Keep it Real During School Closures

I want you to take a breath and then blow it out really slowly.  Oh my goodness me.  What an amazing and overwhelming week it has been!  As I contemplate what learning might look like for our students at home during school closures I feel that I have to make a few points:

  • Learning at home is NEVER going to be what it is in your classroom.  The suggestion that you can prepare some worksheets or web addresses and student learning will continue as normal is a fantasy. The thing that makes learning happen is YOU!  You are a dedicated, talented individual who has studied for at least 4 years and built up a repertoire of skills to help your students acquire skills and knowledge and then use them.  To suggest that we can replace you with some bits of paper is rather ludicrous.
  • Students and families are experiencing the same pressures that we are, and they are less equipped to manage schooling at home at short notice than we are to deliver it.  Asking parents to deliver new learning to their children (when they barely feel able to support homework) puts really unfair pressure on the whole family.  In addition, expecting families to engage their children in educational activities for 5 hours each day, especially when there is more than one child is plain crackers.
  • Student ‘work’ over these next weeks (or months) will likely be more about maintenance of skills and knowledge and useful utilisation than continuing along the learning path that you started down during Term 1.
  • Students working from home CAN be successful if we are strategic about what we focus on.  Think about what is needed to ensure the smoothest return possible when your school reopens and devote energy to maintaining systems that are already in place in your classroom.
  • Sustainable systems for learning are your best friend right now.  Parents need a simple checklist to work through with children. Trust me, our family has engaged in distance ed with three different schools and complicated has certainly NOT been welcome.

So, how can you ensure that all of the hard work you and your students have done over term 1 is not totally wasted and avoid a whole bunch of ‘busy work’ worksheets?   Here are my suggestions for supporting your students if your school is closed.

Reading

We know that reading is fundamental to all areas of learning so maintaining and deepening reading is really important.  You don’t have to abandon your evidence-based practice because you are teaching from a distance or online.   

Novice Readers

Website – Choose a website or app that fits as closely as possible with your school’s current phonics program.  There is no point sending your student off to be exposed to a whole bunch of sounds or approaches that conflict with your classroom program.  That is a recipe for confusion and frustration.   There are a bunch of suggestions out there. I will throw my oar in and identify Phonics Hero as one that I have used.  It teaches sounds, words, then sentence level reading and will keep your students’ phonics learning on track.

Live sessions via Skype or Zoom – I tutor a student every week using Zoom. I use PowerPoint to deliver the material to his computer screen.  PowerPoint replaces the cards or physical materials that you might use in the classroom. Schedule a 20-30 minute session per ‘group’ based on how you would group children in the class.  You can record Zoom sessions and make them available for parents to view at a time that works for them if they can’t be available when you are live.   Be mindful though not to record children’s faces if you are going to distribute the lessons to others.  Zoom can be accessed on any device making it a great option for families.  Remember though, that video uses up a lot of data so be mindful if families don’t have unlimited wi-fi at home.

Physical Resources and pre-recorded lessons – It may be necessary to provide physical resources rather than online options if families do not have access to the internet. Provide sound cards on A4 paper for families to cut out and use. You can record lessons that parents can show on a computer or the USB port on their televisions.  Keep these recordings as close to your regular classroom routines as possible. This not only helps you but helps children as the structure of the learning will already be familiar.  Join with another teacher to share the load of recording lessons and share the love with anyone who can use it.

Decodable reading material

Accompany any reading material with a quick video showing parents who to support their children as they read and what to do if they get stuck.

Paper based – There are lots of options for paper based decodable reading passages popping up online.  You can provide these in paper format if needed but also electronically for children to access on a screen. Paper based reading is better, but a PDF on a screen gets the job done. 

https://www.sel.k12.oh.us/Downloads/teachers_rb.pdf

Phonics International Unit 1 is free and includes PDF decodable reading materials (http://www.phonicsinternational.com/unit1.html)

http://www.phonicsinternational.com/unit1_pdfs/sounds_book_unit_1_combined.pdf

http://www.phonicsinternational.com/unit1_pdfs/sentences_unit_1_combined.pdf

http://www.phonicsinternational.com/unit1_pdfs/i_can_read_unit_1_combined.pdf

http://www.phonicsinternational.com/unit1_pdfs/an_Icanreadpic_1_combined.pdf

If you are engaging with students via Zoom or Skype you can have them read to you a few times each week so that you can keep up with their reading progress.  If all else fails, you can each have a copy of the text and have them read it to you over the phone!


Electronic – I know if a few good sources of decodable texts in an electronic format, although I know that others will have many more suggestions.

Decodable Readers Australia https://www.decodablereadersaustralia.com.au/apps/ (paid product)

SPELD SA Phonics books (both PDF and Electronic) https://www.speld-sa.org.au/services/phonic-books.html (Free)

Reading A-Z https://www.readinga-z.com/books/decodable-books/ (paid product with a free trial)

More Proficient Readers

The same advice applies for phonics and morphology teaching as for phonics teacher for novice readers.  See above.

Reading Material

If you have class sets of suitable books then this is a rather easy one.  You can send everyone home with a book and assign work associated with the book that you can support via online sessions or paper based materials. 

If you don’t have class sets of books you can either print short stories or provides links to them for parents to access. Be mindful that printing costs for families can be high so if you want children accessing something in paper format give it to them.

