5 Must-Have Entries for Your Pandemic Journal

Rarely, do you see me without a notebook. I have kept a journal for the past 20 years and have filled hundreds of notebooks with handwriting expressing my successes, failures, hopes, dreams, and even mundane daily tasks. There is no replacement for the feeling I get when my favorite pen glides across a new page in my journal! 

Keeping a journal provides a safe spot for expressing ideas, wrestling with questions, and writing yourself into history. It is both therapeutic and creative. Journaling is inexpensive and accessible; the writing that occurs is self-regulated and shares patterns, behaviors, and experiences that have defined us. 

Journaling also provides a unique primary source during historical moments in time for future generations to read and understand. Journals become a  collection of thoughts and experiences from the people who lived through it. Currently, we are all living in another one of these historical moments and a Pandemic Journal is a perfect place to record how we are living through these uncommon times, as well as a creative and meaningful way to encourage our students to write. 

Here are 5 Must-Have Entries for Your Pandemic Journals:

  1. Pandemic Picture – Inspired by the work of photographer, Gregg Segal, Pandemic Pictures depict a person surrounded by the items that are most important to them during this pandemic (and can be photographed). For instance, I told my daughter to collect 15 things that she couldn’t live without, were important to her, that she loved, or that brought her joy while sheltering in place. Her collection was filled with creativity, art supplies, music, technology, as well as TP, hand sanitizer, and a mask. This one photo represents her 12-year-old life during COVID-19 and will ignite memories to be shared with others in the future.

2. T-chart – Create a t-chart somewhere in the journal that will allow you to add to it throughout the pandemic. On one side list “Things I Love Right Now” and the other “Things I Miss Right Now”. Bike rides with my children, exploring nature, and the growing bond between siblings are a few things listed on my “Love” side. Flying and travel, extended family and friends, enjoying appetizers and drinks at a restaurant are just a few of the things I miss greatly. Having this space in my journal will allow me a dynamic spot to add to as time goes on.

3. Letter to Future Self – Letter writing has seen an increase during the pandemic. In your journal, write a letter to your future self explaining your current reality. How would you explain what you are experiencing? What would be important to remember? What hopes do you have for the future? Writing to your future will provide a time to not only grapple with current conditions but provide hope to what things will be like in the future. 

4. Listicle – A listicle is a piece of writing that is wholly or partly created by a list. This is another entry that can be ongoing, a place to record, in list form, things you want to remember. For instance, the price of gas (wow, is it low), what is missing from the grocery store, what people are hoarding, when businesses and recreation are closed and opened, how social distancing looks in the stores with the plastic guards and dots on the ground. There are many small things that have shifted in our daily lives, it will be important to note these differences. 

5. Interview – By our very nature, humans are social. And during these times, sheltering-in-place and social and physical distancing have become the norm, and in some places the mandate. Connecting with others is important for our physical and emotional health, and although we may not be able to meet for dinner or attend a celebration in person, talking with those we care about can be another entry to document in our pandemic journal. Interview a relative or friend and write down the conversation. What does their daily life look like now? What do they miss doing? What have they learned about their neighborhood, family, city, etc.? What sort of social norms are developing? What is closed? What is open? These interviews become part of a living history and help to stay connected to others. 

Journaling is not new, what is new is the current reality people across the globe are living through. Everyone’s life has been impacted by COVID-19 and it is important for us, and our students to capture our experiences and feelings to write ourselves into history. I encourage you to begin your own Pandemic Journal if you have not already done so, it is not too late. I would also encourage you to have your students and children write their thoughts in a journal during this time. It is not only therapeutic but a creative outlet that will benefit future generations to come. 

Have any other Must-Have Pandemic Journal ideas to share? Drop me a comment below!

ISTE LITERACY PLN: 5 Point Friday, Information Literacy

Recently, I joined the ISTE Literacy PLN leadership committee, a group of literacy educators with a variety of roles in education who convene around the shared of passion of technology shaping reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Every Friday, a member of the team writes and shares a “5 Point Friday” listicle. Last week was my first submission and I wrote and shared resources for Information/Media Literacy. Below is my post:

Technology has increased the consumption of information at a rate unseen before and only promises to grow in the future. On average, we spend over 6 hours online every day! As we flip between social media platforms and news sources, having the skills critically discern information is a necessity. Yet, little attention is given to the teaching of media literacy in schools. 

The spread of misinformation and disinformation is rampant. We can no longer rely on past methods, checklists, and resources to help us, and our students, navigate digital information, multi-modal modes, and deep fakes. Recognizing fact from fiction takes both human and machine learning, requiring educators to stay current in the resources available.  

