Do you have students who know fewer than 40 upper/lower case letter names? And you’re teaching remotely? If you use Jan Richardson’s Next Step Forward in Guided Reading (2016) lesson plan templates for teaching these PreA stage readers, here’s a plan with modifications for teaching remotely (or see attached at bottom of blog). This plan was created during lessons with students and an amazing team of educators using a virtual meeting platform called Webex. (The adaptations should work for most platforms).
Before planning and teaching, we started by taking a deep breath and remembering what we know and believe about PreA stage readers.
- What we know about PreA stage readers: Pre-A stage readers want to learn to read!!! They generally know fewer than 40 upper and lower case letters. They may only know a few sounds. They may not be able to write their name without a model. They are learning concepts like one to one matching, what’s a word vs. a letter and so forth. And, most importantly, they are learning to make meaning from the print they read.
- What we know about how these readers learn: We know that students need “hands on” opportunities to play with letters, sounds, read books, and practice writing. As much as possible, our students need to be doing the work of learning–not just watching us do it! There are many other factors to consider, but I’ll just share one. Students need opportunities to learn about the multiple dimensions of letter knowledge – the shape, the name, the sound, how to form and the connection between the name & sound (alphabetic principle). Therefore, our remote plans need to include a variety of opportunities to work with letters.
Start every lesson with a materials check-in
Greet your students and then ask them to hold up each of the materials they will need. “Do you have a dry erase marker and an eraser? Do you have your alphabet chart in a plastic pocket? Do you have your name chart in a plastic pocket?” This will make it much easier for students to move to the next activity quickly and effortlessly.
Work with the limited materials your students have (and try not to ask parents for too much help)
We limited ourselves to the district provided materials (that families picked up):
- a colored alphabet chart,
- blank paper,
- two plastic pockets,
- and a black dry erase marker.
We did ask parents to do a few upfront steps with materials we provided:
- write the student’s name in 3″ letters at the top of a blank piece of paper before putting in a plastic pocket
- place the alphabet chart in a plastic pocket (could be on backside of name chart)
- find something the child can use as an eraser.
Make adjustments (without abandoning your beliefs)
Thinking about Richardson’s working with names activities–name puzzles, magnetic letters, rainbow writing–we made some important adjustments. We did not want to ask parents to make name puzzles. This is just too much for many and requires additional materials. The district did provide a set of letters printed on card stock and initially, we asked parents to cut up and put in a baggie, but then when we thought through five year olds putting all of those letters on the space in front of them and looking for the letters in their name — NO WAY. Instead we asked the parents to simply write the child’s name in 3 inch letters (upper and lower) at the top of blank paper (with the provided marker) and slip into a pocket. (The teacher called each family and arranged this ;). Then we developed three new steps – 1) Trace with your finger. 2) Trace with your marker (cap on). 3) Copy with your marker (just below). As they learn the letters, they need to also say the letter names each time they write their name.
For Richardson’s working with letters, we deleted “match the letters in the bag” and “match letters to an abc chart” (see “NO WAY” in previous paragraph for why). Instead we thought about how these activities are focused on learning the shapes of letters and each letter’s name and created three new activities (see details in the attached/linked lesson plan). Also for activities like “find the letter,” instead of asking the students to point to a letter on their alphabet chart, we asked them to circle the letter and hold up to the camera for the teacher to view.
For Richardson’s working with sounds, even in a Zoom or Webex meeting, you can still clap syllables or work on hearing rhymes with students. A picture sort is going to be tricky; we cannot hand out pictures for the students to manipulate. Instead the teacher hooked her document camera up in a way that she could “screen share” and the doc camera view was an option. I taught myself how to use the EpocCamViewer app with my smartphone. (If I can do this, then anybody with a smartphone can do this!!!)
For Richardson’s working with books, because you chorally read with the students together, not everyone needs their own book for remote teaching. Instead all you need to do is “share screen” and pull the book up. The tricky part is teaching them how to read with you at the same time and it’s also difficult to see them pointing (so you know if they have mastered 1:!). Instead I use the annotation tool to mark the words as we read. (This can be problematic if there is a connection delay that day.) I also asked the students to get their pointer fingers out and point to the screen as we read. They struggled to read at the same time as me. We talked about how shared reading is like when you sing a song together. (This had mixed results…;).
For Richardson’s letter formation, the teacher held a dry erase board up and modeled making the letter (using letter formation language like “around like a c, closed, down”). (BTW – On Webex, there is a whiteboard you can write the letter on, but it doesn’t reveal the letter being formed. The letter just pops up so we opted for modeling traditionally.) Then the students wrote the letter in the blank box at the bottom of their alphabet chart. You can’t do the observing that you normally do, right? Instead we made sure to ask the children to say the letter formation language as they formed the letter and then to hold the written letter up to the camera for us to view.
For Richardson’s interactive writing & cut-up sentence we decided it might be hard for the student to see a sentence on cut up pieces of paper. (Many of our students are on the district-issued iPad mini and the teacher frame is small.) Instead we used the Webex whiteboard; it’s different and draws students’ attention to the screen. The students still wrote dominant sounds in the dictated sentence (e.g., Dad can bake.) in the box at the bottom of their alphabet chart and held their letter up to the camera. Also instead of mixing and fixing, I ask the students to close their eyes (“Cover your eyes with your hands!”) and I erase a word. Then I say “What’s missing?” and they tell me which word I erased and we read the sentence before we play again. An alternative would be to use your doc camera and write the sentence and then mix and fix that way.
Pace & stretch
Our lessons were 15 minutes. We spread the PreA plan (typically one day) across three days. Between components, we moved & stretched (& giggled 😉 with the students as needed.
It’s okay when things fall apart
Oh, goodness. All sorts of problems occurred. Someone was missing a name chart. Someone’s marker was dry. Someone’s parents had cut up the alphabet chart. Someone had colored all of their alphabet chart. Someone got on late. One day the teacher couldn’t see the students but I could. CRAZY BUT OKAY. We made modifications in the moment while remembering the purpose of that part of the lesson or we paused with the students to regroup and then move on. I’ve started several guided reading groups since the pandemic started and typically by day 3 or 4, everything starts to click. Things will still go wrong, but the students know the routines and some parts go more quickly and smoothly! Most importantly – every day, our students were engaged and excited to be there with us!!!
Okay. This is not the normal topic for this blog but it’s what I’m living right now. Would LOVE to hear about how remote guided reading teaching is going for you.
Hope this helps. Emergent stage plan and notes are forthcoming. Next week I’m teaching THIEVES remotely to 60 fifth grade students–woohoo!!! Plan to write about that too.