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  • Dana Clark

Distance Learning with Fun and Purpose In Mind

Each day, I am in awe of the generosity, support, and love that educators, authors, librarians, and good people from all corners of our learning communities are offering to each other and to our students. I am also grateful for the educators in my home community for being available and creating choices for students that honor different learning styles and interests. Choice and playfulness are key to helping students (who may already be feeling stressed) feel engaged in their learning. Yet another consideration we need to think about, as our initial weeks turns into what may be months, is purpose. I hope to share some thoughts on how we can create choice boards that continue to feel playful and light but also are crafted through the lenses of our curricular units.

Step One: Take out your resources.

Start this work by first gathering all of your unit planning resources. Grab your mentor texts, curriculum, favorite professional texts, and any other tools you know help you to plan.

*Tip- You only need one unit. For the sake of purpose and consistency, let’s stick to one thing at a time. There is flexibility. For example, fiction writing can take on many shapes. It can be crafted in graphic form, tap into some fantasy, and so on, but the work should build over days and weeks instead of feeling like one assignment per day. Try to avoid one or two boxes of persuasive writing, a few boxes of informational writing, and a couple more in the narrative realm.

Step Two: Dig into the possibilities.

As you look through your curriculum and resources, choose strategies and tips that you think will reach the majority of your students. Remember that we are putting strategies for real reading and writing in the boxes, not stand alone assignments.

*Tip- It may help to think about strategies that will help students throughout the reading/writing process. For example, you will want to include strategies for the ways readers are thinking in the beginning, middle, and end of a book.

Step Three: Try to make the strategies feel playful or even social.

Take a look at the strategies you’ve chosen and, when possible, put a playful twist on them. For example, when forming ideas about characters, instead of simply saying pay attention to how the character interacts with others, try- Watch the way the character treats the people around them and then think about whether or not you’d be the character’s friend. Consider the whys and traits of the character that brought you to your decision.

Step Four: Include tools to help students try out the work.

As you fill in the choice board, consider adding quick video minilessons with you modeling the strategy in a book the students already know or even your own writing. Other options include a sample photo of what reading/writing notebook entries might look like or language stems that would invite students to talk to their families about their thinking.

Click the link to find a sample choice board for a Study of Character Unit. Remember this is not a check off board. These are strategies that students might use again and again. The board just offers multiple ways to think about reading.

*Final Tips-Encourage students to be a contribution.

While we want the majority of our boxes to have one focus, you might consider throwing in a couple of contribution boxes. These would consist of inviting students to write letters to people in nursing homes or grandparents and relatives who may be isolated right now. Another possibility would be writing thank you letters to the medical workers putting themselves at risk everyday. They may even be things like creating and writing recipes for the limited pantry items left to send out as a blog or offering on google classroom.

Don’t expect too much!

I do believe that we want the time that students are putting into at-home learning to feel purposeful and be attached to authentic reading and writing; however, I also want to acknowledge that there are bigger things happening in our students’ homes. Jobs are being lost. People are getting sick. Kids are feeling the tension. Let’s make sure the reading and writing provide a way to get lost in a story or tap into imagination, and remember that everyone- parents, children, and educators alike- need a bit of understanding, flexibility, and compassion.

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