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Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

11.24.20Online Teaching: Don’t Sleep on the Value of Everybody Writes

Russian Golden Fish-Fairy Tale Friday - The Rhinestone Bookmark
“Do not forget,” said the fish, “that students need to put pencil to paper. Even online.”

At TLAC Towers, we recently had the opportunity to watch Jake Daggett of Stellar Elementary of the Carmen Schools of Science and Technology network in Milwaukee, Wisconsin teaching his second graders about fairy tales. We appreciated his use of writing and Team TLAC’s Dillon Fisher wrote this analysis:

One of our favorite things about Jake’s lesson was his use of Everybody Writes, even online.  Especially online. We worry that the shift screen-based instruction will result in fewer opportunities for student to work pencil-to-paper- a setting where they tend to concentrate more deeply, where they can manage ‘zoom fatigue’ by taking a break from the screen and, in the case of younger students, ensure lots of practice at letter formation and the like.

Here’s Jake in action:

Jake’s students are reading a tale about a fisherman who catches a talking fish who asks the fisherman to throw him back, offering him and his wife a wish instead. Jake pauses his read-aloud to have all students make a prediction: Will the fish grant the wife’s wish?

Posing this question early in the story creates a Pause Point an important opportunity for students to reflect and consolidate their thinking.  It also makes each of Jake’s students an active participant in class.

Jake asks them to write their predictions and he models a sentence frame, I think ______because ______, that encourages students to write complete-sentence predictions and to think about why they are making them.

Even more effective, we love that Jake chooses to have his students make this prediction pencil-to-paper. While it is easy (and perhaps faster) to favor electronic or verbal responses in our remote classrooms, infusing pencil-to-paper moments in classrooms brings in familiar echoes of the classroom and can be particularly powerful for elementary students who are still building their writing skills. Pencil-to-paper moments offer students an opportunity to pause, take a break from the screen, and use a few sacred seconds to rehearse and solidify their thinking independently before sharing out full group. It seems like Jake’s students appreciate this. They’re focused and attentive and we can see the tops of lots of heads as they work away.

The pencil-to-paper approach also let’s Jake check visually to see what and whether students have done and to include lots of students via inviting Cold Calls. Izzy goes first. He’s eager to share his ideas. Luis (upper left) is eager to share too. He raises his hand but he also holds his paper up to show Mr. Daggett how hard he’s worked.

One of our biggest takeaways from this lesson is Jake’s use of a simple, easy-to-repeat ‘handout’ that his students can use for any story and any Pause Point. Jake made a wise choice to ensure the materials his students had ready at home could work for any lesson; the handout includes room for a title, date, and four boxes to contain student thinking.

We’re big believers in keeping it simple, especially remotely. It is too easy to decide to skip pencil to paper because we weren’t able to get out lesson specific handouts the way we might have in person. Jake’s handout reminds us that it doesn’t need to be fancy to be effective.

The end result? Each one of Jake’s students has a glorious few seconds away from the screen to do some independent processing, write complete predictions, utilize their new vocabulary words, and return to the story ready to find out: just what will that fish decide?


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