Over the summer of 2020, Meghan Hargrave and I created and offered a virtual writing program for students entering fourth through seventh grade. Since the program was only five days, we tried to be super efficient with getting to know kids we’d never met, establishing a quick sense of community for all of us. The challenge was even greater since we were working with digital platforms.
All that being said, between the two of us and the additional teachers we hired, we had several opportunities to try out and hone different “first day” getting to know you ideas. We loved using Identity Maps, and I wrote about those as part of the TWT August Blog Series; the post is linked here.
Additionally, our teacher extraordinaire, Darlene Beckert, tried out Wordless Slides, an idea she had gotten from Christina Nosek. Wordless slides might have been my favorite of our activities for getting to know students and inviting them to share information about themselves. I’m sharing a template, but you could tweak and modify it to whatever you’d like it to be. The idea is 4 slides, no words–pictures, drawings, or representations only in the following order:
For a child who doesn’t talk much, we learned quickly that this girl swims, plays volleyball, and loves art, books, and music.
The information on the slides led to conversations about dogs, surfing, favorite beaches, great recipes, book recommendations, and special family memories. We gained valuable insights about our students’ interests and passions that helped guide instruction and feedback for the rest of the week since we knew from the forst half hour of the program some of what mattered to them.
In addition to learning about students, we also learned about their technology skills and capabilities. Could they take and insert a selfie? Upload a picture from their computer? Upload a picture from the internet? We could also tell about the parental controls that could get in the way of some of what we had planned for the week– helpful knowledge to have beforehand!
Donald Graves, an important voice of elementary writing instruction, challenged teachers to know their students before they try to teach them writing. As a coach who is in classrooms for snippets of time, I am constantly reminding myself of this tenant. Throughout the virtual program, I was also leaning on these words. Getting to know students can be challenging no matter what, but virtual platforms add additional difficulties. However, pictures worked well to spark conversations and create inroads for getting to know children.
No matter where or how the year begins for classrooms, getting to know students is one of the most important parts of teaching. Wordless slides worked great!