On August 30, 2020, I put out a call for help. I reached out to some of my Two Writing Teachers co-authors with a plea for collaboration as I was facing a big change and felt ill-prepared.
It had been several years since I had taught kindergarten, but I knew what the job would require. However, like nearly every educator out there, I had not ever done this remotely! My friend and TWT colleague Therapi Kaplan came to my rescue with her teacher friend, Janet Ahn.
That same afternoon, Janet, Therapi, and I met on Zoom. Janet had already been teaching kindergarten remotely after the shutdown, but she was also three weeks deep into her new school year. We began meeting regularly, and Janet became my thought partner and go-to resource as questions began to pop up daily.
Janet and I don’t have all the answers, but across the last four months, we have learned a lot about teaching our youngest writers remotely, and we are eager to share our tips, strategies, and excitement for what is probably the hardest job we’ve ever faced.
Although the word “engagement” is beginning to feel overused and buzzy, it hasn’t become any less important for educators. It may feel harder to accomplish or, at times, difficult to recognize. Here is a conversation where Janet and I toss around ideas and share what is working in our classrooms to engage students.
More ideas to engage or re-engage your students.
Involving students in the decision-making process is one way to give students more ownership within the remote kindergarten classroom. Janet chooses two mentor texts that will allow her to reach her teaching points. She then summarizes each story and engages students in a round of voting. Kindergartners can choose the book they will use first, and Janet saves the second runner up for a different lesson or small group.
Below is a printable set of strategies directly from our instructional practices that have worked to re-engage learners at any point within a lesson.
**Tip: Place into a sheet protector and grab an expo marker. Check off as you go to mix it up!
Here Janet and I share ways we have found we can encourage our students to feel like learners and writers in a community.
As Janet and I continued our conversation, we shared ideas for allowing young writers to explore. In our face-to-face classrooms, exploration would be built in, but in a remote classroom, so much is out of our control. Here are three ways we support exploration with our students.
Get up and Go!
Get students up and exploring resources in their spaces! Whenever possible, encouraging students to find their own mentor texts, explore ideas for topics out their window, or look at photos and share their thinking from their homes allows for an opportunity.
Remote classroom environments are all different, but these differences can create ideas students might never have explored. Set a timer and have students all explore one similar environment–bedroom, kitchen, backyard, or outside. Engage in a shared or interactive writing experience where students are able to practice writing about a sharded environment in different ways.
Allowing students to view themselves as the decision-makers in their writing environment develops their independence and enriches their problem-solving skills.
I want to say thank you to Janet for being my guide on the side, via text message or intermittent Zoom meetings. As I navigate all there is to remote kindergarten, having her help me has grown my practices. With all that we have lost as classroom teachers, no matter if you are face-to-face with students or teaching remotely, the uncertainty of “what next” continues to create stressful work environments. Find your joy where you can. We hope you felt the bits of joy we feel in our classrooms as we continue to move forward.
Daughter, sister, wife, mother, teacher, and writer.