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How to Run a Virtual First Chapter Friday Program

In this strange season of transition, in which you may be teaching in person one day, remote the next, and blended the next, it's important to have some consistent programming set up that can give you easy wins weeks after week. No matter what scenario you're in. 

These are the flexible programs I shared with you in podcast episode ninety-seven, A Flexible Plan for Blended Learning. I hope you'll give it a quick listen if you haven't yet, because a lot of teachers have been telling me it's helping them feel more comfortable with the uncertainties of fall. 

Today we're diving into how you might run a First Chapter Friday (or Monday, or Wednesday, etc.) program online. If you set it up for Fall 2020 online now, you can share it in any scenario, adjusting smoothly to whatever changes come. 

Let's start with the basics. First Chapter Friday is a chance to share many different books with your students so they become familiar with more authors, more voices, more styles, and feel more inspired to read new books. Ideally, it's part of an independent reading program so you channel that inspiration right into reading. Normally, that would look like a classroom library and a structure to go with it, but right now that probably looks like great access to ebooks and audio books and a structure to go with them. 

On the day you choose to share your first chapters, you crack open a great book, read out loud, and kids listen and sketchnote, so they have a colorful record of the first chapters they've heard and might want to read later. (You can read all about the basics of doing this during a normal year right here). 

It all seems clear enough, right? But of course, taking the whole thing virtual presents a few twists! So let's look at some FAQs I've been talking with teachers about over in my membership program this month.

Let me say up front that I'm not an expert in copyright or a copyright lawyer (I think you knew that!). But it seems to me that if you have a copy of a book that you were going to read to your students in person, then it is OK to read it to them using technology so they can hear it from home. However, I would keep these videos and audios private to your students, much as I wish we could work as a collaborative educator group to put a library of thousands of first chapters in place for teachers around the world to use. (Pausing here to daydream about how awesome that would be. Yes, I did contact my friend at one of the big publishing houses to try to make that happen. No, they did not go for it). 

OK, so let's dive in to the FAQ.

Does First Chapter Friday have to be on Fridays?

Nope! In fact, if you're in a blended learning scenario where everyone is online one day a week, I think the online day would be IDEAL for FCF, whatever day it is. Then you have a plan in place for that day every week. 

How can I prepare for a successful program now?

I'm so glad you asked! Now is the perfect time to sit down with your phone or your mic and record a BUNCH of first chapters. This is called batching, and it's going to make your life a lot easier for the next three months. Get your lighting and set-up and reading outfit ready for video, or your mic and recording software revved up, and hit record! You'll save a ton of time by not setting this up every week the night before you need to deliver a new chapter. 

Once your program gets going, you can add MORE choices by inviting students to submit audio or video first chapter clips of their own. This was one of the wonderful ideas that came out of discussion of this program inside my membership this week, and I LOVE it! You could make this an assignment partway into the term, offer it as an extra credit option, or just throw it out as a fun option and see if you get any takers. 

How can I deliver the First Chapter Fridays to kids at home and kids in class at the same time?

Once you have your recordings, you have a choice to make. 

Do you want everyone to listen to the same one, the same week? In that case, play the recording for your kids in class at the same time that you share it with your kids at home through your learning platform. 

Do you want everyone to get to choose which chapter to listen to based on their interests? In that case, get all your recordings linked up on a hyperdoc or Google Slide show with short blurbs about the books, and let kids make their own choice each week. 

What if I'm required to be synchronous with students who are at home? 

Go ahead and have the kids at home log into class for attendance and hellos, then have them mic off and go listen to the chapter. If you've got some students in class at the same time, you can either play a group chapter to them (if that's what you chose) or let them make their own choices and listen with headphones on their devices. 

How can remote students do the sketchnotes?

Having something to do as you listen is a critical part of FCFs, because otherwise it can be hard for students to focus. Especially if they're sleepy. Easy templates (like these and these) help sketchnote-wary students get more comfortable with the process. But they're not absolutely necessary. 

Here are a few options for helping remote learners successfully sketchnote. You might just want to let them choose which one they prefer: 

#1 You can give students simple templates through Google slides and let them try their hand at e-sketchnotes (playing around with fonts and shapes, etc. to put down their thoughts). 

