Entry #1: March 17th, 2020
We have no doubt that you are feeling overwhelmed by a quickly changing set of circumstances that may include your own families, as well as job expectations and responsibilities. Furthermore, everyone is inundated and overwhelmed with the information, contributions, donations, and content that is available to educators at this unpredictable and unprecedented time.
Much of the content in this letter is captured in the video that Clare Landrigan, a member of our Slice of Life Story Challenge community and a valued colleague and friend, and Melanie Meehan recorded, so if you’d prefer to watch us talk about it, feel free! (If nothing else, you might laugh at the picture of the two of us with our eyes closed before the video starts playing!)
Some of the best advice ever given to Melanie was when you feel like speeding up, slow down. We’ll say that again. If you’re feeling like speeding up, slow down. Ground yourself in what you know because you know so much.
First of all, you know your kids. And besides their immediate caregivers, you may know them better than anyone. You know how you left them… thinking you’d see them sooner rather than later. You know what you were planning to teach them this week. You know what chapter you left off in your read aloud or what picture book you read last together. You know how they learn. You know what is worrying them. You probably know a whole lot more than that. More importantly, they know you. They need you now more than ever.
Teaching is not for the faint of heart. It is more than a list of hyperlinks and a schedule. A teacher creates learning experiences through the art and science of pedagogy. We are working to create a space to support one another with how you are going to make this come to life for your students. Each of you has a curriculum you need to teach. It is important that your students continue to have a consistent, cohesive curricular experience. Let’s face it, students have enough change to deal with right now. They need to use the same strategies, cueing systems, and skill sequence. Even though there is a growing number of online resources and experiences for students, lots of varied input right now might not be in the best interest of students. You need to figure out how you are going to use the resources and balance consistency as you help their caregivers create a living, learning community in their home.
Clare and Melanie spent time thinking about conditions that lead to learning for all people, regardless of age and stage. Tomorrow, we will share those conditions. For right here, right now, consider Clare’s letter that she wrote for parents on her Slice of Life post a few days ago. (How was this only a few days ago?) Here is the link to a letter Clare wrote to parents. You are free to adapt this if you find it useful.
We want to support you on this journey. Neither of us have young ones at home, so we want to be here for you. Furthermore, as the rest of the TWT team develops their routine, we will all be contributing, listening, and working together to continue the mission of uniting our community of teachers as we inspire and guide writers. We do not know exactly how this will work. We plan to listen and respond to your needs as you share them. We want to create a quiet, reflective, collaborative space to connect around students and how you plan to bring writing to life virtually.
Be safe and well,
Melanie Meehan and Clare Landrigan
P.S. Comments are closed on this page. If you’d like to reach out to us with a question or comment, please e-mail us directly.
- Melanie Meehan: meehanmelanie[at]gmail[dot]com
- Clare Landrigan: clare.landrigan[at]gmail[dot]com
ENTRY #2: March 18, 2020
As a follow-up to our initial letter, let’s talk about the craft of teaching – the mentor teaching moves we need to get through this together. We may all have different curricular maps and programs, but we all face the same question of how to bring the curriculum to life in a meaningful, responsive, and manageable way. Together we can think through how we are going to make this happen while keeping our students’ developmental needs and best practice in mind.
Let’s ground ourselves in what we know is essential to learning regardless of age, regardless of content, regardless of circumstance. We know first and foremost we need engagement. Engagement leads to meaningful, purposeful learning for the pure love of learning. After talking it through, we are proposing three broad considerations (rule of three always works for a writer) that we want to keep in mind as we support one another in designing online learning experiences for students: time, agency, and interaction.
As we move forward, it will be critical to think about time and several factors of it. In the beginning of the year, we all establish schedules and routines for our classrooms that provide stability for students. They will need this again. Predictability comes from schedules, and, especially when life feels bumpy, schedules help us all feel safer and more grounded. While there will need to be flexibility in how the online schedule is designed, it will be important that students understand and expect some sort of routine in their learning lives.
