This article was originally published in AAPS District News by Jo Mathis, AAPS District News Editor.
When AAPS and the University of Michigan School of Education made the move to virtual teaching this fall, teachers, administrators, and faculty members in the Mitchell-Scarlett Partnership drew on 11 years of collaboration to invent new ways to support children and teaching interns online.
For the past three years, Mitchell Elementary third graders have participated in a three-week geography/writing project with the assistance of University of Michigan ELMAC masters students working on their literacy methods course. Happily for all, that work continued online this fall.
Mitchell third grade teacher Jennifer Neesam, lead teacher of the project, said that she and fellow teachers Quanisha Shawanibin and Kesha Faison see the benefits throughout the rest of the school year because the class sets students up for success as third grade writers.
“This is personally my favorite project of the year because launches third graders into writing by providing them the opportunity to work closely with a teacher intern in order to work through the writing process,” said Neesam. “Students walk away from this project with a sense of voice as a writer and confidence in themselves.”
Shawanibin says partnering with the U-M interns has been one of the highlights of the year so far.
“My kids were so excited on our days with them and we got some really good writing done—some from kids who’d never turned anything in before,” she said.
The program is a win-win, explains U-M Clinical Professor of Education Catherine Reischl, who coordinates the Mitchell-Scarlett Teaching and Learning Collaborative.
“This has been a terrific opportunity for kids to have focused support for their writing and for interns to observe strong teaching of writing and practice supporting kids’ writing development,” said Reischl. “We are especially happy to have figured out how to translate a project we’ve done in person for the past three years into a workable online activity that benefits kids and interns.”
During this project, the 63 Mitchell third graders are studying Michigan geography through a “Who We Are” unit that is part of their International Baccalaureate program at Mitchell.
In an effort to make this work more linked to their own lives, they write descriptive narratives about things their families like to do, particularly in Michigan.
Their teachers present a 20-minute writing mini-lesson to their students with interns observing in the Zoom classrooms. Then the teachers break the groups into small breakout rooms of 2-4 children. The U-M interns facilitate these groups, supporting children as they work on their personal narratives and progress through the steps of the writing process.
Everyone then returns to the main classroom for the final 10 minutes when teachers wrap up the sessions with kids sharing their work.
Neesam said that from the beginning of the project to the very end, students receive tailored support in writing which helps them develop paragraphing skills.
“We get such a great response from both kids and interns and they walk away with a lifetime memory. Although we have moved to virtual learning this year I truly did not want the third graders to miss out on this experience and while tech can pose some challenges, we remained positive that we could make this work and that’s exactly what we did.” said Mitchell third grade teacher Jennifer Neesam.
Neesam asked three of her students what they think of the class. Their responses:
“I liked it. I liked how we got to joke around with them. At the end of our breakout room time, we would share jokes and stuff.” -Andrei
“The writing project was really fun, and I’m going to miss my University of Michigan teacher!” -Jaiden
“I liked meeting the teacher for the first time because I didn’t know who it was going to be.” -Saida
U-M teacher interns are able to develop skills as writing teachers and practice what they are learning in their classes in the school setting.
Intern Megan Lashbrook said it’s been a great experience getting to work with the third graders on their narratives and applying in the field what she is learning in her classwork.
“The children have been so excited to share with us,” she said, “and I’ve really enjoyed supporting them in developing their ideas through the writing process.”