Every year around this time, I start to get the itch to teach again. I’ve had a few weeks to decompress after the hustle and bustle of the end of June and some time to reflect on the school year. I look back and think about what worked, what needs to be tweaked, and what needs to be scrapped all together. I spend hours scrolling through and organizing all the files I hastily dropped into Google Drive folders during hurried prep periods. I start printing and laminating, labeling folders with students’ names, and jotting down activities in my planner for the first few weeks of school.
But this year, obviously everything feels different. Like many teachers, I’m still not sure of how I will be teaching my class. Detailed planning for the fall feels overwhelming at best but sitting around and doing nothing while I wait to hear exactly how I’ll be teaching in September doesn’t feel good either. To compromise, I decided to choose some things from last year (pre-Covid) that worked really well and think about how I could modify them to fit three different teaching models: full in-person instruction with social distancing, hybrid learning combining in-person and remote teaching, and fully remote instruction.
By far, my favorite activity from the 2019-2020 school year was the interactive read aloud we did each morning during Classroom Meeting. Every week, I’d choose a group of five books that were linked by topic, theme, author, or genre. Throughout the year my second graders and I read sets of books about feelings, holidays, seasons, and places. We read biographies one week and did author studies during others. Students loved finding out what book we were reading every morning and borrowing it to read again during independent reading time later that afternoon.
Inspired by a colleague who posted a photo of a book her class read each day in the hall, I decided to dedicate our reading bulletin board in the classroom to our interactive read alouds. I began printing and laminating photos of the cover of each of our books but wanted my students to feel ownership of the work they were doing during our read aloud time. I taped each cover photo to a piece of construction paper and began asking students to turn-and-talk about the lesson or theme of the story or the main idea of a nonfiction text. At first, we jotted down everyone’s ideas. I wanted students to feel comfortable sharing their thoughts about a book with me and their classmates, even if they weren’t always on the right track. If a student was completely off, I’d praise their hard work and turn their words around a bit to make it fit.
As students became more comfortable with the work, we began having deeper conversations about books. Students were asked to defend their ideas and question or add to their classmates’ thoughts. Over time, the number of themes and main ideas we wrote below each book cover became smaller as students learned to use details from the text to support their ideas.
By February, we had filled up our board. After a class-wide celebration, we took each photo down, filed them away, and talked about the kind of books we would be adding to our board throughout the spring. We added about fifteen more books before the building was closed. As we embarked on remote learning, the idea of reading a picture book each day overwhelmed me. All my books were in the classroom and I didn’t want to assign students videos of other people reading stories aloud. I downloaded a couple of chapter books to my Kindle and we continued our daily read aloud time by focusing on a chapter or two each day. While I certainly enjoyed sharing longer pieces of literature with my almost third graders, I missed our daily picture books and vowed to make it work during the 2020-2021 school year, regardless of what that looked like. Below are some ideas of how I could implement a daily interactive read aloud in each of my district’s potential teaching models for the fall.
Full In-Person Instruction with Social Distancing
If all of my students return to the classroom this fall, they’ll be seated in desks three feet apart facing the front of the classroom. We won’t be able to gather on the carpet for read aloud. But I could read aloud from the front of the classroom, using my document camera to project the pictures. As turning-and-talking is not a possibility with social distancing, I would need to change the kind of questions I ask throughout a reading so we don’t fall in to a habit of hand raising and calling on students. Kids could jot ideas down on a white board using words or pictures and hold them up to share. I could ask them to act out parts while sitting at their desks or use their faces to show emotions that characters feel. Each day I could assign one student to write down our ideas on the paper we post to our bulletin board (rather than have them pass it around and take turns).
Hybrid Learning Combining In-Person and Remote Instruction
With a hybrid approach, half my students would be in class on any given day while the rest worked remotely. Students would be seated in desks about six feet apart and still facing the front of the classroom. My approach to read aloud with this model would be similar to if all the kids were in the class. Since I would be reading the same book twice with two different groups of students, I would record their ideas myself and use different colors to indicate each cohort. It would be fun for students to compare and contrast their ideas with those of another group. Some of the activities that my students do remotely without me could be based on our read alouds. I could make copies of certain pages to use with remote reading or Fundations lessons to make them more engaging.
I’ve thought most about how to do my read alouds remotely. If we are able to schedule meetings, I could do it live using my document camera at home and share my screen. With a little training and practice, kids could learn to use digital features to raise their hands and share. Like with both approaches above, students could have some time to jot down or draw their ideas about a text before I ask them to share out. Alternatively, I could record the read alouds and ask students to submit ideas. In the spring, we used Seesaw as a remote learning platform, and the program really lends itself to this kind of work. Students could type, record, or write and then take a photo of their ideas. To keep track of our books, I could put together some kind of digital bulletin board where I post the cover photos and the ideas that students share.
Regardless of how I do daily read aloud this year, I can’t wait to share some of the books that we love and all of the great ideas about them that my new second graders will have.