Teaching the Novel in a Remote or Hybrid Classroom
To make the most out of this year (we’re currently remote but will return to hybrid after next week with live streaming and a few students in my classroom), I’m trying to get as creative as possible when it comes to being flexible with students. After finishing a few units, I’ve decided to restructure how I teach Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe.
My students read novels independently before we start studying the text so that I can organize my units by topics. Covering a single topic as a class takes anywhere from one to five days.
For this text, we will cover around 10-20 passages related to each of the following topics:
symbols (drums, walls, fire, weather)
This year though, after working through the first topic together, I will allow my students to work in five groups to interpret a handful of passages and answer a question connected to their assigned topic. Since we have less class time this year, students will determine the essential passages to cover.
They will also have the chance to make the text relevant by connecting their topic to another source (quote, essay/article, historical event/person, painting, podcast, video, image, poem, movie clip, song, news, culture, religion, politics/politician, etc.). I will allow them to present using a PowerPoint/Google Slide, Padlet, Google Drawing or Jamboard, or prerecorded conversations using audio or video.
This approach will give my students a lot of flexibility. I will collect their notes on the passages so that they can learn and gather evidence for their essay however they'd like. In a normal in-person classroom, some students like to work with one other person. Some like to work in a large group. Some like to work independently. Some like to work quietly with one other person in case they have a question or don’t understand a passage. Some like to have me around to help them make sense of a passage or my questions. I often give my students all of these options to complete the assignment, so I’ll do the same during remote and hybrid learning.
I really miss walking around the room and interacting with my students. But it is funny to see their reaction when I pop into their breakout room. They will sometimes laugh because let’s admit it … it’s hilarious to magically appear out of nowhere. Or they won’t notice I’m even there because they are deep in conversation. It’s quite
similar to their reactions in reality when I quietly and unexpectedly walk over to their group. Like any whole class conversation or group presentation, I’ll have to find ways to keep everyone engaged besides assigning notes, like cold calling or asking good questions.
I keep thinking about how students don’t have the hallway or the front lawn or the cafeteria this year. The places they get a real education. The places where they do something with what they learned. They study the material in class and then they go out and interact with each other and make sense of what happened with each other. I want to provide as much opportunity for them to interact as possible.
The other day, we were so immersed in a conversation that I kept talking with six students after the period was over. Eventually, I had another meeting to get to so I interrupted and said I had to go. My student asked “Oh, can you make me a co-host so we can keep talking?” I laughed and said sure. It’s a sad and difficult year, but it’s important to remember that behind those screens are real children that are curious and excited about discovering the world.
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