Here are 5 digital resources for media literacy to consider:

  1. Games:  Which Face is Real? Learn how to distinguish between a real face and one computer-generated. Factitious – A Tinder-like game involving news instead of potential dates. Bad News – Places players in the role of the ones who create bad news to gain followers and fame. 
  2. Fact-Checking: Media Bias/Fact Check – MBFC is dedicated to educating the public on media bias and deceptive news practices. Snopes – started out as a site that checked urban legends but now encompasses general fact-checking of viral misinformation. Lead Stories – one of the longest-running, internet fact-checkers out there.
  3. Politics: Politifact – PolitiFact’s core principles, “independence, transparency, fairness, thorough reporting, and clear writing,” and if you are unfamiliar with the Truth-O-Meter, it is a must click link! Factcheck.org – is a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. AllSides – Interactive for users, AllSides exposes people to information and ideas from all sides of the political spectrum so they can better understand the world.
  4. Extensions: SurfSafe is a browser extension for Chrome with one goal, to detect fake or altered photos. NewsGuard is a browser extension to add to your Chrome or Edge browser which gives websites color-coded ratings based on their trust and accountability. Nobias alerts you to the political slant and credibility of news articles and authors before you even read them.
  5. Websites: News Literacy Project – is a national education nonprofit offering nonpartisan, independent programs that teach students how to know what to trust in the digital age. Resources for teachers and students, plus CheckologyKQED/PBS – provides a Media Literacy Educator Certification through Micro-credentials free for educators. NAMLE – The National Association for Media Literacy Education is a national organization dedicated to media literacy providing resources for educators.

Finally, and another terrific source to add to your collection, a creative commons ebook by Mike Caulfield, Web Literacy for Student Fact-Checkers. It is time to toss out the CRAAP checklist and replace it with the methods and moves he shares to best equip our students with the skills needed for contemporary discourse!

Are you a member of ISTE? Consider joining the Literacy PLN to get updates, resources, and connections to other EdTech Literacy Fanatics!

Writing Prompts to Kick 2020 Off Right!

Within the next week or two, educators will return to school and greet the smiling faces of the students whom we have not seen since 2019. And with the new year, a new start is often viewed as an opportunity to set new goals or create new habits.

It’s the beginning of a new year and a new decade; 365 opportunities to dream big and accomplish something new (or something that has been an unreachable goal until this year). For many students, it will be time to reconnect with friends and teachers that they haven’t seen for a couple of weeks. Some students are beginning new coursework, attending a new school, or even planning for graduation in a few months.

As a teacher, returning from winter break was always my favorite time to have students write. Students wrote about their dreams, goals, and ambitions, plus, it went perfectly with the start of a new year and helped to build a community of writers!

Here are 3 WritingIdeas to Kick Off the New Year:

  1. Dream Big – Like a New Year’s Resolution, this writing assignment is filled with questions to consider and write about in hopes that what’s important to them at this moment rises to the top. The Dream Big writing prompt allows students to not only voice what is important to them but identify the steps necessary to accomplish their goal(s) and a timeframe in which to aim. 

New Year, Dream Big…

  • What are my dreams? In school? Life? Friendship? Activities? Etc. (Identify one to write about)
  • Why is this dream important to me? Why did I choose this one?
  • Is this a new dream? Old dream? Habitual dream?
  • What do I already know or understand about this dream?
  • What steps do I need to take to make this happen? Have I already completed or started any of these steps?
  • What help do I need to achieve this dream? Who or what can help me?
  • What is my timeframe for accomplishing this dream? How will I know I succeeded? When will it be time to give up?
  • Closing thoughts and reflections?

2. One Word – Instead of having a lengthy dream or resolution, why not have students identify and write about their One Word for the new year. Every year, educators and students alike choose and share their One Word publicly, but where do you start? And How do you help students identify their One Word? Once done, I always had my students create a visual to post on their blogs sharing their #OneWord or #OneWord2020 Here are a few questions to get them writing:

  • Reflect on who you were this past year? How would you describe yourself? How would others? 
  • Identify the type of person you want to be in the new year? What is your aspirational identity? 
  • Identify the characteristics and qualities of your aspiration or the person you want to be. 
  • Choose your word. Does it call you to action? Ooze passion? Reflect the person or the characteristic you want to be/portray?

3. Habits – Finally, many argue that resolutions are pointless and are quickly forgotten, and it is habits that we need to focus on. Habit tracking helps people identify the small consistent things they do daily that amount to a larger change.

Habit tracking allows one to make changes in their life that will last a lifetime, not just the first month of January 2020. Using a habit tracking app like Google Keep, Bullet Journals, or even Sticky Notes makes your progress visual and encourages continuation. I mean, who doesn’t like checking off a box on a list or calendar. And if you miss a day or two, habit tracking allows you to pick up your goals the very next day. 

As a teacher of writing, I knew the importance of modeling the process for students. When they wrote, I wrote. So be sure to include your own Dreams, One Word, Habits, or Resolutions with your students. And revisit them throughout the rest of the school year, reflecting on progress and where to go to next! 

