The First Six Weeks of School research project is tracking through audio postcards the experiences of teachers going back to school. I did an audio postcard on the first day of school and now, this second one is from the second week of school. I talk about community building and consistency of schedule, and how both are so vital in my mind to the beginning days of the year. The recording is done on my phone app, rather impromptu.
(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)
I’ve never been a sitter in the classroom. My chair at my desk rarely gets used when school is in full and regular session. I am always on the move, working with students on their writing or cruising the room to answer questions or to check on how things are going. When I write, I sit in a student desk in the midst of the kids and write along with them.
Or I’m standing, talking, dancing, jumping. Whatever it takes.
So this start to the year, at home for two weeks of Distance Learning to begin, at my kitchen table, it feels so sedentary and stuck, like I am glued to the wooden chair. Every sensory break in our Distance Learning schedule that we have, I am outside, playing with the dogs in the yard or walking at a brisk pace through the neighborhood. Anything to get moving. I wish I had a standing desk here at home, so I could get up and be on my feet.
And of course, I urge my students to do the same at every break we’ve built into the day — get away from the screen, get some fresh air, go run and jump and play, be active.
I don’t know how computer programmers or other office workers do it, sitting all day with a screen as companion. It will do for now, this situation, because of the Pandemic we are in, but this kind of teaching from a chair is just not good for the body.
I’m taking part in a research project that documents teachers and the first weeks of school, back from the Pandemic. We’re asked to record our experiences as audio postcards.
Here’s my first audio postcard, after the first day (yesterday). I talk about the successful moments and the strange situation of teaching from home. I’m doing these on my phone, with a mobile app, to record in the moment.
We return to teaching today. For the younger grades in our school, it will be in-person, hybrid. For the older students, like my sixth graders, it will be remote learning, for a few weeks, and then we do a phased-in hybrid. Since our school Internet can’t handle so many video conferences at once, many of us teachers are working from home for now (fiber upgrade coming).
I’m ready and excited and nervous and anxious, as is natural, but being home for the first day of school with students is one of the oddest feelings I’ve had. Not just all the technology glitches that might happen to disrupt the plans, but just not being in the physical space with colleagues to talk to in the hallway and with students to connect with in a shared four-wall classroom space.
I was looking for something else entirely in my blog archives when I stumbled across this audio project from 2007, when I had my sixth graders write about changing the world as part of our reflection on the 9/11 Day remembrance.
I enjoyed listening back to these voices and their ideas. And these students, who were 1o or 11 when we recorded it, are now in the mid to late 20s, and hopefully, making the world a better place.
School has started for teachers — it began last week with ten days of professional development — and students start school next week. Our school is doing a phased-in hybrid approach, which means I start the year remote. This is another in a series of monthly podcasts (except for May, when I guess I was too busy to think about doing it) that I have been doing to record some of my thoughts as the first day of school with students approaches.
Here are the previous entries, in reverse chronological order:
School began yesterday with staff training, and two hours of protocols on staying safe with students and teachers in a building re-opening in a Pandemic was eye-opening and exhausting. Shout out to our school nursing staff, though, who are doing a phenomenal job with sharing information and guidance.
The school year starts today, but the year begins with state-sanctioned 14 days of professional development before students begin (our school is doing a phased-in hybrid model). But this is when the sleep of teachers gets regularly disrupted, and the Pandemic makes it worse, of course.
This comic oversimplifies the sense I am getting in listening to our School Committee meetings, observing local social media postings of residents and local elected officials, and reading the news — but it does seem as if the goodwill towards that educators that came in the Spring when the Pandemic hit, and we working non-stop to reach and engage our students via remote, has shifted to more finger-pointing and negative tone as plans to re-open developed, at least where I am.
Some of the comments in the second panel are actual versions of things I have heard said or read in the last few weeks, and while I know this represents only the vocal people who are worried about how to balance it all and that the quiet ones may be supportive, it’s still disheartening that educators are becoming targets of scorn when it is a lack of a national effort to deal with the virus that has put us all in this spot.
