South Orangetown Central School District

With the launch of distance learning, South Orangetown Middle School ELA Teacher Carol Fagan and Special Education Teacher Jill Rutherford sought to develop an academic project responsive to their students’ needs. “After surveying our students on their feelings about their experience so far and participating in a day of professional development with our Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project consultant, we decided to adapt some of that work to help our students feel engaged and heard during this difficult time,” recounts Fagan.

This week, Fagan and Rutherford launched the Digital Writer’s Notebook in their Google Classroom with Google Slides. Together, they created a screencast video to explain the assignment and model the work for their students.

During the first lesson, students were asked to design a cover of their Digital Writer’s Notebook which represents who they are by adding pictures and decorating it to make it unique to them. Fagain explains, “As we do with the physical writer’s notebook in the classroom, we asked the students to also create a cover page for the unit ‘Journaling Through A Pandemic’, in which they were introduced to the essential questions: How does what happens in the larger world affect me personally? How can we cope when there are things out of our control? How do we move forward after dealing with life-altering events?”

Students then decorated the cover page to represent how they are feeling and what is most important to them right now. Over the next several lessons, students will receive prompts to which they will respond, such as whether sports matter more or less now with everything going on in the world–a follow-up to a class debate on competitive sports. Students choose how they respond–journal entry, poetry, chart or table, or other form of artistic expression–as long as they demonstrate their thinking on the topic.

“It was really important for us to co-teach together on Zoom so that our students continue to see us as a team working together. It was also important that they saw our faces!” says Rutherford. “Up until now, we have only screencast our lessons using our voices separately. Hopefully, seeing our smiling faces puts smiles on our students’ faces.”

Jill Rutherford and Carol Fagan