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How I Plan to Structure my classroom in a hybrid model

Our district, like many across the country, is going to a hybrid model for middle and high school students. Half the school will go to class Mondays and Wednesdays, with online learning Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the other half will go to school Tuesdays and Thursdays, with online learning Mondays and Wednesdays. Everyone will be home for synchronous distance learning Fridays. Because I will physically see my students (each set) two days a week for 45 minutes, that will change a lot of how I deliver curriculum and support students.

At first I wanted to bury my head in the sand and not think about it at all until late August, when we go back, but I feel it will cause a lot of stress later if I don’t even think and start to put some things in place now. I also know that so many things are up in the air right now and the district’s plan will most likely be changed as a result. My new motto this year is flexibility and grace.

So, below are five ideas I am thinking about and going to start doing before I go back in eight weeks. Regardless of the current hybrid model, or the real possibility of going to full distance learning, I will be able to use these five ideas.

1. Create a homepage for my class using Google Sites.

Everything that is posted on Classroom has a category (independent reading, weekly newsletter, classwork, etc.). This has been helpful in terms of organization, but not when a student is trying to find the assignment to do, especially if notifications are turned off. Google Sites will allow me to have major announcements, class materials, etc. housed there and Classroom for just the assignments. That way, students can easily find what activity/assignment they need to do.

2. Convert as many PDFs to digital documents.

I started to do this with my resources on Teachers Pay Teachers, and if you purchased any resource from me (or from other TpT authors), see if it’s updated to a digital version. If you have your own PDFs or Word documents you want students to complete digitally, but aren’t sure how to convert, this video is a helpful tutorial.

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Teacher Self-Care

Week 6. Can I be honest and say this is hard? I put on a brave face and a smile, but inside, I am anything but. My anxiety, which I have tried so hard to maintain and keep at bay these past few years, has decided to come out of the woodworks. I am stress eating. I am not sleeping well. I am worried. It is not just my own two children I think about, but all 180 students under my care. Am I assigning meaningful work for them? Is it too much? Too little? When I comment on their work, exactly what should I write since I can’t say it in person, and I know words can be taken the wrong way? When students aren’t engaged, what is going on in their world that is causing them not to complete the work? (And there are so many reasons for this beyond they don’t care, which I don’t believe.) How am I connecting with students when I can’t see them in person? How do I continue to help their emotional well-being while trying to maintain their reading and writing skills?

Distance learning has put so much more out of my control, but what I can control is how I respond. I can create empathy, understanding, and grace for my students and their parents. But I can’t do that if this anxiety, worry, and stress get the better of me. Self-care means so many things, but here are three things that have been working for me. Putting them in place these past few weeks have helped my frame of mind. Made me worry less and be proactive more. Allowed me to be there for my students because my well-being was centered.

  1. Exercise. This seems like a no-brainer, but exercise creates endorphins that stimulate the brain and body. Since I can no longer go to the gym, I walk outside, rain or shine. 3 miles later I am ready to tackle the day. I purposely set my alarm early so that I not only get exercise out of the way (honestly, it’s not my favorite thing to do), but I get an early start to the day.
  2. Read. Immersing yourself in another world helps take your mind off the troubles of this one…at least temporarily. I have been reading some new YA books recommended to me by students and librarians, and I am listening to audiobooks with my own children. (I read When the Sea Turned to Silver a few years ago and when I saw it on our library’s list of audiobooks, I quickly checked it out. We just finished listening to it yesterday and it has become my 9-year-old son’s new favorite book.)
  3. Do something you love. For me, that’s baking and decorating sugar cookies. It not only relieves stress, but it puts me in my happy place. And that is certainly a good place to be.

What things are you doing to take care of yourself? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Teaching Grammar Online

Nothing like being sheltered in place to force one to try new online tools! In my classroom, the technology and online tools I use are Google Classroom, Kahoot, Quizlet, and Padlet. So far in the past two weeks I have used Flipgrid and (both new to me).

Before moving online, I was very aware of how much time students spent in front of a screen. My middle school students travel to seven different classes a day, and if each of those classes had 20-30 minutes on their Chromebook, that would be 140-210 minutes of screen time just in the school day. That doesn’t factor in their cell phone use or homework later in the evening that might require a computer. Our school’s history, math, and science textbooks have now all gone digital. So I was old-school, having students bring novels and paper to school. (Yes, students could read an ebook or follow along in an audiobook when we had independent reading time, and all essays were typed, but I really thought about how much time I was having them in front of a screen when creating assignments.)

All to say that because I was aware of this, I hadn’t tried the latest and greatest apps or newest educational tools (and there are so many, it feels overwhelming!). But with our new reality, things have shifted. Besides connecting with students and caring about their emotional health and well-being, my number one academic goal was for students to keep reading. I didn’t want them to lose what we had spent so long cultivating and maintaining all year–developing a reading habit. My second academic goal was to keep writing, and to do so as authentically as possible, with as much direct feedback as I could give.

My teaching partner actually introduced me to Quill, as he heard about it from Jim Burke and Kelly Gallagher (my teacher heroes!). This site helps students work on their grammar to be better writers. I gave a basic diagnostic test two weeks ago and was able to see not only how each student did, but areas each student needs to work on. (Apparently, capitalization is a bigger issue than I thought, as many of my students struggled with that section.)

