This is certainly a year like no other! I am sure that all of my fellow teachers will agree, it is definitely a year when every day brings a new set of surprises – and additions or subtractions to the class roster!
This year, I am teaching about 75 students in Brick-and-Mortar (as our district likes to call it) and about 75 students virtually. To say it is a challenge is nothing short of a tremendous understatement! I have a wide range of students, about a third of whom have an IEP, another third have a 504 plan or are ESL and all are below level. There are 30 in several groups and they switch between my virtual rosters and my in-person rosters with startling frequency. Sound familiar? Maybe not the same challenges, but I am sure your plate is full as well!
In this environment, it is so very easy to become overwhelmed and feel like you aren’t giving your students what they need (yes, that is experience talking!) As I have told my Structures teachers many times, and as I have to remind myself daily, “Everything you give them is more than they had the day before.” That being said, I am going to share a few of my strategies for coping with the daily challenges that are so unique to this year – I hope!
What do they need? I began by assessing my students. I then made a spreadsheet with the lesson numbers on them and I added student names below each lesson. Any lesson that had a majority of my students, I planned on teaching whole group. Each of the other lessons, I planned on teaching in small groups. Some of those small groups are virtual and some are live.
Prepare “to-go” kits. I made up bags of materials for each of my students. Each student has a 2-gallon bag of materials that they are using. There is no sharing of materials – keeping ‘em sanitary! In the bag, I placed a plastic plate with a scoop of sand. For inexpensive whiteboards, I placed tagboard inside of plastic sheet protectors. I placed a dry erase marker and a (clean) old sock in the bag to round out materials needed for the Three Part Drill. For Red Words, my students received some cut paper, a red crayon, and some “bumpy screens.” I found some terrific bumpy place mats at the local craft store. I cut them into slices for each student.
Start with buy-in. I have a particularly tough group of middle school “unbelievers” this year. So, I share the scientific research with them as we go through the lesson. I tell them, “I need you to use the sand because your brain is particularly strong on the right side. We need to rewire it to use the left side so that you are able to read more fluently.” I would love to say it has worked miracles, but it has not. They are better, but still doubting. I’ll give them time, keep at it, and not give up.
Repetition, repetition, repetition. Fluency is really the key for many older readers. They have some basic skills, but not the automaticity required to retrieve information quickly and effortlessly, creating slow, labored readers. I fit in a Skill 3-Part-Drill at least 2 times a week (with an extra Blending Drill if I can!) and a Root 3-Part-Drill 2 times a week. We do dictation every day. This group of kids LOVES sentence dictation, so that part is fun. They particularly like doing long sentences with multi-syllable words.
Mistakes = opportunity. Finally, it seems to help that I remind my students that what we are doing is NOT for a grade, it is simply for their improvement. Success has not come easily for most of them. Tell them it is ok to make and correct a mistake. No big deal! Mistakes are an opportunity! They also love to hear from me, “That sentence is perfect.” and scramble when I tell them, “Oh, it is so close!”
Above all, take a moment to enjoy each day’s success. The changes, the unpredictability, can be a tidal wave. Instead, think about that kid who spelled a two syllable word correctly, those kids who remembered that “tele means far” or those that were able to make a new connection. We are teachers! Let that light shine because you are making a difference.
Written by Cheryl Garner
Cheryl is a Brainspring Master Instructor, Certified Dyslexia Specialist, and Nationally Board Certified Teacher. She has taught at the elementary, middle, and high school level, and was most recently an Elementary School Reading Coach.
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