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The Making of a Virtual Family Literacy Night

Written by Austin Wood
June 20, 2021

Synchronous teaching, asynchronous assignments, zoom classes. These words that were unheard of before March 2020 have become the common language of the 2020-2021 school year. Heading into this school year, I felt that I was heading into a world that I could have never predicted. As I began my first year of teaching, the overarching question amongst many teachers became: How do we engage our students in this new environment as we ourselves are still figuring it out. This year I was grateful to have the opportunity to participate in the Panda Cares New Leader Fellowship. I received excellent professional development and guidance throughout the school year that would eventually culminate into a family literacy night for the 4th and 5th grade students and families of my school.

As someone who has never organized a school event, let alone one that would be completely virtual, you could definitely say that I was a little overwhelmed at first. What would be the theme? What would we do? How do I get supplies to families? These were just a few of the many questions I had going into the planning process. However through the support of my local writing project, my principal, and my school office team, the amount of questions I had shrank as the number of answers I had rose. Slowly but surely my vision of what this night would like became clearer and clearer to me.

The event would be a virtual event via Zoom with a graphic novel and comic theme where families would spend most of the event creating short comics together with picture prompts to choose from. The event would start in a whole group format where I would introduce the families to what graphic novels and comics are and the beneficial nature of students reading them. After explaining the breakout room activity of creating comics as a family, I would send families into breakout rooms with a facilitator and a translator that would assist families with choosing a prompt and answer any questions they might have as they create their comics.  The facilitator of each breakout room would also be responsible for facilitating a sharing session amongst the families in their breakout room. Then, we would come back together into the main Zoom room and families would have the opportunity to share their comic or comics with all of the families who attended the family literacy night. I would then close the event by thanking everyone for attending and sharing resources for further reading and comic creating.

The vision of this event was clear and through meeting with my principal and school office team we were able to fine tune the logistical details of the event. One in particular involved translation. There are a significant amount of Spanish speaking families at my school and so with the immense help of my school’s family liaison and office manager, we were able to translate every part of the event into Spanish so that our Spanish speaking families would be able to participate in the family literacy night. In addition, through the generous funds of the Panda Cares Fellowship, I was able to create a supply basket for each registered family that was filled with items they would need for the event and items that they would be able to use for after the event to continue creating comics.

Our school has both a full distance learning format and a hybrid format. With this in mind, we were able to get each registered family a supply basket through asking families to come pick their basket up from the school if their student was in the full distance learning format. If students were in the hybrid format, we were able to deliver their baskets to their classroom during their time on campus for in person learning. Additionally each family got a book in their supply baskets to encourage further literacy.

Before the event I met with all of my facilitators, translators, and principal via Zoom to go over last minute details and answer any questions that anyone may have. I also expressed my gratitude to everyone for taking the time to help me make this event turn from a vision into a reality. Once the clock struck 6, I admitted all of the families into the Zoom and the main event began. I could tell the families were excited and I was ready to get everything started.

The first part of the event was conducted with all of the families in one zoom room and went very well. I said everything I needed to and I was right on time. As soon as all of the families, translators, and facilitators entered the breakout rooms, I entered the first breakout room and began checking in with each breakout room one at a time. The facilitators did amazing getting the families in their breakout rooms started and working on their comics. It was an absolute joy as I moved between breakout rooms seeing so many families engaged in creating their comics while listening to lots of laughter and thoughtful commentary. Additionally, I liked how some families decided to collaborate on 1 comic while others opted for each family member creating their own comic.

As the breakout room sharing sessions started, I heard many students and families sharing their comics with pride and enthusiasm. It was wonderful seeing their creativity flourish and the diverse ways that many families and students decided to use their chosen picture prompt in their comic. Also, the artistic skills of many students and their family members were every impressive and helped to make their comics come alive.

After the families came back into the main zoom room, I started the whole group share. Initially I was hesitant about including this because I wan’t sure if there would be a lot of families and students who would be willing to share in a larger setting. However, we had many families and students willing to share what they created. The enthusiasm they exhibited while sharing their comic put a smile on everyone’s face and the comments from other families and facilitators in the chat were very heart-warming. Everyone was very encouraging which helped to make the atmosphere a safe place for everyone to share what they were able to create.

Overall the event went smoothly and exceeded my expectations. Families were engaged and students voiced their enthusiasm for wanting to continue to create their comics. I am very grateful to have a wonderful support system of colleagues that helped to make the event a success. Through reflecting on the event, I would have probably allocated more time for sharing in both breakout rooms and whole group. I would love to try an event like this next school year and see how I can make the event equally as engaging in an in-person setting.

Family Literacy Night Prompt Choices for Comics:

Pictures from Family Literacy Night:

Flyer for Family Literacy Night: