(This was written during the 2020-21 school year when we were teaching online)
Most years I follow a sequence designed to build students’ language and listening stamina so that we can enjoy a TV series together from January until Spring break. The year normally ends in an ever-expanding pleasure reading program.
In a typical year I start getting students used to hearing and reading narratives on the very first day of school as we do a card talk activity together. During the first few weeks we do many card talks centered on the Sweet 16 verbs, student interviews and calendar talks. Everyday we summarize class with a Write & Discuss and exit quiz. By mid-September we are shifting towards One Word Images, Picture Talks that create narratives and Movie Talks. Also the book talks that introduce my classroom library become a bigger presence. Everyday we create comprehensible but linguistically-rich narratives, in all levels. By January students are ready to follow an extended plot. I choose either a TV series or some authentic films to process together, one scene at a time, for the last twenty minutes of class. After Spring break we delve into the Maravilla presentations, continue with weekend chats (calendar talks) and the occasional student interview, but the real 4th quarter development is the blossoming of the reading program that has been on a low simmer all year long. Some days in May we’ll spend nearly the entire class period immersed in quiet pleasure reading… because they have developed the skills to be able to read independently.
All of the above activities are demonstrated in detail
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This year I anticipate not being able to watch TV series together and not being able to use my extensive class library for pleasure reading. Teaching online is not fundamentally different; I speak and verify comprehension. The core of what we do is student-centered creation of texts. That will still happen. I just have to modify my overall plans since I will be deprived of these two resources.
The first semester should move forward with only some slight modifications to the activities; when we create a OWI online I have all of the students draw rather than just selecting two student artists and they either submit their illustrations electronically (most take a snapshot with their phones) or, if I were teaching younger kids, I might just have them hold their illustrations up to their computer video camera and take a screenshot of the everyone’s illustration all at once. The movie talks are now being picture talked before viewing the video with a set of screen shots that I am posting in the Movie talk database. I might also use these slides to initiate a post-viewing conversation.
During the third quarter, from January until Spring break, I have thrown the plans out the window.
Instead of watching and discussing a TV series, we will write a class novel together. Imagine how empowering it will be to be able to send a copy of the class novel to each student so that they can read the final text, a book that they helped write, in preparation for the final exam! This is going to be epic.
As much as I love this idea, there are challenges. Last year I led a writer’s group dedicated to writing class novels. From October until March we met twice a month. By March our initial group of 34 excited teacher-authors had fallen apart until only 2 remained… of which only one actually published the class text for her students. I learned a lot from that misadventure, much of which has informed my current, far more robust approach to leading writers groups. But it can be done! The first draft of my novel Superburguesas was written in class. There are specific lessons to be learned about creating a class novel with students so that it does not explode into a nightmare for the teacher.
In next week’s newsletter I will outline my new, stronger guidelines to writing a class novel with students. If you are interested in writing your own class novel… with your students… don’t say anything to students yet!!
For now, focus on the small narratives that you create daily through the Write & Discuss activity. Next week I will write about the many lessons learned.
SShhh!!! Keep it a secret (from the kids)!