online learners, it doesn't have to be that difficult. There is a way to incorporate major portions of our "normal" routine into this new way of teaching.
Response to Reading
Most Language Arts Classrooms have a way that students respond to their reading (mostly in writing) and respond to each others' ideas about the reading. Digital learning has made it very difficult to monitor this with traditional methods. A very successful way to transition this practice to digital is by using Flipgrid.
https://info.flipgrid.com/ (not an affiliate link)
If you have not signed up for Flipgrid, do it as soon as you finish reading this post! Like, immediately. This is such a cool platform and students love it. They can record videos and respond to classmates' videos under topics that you specify. For example:
You might ask your students: In The Giver, how does lack of individuality contribute to the plot of the story? Provide 3 examples from the text to support your answer.
Students can then record their response using texts and graphics to enhance their video. You can require a certain amount of this creativity or not. Then, you can require students to respond to three of their classmates' responses. Give them a prompt like,
"Classmate, I really like how you said _____________. I agree because _____________ (insert example from the text."
This gets students talking about the text even if they are virtual and you can monitor all interactions.
If it already wasn't hard enough to get students engaged when they were sitting right in front of you, now we have to engage them when they can turn off their cameras and could be playing video games in the background. The best way to enhance student engagement from the beginning is to start class with an interesting question that students will enjoy answering. I often tell my students that their answers from this question is how I take attendance. Ask things like:
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
If you could talk to anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
What if your favorite thing this do during <insert season> and why?
Bonus points if you can give a question that connects to what you are reading. You can leave the comments open for all students to see so they can respond to each other then turn them off when it is time to focus on the lesson.
After you have started the lesson, keep your lesson very open to student involvement from the beginning. Don't let that momentum die down. Ask them to give examples, give their thoughts, create a definition right or wrong, ask what they know about a topic, etc. As they are responding, make comments on what they are submitting. Highlight as many positive responses as you can. Ask students to unmute themselves to read their responses. This allows them to feel confident when they answer because they KNOW they are correct if you allow them to share. Be sure to let any reluctant participators or those lacking academic confidence the opportunity to share if their answer is correct.
Class Novels and Paired Texts
Many teachers are struggling with how to provide novel texts to students and how read class novels while learning virtually.
If you can't find your novel in free digital format, then a positive solution would be to do read-alouds with the novel and to pair them with the online learning platforms CommonLit and NewsELA.
As you are reading, allow the students to do something engaging. You could give them engaging discussion questions to put in the comments section as you read, you could give them a one-pager note assignment to focus on a skill or topic, or you could simply ask them to draw their favorite part or complete a page of doodle notes just based on what they hear that interests them.
When finished, ask students to complete a text set you have chosen form CommonLit or NewsELA that aligns with the text. CommonLit has texts specifically paired with texts with popular middle school novels and both platforms have text sets that can align with topics with most any class novel. This will allow you to introduce your students to a variety of texts and to assess specific standards even if you can't get them all a novel digitally.
I've learned with grammar and writing that not much beats teacher instruction and opportunities to ask questions. I have found no platform that could possibly replace a teacher's lesson on these topics, however, other platforms are EXCELLENT for review when getting handouts to students is difficult.
After you have taught a grammar or writing lesson digitally, platforms like NoRedInk, Khan Academy, or IXL can be an easy digital assessment tool to direct your future instruction.
Have any more ideas??
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