There is so much research that supports the importance of agency for students. When we think about agency, we consider the decisions students make for themselves. What will they be learning about? Inquiry projects may be something to explore in this unchartered territory. Many students may have been participating in research clubs, and that sort of work could continue through virtual materials and on-line interactions. Students will need to learn safe ways to meet up. Since they are digital natives, this may be easier for them than we’d think.
What goals do students have? Maybe you’ve explored goal-setting in classrooms and reflection for working toward those goals. Perhaps checking in on goals becomes part of the daily routine for you and your students. Maybe it’s even a separate document where students have responsibility for reflecting on their progress and maintaining an action plan.
What about expectations? How do they know what the expectations are for whatever they are doing? Learning progressions are powerful tools for setting up expectations and establishing clarity for students to know and understand their progress and next steps. Progressions work hand in glove with goals, and they support agency. While virtual learning feels overwhelming, maybe it can also feel empowering, as it has the potential to offer students more ownership of their learning lives.
Relationships matter. You have had time to build your communities, and your students will need them more than ever. Teaching is not easy. If it could be done by computers, we’d have moved to that model a while ago. Children crave interactions and they need relationships and responses in order to learn academically and grow as members of a community. They need each other to continue to consider alternative points of view and understand the multiplicity of our world. You are the experts on your students. No one else. It is time to take a moment and create space to think about your students, to connect with your students, to hear what they are thinking and feeling.
Just as relationships matter, instruction also matters. Children learn when they pay attention to people who matter to them, and people who matter to them are the ones they know in person, in real life. You may be coming through on a computer screen for some time, but they know you, and they want to learn from and with you.
You may want to start with a letter or video to your students and parents. You could also invite them to write you a letter, sharing how they’ve been handling life over the last several days. They most likely need to see you, connect with you, and know you are there for them.
Be safe and well,
Melanie Meehan and Clare Landrigan
Entry #3: March 19, 2020
When the two of us first started talking about pedagogy and the planning teachers need to do right now, we had far more questions than answers. We discovered it was helpful to just start writing all the questions down. The process of naming all the things we knew teachers had to consider – the roadblocks and the unknowns- gave us permission and opened the floodgates to start thinking. There is so much initial assessment to be done… assessment of the situation, of the learners, and of the tools and requirements dictated by the district. We realized teachers are going to need to differentiate how they design and implement online learning – just like they do every day in classrooms.
We moved quickly to thinking about time. How can families be encouraged to involve students in the process of creating a daily schedule? There are so many sample schedules online. While it is great to share these with families as samples, each family will have different constraints. Given that choice and agency increase engagement, students will feel more control if they are involved in the creation of schedules. Families have to figure out how to make online learning manageable in their home, and they need time to do this. Schedules should evolve, and that’s okay!
Teachers also need to think about time in relation to their students and their own families. How will teachers find time to plan and connect with colleagues? When will they have online face time with students? Will any time be live? How much will be recorded? How much time should students be doing “school work” during the day? Will they have breaks? What other types of enrichment could they do in their home, outside, and online? How flexible will schedules be? We bring these questions up not to confuse, but to guide in complex and unchartered thinking processes.
And what about social emotional learning? What about just listening to students? Those small moments that happen throughout the day are priceless and not really replicable, but are there ways for students to just respond. Time to talk, exercise, do yoga or whatever it is that makes them feel calm will be more important than ever. Maybe plan for daily jokes…laughing has so many benefits.
The way teachers use time is a craft. We have no doubt that teachers will continue to develop that craft by planning, revising, and replanning how to manage time with online learning. Flexibility, creativity and structure will all be important, but simplicity is essential. There are many digital tools that will help organize time. Like anything else, less is more. Finding a few tools to start will help everyone feel grounded and successful.
If you want to learn more about teaching literacy in this digital age and tools that are available, we recommend the #G2Great Twitter Chat with Kristin Ziemke & Katie Muhtaris tonight on 3/19 at 8:30 pm EST. You can also check out their website.
