• Megan Mariano

Collaborating when Distanced: My Routine for ELA During Remote/Hybrid Learning

Updated: Aug 30




How I am Feeling Right Now

It is August 2020 and we are still in the midst of the pandemic that has rocked our country early in 2020. As I write this post, my school's plans are to start September as a hybrid schedule...essentially, students are in cohorts and only in school twice a week. Students can also opt out totally for in-school learning. Needless to say my head is completely spinning with how to manage this.


My gut tells me we will be going remote starting the school year. Let me tell you; I want to be in school so bad. So so so so bad. I want my only child to be in school so bad. So so so so bad. But the guidelines we will be expecting to follow in school are absolutely unfathomable. Desks will be 6 feet apart. Students have to wear masks all day. No sharing of materials. No moving to other classrooms. No collaborative group work. This is not what school looks like.


It's dystopian. You try to control tween/teens and you know what happens? Rebellion. Anyone who reads YA novels knows this. We can control them all we want in the classroom, but once they leave, all heck will break lose. This is why ::cringe:: I think we need to start remote. This is my absolute nightmare. I do not want my son learning on the computer all day. I don't even know what this will look like for him. I also have no idea how I'd teach remotely while my son is learning remotely. As I write this, my home district just announced they are going all-virtual; I truly have no clue how to manage this, but I will have to figure it out.


At first, I thought we could make this in-school thing work. Students could wear masks when social distance couldn't be maintained; they could take them off when at their desks. For my son, they could have dividers to give them mask breaks. But unfortunately this is off the table as masks are now mandated all day.


So, based on our extremely strict guidelines, it is clearly not safe to return yet. I just hope we can this year at some point. Health and being alive are way more important than trying to make school "normal" right now. My heart just breaks for those students with special needs, broken homes, or just need their friends.


My plan this year, no matter what the scenario, is to teach as if all students are remote learning. I cannot possibly plan three different lessons and activities.


How I (Think) Am Going to Teach

I don't start school until September, so this is subject to change, but here is my plan of action.


First of all, my plan is to focus solely on using Google Classroom, Slides, and Docs. I also will be using Seesaw. That's it. I am not throwing in too many other tech things...here and there I will, but this year will be stressful enough. Read about how I use Seesaw here.


This is how I plan to start off...

I am going to spend the first week building relationships. This is so important this year. When you are with students in the classroom everyday, the relationships often grow organically. Well, when you're looking at little boxes of faces or faces with masks, this relationship building is going to be a lot more work. I plan on doing a bunch of digital identity related activities:


Stations: I CANNOT TAKE CREDIT FOR THE ORIGINAL IDEA. Last year, I did Laura Randazzo's stations in the classroom and loved them. I was planning on doing them again this year, but I wanted to change up the questions to be more appropriate to this school year. So, go check out her stations and these are the ones I am doing below. Instead of the students moving to stations, I will count them off and have them add their stickies to the appropriate slides.


The first slides, they will have their own copies via Google Classroom and will answer the questions.


The slides below will be added on Google Classroom as "anyone can edit". They will then copy and paste their stickies to the appropriate questions after I count them off. (Again, check out Laura Randazzo's stations).


This is NOT in my TpT store as it is not my original idea, but you can grab these slides here and here to use if you'd like!


Decorating a digital locker: I am sure you've seen this floating around the internet. I think it's a cute way to get kids to know each other. You will see mine below. With almost everything I do, I will post this on Seesaw for all students to see. Make your own digital locker by clicking here!


Last year, on Seesaw, I did a few activities on identity in the first month of school. I plan on doing more this year, but at this time, I will do these again. You can certainly adapt them for other platforms.:


This is just a basic About Me page I found on TpT but students use Seesaw's tools to do it.

This next activity shows students' family dynamics. I LOVED this last year. It was so cool to see how different families were set up. Some students had super simple pictures and others had so many details. It was nice for them to compare and find others like them! I had them focus on who lives with them. Some students had two drawings because they lived in two places! It was a great conversation to have about how every family is different, but it doesn't mean there is one right way a family should be.


The last Seesaw activity I kick off the year with are selfies. Students take a selfie of themselves to describe their traits and then they use a friend's selfie to describe nice things about the friend!


I wrote a blog post about the first week of school so I will try to incorporate some of that. I am going to spend significant time getting kids into their first books, being sure they know how to get books digitally and just learning more about them. I have them do the survey below and conference with them about that, helping them find books based on those interests. I am still going to attempt to conference in some way...most likely through Zoom.


I am still working through my ideas on this, so I will update as I do! I also want to do some read-alouds (picture books).


During a normal school year, I teach Reading and Writing Workshop style and I don't intend to change that.


This is what my routine will *hopefully* look like...

My routine is going to look as close to my classroom as possible, minus my usual bell-ringer. Well, it's not really a bell-ringer, but I typically do grammar or vocabulary for the last 15 minutes of class. I am just not doing it this year. My class time is being cut by 20 minutes and I'd rather focus on reading and writing workshop during the 60 minutes I have with them. (Read below to find out more about grammar and vocabulary). So this is what my routine will look like:

  • All students will log into Zoom (those in and out of school) and we will read for 15 minutes. I am cringing about how I will monitor this and I am just going to have to accept that I may not be able to. It is what it is. If they are home, they are home...I will just use my usual Reading Record to check in when them to be sure they are reading. I will also do so in my conferences.

