Friday, July 3, 2020

Writing projects demonstrate student resilience during COVID-19

By Ed Pierce

Even the most experienced teachers found it challenging to continue to keep students focused on learning and improving while using remote learning during the COVID-19 crisis.

But for Amy Engelberger, a Windham Middle School English and Language Arts teacher, a special project this spring demonstrated for her that students are highly adaptable and despite facing obstacles, can produce superior results.

There were many curriculum choices to make as a teacher during our remote learning and I chose to teach writing units for all three of my classes during our last several weeks together,” Engelberger said. “I wanted students to choose their topics and stressed they should choose something they felt very passionate about because this would keep them engaged and curious throughout the writing unit.”
Engelberger said she was confident she could support her students through the research and notetaking process, and then provide lessons to guide them through the writing process one step at a time using Google Classroom and Zoom meetings. 

“The seventh-grade unit was an argument unit where they had to develop a thesis statement and support their thesis with evidence gathered through research,” she said. “The sixth-grade unit was an informational unit where they initially researched their topic to see where the research led them. Students eventually planned three ‘chapters’ to teach readers about their topics.”

As the end of the school year drew closer, Engelberger said she was pleased with the results of the project.

“I have been a teacher for 14 years at Windham Middle School and I felt so emotional as we neared the end of this school year,” she said. “I was so proud of my students and was amazed at the level of engagement in these writing units. I told them as long as we continued to communicate as much as possible while we were apart I knew we would find success and they did it and stayed with me until the end of the year.” said she was so impressed with their finished writing pieces, she thought immediately that many of the pieces could be enjoyed by a wider audience.

She submitted four student articles she chose from the project to The Windham Eagle for publication because they seemed very relevant to her in a number of ways. 

The articles included “Supporting Local Farmers” by seventh-grader Mia White; “Online Learning: Is it more Helpful, or Stressful?” by seventh-grader Riley Yates; “The Library of Congress” by sixth-grader Elizabeth Duncan; and “Stop Motion is a Great Way To Tell a Story” by sixth-grader Nathan R. Paulding.

“Obviously the online learning piece is something we have all been thinking about,” Engelberger said. “Riley is a very gregarious young lady, and even though she was incredibly successful through the entirety of the distance learning it was hard for her to learn remotely.  I loved how she was exploring the topic and thinking deeply about it. 

“Mia is very passionate about farming and talks about a possible future in farming,” Engelberger said. “She can debate the need for farms like a champion. I thought the piece was so relevant as more families and communities consider starting home gardens and trying to support local farms.  It was informative and interesting to read.”

For the other two submissions, Engleberger said she chose them because she thought it might be fun for younger readers of the newspaper to possibly explore these two topics on their own this summer.“Nate loves stop motion and spends a lot of his free time making videos and posting them to his YouTube channel.  He even made his teachers a thank you video for Teacher Appreciation Week,” she said. “I thought more people might want to try this and Nate's piece can teach them and point them in the right direction. 

“Finally, it was important for Elizabeth to tap into her own curiosity with this unit and she settled on the Library of Congress. She worked hard to narrow down the innumerable sub topic ideas and her plans were well done,” Engleberger said. “The finished piece on the Library of Congress was fascinating, I learned so much. Perhaps people might take a rainy summer afternoon to explore the sites Elizabeth highlighted in her chapters. I know I plan to do this.”

A total of 35 of Engelberger’s students participated in the writing project and she said she’s thrilled by what they accomplished during the most trying of circumstances.

“The tasks my students completed during remote learning were not easy and I couldn't be prouder of their persistence and strong communication skills to partner with me in their learning,” Engelberger said. “They reached out to me often to seek feedback and used my notes to improve their writing.

To read the student writing projects online, click on:

Online Learning: Is it more Helpful, or Stressful? By Riley Yates, Windham Middle School Grade 7 

Stop Motion is a Great Way To Tell a Story By Nathan R. Paulding, Windham Middle School Grade 6

Supporting Local Farmers By Mia White, Windham Middle School Grade 7

The Library of Congress By Elizabeth Duncan, Windham Middle School Grade 6

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