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    Together Apart: Fostering Collaboration in a Remote Learning Environment

    By Katy Tarasi
     | Aug 25, 2020

    Student at computerAs a literacy coach for grades K–6, there is nothing I love more than seeing students deeply engaged in collaboration. From the excitement on the faces of kindergartners as they turn and whisper their thoughts in a think-pair-share to the quick-paced discussion of sixth graders determining where to place vocabulary words according to their shades of meaning, the classrooms in my school are typically full of authentic and lively student interactions.

    Student collaboration is critical. Partner reading builds fluency. Sharing manipulatives to retell a story strengthens language development and reading comprehension. The ability to share the pen with another, communicate clearly, and problem solve in teams has so many benefits.

    Students need collaborative work now more than ever. Social distancing is taking its toll on student learning, particularly the kind that comes when students work in groups. But how do we bring collaborative learning into a virtual setting this year?

    I’ve been meeting with teachers around the United States virtually this summer to support them with the implementation of a literacy curriculum that we use at my school, which calls for authentic collaborative work and rich student discourse. In the course of these meetings, I’ve come up with a few ideas for bringing collaboration into a virtual space.

    Set up routines

    Just like at the start of any school year, set up class routines for collaborative work during remote learning. Explicitly state expectations, routines, and procedures. Talk about digital norms and practices, such as how to raise a hand or get attention during an online class and how to appropriately use the chat function of a digital platform.

    Just as you’d have a checklist of expectations taped to the wall of your classroom, post your expectations on a shared site within the digital platform. Give consistent praise as students are learning the routines and redirect as needed. Allow time for student reflection on routines because learning how to participate and collaborate is just as important as learning the content.

    Make the learning purposeful

    Collaborative learning should be purposeful. Just like in the traditional classroom, teachers should establish why they’re using a particular group-based or partner approach during instructional time. This will focus the activity and give teachers a lens for choosing a collaborative strategy.

    When students can’t be together in person, have them record video conversations on tools like Flipgrid or Padlet. Require students to watch and respond to classmates by posting their own short video or writing a response to create a chain of linking comments. Don’t shy away from giving students—especially younger students—prompts or sentence starters to help them build rich and meaningful conversations, at least initially.

    Make the learning authentic

    As adults, we work together to achieve a goal or converse to learn about one another, and we want to provide this same experience for our students.

    This can mean taking collaboration out of the virtual classroom space and engaging in collaborative experiences with family, friends, or community members. Consider this question we ask kindergartners: “How has life in America changed over time?” They can reach out to caregivers or family members and ask them questions about their experiences in school and at home. If a student doesn’t have anyone available to talk to, the teacher can share experiences through recorded clips or a Zoom call. Stakeholders such as administrators or PTA members can share experiences, too.

    Provide fundamental feedback

    Keep an eye on how collaborative work is going and give students guidance to steer it in the right direction. That tends to happen naturally in a classroom environment but will take extra work virtually. Provide praise and corrective feedback regularly on both procedures and collaboration. Use class time to reflect on the process of virtual learning, noting what students like and dislike.

    If students are engaging in peer editing using a shared online platform, teacher feedback is necessary for it to be purposeful. If student feedback isn’t particularly robust, use this as a formative assessment. Use your next class session to model an appropriate response and introduce a rubric or sentence starters.

    Modify activities for virtual learning

    Many in-person activities that educators already use in their classroom have the potential to be moved into a remote environment with a bit of creativity. An example of an activity I’ve been thinking about converting to a virtual experience involves Chalk Talks.

    As an in-person activity, students meet in groups and answer questions about a book that is posted in the classroom. With my fourth graders, I have used Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. Students responded collectively to questions around topics such as how the main character changed over time and the difference between literal versus figurative text. In addition to responding to teacher questions, students have to weigh in on other groups’ comments.

    Virtually, a teacher could place the students in several configurations. First, each student would work independently to answer a question. Next, students would meet in small groups in online breakout rooms and agree on one answer. Then, students would all come together in a whole group, giving “expert” groups a chance to share out. Finally, students would go back to breakout rooms and reflect on the different answers.

