In this One Thing You Might Try . . . post, kindergarten teacher, Katie Keier, offers a few ideas for maintaining the critical aspects of shared reading and writing during virtual learning and creating “Read it again!” moments for young learners—no matter what instructional setting you find yourself in.
Teaching virtually has challenged us more than ever to focus on identity, connection, and community. Honoring children has to stay at the heart of our work—whether we are virtual or in-person. One way to engage and honor our young readers and writers is to make the content all about them. With limited time in virtual spaces, teachers have had to be very creative in how we can maximize our teaching, choose what we keep as non-negotiables, and make sure kids are engaged in joyful learning on screen and off. So what do we do about shared reading? Does it still have an important place in our primary and elementary classrooms during remote teaching? How do we create those “read it again!” moments virtually? When we moved into distance learning last spring, shared writing experiences that eventually become familiar shared reading texts, were something that I knew had to remain a part of every day. So what does shared writing and reading look like in a virtual space? How can we focus on community and relationships, and maximize instruction, engagement, and joy through shared reading and writing?
Don Holdaway introduced shared reading in 1979 with the purpose of making texts accessible to all children, allowing them to experience what it feels like to be a proficient reader. It is a powerful instructional context that has endless possibilities and where all aspects of the reading process can be taught in a joyful and meaningful way. It also goes hand in hand with shared writing, with many co-created pieces of text becoming familiar shared reading texts.
In this past year of virtual challenges, I’ve partnered traditional ways of teaching shared reading and writing with technology in a virtual space. Below, I share some of our favorite activities that invite and engage learners in meaningful and authentic ways during this important part of our literacy day and beyond.
Star of the Day Interviews
Every day I introduce a Star of the Day in our morning message. It’s the highlight of the day! This student is featured in the morning’s message and we do some word work with their name. Then, during our afternoon meeting, they are interviewed as we create a shared writing piece that goes into a class book. The Star chooses friends to ask them questions such as, “what’s your favorite color? What’s your favorite animal? What’s your favorite food?” This is such a wonderful way to help students learn each other's names and to connect with each other through things they have in common. The interviews really help solidify our community and help us get to know each other better.
In our classroom, we would gather around a large piece of chart paper as I help them put the answer into a statement orally and then write the sentence down. In our virtual space, we do the same thing but in a page that we create during the interview in Google Slides. Each day, we read the previous interviews before we begin a new one. This quick and highly engaging experience is rich with teaching opportunities, such as what a question is, how to compose a sentence, what a sentence looks like, and how many words are in a sentence, as well as introducing some familiar sight words and focusing on a variety of skills like beginning letter sounds, capitalization, punctuation, and spaces between words. This year, after each child had a chance to be the Star, the class suggested that favorite stuffed animals, toys, or pets become the Star of the Day. So, we did another round of Star of the Day, with each child choosing which friend would lead the interview. This is definitely the first year we had a live snake as the Star of the Day!
Our Community Class Book
Name charts are a popular shared reading text in many classrooms. In remote learning, I found that I needed to be able to quickly refer to our name chart, and I wanted to have it visible in our virtual space, so I created a physical chart with photos and names that I can hold up when needed, as well as a class chart in Google Slides with student names and pictures. This year, I added family photos to our name chart and we created a class book to read as a shared reading text. We began with the name chart, with each child’s name and picture. The first letter of each name is written in red and the rest of the name is in black to spotlight beginning letters and letter sounds. After a few weeks of reading our name chart, we decided to create an Our Community Book that included all of the students and teachers and their families. It had a predictable text of “I am (child’s name). This is my family.” The kids love reading the book and seeing themselves and their friends, as well as everyone’s families. They ask each other questions about their families and connect what they learn to the family members that pop in and out of our screens during distance learning. Students request this favorite shared reading text daily.
Revisiting Texts On and Off the Screen
One of the things that makes shared writing and shared reading so powerful is having lots of opportunities to revisit those texts. When children reread and engage in shared texts repeatedly they gain an increasing awareness of print features and meaning making in a familiar context. This allows children to solidify understandings of how print works for themselves and notice these things on their own. We’ve all heard a child exclaim, “There’s the word and! Look! It’s there! And there!” –weeks or months after we’ve taught the word and. It’s so exciting when a child begins to notice print features independently and begins to see how print concepts, words, punctuation, and language work. Providing many opportunities for revisiting and rereading shared texts helps children own the texts as they construct meaning independently and see themselves as readers and writers.
In addition to our Star of the Day interviews and Our Community Book, virtual versions of our many other shared reading and writing texts (such as our morning messages and electronic versions of publisher favorites) are perfect additions to our Virtual Playground—a slide deck linked from our class website that children can visit on their own time. But I also want them to be able to engage with an actual book in addition to these digital versions, so they can revisit and interact with this familiar text at home. It’s important for children to have book handling experiences and opportunities to read books that are not on a screen. So, I print paper copies of our class-made books and send them home every other week during our school supply pick up. Creating these books in Google Slides or PowerPoint makes them really easy to print and staple into individual books. Sending a paper copy allows children to write directly on the text, circle words they know, fill in missing words, and revisit the message by themselves or with a family member.
A page from our Virtual Playground
In a recent webinar, Matt Glover said, “the moves are the same,” when referring to teaching virtually. I’ve held this close to my heart as I plan every day. I try to stay low-tech. I’ve used my document camera to read and reread favorite shared reading texts and to do shared writing with children, and I’ve used digital tools like Google Slides to expand what our shared reading and writing looks like in this virtual space. Shared literacy experiences are a non-negotiable, and when paired with a responsive teaching stance to what really matters with kids, they provide a powerful learning context that is joyful, engaging, and meaningful to our young readers and writers.
About the author
Katie Keier is a kindergarten teacher in Alexandria, Virginia. She is the co-author of Catching Readers Before They Fall, by Stenhouse Publishing. Katie believes that learning should be joyful, playful and meaningful. When she is not playing with her kindergarteners, Katie enjoys running trails in the mountains of Virginia.
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