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    Composing Digital Texts With Community-Based Art

    By Katrina Kennett
     | Apr 19, 2019

    Many people find it difficult to engage with—and construct meaning from—an unfamiliar piece of art. Similarly, it can be a challenge to embrace new digital tools and use them to exercise higher-level critical thinking skills. Thinking about this complimentary puzzle, I wanted to challenge my preservice teachers to use arts and technologies to access complex ideas and think deeply about the choices they make as learners.

    As a teacher educator, I want my students to wrestle with the ambiguity of classroom practice, even as many of them demand clear-cut answers for how to teach. Posing this dilemma to Aja Sherrard, the gallerist at our university, we designed a multidisciplinary project that invited students to explore art, create a digital classroom text, and present it at a public open house event.  

    Watershed

    kennett-3 copyIn the fall of 2018, the University of Montana Western (UMW) hosted an exhibition titled “Watershed” by printermaker Jason Clark, an unregistered member of the Algonquin nation. Clark’s work explores “cultural issues, environmental issues, indigenous mythology and postcolonial identity” through vivid, folkloric imagery. The show’s content is not immediately understood without knowledge of local geography (e.g., the Clark Fork River), current events (specifically, the Dakota Access Pipeline and Standing Rock protests of 2016) and traditional symbols (e.g., thunder birds and water panthers).

    I brought my students to the gallery to meet with Aja, who led us through a guided discussion which included inventorying students’ immediate responses to pieces and the show’s composition as well as making conceptual leaps grounded in visual evidence.

    Students were then presented with a challenge: choose a piece of art from the show and create a digital text intended for classroom use. I encouraged them to work at the intersection of arts and technology. How could they use digital tools (iPads, Book Creator, and their own devices) to augment their future students’ understandings? How could their books capture the artist's ideas for those who aren’t able to attend the physical exhibit? In what ways would their book deepen ways of knowing, current events, and empathy?

    Students worked on their books over multiple class periods, moving to and from school iPads, their own devices, and the web-based version of Book Creator (an app for making, reading, and sharing interactive books). They captured images, made recordings, and discussed the affordances and constraints of both devices and platforms. They envisioned classroom scenarios, researched, and connected to grade-level standards appropriate for their target classroom. When they finished their digital texts, they published them on Book Creator’s website.

    The project didn’t end there, and thankfully so. In the  spirit of contributing knowledge to authentic communities, we hosted a public event in the gallery. After publishing their final book, students created a QR code, printed it out, and taped it to the back of their “teacher clipboard.” When we welcomed guests to the event, we encouraged them to use their device’s phone to scan the QR codes and discuss what they read with the author. 

    The Lucky Ones

    kennett-2 copyBecause I teach on a block schedule, with students taking one course at a time for 18 weekdays, I was able to repeat this project when teaching the course in January 2019. This time, the exhibition in our gallery was Madeline Scott’s “The Lucky Ones,” a collection of photographs that trace the arrival of Syrian refugees to the city of Boise and their subsequent settling into life in the United States. Framing the story in larger political events, key photos featured the last refugees allowed in the country before the so-called “Muslim Bans” went into effect.

    Like Clark’s show, the exhibit was designed to be more accessible to students. As an introduction to the subject matter, students attended a panel about the growing presence of refugees in Boise. Scott opened the panel, speaking about the experiences and ethical dimensions of photographing such vulnerable moments. The panel included the founder of Soft Landings Missoula, the mayor of Helena who is also a refugee, and the director of the Missoula chapter of the International Rescue Committee.  

    The students were again prompted to use the exhibit to inspire a classroom-ready digital text. Students leveraged the exhibit’s photographs as launch points for research about the process of coming to the United States as a refugee, the stories of famous refugees, and building classroom cultures that welcome students of all backgrounds. Again, my students used Book Creator to design multimodal texts, publishing the final work as a device-accessible QR code. They presented their final K–8 classroom-oriented digital texts on our final Friday, to the delight of our open house guests. Following are examples of students’ final projects:

    Apprenticing into authentic planning practices

    kennett-1Over the two iterations of this project, my students created digital texts as a way to engage deeply in community-based issues that connected to national political conversations. While making their books, they raised essential teaching questions: who am I speaking to? Why does this matter? Is what I’m sharing accurate (to whom)? What am I trying to accomplish in this lesson?