    Younger students can also collaborate virtually. During an in-person kindergarten lesson, students might have worked together to identify the genre of a set of books. Then the students would have justified their choice by placing it on a graphic organizer.

    To do this activity virtually, the teacher could record and share a video about the traits of different genres, and then students could come together in small groups in online breakout rooms to discuss their thoughts. Finally, students could drag-and-drop the titles in categories on Seesaw. Remember that younger students need to practice routines like speaking one at a time and using sentence frames such as “I agree with Katy because….”

    I know educators are feeling nervous about the days and weeks ahead, but I also know they are putting a lot of thought into how to teach effectively and creatively in an online environment. By focusing on students’ needs, including the need to work collaboratively, I’m confident we can deliver great instruction.

    Katy Tarasi is an elementary literacy coach in the Avonworth School District near Pittsburgh, PA, and a fellow with the Great Minds’ Wit & Wisdom English Language Arts team. In that capacity, Katy delivers professional development and coaching to educators around the United States. She can be reached via email.
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    Reading Rescue: Preventing the COVID-19 Slide With Lessons for Comprehension and Fluency at Home

    By Lori Oczkus
     | Apr 16, 2020

    Lori Oczkus teaching
    As we adjust to life in the world of remote learning, families and educators are continuing to refine at-home instructional reading routines—especially for students who experience difficulties with reading comprehension. Whether students read fluently or haltingly, they may find it challenging to summarize, answer questions, figure out unknown vocabulary, and unlock deeper meaning.

    How can we ensure that our students progress in their reading achievement instead of falling behind during the COVID-19 pandemic? What strategies can we incorporate into distance learning and at home to accelerate student literacy? Here I suggest new, engaging, and practical ways to use reciprocal teaching, or what I call the Fab Four, to improve literacy achievement.

    Reading rescue: The Fab Four for success

    The Fab Four are proven comprehension strategies that are easily adapted to home and distance learning for quick results. When researcher John Hattie ranked 138 teaching strategies according to their impact, reciprocal teaching landed at number nine, roughly yielding two years’ growth in one year.

    The Fab Four are essential strategies good readers employ to understand texts: predict, question, clarify, and summarize. These strategies work with any text at any grade level to boost comprehension. Students exhibit confidence and engagement after just a few lessons.

    When reciprocal teaching is used two to three times per week to discuss texts, some students improve six months to a year in a few months. In the classroom, the teacher guides students in discussions using the four strategies. Students may discuss in teams and eventually take on roles for each of these strategies: predictor, clarifier, questioner, and summarizer.

    Close reading with the Fab Four at home

    Good readers often reread challenging texts to gain better understanding. This “close reading” calls for students to reread for different purposes. The Fab Four strategies provide an ideal framework for rereading texts to develop better comprehension and fluency.

    In the links at the end of this post, you will find lesson plans developed for parents and caregivers to use as they read and discuss informational texts and poetry at home with their children. Parents and caregivers should take turns with their child and be sure to make these experiences enjoyable rather than turn the Fab Four into a test. The result is an engaging exchange that promotes both improved comprehension and fluency. The poetry lesson includes suggestions for rereading for enjoyment and a performance for family members and friends.

    Sample Fab Four Lesson

    Predict

    Discuss the title, author, visuals, and headings. Skim the text. Take turns.

    “My prediction is that I think we will learn ________because_____.”


    Read Together

    Choose for the child or let the child choose how to read: silently, echo read, read-aloud, or in unison.


    Reread to Clarify

    Take turns finding words to clarify.

     “A tricky or interesting word or phrase to clarify is_____ . We can figure it out by _______.”

    Answers might include sounding it out, finding smaller parts, reading on, rereading, or thinking about a synonym.


    Reread to Question

    Take turns asking questions.

     “My question is _____.” “I wonder______________.”


    Reread to Summarize

    Take turns summarizing.

    “This was about__________.” “I learned__________________.” “My favorite part was__________.”

