If you’re like me, your hands are dry and chafed, your dreams are anxious, and your school just cancelled classes until April.
Ugh. Worldwide pandemic is not anything we were expecting. But here we are.
Depending on where you teach, coronavirus may mean you’re scrambling to get more comfortable with Google Classroom, Flipgrid, and Screencastify. Or it may mean you’re wondering just how many of your students have access to internet at home. Or it may mean you’re worried that your students won’t have enough to eat during a break from normal school days.
Today I want to offer some ideas to help you as you prepare for a possible closing at your school. Please pick and choose the ones that apply best to your students; I know every situation is different.
Regardless of what your student population is like, one key piece of advice I picked up as I brainstormed and researched for this post is that it’s really important to reach out specifically to students you know will struggle to complete work without consistent contact with you. Get your system set up and then before, during, and after the break from school, reach out to students who tend to struggle. Send them an email or a postcard. Call their house. Set aside a little of your work time each day for this purpose. Read more about this and find other tips in the article, “Separated By A Screen? Advice For Online Teaching Amid The Coronavirus Outbreak.”
If you prefer, listen in below to the podcast version of this post. Or find it on Apple Podcasts, Sticher, Blubrry, Spotify, or (probably) your other podcast player of choice. Otherwise, read on, my friend!
If your students cannot access the internet from home:
Now might be the time to create a plan and give it out to students, BEFORE your school closes its doors. Perhaps you could create a simple newsletter using a free template like this one on Canva that informs families of how students can keep up with English class, access useful resources, and prepare for coronavirus.
If you’re concerned that your students will not have access to enough food while away from school, consider doing some research on local food pantries and providing information to families about how they might stock up on some staples prior to a period of social isolating. Just slip that information into your newsletter alongside information about coronavirus, hand washing, and ways for students to keep up with their ELA skills.
The key is to distribute some information about what your students should do outside of class BEFORE they disappear, if you can. Because if your students can’t get online, it will be pretty hard to give them books to read, projects to complete, writing to do, etc. once your school shuts down.
This could be the right time for students to engage in the kinds of creative projects you’re always wishing you had time for, like a genius hour project, working on something for a writing contest (here’s a huge list of options for you), participating in the early stages of a nanowrimo-type project, writing performance poetry pieces prior to putting on a community event, trying design thinking, etc.
It could also be a great time for choice reading. If you assign nothing but for students to read one choice book a week while they’re out and complete a one-pager on it, that would be an excellent use of their time. Take them to the library now and help them find books, or let them each check out two or three books from your class library. Take a whole class period to help everyone find good options. A reading contest wouldn’t be a terrible idea. Stir up interest with a few fun prizes, if you’re so inclined.
If your students can access the online world at least a little bit:
Now’s the time to quickly set up a platform where they can find information and assignments while they’re gone. A class Instagram account, a class Facebook group, or a free Blogger blog could all easily get the job done. (Just set up a separate work social profile for yourself so you aren’t inviting them into your personal space online).
A Facebook group just might be the easiest. Inside a private group, you can broadcast live videos, drop links, make posts with assignments, and start discussions. Students can reply with questions and you can answer them. You can even upload assignments to the files, or you can link to Google Docs. Be sure to make it clear you’re not going to be hanging out in your new online space 24/7 – certain office hours and a schedule for when you’ll post assignments will make it easier for students and for you.
Of course, if you’re already using Google Classroom or Flipgrid, then you’ve already got a place online for posting your assignments.
Basically, if your students have access to the internet but it’s not easy for them to hang out there all the time (as in, they’re probably sharing a device with the whole family, or using a phone with a small screen), use this new platform to share information and answer questions, but don’t ask students to be watching video lessons and participating in online discussion forums all the time. Just set up a way to share ideas and then give them things to do that are NOT tech-oriented.
- Read choice books
- Read the book you were going to be reading as a class anyway
- Script a podcast and prepare to record it when they get back
- Do a design thinking project related to the community and coronavirus – considering how their community will be affected and how they (or the whole class) might help the community to bounce back when school reopens
- Write. Any kind of writing project. The writing makerspace comes to mind. It would be a great time for students to draw/paint/sketch/collage/photograph to create a character and then write their story.
- Choose an issue they feel strongly about and write to a local politician about it.
- Document their experience with the coronavirus pandemic – taking photos, drawing, painting, etc. and writing to create a journal of their life at home (someday this period will be in the history books!)
- Write letters to people they care about and send them. Real letters. You could have students snap photos so they can show they completed the assignment.
If your students have full access to the resources of the online world:
If your students are going to be whirling into a full program of online learning, my guess is your school is going to structure it for you and run some PD for how they’d like you to proceed. But if there’s much wiggle room, I suggest you consider incorporating a lot of the great stuff that’s already out there.
Hyperdocs are a wonderful form of online learning. You can create your own or dive into the resources over at hyperdocs.co. Some people call hyperdocs “playlists,” but whatever you call them, they’re basically a kind of digital intellectual amusement park for students. You can add any online activities to them, from watching a video clip and responding to taking an online museum tour and submitting questions about it. You can add anything you can link to. Just start with a Google Doc and start adding links. You can learn much more about this strategy over here.
Maybe it’s time for a deep dive into grammar over at Khan Academy. You could have students watch the videos and then each create a sketchnote version of one concept that could eventually form a student-created grammar unit for future kids at your school.
Ted-Ed has a lot to offer. Or have students select and review Ted Talks around fields and futures that interest them.
My Shakespeare is a wonderful resource where students can find the full text of five popular plays, but also help with interpreting them, visual and audio clips from the plays, and helpful notes. This website could really help support students through a more solo experience of Shakespeare.
I’m hearing a lot about Zoom as a place to meet online.
Personally, I love Screencastify. If you just want to broadcast some instructions and a quick tour of whatever online resources you’re making available to students on a certain day, Screencastify makes it really easy to record your voice and screen at the same time.
Google Classroom is an easy(ish) way to organize your online work. You can give and receive assignments there, and avoid flooding your inbox.
Here’s a list of Ed Companies offering free tools to educators at the moment. Kudos to my friend Angela Stockman (the incredible) for sharing this.
You can join the conversation on this topic in our Facebook group, Creative High School English, if you’d like to hear more about what others are trying and feeling right now.
OK, that’s what I’ve got for tonight! I’m off to go put lotion on my hands and try to sleep. I hope you’re doing alright, and that something in this post is helpful to you. If you’ve got a pantry full of Frozen (the movie) themed chicken noodle soup cans and some flower-scented hand sanitizer you never thought you’d buy on your dresser, you’re not alone.
We’ll get through this.