    Through publishing and speaking to their final texts, this project also provided an intentional apprenticeship into the profession. When the underclassman came to the gallery events, my students reflected with a deep sense of accomplishment about how far along in the program they realized they had come since their own EDU201 days. They saw themselves as stepping into the educational community by publishing in an online space that other educators could access. Finally, by creating a text meant for classroom use and envisioning the scenarios it could support, my preservice students were able to participate in a core practice of classroom teaching.

    Katrina Kennett is an assistant professor of education at the University of Montana Western. Her research investigates teachers’ planning practices, specifically how teachers intentionally open opportunities for student inquiry and agency through a variety of technologies. She can be found at @katrinakennett and katrinakennett.com.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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    Developing Language and Literacy Through No- and Low-Tech Coding

    By Stephanie Branson
     | Apr 16, 2019

    internet-safetyQuality early childhood classrooms are language rich and full of opportunities for children to learn through storytelling, exploration, problem-solving, socializing, and inquiry-based activities. Moreover, early childhood teachers use a plethora of diverse tools that foster literacy and language and spark children’s interest to learn and develop. Literacy is seamlessly embedded throughout the day and exposure to rich and robust language is intentional and meaningful. However, often these rich environments neglect to include technology as another important tool to build language and literacy.

    According to a joint position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College, technology can support learning and development when it is used appropriately and intentionally by a teacher well versed in developmentally appropriate practices. And although there are screen time debates and fear of young children spending too much time on devices, there are no- and low-tech choices that align with and reinforce the goals and vision of an early childhood classroom.

    One such prospect is to incorporate basic coding games and screenless coding devices into project-based learning and centers. Coding affords children the opportunity to acquire and practice communicating with clarity and precision, while also encouraging decision-making, risk-taking, creativity, visualization, and problem-solving. Further, coding develops persistence, resilience, and confidence.

    In layman’s terms, coding is a basic language of the digital world, directing computer-based technologies on what to do and how to operate. It requires exact step-by-step instructions to operate a device correctly. While there is much more involved, young children can begin to develop the necessary habits and processes of coding that can transfer into more complex coding later on. The following are suggestions for getting started and incorporating coding language in the early childhood classroom with no- and low-tech solutions.

    No tech and unplugged

    Young children begin to develop the language, vocabulary, and the processes of coding without a device or screen using body movement, games, and storytelling. In order for unplugged coding to work in the classroom, children must use precise language and communicate exact commands. Following are ideas from different early childhood classrooms for precoding.

    • To get started with basic commands and vocabulary, create directional command cards with symbols or write them on the whiteboard for students to physically execute as the card is pulled or as the “programmer” directs (similar to Simon Says). Children get in the habit of following a specific command tells them when and how to move. Like robots or devices, children can’t move until directed. Eventually, children transition into the role of programmer and practice clear communication and strategic thinking to move peers within the grid.
    • Incorporate a human coding grid on the floor to visually represent space and boundaries. Have children work together and take turns assuming the role of game programmer. The programmer flips a series of 2–3 cards and communicates precise directions for the teammates to execute. Include obstacles in the grid to challenge children to be flexible and creative in their thinking and choice of commands.
    • Create a storytelling grid with familiar books. Take a favorite picture book and plot out different setting or events across the grid. Ask children to move a character through the story grid, following the correct order of events and retell the story as they go. This not only encourages students to recall story elements, but also reinforces coding essentials and clear communication. Children can also create their own storylines, characters, and coding cards. Variations are numerous, and I suggest following the embedded NAEYC link to get a better idea of how to incorporate storytelling with coding grids and extend coding play in the classroom.

    Low tech and screenless

    A next logical step is to transition children to operating a device with basic codes. There are a number of coding bots that are the perfect fit for different early childhood settings. Most require minimal setup, and many are screenless, encouraging children to explore and manipulate physical coding pieces to control a bot.

    • Cubetto is especially interesting and appealing because of its natural aesthetic, minimalist design, and open-ended features. Children arrange tactile tiles on a board to control the movements of a robot. Although Cubetto comes with premade mats, children can design their own courses and experiences. This is a perfect transition from the low-tech coding activities described previously and appropriate for ages 3–6.
    • Similar screenless devices include Beebots, Code-a-pillar, Matatalab Coding Set, and Botley. The devices are low-risk, hands-on, and high-challenge and embolden children to fail and persevere through tasks.

