Rethinking Materials, Routines, and Collaboration: What Does Independence and Interdependence Look Like From Home?

It has been a hard week. Your teaching has been turned upside down and to say you are overwhelmed is probably an understatement. You have been tirelessly preparing students for state tests, have finally found a way to move a struggling writer and have built relationships with students that are suddenly severed.

The students who rely on you each day, the ones who are constantly asking questions, looking for positive affirmations, and seeking the scaffolds you provide, are now left to their own devices. As I thought through this new reality, some ideas for how we can help students came to mind. Below are some practical ways to bring the comforts of your classroom home. 

Materials 

  • Digital Classroom Environment – Create a simple digital platform with pictures of charts and supports that students are used to using in your classroom. This could include anchor charts, word walls, work samples, alphabet charts, etc.  If it is too late to take pictures of your classroom, sketch some out on a sheet of paper or upload images that look similar. You might even put out a request for students to help you create this.
  • Home Anchor Charts – Suggest that students find a place at home where they can post “anchor charts” (a.k.a. sheets of white paper with your teaching points). You might tell them what to put on this or could see it as an opportunity for students to transfer your teaching by updating a personal anchor chart with their own language.
  • Student Notebooks – You might be tempted to have students do everything online, especially for our upper grade and middle school students. This works for some but for others it could be an interruption to volume and stamina, especially if they have been handwriting all year. Remind students who feel pressure to type that they can hand write assignments and take a picture to share. Encourage primary writers to make their own writing paper by drawing in picture boxes and lines. Having students record themselves writing-in-the-air (oral rehearsal) is another great option. 
  • “Silent Teachers” – Encourage students to use any tools they have access to (hard copies or digital, depending on what they were able to take home). Remind them to regularly ask, “What am I working on?” and “What do I have to help?” Have students make their workspace “messy” and fully prepped with tools for independence before they get started.

Routines

  • Workshop Routine – Try your best to keep this the same.  Many of you have been sharing minilessons you’ve been recording for students to watch. Keep the structure of your lesson the same, including embedded processing time. Your turn and talk could become, “stop and think,” or “stop and tell your dog.” Keep it light and don’t feel the need to record long lectures or to do anything different than you would if students were live. For conferring you could call a few students, meet them on a Google Doc or even ask a small group to join you on a Google Hangout. Your teaching share might be a class symphony share over Zoom or the suggestion to read writing to a sibling or caregiver. 
  • Work Plans – One of my favorite lessons to teach is a “Job Captain” lesson, instruction on how to make a work plan for independent practice. Encourage students to get in the habit of making a “to-do” list for the workshop and suggest that they jot a “keep-working-on list” once finished for the day. Those of you who teach younger students might make some possible work plans for your primary students and share them with parents. Feel free to start by offering the two I shared below.

 Collaboration

  • Digital Learning Partners – Establishing virtual partnerships will support independence and keep your community together, this is especially important as students work in isolation. Have partnerships set a schedule for checking-in, maybe this will be each morning and afternoon or at the beginning and end of workshop. Imagine a FaceTime call between two kindergartners sharing their writing or two seventh graders asking each other questions about the lesson … amazing! 
  • Digital Office Hours – Set times that students can request to touch base with you. You might make a weekly schedule for a five minute call with each student or establish a chunk of time that students can “request” teacher-time. There is no doubt that your students will miss you, setting aside time to connect will give everyone a little peace of mind.
Digital Learning Partners

I want to acknowledge that some of these ideas require internet and technology that students might not have access to. Here are a few ideas, if students don’t have access to a device. Think about ways to utilize the phone. A group text chain with your class, partner check-ins and students sharing a picture of what they are working on, are all simple ways to connect.  If internet access is a concern, know that cable companies are working hard to help by offering free internet and mobile hot spots, as well as suspending internet data caps.

Let’s try to see this as an opportunity, albeit an unwelcome one. An opportunity for students to grow as independent learners, an opportunity for us to come together as educators and an opportunity to rethink the ways we’ll be able to support students for years to come.

This is a challenging time none of us could have ever expected. Take one day at a time. Give yourself the start of this week find your groove with technology and teaching from home. Remind yourself that you don’t have to be perfect right now, accept failure as you try new things and be open to figuring it out as you go. Anything you do, and anything students do during this crazy time, is worth celebrating.

Meghan Hargrave is a passionate educator with a love for all things teaching and learning. She recently moved back to the midwest and started her own education consulting and coaching business after many years working with Teachers College Reading and Writing Project as a Senior Staff Developer.  You can follow her on Instagram, @letmeknowhowitgoes,  and on Twitter, @mmhargrave.