     

    Adapting The Fab Four for families/distance learning

    As part of your class reading instruction, try Fab Four lessons twice a week during Zoom, See-Saw, or another online meeting platform. Have students respond to reading using the Fab Four strategies as a discussion guide. Rather than calling on individual students, encourage a group discussion where multiple students give input to one another. Encourage sharing with a partner or team before the entire class discusses the text. Students may also mark texts with sticky notes or colored pencils. This practice through these remote learning platforms will allow students to benefit from sessions with peers as well as their families. You can model turn-taking with families and caregivers by having them participating in a digital meeting as well.

    Teacher Created Materials

    Here are a couple seven-minute Fab Four lessons available for free on the Teacher Created Materials YouTube channel.

    We’ve also created a letter that educators can share with families and caregivers. This provides a quick FAQ about the Fab Four strategies and a pair of bookmarks you can use to practice these strategies with the provided text.

    Lori Oczkus is a literacy coach, author, and popular speaker across the United States. She has extensive experience as a bilingual elementary teacher, intervention specialist working with struggling readers, staff developer, and literacy coach. Lori is the author of the book Reciprocal Teaching at Work 3rd ed. (ASCD/ILA, 2018; foreword by John Hattie, Ph.D.).

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    ILA Edcamp Online: Join the Conversation

    By ILA Staff
     | Apr 01, 2020

    Man listening to computer The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has made it necessary to close schools across the globe. It’s also led to widespread cancellation of professional learning events that had been slated for spring, leaving teachers with even fewer outlets to connect and collaborate.

    To help educators build community through conversation, the International Literacy Association (ILA) has created ILA Edcamp Online—a virtual adaptation of the popular unconference—scheduled for Tuesday, April 7, 5:00 p.m.–7:00 p.m. ET.

    The goal: to create a space where educators can connect in real time, on a level deeper than even Twitter chats or Facebook Live broadcasts can provide.

    “Many teachers tend to be social creatures who find comfort and growth through their network of colleagues,” says Becky Fetterolf, director of program content and engagement at ILA. “The necessary distancing guidelines have limited activities substantially, so we wanted to create something that could meet those unfulfilled needs.”

    For those unfamiliar with the Edcamp experience, here's how it works: Attendees drive the agenda, participants facilitate on-the-fly sessions, and interactivity is key. The resulting collaboration leads to professional topics that feel far more personal than a traditional “stand and deliver” session.  

    ILA Edcamp Online will leverage Zoom, the video communications platform that’s been exploding as a result of shelter-in-place orders. but make no mistake: This won’t be a static webinar. Edcamps are characterized as “unconferences” founded on the idea that participants learn from one another.

    “We’re making every effort to preserve the Edcamp format as we adapt the event from in person to online,” Fetterolf says. This includes sourcing discussion topics directly from educators. An informal survey distributed through email and social media yielded three topics:  

    • Alternative Access: Connecting When Your Students Don’t Have Connectivity (session full)
    • Continuous K–5 Learning During School Closures: Techniques, Tips, and Tools (session full)
    • Supporting Struggling Learners: Instruction and Intervention in a Virtual Environment (session full)

    “There were clear front-runners,” Fetterolf says. “It made it easy for us to build the ‘rooms.’”

    Some Edcamp features won’t translate to the Zoom platform, however. One principle Edcamps employ is the “rule of two feet,” which encourages attendees who aren’t getting enough out of one discussion to move freely to another one. ILA Edcamp Online registrants can participate only in the session for which they register. However, notes from each discussion will be made public after the event for anyone to read.

    Facilitators will leverage Zoom features such as polling, virtual hand raising, and group/private chat functionality to encourage the dynamic conversation that drives in-person Edcamps.

    For this inaugural ILA Edcamp Online, space is limited. Fetterolf stresses the importance that educators who register commit to actively participate.

    “When you register, you’re holding a seat for yourself,” she says. “But that also means another educator can’t fill that seat. So, we’re really hoping that everyone who registers and attends is prepared to engage.”  

    ILA Edcamp Online isn’t the only new digital offering from ILA; for the month of April, educators can register for the ILA 2019 Replay, which delivers free access to six recorded sessions from last year’s conference in New Orleans, LA. Presenters include Pedro Noguera, Renée Watson, Donalyn Miller, David Kirkland, Tricia Ebarvia, and Dave Stuart Jr.

