Can we see through the looking glass into an alternative world?

In Lewis Carroll’s book Alice is playing with her white kittens when she ponders what the world is like on the other side of a mirror’s reflection. Climbing up onto the fireplace mantel, she pokes at the wall-hung mirror behind the fireplace and discovers, to her surprise, that she is able to step through it to an alternative world.

Well I feel a little like Alice when speaking to teachers in training on placement during the current COVID restrictions where they are not allowed on site and have to prepare and teach lessons to students online. It’s like peeking into many alternative worlds depending upon the mentor teacher IT skills, the resources the school provide both before and during the restrictions, the learning environment of the adult and the student and the way the mentor teacher views their role as an online educator.

This post is not meant to be a critical analysis of the difference between classrooms or subject teachers or between the schools they work in or indeed criticism of teachers in general. I believe the great majority of teachers have the best intentions. It’s rather a reflection on what teachers in training and students are doing in this space of remote or online learning.

Let’s get the “battle” stories for want of a better term out first so that we can concentrate on ways we may seek to improve the current state. Yes I’ve heard of remote classrooms where there is no direct teaching via some portal (Google Meets, Webex or Zoom) just Power Points to follow. I’ve heard of the pandemonium in remote classrooms without online norms exisiting or being reinforced (e.g. muting or turning on the camera). I’ve heard of assignments being set with little or no teacher feedback or correction and teacher environments that have competing noises (try renovations next door) or like Alice, have kittens wandering through.

I’ve heard of 5-8 year olds having to log in several times a morning to join different “rooms” for group instruction and older students typing irrelevant stuff in the chat space and distracting others.

So what do I advise my teachers in training to do?

For those teachers in training in their last placements of their final year – persist and finish – valuing well being is important – and to reflect on what their blended environments classrooms in the future might look like. The schooling world in general should and again I believe is reflecting upon this. If some change do not occur we doom ourselves and our students to repeat the same lessons at least over the next 2 years of COVID

I have worked with some schools and teachers who, like Alice, started to see and play with alternative spaces prior to the COVID restrictions. Perhaps as Winston Churchill said “Never let a good crisis go to waste”.

For this post I’m going to concentrate on Reading F-8 examples. I’m going to assume that every teacher has a responsibility to teach reading skills, it’s just that some teachers do more explicitly and more often than others (usually classroom or english/humanities based teachers). The second assumption is that those teachers teaching reading frequently and explicitly use a variety of strategies (e.g. shared reading, modelled reading, guided reading, reciprocal reading, book club or socratic circles). Another assumption is that levelled texts will be used at some point as well as texts designed for reciprocal or book club strategies. I think there are other assumptions as well e.g. that word study (including phonics) mergers between reading and writing but I won’t go on except to say after reading this is my blog followers want some support on those matters just let me know.

Lastly this list of resources is not a complete endorsement of the pedagogy that may lie behind the programs – for that analysis (PLUS/DELTA) is another matter which I’m also happy to discuss.

So two years ago I worked as a curriculum coach at a school and we looked into some blended learning environments (face to face with multiple sets of texts and digital texts used on ipads and computers). Yes home reading still existed in the early years. However both in the classroom and at home digital texts (sometimes the same texts) were used as a teaching and learning tool. These texts had followup tasks , games and quizzes for students to complete to reinforce certain skills and often extend students particularly around comprehension strategies. They allowed teachers to set up the program and match texts to students whilst allowing some measure of free choice. Most of the programs enabled teachers to track progress as well. We tried many of the programs below keeping some and leaving others.

When remote learning started teachers continued to teach face to face with texts and students continued tasks, quizzes just this time at home. So I encourage you to have a browse from the links below – some are still offering 6 months free trials.

ABC Reading Eggs Learn to Read Program for Kids
LiteracyPlanet Logo

Sunshine Books Australia

Fountas and Pinnell
pearson english portal
Key Links Digital

So I don’t think we are yet in an alternative world like Alice experienced and perhaps this is just part of that transition process.

There are others publishers and no I don’t receive any commission for mentioning these sites. Happy hunting.

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