So consider having your students write to start off the New Year. Help them vocalize their dreams and make them a reality! And enjoy your 2020, I know I plan to make this my best year yet! And my #OneWord for 2020 in case you are curious #Value

Instructional Coaching, Moving Beyond Observation to Co-Teaching

Over the past 7 years, I have seen the power of instructional coaching and the impact on student achievement. Transfer from initiative adoption of professional development does not automatically happen. In fact, without the presence of an instructional coach, I would guess the implementation of any strategy, program, or initiative; even by educators sitting in the same professional learning, is  50/50.

With that being said, I am aware of the difference in effectiveness among instructional coaches as well. Without clearly defined roles, ongoing collaboration and professional learning, instructional coaching could look a lot like observation, sitting in a classroom and taking notes while coaching a colleague.

One untapped model that would promote the transfer into the classroom is co-teaching. Co-teaching, like coaching, can be a mixed bag of applications. That is why it essential to investigate and determine the type of co-teaching that works best in your coaching partnership.

Co-Teaching

Modeling – A traditional type of co-teaching is modeling. An expert teacher models, demonstrates, or shows the partnering teacher how to instruct. Modeling is designed to span the whole class period where the partnering teacher is observing and noting instructional moves displayed by the expert teacher or instructional coach.

Micro-Modeling – Micro-modeling is a partnership in the planning and delivery between the instructional coach and partnering teacher. During the planning session, each educator designates specific parts of the lesson they will deliver. For example, the instructional coach may deliver the minilesson during the writing workshop, demonstrating sound pedagogy in the specific area the partnering teacher designated. The partnering teacher may then agree to deliver the instruction for the small groups.

Tandem Teaching – Tandem teaching is a partnership where the coach and teacher work together in the classroom, almost “feeding” off of each other. This requires a trusting relationship, a true partnership in learning, and an adept understanding of strengths and areas of focus each has in the classroom.

Coaches who use a co-teaching model send the message that they are ready to dig-in and do the work alongside the partnering teacher. From my own experience, this dynamic process and shared vision not only improves instruction but increases transfer and student achievement in the classroom. 

Sweeney, Diane. Student-Centered Coaching

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator on Unsplash

I am Not a Reading Teacher, I Am a Gatekeeper of Information

Working with hundreds of educators over the past ten years, the phrase I hear most frequently is, I am not a reading teacher. From science teachers to math teachers, when you ask most Middle School and High School educators what they teach, reading is the last response (if at all) you typically hear…unless you ask a literacy teacher.

When this occurs, I can’t help but think of them as  “Gatekeepers of Information”. An educator who claims no responsibility in the teaching of literacy strategies because they are not the “reading teacher” can most definitely be classified as such. With this stance, students are denied skills, strategies, and opportunities to understand content specific discourse. The teacher, once again, becomes the “gatekeeper” of information; the lone expert in the class, able to decode foreign concepts or understand information as if by magic. This logic only strengthens the dependency of the student on the teacher, contradicting the goal of education; to move all students towards independence.

Take, for instance, the following example of a typical 8th-grade science test question:

The annotations I provide highlight areas that a science teacher could model as literacy skills. The goal of literacy across discipline areas is not to have all teachers require and teach a classroom novel, but to teach students the necessary skills needed to read, write, and think like a “scientist” or “mathematician”, etc.

Most educators enter the profession with an open heart and a passion for teaching. They often find teaching students how to read and write a daunting task. They do not know where to start, how to assess, or lack confidence in their own skills. With this in mind, I offer the following advice.

5 Ways to Tackle Content-Specific Literacy:

  •  Vocabulary – Identify common words that are specific to content areas, terms that are needed to build a foundation.
  • Structure/Format – Recognize the format a text uses is important to understand the type of reading required. Headings, Bold-Faced Words, Glossary, Pictures or Diagrams; all of these things provide information for the savvy reader.
  • Organization – Content-specific text often has repetition in the organization. Cause/Effect, Chronological, General to Specific; identifying and modeling how the author organizes the text will help students locate needed information.
  • Mentor Texts – This term often confuses many educators because of the formal tone, but simply stated, a mentor text is a specific example that students can approach from a variety of angles because it has so many things done correctly. Students use mentor texts reflectively and ask themselves, how can I parallel what that author did in my own work? All teachers should have a collection of mentor texts (including their own writing examples) that students can dissect, study, and keep as a reference.
  • Model your thinking – Finally, as the expert in the room, modeling your thinking aloud makes clear strategies used to comprehend the text or question. This consistent modeling, paired with gradual release, will increase a student’s own learning and provide needed practice which eventually leads to independence

Being able to support students as they encounter discipline-specific texts means ALL educators support and teach literacy. Remember, you are the expert in that content area and need to unlock how to read like a… historian, mathematician, musician for students!