With the exception of a few days, we have been face to face all year.  Thankfully, my district has mandated face masks all year, but trying to teach in the midst of a pandemic with a room full of teenagers and no exterior ventilation has been stressful to say the least.  There have been many challenges to this academic year—less planning time, more duties, dreadful student attendance, and a tremendous amount of energy helping students restore some of their work ethic/habits.  However, in the midst of these obstacles, there have been positive moments of learning and “flow.”  Here are my top 10 favorite learning structures/activities of the 2020-21 year!

  1.  Hexagonal Thinking:  I originally planned to do the digital version of this, but when I learned Chromebooks would be collected a little earlier than I anticipated, I spend an entire evening converting the projects to analog format for each book club text (seven!), and then printing all the tiles on my home printer.  A ream and a half paper later plus two ink cartridges, I had one for every student.  In hindsight, I am really pleased the project was analog because cutting, pasting, arranging, and working with hands has been PERFECT for the end of the year.
  2. Book Club Discussions with Parlay:  check out my post in which I outline success and challenges I faced this spring with 8th grade book clubs.  While I could not completely mitigate all the challenges, Parlay helped me salvage book club discussions with a twist and in a virtual format even though we were meeting face to face.
  3. Digital Learning Stations with Analog Progress Tickets:  I blogged about this earlier in the academic year, but the sticker/stamp check in tickets are a tool I will use with stations again in 2021-22.
  4. Google Classroom:  I have meant to do a blog post on how helpful Google Classroom has been for three months of “writing boot camp” for my 8th graders as we worked on informational and argumentative essays earlier this semester, but I just never had time or energy to do it.  However, Google Classroom has been a GODSEND in teaching writing as you can create drafting templates for different parts of an essay, provide feedback quickly and seamlessly, and evaluate student work more effectively and efficiently.  In addition, I have used so many Google Slides based assignments this year in our first year of being a 1:1 Chromebook school that Google Classroom was just a better fit than Canvas since Canvas STILL has not integrated Google assignment in a seamless manner.
  5. March Madness Poetry:  I have wanted to do March Madness Poetry Playoffs FOREVER…of all the years to do it, this was the one!  I honestly think it brightened the days of many students during that long stretch of March that can feel like infinity.  I think it also helped many students think about poetry differently; I thought it was interesting many made connections between some of our March Madness poems and their book club texts during our spring book clubs!
  6. Co-Writing Essays:  This is another unwritten blog post, but the power of collaborative writing really helped many of my 8th graders step up their writing game.  I gave students the option of working alone or co-writing with a partner of their choice in March as we composed argumentative essays.  With one exception, these partnerships were incredibly successful as students engaged in more revision and discussion about their work as they composed the different parts of the essay.  If you are interested in practical tips and strategies for facilitating co-written or group essays, check out this post from Ashley Bible.
  7. Book Club Choices for Spring Book Clubs:  I originally wanted to do all novels in verse, but due to limitations and the fact I couldn’t get my Donors Choose project funded in time, I did a combo of memoirs and novels in verse.  This combination actually worked out great because all books spoke to our book club essential question (read more here).  I feel like students were super engaged with their books more so than my 8th students were in the past two years, so I will definitely use these choices again.  I’m not against doing a book club by genre, but I am leaning toward doing all book clubs by essential question in the future.
  8. Virtual Book Club Tastingyou can read more in this post, but I used a digital version of book tasting using Google Books and book trailers or interviews with authors for book tasting for spring book clubs.  Just as I have in the past, I used Google Forms to collect top choices and to sort book clubs so that every student got one of his/her top four book choices.  I think in the future I will use both hard copies of books as well as the digital book tasting board with multimedia and Google Book links to facilitate book tasting.