#2 You can show students a template, then ask them to simply sketch something similar in a notebook at home. It's good for them to look away from the screen for a while. 

#3 You can teach students the basics of sketchnoting with this quick video and then let them create their sketchnote series in their notebooks, skipping the templates. 

Whichever option you choose, consider having students share their sketchnotes with you through a quick photo or screenshot at the end, then share some of the best back to the class the next week before getting started. Seeing others' sketchnotes will help inspire better work for kids who are feeling a little hesitant about their artistic skills. Be sure to remind them of what Mike Rohde, inventor of Sketchnotes, always says. "Ideas, not art!" That's where it starts. All they need to do is begin by getting their ideas down on paper.  

OK, are you ready to dive in? Here are your steps to success:

1. Choose a day for your program and schedule it into your calendar.

2. Record your videos or audio tracks in one epic batch session. 

3. Choose whether you're going to provide one book to everyone or let them pick from a menu. (Create your menu if you're going with that).

4. Think about how you want your students to do sketchnotes. Set up your system and materials from the get-go and return to it week after week. 

5. Integrate this program with your plans for independent reading. If FCF doesn't take your whole period, this is a great time to transition kids into their own books for the rest of the time. 

Good luck!
By the way, wondering about this membership program I mentioned? Right now I'm working with 500 teachers on their flexible plans for blended learning in a special August program. It's been such a joy to see them begin to feel more relaxed and confident about their transition into this strange year. 

I've decided to roll all the materials from this program as a bonus into a new monthly membership starting in September. I'll have a whole lot more to share about this soon, but for now, if you want to make sure you hear about it when it's ready, pop your email address in below. I heard from a lot of teachers after the deadline for the August program and it was too late for me to bring them in, so I don't want you to miss this opportunity later because you get busy and forget to check in! 

099: How to Get your Students listening to Podcasts, with Ashley Bible

Today on the podcast, I'm talking to Ashley Bible of Building Book Love about podcasts, virtual and actual classroom design, and her workshop series, Keeping the Wonder. She's a wonderfully creative teacher (and designer!) and I know you're going to love her ideas.

Before we jump in, I want to tell you about an upcoming project. After I closed the doors of Flexibly Planned, my August program to prepare for blended learning, I heard from many of you about joining late. While I couldn't reopen the program, I'm working on another project to begin in a few short weeks, a membership program that will include everything from Flexibly Planned as well as more resources and support coming each month throughout the year.

If you'd like to get on the list to hear about this program when it opens, sign up for my email list below. I'll be sure you're one of the very first people to know about it.

You can listen to today's show on the podcast player below, or on your platform of choice. Or, read on.

Building a Podcast Unit

When it comes to building a podcast unit, the sky's the limit.  You can find podcasts for ANY objective. So the question to start with is, what is the objective of your unit?

You can use a podcast as a mentor text for writing. You can use one to build out an informational text unit. You can use one to pair with a creative writing project.

There are two fun ways to approach adding podcasts to your curriculum. You can either start by thinking how you can add podcasts to current units to enrich them, or begin to brainstorm how you might build a unit about anything in the world that you'd love to teach through podcasts.

If you're hustling to create a unit for fall that works well with blended learning, building an entire unit around podcasts could be an ideal option for you.

Top Show Recommendations

Here, we'll dive into a small sample of Ashley's recent favorites, but I also suggest you check out her recent post, Podcasts for Kids: An Epic List of Activities and Podcasts for School, for a huge list of shows and episodes.

#1 Following Harriet: This series is like a chapter book. There are six episodes to be listened to, in order. It's an incredibly well-researched and produced show with many female researchers and experts sharing their life's work about Harriet Tubman. Students will finish the series with a completely new perspective on Harriet Tubman's life, and a new perspective on what history books do and do not tell.

#2 Criminal: There are so many true crime podcasts now, and they are always at the top of iTunes.  But this one is completely different from a typical true crime podcast. There's more focus on the justice system, making you think about your own morals. This podcast shares the stories of people who have broken laws, but their stories make it so much more complex.

