As we approach the new school year, I have been thinking about how different things might be in the time of COVID-19. Will I be face-to-face with students in the classroom? If so, what will that look like? Will students have to sit six feet apart at all times? How are cooperative groups going to function?
I've also had to consider the possibility that teachers at my district might end up teaching remotely, like we did last April and May. That was my first experience with online instruction, and I thought it went reasonably well considering how little time I had to adapt, but I was lucky: I was teaching four sections of AP Language and Composition and one elective, Mythology. My AP students — generally speaking — were motivated to pass the AP Test, and my Mythology students liked the subject area, so they were willing to complete most of the work. I also had the advantage of having taught in-person prior to the lockdown, so expectations and procedures were already clearly established.
The situation this year could be much different. What if my school year begins online? How will I adapt instruction to meet the needs of my students?
At this point, it looks like I will be teaching three sections of AP Language and Composition and two sections of Freshmen Composition and Literature. Because I have not taught freshmen in six years, the idea of teaching those students has consumed more of my time. As a result, when Dave asked me for a quick write-up explaining how Mechanics Instruction That Sticks would fit in a remote curriculum, I immediately decided to focus on my FCL students.
Last spring, my school district was not prepared for a transition to online schooling, and we had a significant number of students who lacked access to technology and/or internet. Therefore, the central planning idea I used last spring was the idea of weekly work. I provided students with an online Google document — on my website and via email — detailing what I wanted them to do each day. I gave my students one big assignment per week, consisting of several steps, all of which involved reading and writing (paper copies were made available to students who did not have access to the internet).
I then recorded short, instructional videos on my cell phone and posted links to them on the Google document. This made it quite simple for students to follow along with my lesson plans and click on instructional links as they moved through the week's work. The students who did not have internet access (luckily, there were only a few) received paper copies.
So how will MITS fit in if we go online this fall? My plan is to include a few short lessons (either guided notes or a warm-up) each week. I will then record brief, instructional videos which break down each warm-up into steps. I may also use Zoom to walk kids through a lesson if that is an option.
I am going to record a low-tech version of a few video lessons on my phone and send it to Dave so he can include it with this post so you can see these steps in action:
- Review background information (rules).
- Complete application exercises.
- Complete sentence creations.
- Complete review exercise.
Obviously, using the warm-ups online will have its limitations, but the warm-ups do give you a chance to include some direct instruction on conventions within your curriculum. You can obviously supplement this instruction with other online tools, such as Khan Academy, to give the kids more practice.
You might also choose to simply use the warm-ups or the guided notes as an introductory exercise prior to editing a piece of writing. I do this frequently in my classroom. We'll complete a brief exercise on sentence fragments, for example, and then we will get out a writing piece that we are working on and edit for fragments (self/peer editing).
I hold one central belief about teaching writing conventions: at some point, you have to include some direct instruction. Students learn how to become better writers by writing, editing/revising, and rewriting, but they do not become effective editors unless they hold some core knowledge about the rules. If we can pass on some of that knowledge and then ask our kids to apply it frequently to their writing, they will become better writers.