    Incorporating coding through stories, games, and screenless bots is a fantastic way to reinforce and foster a language-rich classroom and introduce children to future skills and thinking. For more information or anyone interested in how coding fits into an early childhood classroom, please take a look at our ILA 2018 Conference presentation in collaboration with the USF Preschool for Creative Learning.

    Stephanie Branson, an ILA member since 2015, is a PhD candidate at the University of South Florida, pursuing literacy studies and elementary education with a special focus on digital literacies and teacher development. Connect with her on Twitter @blueskysb.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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    Twitter’s Cozy Reading Corner

    By Judith H. Van Alstyne
     | Apr 05, 2019

    Writing letters to authors has long been a practice in schools to create connections between children and the authors they admire. This activity allows children to see authors as real people and perhaps to imagine themselves as future authors. Although nothing can replace the tangible connection of exchanging handwritten letters, and emailing is also an option, I would like to suggest a third alternative: Tweeting to your favorite author.

    An important aspect of becoming literate in the digital age is understanding not just the technological skills but also the norms of digital spaces in order to successfully participate in that digital community. Although most social media sites, such as Twitter, are intended for users ages 13 or older, many younger children are already participating. Nearly half (46%) of children have some form of social media by age 11, according to a 2017 Ofcom report, and most learn about social media long before that. Which begs the question, what concepts are they forming about the ethos of Twitter before they ever try their hands at tweeting?

    Process

    As a school librarian and doctoral student in digital literacies, I was interested in trying a “Tweet to Your Favorite Author” activity with elementary school students. I created a Twitter account for our school’s readers and designed lessons for students in grades 3–5, which started with exploring what they already knew about Twitter. It didn’t take long for a student to bring up statements by and about President Trump. I was delighted to introduce them to a different corner of the “Twitterverse,” where children’s book authors, librarians, teachers, and readers passionately communicate about books.

    Students then decided on an author and set about discovering his or her Twitter handle. Googling for current, relatively easy-to-identify information such as a Twitter handle was an accessible, satisfying exercise for them; the answer was usually the first thing listed in the search results. Once the children finished composing their tweets on paper, we revised and proofread them, typed them up, tweeted them out, and then anxiously waited for responses.

    Results

    We were very excited to receive some “likes” and even replies. I took screenshots of the responses and printed them out as keepsakes for the students. Some tweets did not receive any responses, which was naturally disappointing. However, it provided an opportunity to discuss the emotional aspects of social media, such as how it feels to get “likes” or not. Luckily, many authors are dedicated tweeters and we found that specific questions sometimes received informative answers such as the one below from Kazu Kibuishi.

    twitters-reading-corner-1 copy

    Some enthusiastic students tweeted to multiple favorite authors and even had more sustained conversations, such as the one below with Kiki Thorpe.

    twitters-reading-corner-2 copy

    We had many thoughtful responses from children’s book authors, which brightened our day. I suspect the feeling was mutual, as they probably do not get many tweets from 8- and 9-year-olds. Below is a reply from David A. Kelly, who said, “I live to hear from readers like you.” There truly is a cozy reading corner on Twitter. Exposing children to the supportive, book-loving conversations that happen there, and allowing them to participate, not only expands their understanding of how social media works, but also how it can be used meaningfully to connect with the people they admire.

    twitters-reading-corner-3 copy

    Judith H. Van Alstyne is head librarian at Allendale Columbia School and a PhD student at The Warner School of Education at The University of Rochester.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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    Please Listen to Me: When Students Insist They Work Better While Listening to Music

    By Tim Flanagan
     | Mar 29, 2019

    starbucks-modeTwo years ago, I took leave of absence from my seventh-grade teaching position and spent much of the year teaching and traveling in Southeast Asia. Classrooms at the schools I visited also had no computers, students did not carry cell phones, and sometimes I even struggled to find a piece of chalk. The lack of technology was frustrating at times, but it usually meant my students were not distracted. They were accustomed to listening to their teacher. Since returning to the United States, it seems that my students have a different set of priorities when they enter the room, and listening to me isn’t always on their agenda.

    “Can we listen to music?”

