COVID-19 is raging and I’m so grateful that we are still in a fully distance-learning model. Obviously it’s not ideal; not seeing my students face-to-face makes it extremely difficult to build the relationships I usually have and of course I can’t read their facial expressions to gauge understanding. But cases in our area are higher than they’ve ever been and our hospitals are approaching capacity, so I am thankful that we’re focusing on everyone’s safety above all else.
After starting the year with some community building activities, I moved into teaching the unit from En Comunidad about language practices (chapter 2). From there, we moved into one of my favorite units, writing and sharing our name stories. Usually this happens in the first 2-3 weeks of school, but it’s 2020, so we just wrapped up our stories last week. It’s such a fun and powerful little unit that I wanted to share it with you all. If you make it to the end, you’ll find all the slides I used in this unit, from start to finish, as a special gift for sticking with me through this long post.
I started the first day of the unit by asking students to share the meaning of their name in the chat for our Do Now. Students could look up the meaning of their name online if they didn’t know it. From there we moved into a video of Elizabeth Acevedo performing “Names” from her incredible verse novel “The Poet X.” Even though it’s in English, I wanted students to see and hear her performance because Acevedo is an incredible performer. Then I read aloud the Spanish translation of the same text and students did a 5-minute quick write in response to it.
From there we jumped into our first mentor text, “Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre” by Juana Martinez-Neal. I have the book but unfortunately the document camera I purchased is backordered, so I used a YouTube read-aloud of it to introduce students to the story. Then I asked students, in their small group breakout rooms, to create a slide with visuals that represented how they or the book answer the questions: ¿Qué nos enseña este libro sobre nuestros nombres y nuestras familias?¿Por qué debemos aprender la historia de nuestros nombres? This process took about 4 times longer than I anticipated (distance learning, hello!), but the results turned out great.
We did a Gallery Walk where students looked at the slides of other groups and added positive feedback in the comments. The screenshot below shows one example. If you click on the image, it should take you to a copy of the slides from one of my classes. I had to remove all the comments because they show students full names.
Next, we returned to Elizabeth Acevedo’s “Nombres” and dug into what the author communicated in this short poem. I used this Google doc and divided students among 2 copies so that 1/4 of the class worked in each small section at a time, making it slightly less chaotic.
The next class period, we returned to the same text to look at how the information we identified the previous day was communicated. I made a new Google doc and asked students to reread and look for techniques used by the author to communicate her message. This step is a lot harder, so I prepared a copy in advance with some things I wanted to point out. At the end, I asked students to comment on what they noticed about the highlighted words. Many students responded in the chat that the words were strong, unique, specific, powerful, etc. My favorite response was “The words are like a sword.” That student definitely got it!
We also took time to practice using a mentor sentence. We looked at the last 2 sentences of the poem and then I asked students to write their own version, starting each sentence the same as the original, but changing the rest to describe their own situation.
Our final mentor text was an except from Jenny Torres Sanchez’s book “We Are Not From Here.” If you haven’t read it yet, you really should. It is a fantastic book! Just keep the tissues nearby because it’s a tearjerker. Anyway, I typed up this excerpt from pages 207-209, shared my screen, and read it aloud. We didn’t spend as much time analyzing this text, but I did ask students to share in the chat one strategy from this excerpt that they could imitate in their writing. Since this book is a narrative and Poet X is a novel in verse, we were easily able to identify different writing techniques between the two examples. I also wanted to point out the effect of repetition, so I highlighted two examples and we talked about the way repeating a word or phrase adds emphasis and also impacts the way we read.
Finally students wrote their own name stories. I wish I could tell you how amazing they were, but I was sick all week and was barely able to muster the energy to teach my classes, so I haven’t done any grading at all.
Once their names stories were turned in, I had students record a Flipgrid reading their stories. Then we did a distance learning style Gallery Walk where students watched their classmates’ videos and then left either positive comments or personal connections. I was excited that Flipgrid now has text comments, but we found out that the Canvas Flipgrid integration doesn’t allow text comments. So on the fly I created a Google doc where I pasted my roster and asked students to type their comment next to their classmate’s name. This was an unfortunate extra step but it was nice to see students making genuine comments and connections with their classmates.
And that’s it. If you check out the slides, you will see my pacing as well as find a great video I forgot to mention earlier, where actor Uzo Aduba tells a story about growing up with a name that was often mispronounced. I absolutely love the message and her storytelling is perfect. My students always write great responses to this clip.
You made it to the end. Congrats! Do you have a favorite unit that has worked well in this unusual year? I’d love to hear about it!