Right now, students are working on this for about 20-30 minutes a week (5-10 minutes, four days a week). I can see who has worked on it, who needs a little encouragement, and who’s ready for the next set. What’s great about this is that students can work at their own pace and work on areas where they struggle. Each assignment is tailored. When kids complete sections, I can go in and look at the total quiz score, or each question. Then, I can assign more practice with a certain section or go in a different direction. (Right now students are working through parts of speech and capitalization, but we’ll be moving on next week to a new area.) When I do assign writing, which will be with their independent reading book soon, they can use what they learned and then apply.

In no way am I affiliated with this site, I just thought I’d pass on what I am trying and what has been working for me. I encourage you to give it a try! (And right now, it’s free!) And if you are using it, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Take care and happy teaching.

First Week of Distance Learning

Last week was supposed to be students’ first week with the novel The Pearl, finishing the novella this week. But last week was the first week with distance learning, and there was no way I was going to be able to teach the class novel remotely, even if I did get access to the book.

So my teaching partner and I planned to have students create a video of their favorite independent reading book they read this year and upload it to Flipgrid. (You can find the assignment here if you’d like to try it.) Since last week and this week assignments are optional, I had about half of my students make videos and submit. It was so good to see their faces and talk about their favorite books. My teacher heart was happy.

(You can see my original plan in pencil and my new plan in pen.)

There were a lot of ups and downs last week, and next week we go to “distance learning for all,” which means assignments count, it’s not optional. I am still not sure what that looks like or how that will play out; but, I will worry about that next week when my teaching partner and I plan Monday. There is only so much I can deal with right now.

What I learned last week:

  1. Office hours do matter, mainly for my sanity. I wrote a letter to parents and students to go out Wednesday, but I didn’t set any office hours of when I’d be available to answer questions, reteach, explain an assignment, etc. Our district was pretty lenient on what office hours meant for each teacher, so instead of setting a few hours aside each day to be at my computer to help students, I didn’t say anything at all. What I found was that I had more questions than I anticipated, and kept checking my computer every half hour, all day. The emails just kept trickling in. Unfortunately, most of the questions students had I didn’t have answers to. (Like, when are we going back to school? This assignment we started before we left, when is it due? Is it even due? How do I return classroom books?) This week I will dedicate two hours each day for “office hours,” so I am not glued to my computer. (Plus, I have two school-age children who have schoolwork they have to complete and I need to juggle that as well.)
  2. Connections matter even more now. For each class, I designated 20 minutes to chat with me via Google Meets. It was so nice to say hello, see how they have been spending their Spring Break, and just allow time for questions. It was letting them know I cared about their well-being and that we are in this together. Continuing to build that classroom community and connection, even though it’s through the confines of a computer is just as important as building the community inside four walls. While it meant I was at my computer for almost 3 hours that day, it was worth it. I think I might have another chat time this week just to check in. They have ups and downs too.
  3. Things will work themselves out. They always do. After my day of freak out and panic when we first went to distance learning, (what does teaching look like when it’s supplemental?), to last Sunday night when the department of education made new changes (what does “distance learning for all,” and that grades now matter starting April 13th, look like?), I have learned to process carefully and rely on my teaching partner and admin for help. Discussion, planning, action, are all important, but sometimes, just letting things sit for a day or two I find a new idea will come that will be better than I originally thought. It’ll all be okay. My students will be okay. I’ll be okay. We will become stronger through this. And we will learn.

How has this past week been for you? What have you learned through this distance learning? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

More Distance Learning Teaching Ideas

We are back in school this week. Distance learning style. This is a whole new ball game for so many of us and all I can do is hang on for the ride. Since I don’t know how long this on-line learning will last, I am taking it a week at a time.

Right now, this online model is supposed to end April 28th, so that is as long as I can think ahead. If I figure students will spend about 30 minutes on English work daily, then what sort of assignments can I create that gives both my students and myself breathing room? Assignments where they are still learning and I am able to check in on their progress and answer questions? I thought of project-based assignments rather than daily-type assignments. The learning that students are doing is enrichment (optional, not required), so you will notice that there are different standards presented and different ideas. Also, because it is enrichment, there is no scoring rubric, but I will be giving feedback to students who choose to do the work. The main thing I want students to do is to keep reading. The rest is secondary.

A couple of things about the school in which I teach. One, each of my 8th graders has a Chromebook. Our school has given them to students since they were in 6th grade and they are not only familiar with Google Classroom, but many other education-related apps. Two, I have a wonderful teaching partner to bounce off ideas and make our assignments that much better. Three, independent reading is at the core of my teaching curriculum. About 75% of the reading that is done is student choice. With all those factors, here is what my students will be doing the next four weeks. (When you click the link it will prompt you to make a copy. Click “make a copy” and then you can edit the document.)

Project-Based Assignments with Independent Reading

One Pager (With the One Pager, you can choose templates and then have students either create on paper or create it in PowerPoint, Google Docs, or Google Slides.)

Creative Writing

Poetry Bingo

Flipgrid or Adobe Spark mini-book report

Each week will be a different option for students to do. My hope is that they are continuing to read, so some of the projects should be with different novels (assuming it takes a few weeks to read a book). Students have books through the school library on their Chromebook (audiobooks and e-books) if they they don’t have physical ones. Tuesdays I will post the assignment and create a time that I’ll be online every day to answer questions and check in with students through Google Hangout. Crossing fingers this all goes well, but I’ll let you know what worked and what I tweaked.

What plans do you have for your students? What concerns do you have? How can I help? Let me know either in the comment box or email and I’ll do what I can to help you. In the meantime, know that you are enough. Happy teaching.