BY MARY LEE HAHN AND FRANKI SIBBERSON
Mary Lee: We were about two-thirds of the way through The Last Human by Lee Bacon when we got the news that our schools would be closed. The book is a very middle-grade appropriate dystopian future novel. I chose it to follow We’re Not From Here by Geoff Rodkey, another middle grade dystopian future story, and Indian No More by Charlene Willing Mcmanis and Traci Sorell, which is historical fiction that might be categorized as a story about our “dystopian past.” As you can see, our read aloud journey this year has been filled with important, but difficult conversations about who we are as humans and as Americans.
The premise of The Last Human is that the robots have killed off the human race because it was wrecking the planet. Spoiler alert in the title and the image on the cover of the book -- they didn’t get us all. In our very last read aloud together, one of my students wondered aloud if robots caused the coronavirus and were trying to kill us all off. I assured them that the coronavirus comes from nature, and humans will use all of the science and technology possible to understand the virus and stop its spread. It was at that moment that I knew I must finish The Last Human. We couldn’t leave the story before we got to the part where the robots and humans collaborate to create a sustainable future for the human race and for the planet. We had to get to the hope, to the positives. For our next read aloud, I gave my students the choice of four books I’ve loved. Not ones to shy away from heavy topics, they chose The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart.
Franki: We were in the middle of a great book, New Kid by Jerry Craft. We were using the incredible audio along with the Kindle version so kids could see the images as they heard the story. With all those parts, it seems better to start a new book instead of trying to make this work online as our first online read aloud.
When I think about the kind of book I’d like to read aloud during this time, I know I want a plot-based book - a book that kids will want to hear each day. I want a book they can get lost in and one that has enough to talk about without being too heavy. I’ve decided on The Unicorn Quest by Kamilla Benko and I am excited to begin sharing it with students.
KEEPING THE CONVERSATIONS GOING
Franki: Read aloud has always been an important part of our day and it will hopefully continue to be that. The combination of a great story and our collective thinking is important and I’ve been wondering how to make that work without being together in our classroom meeting area. I’ve decided to use Google Meet so that any students who are available can meet “live”. (For others, I’ll record the session.) This will allow us to read and talk and get back to our typical read aloud routine. I’ve also set up a Flipgrid and a Padlet so that we can build on the conversation across each day.
Mary Lee: I finished The Last Human by recording (on a private YouTube channel) a few chapters a day, and reading aloud live once a week in a Google Meet. Reading aloud with students “in front of me” was what began to heal my teacher soul. So with our new book, I’m reading aloud live every day on Google Meet. Students bring their reader’s notebooks and track their thinking as they listen. Before they unmute and we begin our discussion, we share our thinking in the comments. They love the comment tool, and this has given them an authentic way to use it.
While our read alouds look and sound a bit different than they did in our physical classrooms, like so much of what we are doing with online learning, we have found that the closer we hold on to our core values as teachers, the more authentic our digital learning space feels.
Image by geralt. Pixabay License.