    This is a frequent request from my students. I should be prepared to answer, but honestly, I don’t know the right answer most days. I want them to listen to music so they will avoid distracting each other. I want them to listen to music if it motivates and inspires them to do their best work.

    On the other hand, I know that some of the students will spend most of their time hopping from one YouTube video to another. Others will have the music on so loud that even their peers will say it’s distracting. And then there are the students who sneak out their phones or wirelessly connect to their smart watch. This just leads to distracting and tempting notifications from social media accounts, putting further distance between my students and me.

    What the research says

    Not surprisingly, there are many different opinions on whether or not listening to music helps students study. Many variables, such as the volume of the music, type of music, and presence of lyrics, have been studied. A review of research published in The Guardian explains that students did not perform as well while listening to music as when learning in silence, and if students do listen to music, higher volumes tend to be more distracting. On the other hand, music can help improve one’s mood. Perhaps this could put students in the right frame of mind for completing their school work.

    Starbucks to the rescue

    One solution for me has been to implement “Starbucks Mode” during some classes. This idea has been shared frequently online since it was first posted by teacher Megan DuVarney. Students love following these simple guidelines, adapted from DuVarney’s original poster, during Starbucks Mode:

    • Headphones in if you want jams
    • You can sit anywhere (except somewhere dangerous)
    • It’s Starbucks, so we’re all strangers here. Don’t be the weird guy who talks to strangers.
    • Quiet, zen coffee shop vibes

    This has helped a great deal while students are working on writing assignments. Students now just ask if we are in Starbucks Mode. They have learned that there are times when listening to music would be a distraction, and they know that Starbucks Mode will return on days when it is appropriate.

    Since reflecting on this issue, I’ve also realized that I frequently listen to music while working, as I am now. Sometimes it is distracting and I turn it off to work in complete silence. Other times, I use it to drown out the screaming toddlers next door or to motivate me through a mundane task, such as grading.

    I realize now how important it is for students to monitor themselves and learn how to make their own decisions about when to work in silence. So, I will continue to have conversations with students about what works best for them and what the research says. I will remind them to keep the volume down, maintain a balanced approach, and listen to their barista.

    Tim Flanagan is a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Pawcatuck Middle School in Stonington, Connecticut. You can read more on his blog, The Alternate Route: Teaching, Traveling and Learning Across the Globe, and follow him on Twitter.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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    Leveraging PBL in the Literacy Classroom

    By Kasey Smith
     | Mar 22, 2019
    leveraging-pbl copy

    The recent shift in education brings to light a heavier emphasis on college and career readiness at all levels of learning. The critical skills needed to be prepared for an ever-changing college and career future are all wrapped up in project-based learning (PBL).

    The basis of PBL is in the design, thinking, exploration, and creation of materials for authentic purposes, learning, and discovery. The process allows students to see transfer opportunities for skills with teacher support and facilitation. But what does the process look like for ELA classrooms at various levels?

    PBL for the elementary classroom  

    leveraging-pbl-2Much of early literacy exposure comes from whole class read-alouds and teacher modeling. Imagine this process as a close read pointing out text features followed by a conversation about how valuable books are and the importance of sharing. This discussion turns into a PBL opportunity where students dig into the purpose and use of Little Free Libraries through newspaper articles and website research where text features are also emphasized.

    Taking this project to the next stages of planning and design based on a specific audience (their community) and following it through all the way to creation. Throughout this process the students have done close reading, looked at nonfiction text, collaborated, written letters asking for donations of materials and books, perhaps even participated in the hands-on creation of the library, and then advertised the opening of the library. Think of the learning possibilities and authentic opportunities to teach literacy skills as well as the application of college and career readiness skills.

    PBL for the secondary classroom

    leveraging-pbl-3 copyResearch papers and informational process pieces are traditional staples in the English language arts classroom. PBL takes all those standards and authenticates them through project-based learning, allowing students to dig deeper into standards-based content that interests them and ignites their curiosity. With PBL, students have opportunities to create in multiple avenues using technology and hands-on creation. Here are a few of my favorite 21st-century PBL tools.

    Kasey Smith is a staff developer at Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12 in Pennsylvania,  where she specializes in K–12 literacy support as well as curriculum development with technology supports. Prior to staff development, she spent 11 years in the secondary English language arts classroom. Kasey is also an ISTE Certified trainer. Connect with her on Twitter at @kaseysmithpd.

    This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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