    Also included in the ILA 2019 Replay: “What Research Really Says About Teaching Reading—and Why That Still Matters,” the wildly popular panel discussion led by P. David Pearson, Nell K. Duke, Sonia Cabell, and Gwendolyn McMillon that managed to fill a large session room and attract more than 150 livestream viewers at 7:00 a.m. on a Saturday—an audience that continued to grow when the archive was shared.

    Within days of registration for the ILA 2019 Replay opening, more than 2,000 educators signed up.

    Those numbers, Fetterolf says, underscore the current need for quality digital programming. “So many educators tell us that ILA conferences are where they go to recharge and reconnect. To be able to bring some of that PD magic into their homes is our privilege.”

    As for ILA Edcamp Online, if early social media buzz is any indication, registration is likely to max out quickly. (Edit: Sessions reached capacity in a matter of hours.)

    “If this event is as successful as we’re anticipating, you can expect to see more of them from ILA in the future,” promises Fetterolf.

    Links to register for both ILA Edcamp Online and the ILA 2019 Replay are available on the ILA Digital Events page.

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    Connected Communities of Literacy Learning: Keeping Students From Feeling Isolated During This Time of Remote Instruction

    By Cynthia Pope
     | Mar 20, 2020

    Smiling asian girl at computerIn just a matter of days, educators from kindergartens to colleges around the world provided their students with printed learning packets or online learning plans before packing up their desks and leaving their campuses. Scan school websites today, and you will see instructions indicating that learning will be delivered “remotely.”

    By its definition, remote means at a distance, far removed, and isolated. At a time when students may still be settling into learning routines and developing self-directed learning skills, these children are faced with schooling at home amid a global health crisis. Students are confronted with learning independently, away from school-age friends and their loving extended families.

    Today’s COVID-19 crisis has come at a time when a digital divide still exists. With few days to prepare for delivering learning at a distance, many schools struggled to make learning continue through closures and extended breaks. In the end, whether students are asked to read print or digital texts or to write with pens or keyboards, the one important common denominator is that students need to feel a connection with their teachers and their classmates to succeed.

    When planning for the best possible learning outcomes, educators must be mindful that learning requires social interaction for students to remain motivated. Yes, students need assignments tied to the curriculum, but they also need the continued support of a learning community, whether they are in grade school or graduate school. When students feel connected to their classes, they retain a commitment to their classwork, and teachers’ beliefs about the importance of fostering a class community are paramount.

    What can teachers do to create connected communities for literacy learning?

    • Provide timely and frequently written communication for students, whether sending home an online newsletter that you can make with Smore or posters made with Poster My Wall.
    • Be available for two-way communication via telephone, email, or tools like Google Classroom and Google Hangouts.
    • Build classroom relationships among students through their writing about their learning or about how they are learning differently at home. Students can establish classroom pen pals by exchanging tradition, handwritten letters and postcards or by posting to sites like Edmodo.
    • Keep learning active and fun while respecting the diverse interests and abilities of students. Let students show what they know by composing comics with ReadWriteThink’s Comic Creator, creating characters with Voki, or uploading poems set to music with Flipgrid.
    • Reduce the distance in distance learning by providing opportunities for synchronous learning wherever possible. Establish a class meeting time during regular school hours to check in with students using tools such as Zoom or Skype.
    • Provide opportunities for students to share their knowledge with others by recording research projects and presenting them with digital tools such as Screencast-o-matic.
    • Maintain high expectations for learning by getting a pulse of what your students have learned and still need to know. Kahoot! and Socrative are great game tools to garner student understanding and inform teachers of the need for future instruction.
    • Keep students committed to reading and writing with high-quality lessons that can be found on sites such as ReadWriteThink, Newsela, CommonLit, and DOGOnews linked to engaging TE Ed videos.

    Distance learning communities nurture feelings of continued connection and collaboration. For primary-age students especially, educators need to include families and caregivers as part of that community and join with them as partners for educating students. Online distance learning ends up becoming a family literacy experience because young children cannot easily negotiate technologies without help, and they should not be expected to do so.

