As a 4th grade classroom teacher this year, I learned very quickly that building our classroom culture and community was more critical than ever. Our class meets in person, five days a week, which is amazing. However, the reality is that students are often absent, and when they are, it is for stretches of time due to pandemic related circumstances. What unites us? Our shared read alouds!
We are in our classroom all day long and this invites multiple opportunities every week (or, is it every day?) to share a newly published selection written by an #OwnVoices’ authors. Every book that we share is promptly displayed on our window sill. When we run out of room, we participate in a “Wall of Fame” conversation that ultimately results in posting the cover of certain books on our display.
The routine’s original purpose was to create “book buzz” and dialogue about the author’s life and craft moves, and the book’s theme, characters and more. I did not anticipate that this “Wall of Fame” would become the visual that centers us when we pivoted overnight to remote learning, or that bonds us when a student is at home for extended periods of time. These books and the related conversations unite us in our class culture and community.
Moreso, the conversations that evolve as we decide which title will “make” the “Wall of Fame” have been fascinating! When I view our current wall, I can hear the children welcoming a particular book for the reason that a single student had a connection to her grandmother. I am reminded of a deep debate about whether we should, or should not, display non-fiction (ie Who sets the rules for this “Wall of Fame?” Should we have equal representation at all times? Why and why not?). I will always remember the cohort’s reaction to Front Desk, asking whether we should hold off on our opinion until we read other chapter books and then quickly rescinding by saying, “It HAS to be up there!” and then rattling off all the ways Kelly Yang became part of our community.
The twist on this is that on the opposite side of the classroom, we have a similar routine focused on a “Song of the Week”. That, too, has strengthened our classroom culture and community. When teaching remotely, I can play the songs we’ve enjoyed and see the students react in exactly the same way as when we are together in the classroom. It keeps us in touch with what matters as a cohort when we are separated by distance. Furthermore, both displays serve as mentor texts during reading and writing conferences and lessons.
Two rich routines worth gold amidst a global pandemic! Try them!