 "Tiger" (a good episode for middle school): This episode is about a man who has a pet tiger. The whole episode is an argumentative piece about whether he should be allowed to keep his tiger, and would lead easily into a class debate or an argumentative piece for students to write.

"Sharks" (a good episode for middle school): This episode features the first person point of view of a young girl who was attached by a shark. You expect her to have a different attitude towards sharks because she was attacked, but it really moves towards how people are invading the sharks' space, not vis versa.

"Red Hair Gold Car" (a good episode for high school): In this episode, a man gets identified as a murder suspect because of his hair color The show then moves into social justice issues and issues with identification across cases.

The same podcaster has a show called "This is Love", all about unique love stories.

"Wolf 10": This episode follows one of the first wolves back in Yellowstone after they were hunted out there. It follows his journey to finding love and the first litter of puppies born in the park after the reintroduction of wolves.

"The Ugly Club" : This episode tells the unique story of a city in Italy where people started a club that you could only join if you're ugly. It's got a really interesting messages about  true beauty.

"Prairie Warbler" : In this episode, a black birdwatcher whose love of birds was kindled when he was a child, shares how people told him he couldn't be a birdwatcher because he was black. He shares his love for birds, his incredible skill with using his voice to create bird song, and stories of discrimination he has encountered.

Keeping Kids Engaged as they Listen

Eighty percent of adults who listen to podcasts are multi-tasking, either on a commute, taking a walk, etc., so it's counterintuitive to ask students to just sit there.

Distance learning kids can take a walk, help around the house, etc. But kids in class will probably also benefit from doing something else as they listen.

Ashley provides choice. Kids can take doodle Notes, take conventional notes in notebook, color on her provided coloring sheets, or walk around. They just can't be on the phone or distract someone else. The big thing is to avoid the awkward staring around the room that takes place if everyone just sits there and listens without doing something.

Assessing a Podcast Unit

Anything you can do with a short story or book, you can do with a podcast.

Let's take the "Following Harriet" series as an example. You could do a one-pager for the whole series, pulling together key ideas across episodes. You could have students take the theme of researching different voices that aren't featured in the textbook, and dive into another person's story and write their own podcast. You could launch an argumentative piece or a debate. ANYTHING you could do with any other text, you can do with a podcast.

Online Discussion about Podcasts (or anything else)

When Ashley gives the students an assignment to listen to something or read something, she likes to have them prep for discussion by doing a 3-2-1.

3 Questions to generate discussion
2 Insights you have
1 Most Important Quote

Model the types of questions you want - they have to generate discussion. Tell students it's not about proving that they read!

In class, Ashley likes to run socratic seminar and chart the conversation. Online, she has mixed it up between video/voice discussion through Flipgrid and written discussion on Canvas.

One unique spin on a silent discussion is to open up a Google Doc, share it with the discussion participants, and then have each person color code with their own highlight color so it's easy to see who is talking on each other's questions. Check out Ashley's post about this on Instagram for all the details. 

Classroom Design

When it comes to classroom design, Ashley focuses on three words.

Welcoming, peaceful, productive.

She likes to keep her classroom as a unique space, unlike a standard classroom. This can mean adding lamps, unique wall decor, and recently, a living room that each table group got to rotate into once a week.

Ashley's beautiful classroom

If you're struggling to imagine your classroom design for this year, Ashley's got a fun challenge for you! Try creating a Bitmoji classroom as a vision/mood board for what you actually want your classroom to look like when you go back. That way it serves two purposes for you, and it will make the transition on and offline easier for your students (they'll recognize your virtual and physical classrooms, whichever one they're transitioning to!).

The mood board Ashley created for the classroom above (pre-Covid)

Keeping the Wonder

Ashley runs a workshop every year with several collaborators called Keeping the Wonder. It's all about keeping the wonder and magic of books alive in classrooms.

The last workshop was held in a castle, with so many special details. Each table was named after a different castle in literature, with color-coded centerpiece castles to match participants' bracelets. Ashley loves to work on these special details, but the actual content translates beautifully and easily to an online format. There are now three "seasons" of the workshop available online. This year's workshop was planned for Sedona, AZ, but went fully virtual this summer instead.