  • Then, I will do my mini-lesson, which is what I've always done. This is usually about 10-20 minutes.

  • Depending on the lesson, I will then do breakout rooms for partner work or dive right into independent work. When they work individually, I put them in a breakout room all by themselves. This way, I can pop in and talk to them one-on-one. Plus, they don't feel like everyone is listening in. I actually like this a lot...it sometimes gets kids talking to me that wouldn't in class because they are embarrassed around their peers! This is one benefit of distance learning for sure. The picture below shows a bit what that looks like.

  • I will check in with all of them at the end.



Grammar and vocabulary: I am going to attempt interactive notebooks and doodle vocabulary. I think it is so valuable to have students do SOMEthing on paper. Somehow, I will get the papers to them and I would do Screencastify videos to describe how to do them. I figure grammar and vocabulary is something parents at home could help with more easily than reading and writing workshop. My plan is to give them a good month's worth of papers and each week they'd do a different set. They could take pictures of their work and put it on Seesaw. If I find this too difficult to keep up with, I may end up going the digital route: (Read my blog post about it here).


Expectations and "rules": I am going to be flexible, but will still have expectations. This is a big concern on social media. Some teachers are clamoring for rules to enforce in their Zoom classes while others are adamant that there should be no rules at all. I do think there needs to be a balance. I do not think we should be policing them in their own homes, however I do feel that there needs to be an understanding that Zoom time is class time. Having a set of etiquette is a good idea to have, but we must be empathetic to students' home lives.


The etiquette should be a baseline. This is what a typical, well-run class would look like. I do feel cameras should at least be on at the beginning of class and during the mini-lesson. During independent or group work, I don't really care because honestly, at that point, it's on them to make sure work is getting done. I will be checking them on GoGuardian to be sure they don't disappear.


I plan on spending time discussing how their homes are different from a classroom and we need to respect each other's spaces however they look. I will spend time on creating digital backgrounds. I am hoping, going into it with an open mind, they will be okay with having cameras on.



Books: Students will be reading choice books. I am working with a bunch of ELA teachers to build a digital library for students. This will include books from Hoopla, Amazon Kindle (free books), Epic and more. I want this to be available to students because I know we will probably be totally remote at some point. I will be pushing students to request actual books from the public library as much as possible. As for my own extensive classroom library, I will probably bring some books with me when I travel to classrooms this year and will just quarantine any books students touch for a few days. Since I can't get all kids in my room, this is really my only option.



I will continue to teach by units. I don't plan on changing my typical curriculum much. I teach by units, not skills or by book. We will focus on particular units using choice books using digital notebooks that I've been implementing for years. You can read about my units here.


I am adding a Social Emotional component weekly. Last year, I said I'd do this...and I did, here and there, but I wanted to do it weekly and I didn't. My district purchased a yearlong curriculum for SEL...it wasn't cheap, so this is giving me incentive to do it. I am not exactly sure the exact method of how I am going to approach it, but I am thinking of doing it once a week, incorporating writing prompts. I am not going to sacrifice this anymore. Students need it more than ever.

Collaborating in a Hybrid or Remote Setting

So we have to keep kids socially distanced if we are in the building and if we are not in the building, well, they are already distanced! My plan, as mentioned early, is to teach as if all students are remote if I am hybrid. Interactions will mostly take place on the computer. The guidelines are super strict here and I don't plan on bending them. Students have to wear masks all day and MUST remain 6 feet apart. Plus, with cohorts and whatnot, it'll be too difficult to manage.


So, if IN the classroom, sure we have some open-ended conversations and discussions, but collaborating next to each other just can't happen. I am envisioning some large socially distanced partnerships since my class sizes will be super small or taking them out into the hallways to talk. Unfortunately, going outside is a challenge with the middle schoolers due to our location in the building and we are a PK-8 school.


Here is how I plan on having them collaborate digitally:

  • Breakout rooms: I am pretty sure everyone at this point knows about breakout rooms. In Zoom and I believe Google Hangouts is doing it this year as well, you can pair students up in separate video calls while still be in the major session. Last year, I would often have them do a slide or portion of the lesson with a partner (same as I would in class). They could share their screens with each other, chat, etc. Admittedly, it was VERY difficult getting some kids to talk when I couldn't be in every single room at once. I would just try to chat with them as much as possible in GoGuardian.

  • Shared Docs and Slides: I love doing this! By clicking that little share button up top in Google Slides or Docs, students can work on a Doc or Slide together. This could go along with breakout rooms. I do several activities a year this way. I've had students develop non-fiction books, poems, collaborative posters all through sharing this way AND they can chat through there.

  • Chat and Google Hangouts: So, no matter how hard you may try, there will be some students who will not talk. However, you will find some of those students are the most verbose through chat. I use it in Zoom, but mostly GoGuardian. Sometimes the most quiet kids have the most to say in the chat. Also, students will often go into Google Hangouts after class to work on activities. You can certainly assign students to do this.

  • Seesaw: I know I keep pushing Seesaw, because it's great! Students can post activities on there and tag each other. Last year, I had them do a few videos in partnerships on there and they were able to tag each other. The whole class saw the video as did their parents!

Bottom Line

This school year is going to be the most interesting school year ever. All of what I planned could totally change because everything has been so unpredictable. As educators, we have to just adapt as best as we can and try to ignore a lot of the negativity going around. We have to try our best to still build relationships and be sure students' well-being is in tact.


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