Also, it is important to acknowledge that the current landscape is complicated for everyone, whatever their views. It may be that I am defensive in what I hear because it feels like educators are targets in a political scene, fed by the president.
I’ve been meaning to spend some time looking into the use of HyperDocs — sort of an updated version of Webquests in which a single document with hyperlinks provides students with multiple entries of engagement and exploration. It’s a concept that I have seen from time to time, and thought, yeah, someday, I’ll take a look.
But it was a post at Middleweb by a National Writing Project friend, Jeremy Hyler, another middle grade teacher, and then an interview on NWP Radio with Jeremy on the topic that provided me with a reason to sit down with HyperDocs with intention and ponder how it might be a good fit for a school year of remote and hybrid learning.
I quickly discovered that I appreciate HyperDocs as an approach of using a single document with multiple strands of activities for students, although it obviously requires, as Jeremy notes, work at the start by the teacher to think through sequences of learning activities and also choice opportunities for students to demonstrate understanding, with room for extension for those students who need a bit more.
While I come to the concept via NWP and Jeremy, I want to note that Laura Highfill, Kelly Hilton and Sarah Landis are prominent voices in the mix. The three educators facilitate and oversee the HyperDoc website, along with assorted course offerings, and they say they coined the term and concept in 2013.
At their website, the HyperDoc founders note:
A true HyperDoc is much more than some links on a document.
Creators deliberately choose web tools to give students opportunities to Engage • Explore • Explain • Apply • Share • Reflect • Extend the learning.
Digital collaboration is choreographed to give every student a voice and a chance to be heard by their classmates.
Critical thinking and problem-solving skills can be developed through linked tasks.
Students have an opportunity to create authentic digital artifacts to show what they know and connect with a wider audience.
In some ways, HyperDocs consolidates much of what teachers were already doing with research and online media exploration, but maybe doing even more so during forced closures due to the Pandemic. It leverages the resources of the Web, but also integrates well with any online platform, such as Google Classroom. Where I used to have multiple posts with different steps, spread out over a week, let’s say, a HyperDoc contains the entire sequence of activities, with media and text set explorations, in one document, allowing a student to move through the expectations at their own pace. The term “flexibility” comes up a lot with HyperDocs.
While there is no set structure of a HyperDoc, most seem to start with some essential questions and inquiry, leading to application of understanding, and then extension opportunities, with lots of places for reflections on process. Take a look at some samples to get a better sense of the HyperDoc concept. It’s important to note, I think, that you could easily design a HyperDoc as a simple website/blog post, in any text format that has links to the Internet, in Google Slides or presentation software, etc. It does not require a Google Doc, since the most important parts are links to follow, opportunities for reflection and sequencing of information.
The HyperDoc site has samples and lots of information, and I even ordered The HyperDoc Handbookfrom the HyperDoc folks just to have another resource handy. But there are plenty of other places on the Internet where teachers are sharing templates and ideas. I’ve “borrowed” a few (including the one that Jeremy talks about in the NWP podcast) and have been busy adapting for my own needs.
At this point, I have four different HyperDocs under construction for the start of the year: an icebreaker Back to School Hyperdoc, a literature-themed Hyperdoc focused on a short story and exploration of literary concepts, and a civic action HyperDoc that explores student agency.
Here is a link to a fourth HyperDoc I am creating as part of a Professional Development I am co-facilitating at the start of the year with colleagues on Project-Based Learning. This HyperDoc that I created utilizes the idea of the tiny Public Service Announcement (inspired by AJ Juliani) to show teachers a way to simulate PBL, and it can be adapted for the classroom, too. It has been built off a design that Jeremy had shared (thank you).
What’s great is that with some initial instruction and guidance for students (I even found a HyperDoc that explains HyperDocs to students), I can use HyperDocs for independent learning in both a Hybrid model (when I will see only half my students at a time but they are expected to be doing things the other half of the time) and for a Remote model (where none of us are going to want to be on the video screen for long stretches of time).
The flexibility and leveraging of online resources, plus the integration of other technological platforms like Padlet, Flipgrid, VoiceThread and others for reflection and sharing points, seems like it could be a winning way to use technology effectively for teaching and learning.