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From St. Peter's College, Clyde North Campus | Cranbourne Campus, Victoria

Contributed by Joyce Sendecky, Head of Library, Digital Technologies Teacher

There and back again: ‘Flipping’ the Reading Program to remote mode
In 2019, St. Peter’s Catholic College embarked on an intensive reading program for our year 7 & 8 students to achieve one of the key college goals of achieving accelerated growth in literacy. Our Reading Detectives Program was formulated to underpin this goal.

The framework for the Reading Program for 2020 consisted of a combination of wide reading and explicitly taught strategies in mini - lessons by Teacher Librarians to class groups. Students would also be involved in a combination of Sustained Silent Reading (free choice novel) and a regular one-on-one conferencing session to progress the goals and skills learned in the plenary sessions. Extra teachers had also been assigned to assist with student conferencing, and, as we approached the middle of March 2020 we were making some headway in our reading lessons; students were reading, responding and setting strategic reading goals. However, the way schools were to function was about to make a momentous change.

Needing to 're-think' the Reading Program
We watched and listened to the stealthy (and unhealthy) invasion of the COVID-19 virus into our lives, leading to an exit of students from on-campus learning to homeschooling. Suddenly our well-planned intensive reading program needed to be flipped!

We made great efforts to make sure students all went to remote learning with a supply of novels, with the expectation and encouragement that they would keep up the minimum of 30 mins reading per day, as was a requirement of a St. Peter’s student.

So were students still reading at home? We had some evidence through the online written responses while continuing our Reading Program lessons, that most students were engaging in their novels (frequency unknown).This is what we promoted on their intranet Reading Detectives Program class pages:

"What if I run out of books to read because all the libraries are closed? GREAT QUESTION!! Here are some suggestions: fiction books your brothers or sisters have finished reading or re-read an old favourite. Also try any non-fiction books or interesting magazines at home for example cookbooks, gardening books and motor magazines, daily newspapers and of course eBooks & Audio Books! Link to ‘My Library’, then 'My Reading' to Wheeler’s eBooks and free Audible audio books  

The change of emphasis - reading to writing
So our ‘on-campus’ emphasis of one-to -one conferencing became an online writing and responding session, with benefits to strengthening student written responses to their reading goals. Our on-campus ‘hard-copy’ log books of student progress that accompanied our one-to one  conferencing sessions transposed into personal Google docs for each student  (I created 340 of them over the school holidays!). I would now deliver a strategy through Zoom with specific examples texts for year 7 or 8.The Conferencing teachers and TL’s would meet students online in their Reading, Writing and Conferencing workbook (google doc) and set goals, practice reading strategies and ‘chat’ in the comments area; student responses were based on their current reading or, as was very helpful for struggling readers, they could use the example text. We would come back together in Zoom and engage in conversation with student examples of their responses. Most students have enjoyed engaging in these sessions and their writing is also improving, albeit we are not sure if the same can be said of reading habits. Using Zoom meetings, the students were able to open their video as well as audio, allowing for face-to-face book discussions to conclude in our Reading Detective Program sessions. There have definitely been positives in the ‘flip’ to an online reading program!

Unique stories for school students during a pandemic
As we approached our last remote sessions before our on-campus classes were to recommence, I realised our students had very unique stories to tell about their 2020 ‘on-campus off-campus’ learning, so I encouraged them again to write - this time there OWN story:

“During Term 1 when you had just eased into your Year 7  school routine, caught up with friends, started to make new friends and gotten to know your teachers and subjects a bit better;  all the while a  gradual dilemma was spreading through-out the world, a virus called COVID 19. It was declared a ‘global pandemic’ and it was spreading to all corners of the world - including yours!

All of us, especially you as school students are now living through historical events that have led to never-before-experienced changes. This time in history will be written about, studied and commented on for years to come!   Soon your usual school was to make a dramatic change….”

Now it's time to tell your story........

With an (ABC) video as an introduction, as well as a list of sentence starters and prompts based on our reading strategies that they could cut/paste into their online workbooks, the student stories took off! It was almost as if we had unleashed all their pent up emotions!

I had hoped that this narrative writing activity would be a more informal session and useful for their well-being at the same time and I feel we had hit the mark! The TL’s and teachers were ‘virtually’ with the students to prompt, encourage and guide them through this story writing process.

Here are some responses:

I was actually excited this year for school because all I wanted to do this year was get better grades than last year and be a better friend and person to everyone. It was a school start like any other until covid showed up and school had to finish quickly. I wondered about this virus that was spreading throughout the world. People are dying and I could never feel the pain of their families because I know it's hard to lose someone you love. Many questions were being asked but were there any answers? Everyone was making predictions and forecasts about what would happen. I wondered when the virus would end, because I just wanted death to stop happening and go back to our normal life where everyone was happily living. I wanted to know why someone would eat a bat???!!! Kanika.

I wondered about this virus that was spreading throughout the world and I wondered what it felt like to have the virus. I studied about COVID-19 and how deadly and spreadable it is. I learnt that the virus was a strand of coronavirus and that a pandemic similar but on a smaller scale has happened before in 2002 to 2004 it was the SARS outbreak. SARS was also a strand of coronavirus but it only killed less than a 1000 people but as of 21st of May 2020 there have been nearly 5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 328 thousand people have died  which is incomprehensible compared to the numbers of the SARS outbreak”.  Medwin

In 2020 this year, it has been a hilly ride, at the beginning of the year we had the unfortunate death of Kobe Bryant, then there were large tensions between America and Iran I believe. This entire year is a death trap, that is definitely the case with Covid-19, unfortunately it has taken the lives of 327 thousand lives, there could be more soon as around 5 million cases are confirmed. Covid personally has affected me a lot, it’s a lot different in the week, but one thing is that I can sleep in. Arien

Moving on with Reading

Although we enjoyed some online activities including Bookwidgets book cover puzzles, along with our online reading program, generally students complained of ‘screen fatigue’; consequently our lesson times were formally shortened to allow for a break from electronic devices. The uptake of eBooks also did not dramatically spike to any extent, however the borrowing of audiobooks did increase moderately.

The general feeling I am receiving from students, certainly in year 7 & 8 is they want to return to face-to-face interaction (at a distance) with friends, teachers and staff and also see what new titles we have been gathering while they have been away!

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