Saturday, March 21, 2020

Learning Clubs and Author Studies for Distance Learning during Covid-19

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     We finished our first week of being out of school and work due to the Covid-19 pandemic and quarantine. It has been quite the challenge.  Schools have closed across the country for three weeks (or indefinitely - we're expecting a longer closure), non-essential stores have closed, and people have been asked to keep social distancing themselves.  In fact, we're supposed to just stay home.

     In response to this dramatic time, many educators are sharing distance learning resources and support.  Suddenly, our students and teachers are home and away from each other.  School leaders had to make incredibly important decisions at lightning speed.  As an education consultant, serving five districts as a gifted coordinator and several more as an education and ELA consultant, I was a witness and participant in this drastic time.  I have to was impressive .  I already knew educators were an impressive lot.  But wow.  Now I think they're superheroes and beyond. In an amazingly short time, folks were creating and sharing resources, hopping on teleconferencing tools and planning, strategizing, connecting (we were suddenly missing face-to-face time with colleagues, students, family, and friends), learning, and teaching, and the world was making in-person experiences virtual.  The week was nothing short of surreal and breathtaking.  It was also inspiring.
     In the midst of the whirlwind, I was listening to the audio of Sy Montgomery's The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, and I was mesmerized. Somehow, Sy's calm and impassioned voice took me to another dimension amidst the chaos of the current situation.  Here she was, talking about the wonders of an octopus when a virus was ravaging the world.  And I was all in.  Because I am also suddenly immersed in thinking about distance learning, an idea started to form...

     A couple years ago, I did a professional development with intermediate teachers about disciplinary and content literacy.  While researching, I came across learning clubs.  I loved the idea of grouping kids according to interest in a topic and across disciplines.  This idea came to mind when I thought about Sy Montgomery's love of octopuses (yes, that's the correct plural).  How can we leverage that love of a topic in a distance learning environment?  Can we have kids make quicklists of favorite animals, places, people, and events?  Bring them into a videoconferencing meeting using Zoom or Google Meet and then have them break out into learning club discussions/research/planning according to topic?  Have a blog group around the topics?  Suggest asynchronous discussion tools - Padlet, Linoit, Slack, Voxer? Have them present to each other using Screencastify or some other tool?  I don't know the details, but I'm thinking we can help them discover their topics and then support them with text sets.

For example, what if the topic was octopuses?  The above texts would be a great start (The Soul of an Octopus is actually an adult or YA book, but the others would be great for intermediate grades +).  Then how about gathering the following resources to help support research:

Newsela articles (by the way, along with SO many other amazing sites, Newsela is offering a free upgrade to schools for the remaining 2019-2020 school year)
New England Aquarium news about live FB events and virtual activities during the Covid-19 quarantine (the New England Aquarium was the home of Montgomery's beloved Octavia)

What if students want to pursue author (or illustrator) studies?  Sy Montgomery would be an AWESOME choice!  I first knew her through one of my favorite nonfiction series, The Scientists in the Field.  She's written several amazing books in that series.  She also wrote the much acclaimed Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World.  I ordered The Good Good Pig right after I finished How to Be a Good Creature.  There are lots of interviews with Sy Montgomery to enjoy as well (I loved how she is described as "part Emily Dickinson, part Indiana Jones"):

     The possibilities are endless!  One of the other topics this could inspire is women in the sciences.  What are your ideas and thoughts around learning clubs or author studies, especially designed for distance learning?  Anything you can share would be appreciated!

     I'm going to keep exploring this learning pathway.  Stay tuned for more posts on learning clubs and author studies!