Staying Connected While Socially Distanced
Co-authored with love by Molly Tuthill & Nicole Chiarella
Teaching during a pandemic has been an experience like no other… and frankly, it’s an experience that we would prefer not to do again. Staying connected during a time when we are being told to stay apart poses another challenge in itself. Tie in being a 6 year old, working hard to make sense of the world, form relationships, and develop their own personalities; staying connected and making connections is so crucial to their development. Or anyone’s development for that matter! Including our own as educators, and as we all too often forget–our personal lives. Connecting and collaborating truly is such a critical piece that helps us grow, learn, and develop as people, no matter our age.
When we began the writing fellowship, we truly did not know what to expect. Nicole, having been in the summer program felt only slightly more comfortable than Molly in preparing and running a virtual literacy event. We wanted to make sure it would be an event that would honor everyone’s thinking, enhance students’ and families’ interests in writing, and allow our students and their writing to feel seen, heard, and valued.
After much thought and many discussions, we ended up talking about what it would be like to try letter writing in a more authentic way than just a one-and-done. And so, the idea of Pen Pals began to form.
We don’t know about you, but both of us are such suckers for a heartfelt, handwritten letter or card. Both our classrooms even feel like a love letter, with student art and writing on the walls, in our desks, and inevitably shoved in our purses to find when we get home.
All that to say–Letters are our love language. Bonus points if it arrives by snail mail, because who doesn’t love the excitement of receiving a handwritten letter in the mail instead of boring old bills?
The idea was established, and then we moved on to planning. We started with the end in mind, and designed several mini-lessons that we hoped would not only be instructional, but help students think about the impact that writing can have in connection with others.
To make it simple (and fun!), we decided to use our two classes. This made the experience so much more exciting and enjoyable as we were able to model pen pal-letter writing to our students, while also having fun writing silly notes to one another. After introducing the concept of letter writing to our individual classes, and reviewing the key components of a letter, we introduced the concept of a pen pal.
We decided the best way to introduce our classes to one another while fully virtual would be through a photo and an “All About Me” page our students would write about themselves. We made these into a google slide and shared them with our classes separately. Molly’s students were so stoked (literally screaming) to see friends they recognized from Kindergarten, some neighbors, and even some relatives, even if it was just through a photo and a short piece of writing. Seeing their pure joy and excitement over this simple task was so rewarding and sweet. After assigning our students pen pals, the letter-writing journey began. They were so excited and eager to get started on their letters; this made writing all the more fun and enjoyable.
Nicole’s students were similarly excited, and many of them expressed intense excitement and joy at getting to communicate with their friends and peers.
After spending time writing letters back and forth, our students were ready for our virtual literacy event, and had all the necessary tools to teach their families how to write a proper letter. The families who attended participated in a read aloud, and wrote letters to their students after receiving a lesson in letter-writing from their student. While the event was held over Zoom, and not in-person like we had dreamed, it was an amazing experience that empowered our students while bringing the joy of writing to their families as well.