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    Confronting Harmful Discourses in the Classroom

    By Ian O'Byrne
     | Sep 22, 2017

    Harmful DiscoursesThe intersections between learning, technology, and media are often scenes of tumult and change. These digital texts and tools provide groundbreaking opportunities to communicate and access information that cannot be underestimated. Sadly, however, they also enable people to spread hate, vitriolic language, and bigotry—harmful discourses that are often embedded with elements of harassment, threat, cyberbullying, and trolling. Today’s educators struggle with how to discuss these trends that affect youth learning and engagement in myriad, global contexts.

    In the context of recent events, we need to be cognizant that children and young adults (and their educators) are watching and learning from these interactions. Children may be exposed to harmful discourses or hate speech as they read or communicate online. In an Edutopia article, author Jinnie Spiegler defines online hate speech as “the use of electronic communications technology to spread bigoted or hateful messages or information about people based on their actual (or perceived) race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or similar characteristic.” After encountering these messages, students may bring them into our buildings and disseminate them.

    What to do

    There are several ways educators can address harmful discourse if it enters the classroom. The first step is to observe the culture of your classroom and school campus. It’s also important to keep in mind the age and developmental level of students before working to address challenging content. You’ll want to make sure that your response is appropriate, direct, and devoid of your own bias, perspective, or judgement.

    In The Educator's Playbook, professor Howard C. Stevenson suggests four steps that educators can take to confront hate speech at school:

    • Start with you: Process your own feelings, and address your own vulnerabilities before entering the classroom. Develop a support system with your colleagues. Review school and district policies as they relate to these issues.
    • Practice: Classroom reactions usually happen in a split second. Prepare yourself for these instances by role-playing with colleagues in your building, or online with your professional learning network.
    • After an incident: Resist the urge to condemn the action or content. First try to understand the motivation if is disseminated through your classroom or building. Allow the school’s code of conduct to address instances where students actively spread this information. Strongly explain to students that these harmful discourses and the messages being spread about individuals and groups are not accepted. You will not accept the silencing of voices.
    • Keep talking: After these events, the best course of action is to keep talking. Difficult discussions will often ensue, but children and adults alike need to be able to process their feelings and reactions. This is an opportunity to shut down and be silent, or engage and promote change.

    Proactive curriculum

    There is also a wealth of resources available online to help address these harmful discourses before they enter your classroom or school campus. Teaching Tolerance offers a guide for administrators, counselors, and teachers on “Responding to Hate and Bias at School” as well as how to “Speak Up at School” about prejudice, bias, and stereotypes. Edutopia also provides a collection of resources to help you learn more about Internet safety, cyberbullying, and media literacy.

    If you want to be really proactive, Common Sense Education published an Anti-Cyberbullying Toolkit to help protect your school’s culture and community. The organization also offers Scope & Sequence, a digital citizenship curriculum that includes videos, interactive activities, assessments, professional learning, family outreach materials, and grade-level specific lesson plans on topics such as “Show Respect Online,” “Cyberbullying: Be Upstanding,” and “Breaking Down Hate Speech.”

    Counteract harmful discourses

    It is imperative that we explore how information and technology shapes the contours of the spaces in which learning takes place. Within these contexts, there are also broader civic, educative, and social-emotional concerns arising in national and international contexts. As educators, it is our role of to work with youth to identify best ways for youth to safely learn, engage, and connect online. Our future needs individuals that are more informed, literate citizens that educate themselves and others as to the need for new, helpful discursive practices.

    Ian O'Byrne is an internationally recognized educator, researcher, and presenter. His research investigates the literacy practices of individuals in online and hybrid spaces. Ian’s work can be found on his website. His weekly newsletter focuses on the intersections between technology, education, and literacy. Ian is an assistant professor of Literacy Education at the College of Charleston.

    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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    Overcoming the Digital Divide, Step Four: Advocate

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 20, 2017

    KEYSPOTThis is the final installment of a four-part, how-to blog series on overcoming the digital divide, an extension of ILA’s recent brief.

    Too often, education policy changes are made without consulting those who are most attuned the everyday realities of today’s students—the teachers themselves.

    Teacher ownership is a powerful construct with the potential to create meaningful change in schools and systems. As state departments of education revise accountability systems to meet the new requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), now, more than ever, teachers have opportunities to contribute to these changes as architects—not just as implementers.

    Using the City of Philadelphia as a case study, and advice from Jennifer Kobrin, director of digital initiatives for the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Adult Education (formerly the Mayor’s Commission on Literacy), we outlined how teachers can take on a greater role in addressing digital equity challenges.

    If the poorest big city in the United States can bring digital support fellows, technology integration specialists, and high-speed Internet access to its school district, so can your city. Here’s how.