Additionally, tomorrow, which is Friday, March 20, you can join us for coffee! We will have a live Zoom meeting at 8:00 am EST. If you are interested in talking, planning and brainstorming over coffee, email Clare.Landrigan@gmail.com and she will send you the link.
We look forward to learning with all of you.
Melanie and Clare
Entry #4: March 22, 2020
Many of the March 2020 slices have revealed how many of us are missing our patterns, routines, and connections. One slicer wrote about the morning interactions between him and his custodian, another about listening to the morning piano playing of a colleague. Another slicer talked about the connections she watched her daughters have as they interacted with their dance teacher. Our slices connect us, even if it’s in an aynchronous way. (Who could have predicted how adept we’d get at using that word?)
The complexity of what is coming our way is still evolving as is our vision for the purpose of this space on the website. Two Writing Teachershas always been a place for sharing stories and practices for writing instuction. We now want to provide a way for synchronous connection and response. How do we step back and make sense of so much content and so much new learning, for students, families, and teachers? How do we heighten the importance of writing during this historical time in our world? How do we make all of this simple, accessible, and equitable for everyone? We will be hosting interactive Zoom meetings twice a week for the time being, and we’d love for people to join in the conversation. We are craving stories and response more now than ever before. Please consider sharing yours with us.
We decided not to record these meetings, since the primary purpose right now is synchronous connection and response. We will try to recap and record the threads of our conversation to share on this page. Here is the recap of our first Zoom meet-up from Friday, March 20:
We will host another one on Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m. EDT. This time, instead of morning coffee, we invite you to join us with an afternoon beverage of choice. On Thursday, we will go back to morning coffee at 8 a.m. EDT. If you’d like to join us, please reach out to Clare at Clare.Landrigan@gmail.com and she will send you the link to the first 100 people who respond.
Entry #5: March 27, 2020
In this video, Clare sums up some of the themes from the conversations of the week.
We will continue our conversations through Zoom meetings. We meet for a half hour, and in the spirit of recognizing the schedule variation and time differences of the community, we will meet at 8:00 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, and at 4:00 p.m. EDT on Thursday.
Entry #6: March 30, 2020
Clare has been writing insightful, reflective, and important letters to parents on her blog during this 2020 SOLSC. In her third letter, she considers what are the “right lessons” for kids during this time and reminds us to think about what kids will remember from this time in their lives.
David Brooks, in his New York Times OpEd, has a related message:
Viktor Frankl, writing from the madness of the Holocaust, reminded us that we don’t get to choose our difficulties, but we do have the freedom to select our responses. Meaning, he argued, comes from three things: the work we offer in times of crisis, the love we give and our ability to display courage in the face of suffering. The menace may be subhuman or superhuman, but we all have the option of asserting our own dignity, even to the end.
I’d add one other source of meaning. It’s the story we tell about this moment. It’s the way we tie our moment of suffering to a larger narrative of redemption. It’s the way we then go out and stubbornly live out that story. The plague today is an invisible monster, but it gives birth to a better world.
If you have time, both pieces are worth reading. Please also join us as we continue to host Zoom meetings for reflections and processing. This week, we will meet on Tuesday, March 31 at 8:00 a.m. EDT, and at 4:00 p.m. EDT on Thursday, April 3. We’ll focus the conversation a bit on ways students have been or could be using and sharing their writing.
Please email Clare Landrigan at Clare.Landrigan@gmail.com and she will send you the link to join.
Entry #7: April 6, 2020
We will continue to keep our three threads – time, interaction and agency – going with conversations on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. This week, we will share ideas, perhaps with a focus on how we are inviting students to author their own reading/writing lives. How are you setting students up to give each other meaningful responses? How can the definition of writing broaden? What could be the role of writing in the current set of circumstances? Let’s consider ways students have been or could be using and sharing their writing.
Our conversations take place on Zoom, and if you’d like an invitation, please fill out this Google form.