Participants at Keeping the Wonder in 2019

Learn more about Keeping the Wonder.

Connect with Ashley

I know you're going to want to get to know Ashley!

Check out her website, Building Book Love

Be inspired by her beautiful feed on Instagram

How to Transition to Block Schedule

Did you just find out your usual lineup of short daily class periods just became your lineup of one or two looooong class periods each week? You're not alone! Schools all over the country are switching to a block schedule or intensive term classes to minimize interactions and task switching.

It's a big adjustment, I know, but I'm totally on board. Not only does it keep kids interacting with fewer classmates and teachers to help minimize the risk of COVID transfer, it allows them to dive more deeply into material and projects, and waste less time transitioning physically and mentally from thing to thing. Working in the same space on the same subject for a long chunk of time is also much more like the situations students will encounter in the working world beyond school (and that's a good thing to talk to them about!).

098: 5 Flexible ELA Unit Ideas for Fall

Are your leaders asking you to teach kids in class while also somehow guiding kids who are 100% online?

That's a big ask.

Today in this bonus podcast episode, I want to share five flexible unit ideas with you that you could launch in this model. These units could also work with blended learning or 100% remote teaching. They are student-centered, with kids doing a lot of independent work as they move through the unit.

097: A Flexible Plan for Blended Learning

For most schools, some kind of blended learning is on the horizon. Maybe you're going to have students rotating through your classroom every couple of days. Maybe every other week. Maybe you're going to have some students online all the time while others are in person all the time. Maybe you're going to have one day a week where everyone is online and the school gets cleaned.

I've heard a lot of different scenarios, and I've been brainstorming ideas for planning flexibly and creatively to make them work.

Today, I'm going to share the fundamental principles I've come up with for making all this more doable. Everyone's situation is a little different, but if you keep these ideas in mind while you plan, it will help you keep your unit and lesson planning more creative and less overwhelming.

The Easiest Way to Learn Student Names (in person or across distance)

I used to struggle every year with names. And I felt terrible about it. On day one I would delightedly welcome my new students, full of plans for a creative kick-off, but then I would spend days agonizing over pronunciation and double-checking my memory when I wanted to call on someone.

Not any more. There's a simple way to learn students' names on the first night, and it can work for you whether you begin the school year in person or with distance learning.

096: Summer Priorities in the face of Fall Uncertainties, with Angela Watson

This post contains an affiliate link. That means if you choose to make a purchase through the link, part of your payment will support the work that I do for you here on Spark Creativity. 

This is a weird time. Let's call it the summer of unknowns. You are no doubt waiting for leadership and clear direction from your district, your governor, your country... but will it come?

I'm thinking we've got to make some choices for ourselves right now about how best to cope and plan. And part of that means getting into a flexible mindset and preparing in ways that work for a lot of different situations.

Today on the podcast, my guest Angela Watson is sharing ways you can prioritize what will make a meaningful impact on the fall right now. We're talking about how overwhelming the spring was and how to make intentional choices not to let it happen again.

Angela is a leader in the teacher mindset, productivity, and organization space. Her blog at The Cornerstone for Teachers, and her podcast, Truth for Teachers, reach thousands of teachers with inspiration and help for confronting the unique demands of the teaching profession. Her course, The 40 Hour Workweek, which has helped thousands of teachers cut their hours while becoming more effective and productive, is open right now, and we'll be talking about that too.

Before we jump in, I want to invite you to join me in a challenge. I've been learning from Angela for the last three years, through our interviews, her book, and her online materials. In this challenge, I'm bringing you three of my favorite takeaways from all that great time with Angela, and giving you a clear action step for each one. If you join in, we'll be talking about cutting the grading pile, using summer to backwards plan the life you want during the school year, and how templates and batching can make a big difference in your productivity. I'll also be sharing more about the 40 Hour Workweek at the end of the challenge, in case you'd like to take the work further with Angela.

Sign up below to join the challenge!

OK, let's dive in! Tune in below or on your favorite podcast player, or read on for the highlights.

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