    Given the prevalence of online learning, educators  must not forget issues of privacy and online safety. Teachers should direct families and caregivers to appropriate resources for reading books (Epic! for example) and writing (Storyjumper). Common Sense Media is a great resource to use to determine appropriate digital tools. Furthermore, teachers need to check if new technology choices planned for lessons require added permissions. Also keep in mind that, although families may have laptops or smartphones, students may still need to share one device among several siblings.

    For necessity’s sake, remote learning has now taken on a front seat as an instructional delivery method to teach and learn. We must recognize that remote learning can feel like removed learning if students aren’t connected with their families, teachers, and peers. It will take continued creativity and collaboration to make this new learning paradigm work as we all look toward “doing school differently.”

    Likewise, educators must seek support from their schools and work with colleagues to find the best literacy learning solutions for students. Whether participating in peer-led conferences for professional development or seeking out professional organization resources, teachers also need to feel like a connected community of practicing professionals, even when teaching from home.

    Cynthia Pope has researched K–12 online learning extensively, including her 2013 dissertation, Digital Distance Learning Communities. She an experienced K–12 educator, school administrator, and higher education professional, currently serving as a visiting assistant professor of education for Stockton University’s Teacher Education Program in New Jersey.

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    The #BookYourself Reading Challenge for Teachers

    By Stephanie Affinito and Kris McGee
     | Sep 13, 2019
    BookYourself_w680Teachers have great power in shaping students’ reading identities and reading lives. As the lead learners in the classroom, we model reading habits, invite students into reading with powerful read-alouds, cultivate diverse classroom libraries, and protect sacred, student-led independent reading time in the classroom. But before we can create the kind of vibrant literacy community that readers thrive in, we must first live as readers ourselves. And not just readers, but readers who read wide and diverse children’s literature selections and understand the potential power reading and writing has to change our lives and our place in the world.

    This past summer, we created the #BookYourself Challenge to help teachers think about their reading lives and create the spaces they need to tend to it. Each day, we posted “Think Abouts” across multiple social media platforms to remind teachers to find the time to read daily, connect with other readers and broaden their reading community, and boost their book knowledge to include current and diverse children’s literature. 

    Teachers across the United States came together for 21 days to renew their commitment to their reading lives. The #BookYourself Challenge pushed participants to change their daily routines to include time for reading, explore new titles and genres, and showcase their efforts through screenshots and “shelfies” (a photo of a person with the book that person was reading).  Participants read books in print and online, listened to audiobooks, subscribed to podcasts, explored local bookstores, and connected with the adult and student readers in their lives. The impact was immediate and a strong community emerged, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. This is a community that continues to thrive. 

    The #BookYourself Challenge was so successful that we plan to offer an abbreviated challenge over the winter months to help keep us and our participants’ reading lives strong and to recharge our reading community. Over each day of winter break, we will post daily Think Abouts to help our participants find the time to read and broaden their reading selections using #BookYourself. 

    You can access the #BookYourself Think Abouts on your favorite social media platform (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) or you can choose to receive a daily email sent directly to your inbox instead. You can follow the hashtags, like and retweet the posts, and share the challenge with other educators you think might enjoy the daily reminders. You can even join our Facebook community to connect with other teachers and educators to share book recommendations and to contribute your own ideas for carving out time to read. You’ll find a supportive reading community of teachers and educators who read, waiting there for you!

    Stephanie Affinito is a literacy teacher educator in the Department of Literacy Teaching and Learning at the University at Albany in New York. Stephanie regularly teaches graduate courses on elementary classroom literacy instruction, literacy intervention, and children’s literature. She has researched literacy coaching as part of her doctoral studies and focuses much of her current work on how technology and digital tools can impact teacher learning and collaboration. You can find her on Twitter at @AffinitoLit.

    Kris McGee is an associate professor of Literacy at Frostburg State University in Maryland. She has been sharing her love of teaching and children’s literature for 29 years with children, preservice teachers, and inservice teachers.

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