Andy Griffiths has three short stories available as PDFs online

http://www.andygriffiths.com.au/wp-content/uploads/extracts/justtricking-extract.pdf

http://www.andygriffiths.com.au/wp-content/uploads/extracts/justannoying-extract.pdf

http://www.andygriffiths.com.au/wp-content/uploads/extracts/juststupid-extract.pdf

Other books can be found in PDF format online.

Roald Dhal’s the Twits https://epdf.pub/the-twits.html

Matilda http://jssisdubai.com/Document/Uploaded/Matilda.pdf

It’s great to have access to reading material, but then what?Have students write chapter summaries and share them with someone. 

If you can connect with your students online you can have them do reader’s theatre online and teach using a text based approach such as in my Text Based Unit.  Breakout rooms online mean that children can work collaboratively in a digital space.

Give students a repeatable set of tasks to do such as those found on a choice board.

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Fiction-Choice-Board-Activities-Menu-Tic-Tac-Toe-Reading-Response-3073136 ($3 from Teachers Pay Teachers)   You can also write your own related to what students have been learning in class.  You write it once and the tasks are repeated for each book the student reads. This option is more suitable for a short story than a long novel that will take a couple of weeks to read.

Writing

Such a hard one if you can’t connect with your students electronically.   If you can hook up with them via Zoom or Skype, then you can follow the 8 step sequence I have shared before to model writing and help children have a jumping off point. Simply telling kids to ‘write every day’ without scaffolding that process will more than likely create frustration for children and their parents.

Of course, if you have a class of avid creative writers you can create a class blog and share writing with each other!  Edublog has great features including limited who can see what and is easy to navigate. https://edublogs.org/

Rather than trying to introduce a whole new unit while your school is closed, consolidate learning and extend it.  Having to pull back on the scope of your teaching might actually create an opportunity do some of the things that you have wanted to but haven’t had the time such as creating class books or providing some extra one to one time to those students you know really need it.

A Word About Struggling Learners

It is really important to remember that anything you ask children do to at home can be done independently.  Be very selective about what you send home for your vulnerable students and keep tasks where they will need extra support for your online sessions if you have them.   If students do not have access to the internet, give them a call and just have a chat.  Maintain your relationships with students as much as possible.  This also helps families feel supported as well.   Very often, the families of our struggling students don’t feel confident about their own learning. Remember that they might just as vulnerable as their children.

If you are able to connect with student online, this closure might just be the perfect time to really give them some extra attention and individual instruction. The classroom is such a busy place.  Being able to scale back on whole group teaching activities might well give you the chance to spend the time you have been craving helping the students who always seem to miss out.   You can learn more about providing intervention to your struggling readers here.

Other Online Opportunities

Create Online Storytime

While it is important to have children continue to learn to read themselves, it is also important that they continue to engage in story for the sheer joy of it.   You could combine with one or two other classes and take turns hosting ‘story time’ for any child who wants to log on.  You can encourage participation by asking children to bring a household item to be a prop or wear a funny hat or someone other idea (I am certain you have better ones than I do right now).  You can also provide parents with links to online stories if they are unable to get out to the library or pick up resources from school.

Maintain Connection

Out of sight, out of mind is a very real thing.  When your class and school are all in their own homes and not physically together it can be easy to lose touch with each other. You can maintain connect with a couple of simple ideas.

  1. Continue your weekly assembly online
  2. Create a ‘fun meeting space’ online where children can be separated into breakout rooms (a feature of the paid Zoom site) to play games and connect with each other
  3. Have ‘dad joke’ time
  4. Create email penpals or similar so that students can keep up with what is happening in each other’s lives
  5. Have students create digital ‘gifts’ – PowerPoints with cheery messages, record voice messages or create funny videos for each other.
  6. Create helping challenges and encourage children to perform simple acts of kindness with those at home and in the community (from a distance of course).
  7. Remember that parents need connection too. Your school could host an adult ‘coffee club’ time where parents can bring a cuppa and connect with each other. Keep a theme to this and have a teacher or member of leadership run it so that things stay positive.

This is already a VERY long post but I want to encourage you to provide regular (daily to start with) time for parents to ask questions and check in with you about the work that their children are doing.   They can email you, but you could also have a time where they connect online so that you can explain the work to come and model how they can support their children.  Remember that they aren’t teachers and will likely be feeling very out of their depth. 

Remember, start small. Give yourself and your students time to adjust.  You don’t have to do it all on the first day.

You are a highly valued member of our profession and the community, even though you might not feel like that is the case right now.  Remember that you are a force of positivity in your students’ lives. 

Keep your head up, make a list (that always helps) and take things one step at a time.  You and your students are going to be ok.

2 thoughts on “Keep it Real During School Closures”

  1. Jocelyn, thank you so much for providing this very timely post. I especially felt uplifted by your first dot point. We do make the difference and we all need to remember that. The morale of so many teachers is at an all time low right now and they are being asked to go above and beyond. The kind of support and advice you have offered through this post is invaluable. Thank you!

  2. Thank you so much for this timely article. Teachers are struggling to deliver learning in this new environment and many that I work with are drowning in a sea of emails and requests for feedback from anxious students and parents. I will certainly share this article with my staff who are all amazing and working so hard to do the best they can to support our students.
    I look forward to reading more articles as we move to remote learning for an extended period.

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