content-area writing · COVID-19 · crystal-clear clarity · Multimedia · technology · writing workshop

Lessons and Learning from the 2020-2021 School Year

Some years I’ve learned more than others. I know that when I think back on my teaching career, March 2020 through June 2021 will be a time period that involved a whole lot of learning. I’m guessing many readers share this experience and reflection. As I’ve considered the important takeaways of the year, I’ve tried to distill my top learning experiences, but I’m not sure I can do that. Therefore, this post is not the most important things I’ve learned over the last fifteen months. Instead, it’s just three important things I’ve learned, not necessarily in rank order and not necessarily the most important ones, although important ones for sure! I’d love to read about what you’d add in the comments. Please share! 

  1. Opportunities for and the importance of integrating writing across content areas

Necessity has frequently led to invention in my life, and a mentor used to say, “If you must, you can.” Within our district, we eliminated swaths of writing time, rotating science, social studies, and writing within a single instructional block. Thinking from the perspective of a student, I’d probably want that– science and social studies are more interesting to a lot of kids. But what if within those science and social studies, there were direct and explicit opportunities to write? I wrote a post about this because I created charts throughout the district’s elementary science and social studies units delineating specific ways to offer choices of writing experiences as part of the content-based study. 

I formatted the charts for content areas with opportunities for various genres. That way, teachers and students could have choices as to the type of writing they revisited and practiced.

Content/TopicNarrative OptionInformation OptionOpinion Option
The American ColoniesPretend you are a child living during the colonial days, and write a story about learning how to do something new.Write a short report on the various activities of children who lived during the colonial period. Would you rather have been a girl or a boy during the colonial time period? Explain why.

Recent TWT posts have addressed this concept, as well, and I recommend them highly!

  1. Widened pathways and the  heightened excitement of multimedia options for expression

Throughout our district, everyone– including and maybe even especially students– got better at using technology. Yes, we heard the refrains of “can you see my screen?”, “you’re on mute”, and “I’m having tech issues.” But we also saw students learn how to record without rehearsal, take and share screenshots, and upload video presentations. All of these forms of communication serve as alternatives to alphabetic text which involves paper or keyboards, letters, and words. These alternatives have provided lenses into students’ thought processes and communication abilities without necessarily asking them to “write” anything. For some students this has been freeing and confidence-building, as their thinking processes and verbal skills could be far ahead of their writing abilities. 

Again, there have been recent TWT blog posts about multimedia writing:

  1. Increased awareness and use of learning targets and clarity for students

A good friend taught me that if I want something to get done, I should ask the busiest person I know to do it. I have found the truth in this advice over and over. A recent experience has also shown the power of time constraint. For a couple of months, I have worked with a collaborative group to write an article, and we have a brainstorming document that is full of ideas and potential pathways. However, with two weeks until the deadline, we have a set course and plan for how the piece will go, as well as deadlines for each of us to ensure we complete it by the submission date.

In the spirit of getting a lot done when pressed for time– in this case instructional minutes– it has helped to clarify learning progressions for writing instruction, and the decrease in minutes has also created a sense of urgency for students and teachers alike. With shorter writing units and fewer minutes, there is not time to dilly dally on a piece or spend an entire writing period writing a sentence or two. Instead, I’ve seen clearer communication of “this is what I’m teaching you,” “This is what you should be learning and able to do,” and “This is how we both know you’re successful.” Without the extra time but with the extra clarity, more has gotten done in many situations, including in writing classrooms.

What to keep, what to stop, and what to change? These are questions that I know I will continue to wonder about and discuss with colleagues. For me, the increased technological savviness, multimedia options, and clarity should continue to impact students’ experiences and outcomes in positive ways as I move forward in teaching and learning.

One thought on “Lessons and Learning from the 2020-2021 School Year

  1. Oooh I absolutely love this! The very idea of reflecting together on what we want to keep and want to toss out as we move forward, is HUGE! The use of technology and integration of writing content are a definite YES! I’d also like to go almost paperless; I didn’t miss the photo copy machine one single day! Also, student conferences! I’d like to be able to devote as much time as I did during the pandemic to student conferences and to SEL!

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