    Leverage community partnerships

    Kobrin, who formerly served as senior director at nonprofit Foundations, Inc., and a content specialist at the U.S. Department of Education initiative You4Youth, says coalitions facilitate the sharing of community resources while lending visibility and credibility to individual members. She has demonstrated the value of coalition building in her own work with KEYSPOT, a network of public, private, and nonprofit organizations that provide technology, training, and other opportunities through more than 50 public access centers.

    “I think it’s really all about building partnerships with other organizations in the community,” says Kobrin. “When that grant opportunity comes along, they like to see really well-defined partnerships and know that you’re not working in isolation.”

    Before you mobilize, look at the efforts that are already underway and identify areas where collaboration makes sense. For example, the School District of Philadelphia is a part of the Digital Literacy Alliance, a coalition of 19 diverse stakeholders, including government entities, telecommunications companies, media agencies, universities, nonprofits, and more, that are all working to alleviate the digital divide in Philadelphia.

    The Open Technology Institute found that the following organizations play a critical role in the long-term sustainability of local technology investments:

    • Churches and faith-based social services
    • Community-based organizations, community centers
    • Libraries
    • Educational and workforce programs
    • Social service facilities
    • Cooperatives (food, child care, etc.)
    • Makerspaces
    • Major bandwidth buyers (hospitals, technology firms, universities)
    • Commercial internet service providers

    If there is no existing coalition within your community, start your own—use the list above to create a list of potential partners, find out what resources they offer, and conduct outreach to determine their capacity and interest in collaborating.   

    Set an agenda

    From broadband connectivity to one-to-one initiatives to online learning, which digital divide issues are most important to your school and district? Where can you make the most impact?

    Community engagement is about not only communicating to a community but also creating an opportunity for feedback and dialogue. Community members who have been traditionally excluded from such processes should be among the first to be invited to participate—enlisting all institutions will bring a diverse perspectives, ideas, and resources to the table.

    The Consortium for School Networking's (CoSN) sample survey is a useful starting point for districts to identify local needs. Keep in mind that people living in digital deserts are unlikely to get announcements for local events related to digital equity issues. To reach offline and immigrant residents, translate the survey in dominant languages and distribute copies through local social service agencies and at community meetings.

    Engage policymakers

    After solidifying goals and strategies, Kobrin recommends school leaders meet with elected officials to help them to understand the school’s goals and how they factor into their platforms.

    “It’s about understanding the school’s goals, and how it is an anchor for the larger community. How can our local government really concretely invest in schools and see what it’s providing not only to students, but also to community members?" says Kobrin.

    Media Alliance provides the following ideas for engaging with policymakers on a local, state, or federal level.

    • Invite your elected officials to witness successful digital inclusion projects at your school.
    • Testify at a public hearing (school board, city council, state, federal).
    • Request a meeting or delegation visit with an elected official who has a track record of supporting social justice issues.
    • Attend or convene a town hall meeting with your elected officials. Ask teachers and students to testify about digital divide issues.
    • Apply for seats on task forces or advisory boards on digital inclusion efforts. If there’s no existing task force with community representation, create one or join an existing task forces on related issues and encourage them to take up digital inclusion.

    Demonstrate community value

    Kobrin says the key to getting buy-in is preemptively answering the “what’s in it for us” question for all stakeholders. Even corporations like Comcast, for example, have an interest in their community’s future workforce and client base.

    “We are shaping students who might one day work at their company,” she says.

    Philadelphia has seen several successful public–private partnerships, including Comcast’s Internet Essentials—the company’s low-cost service for low-income residents and the Philadelphia Housing Authority and T-Mobile partnership to provide 4,500 public housing families and students with free tablets and internet access.

    Events like the Philly Technology Exposition and Competition (TEC), technology fairs, “techmobiles,” and other hands-on demonstrations increase demand for access and training and demonstrate the transformative impact of technology and training. Visit ISTE’s student technology showcase planning tips for more ideas.

    State and federal advocacy

    Signed into law in December 2015, ESSA moves critical federal funding back to the control of the states through block grants. Although this money is intended for shoring up educational technology, it is left to the states to decide how the grants are used.

    Familiarize yourself with the opportunities available under ESSA to employ federal funding at both the state and district level to support classroom-based technology programming. Refer to ISTE’s public policy statement and advocacy plan template for guidance in developing long-term policy priorities and advocacy activities.

    For those looking to influence education policy on a state and national, programs like the Educator Voice Fellowship, the Teaching Policy Fellowship, the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship, the U.S. Department of Education’s School Ambassador Fellowship, and E4E’s Teacher Leadership Program seek to amplify the voice of teachers, principals, and other school leaders in national dialogue.  

    For more advocacy resources, check out ILA’s ESSA advocacy toolkit.

    Alina O'Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.
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    Overcoming the Digital Divide, Step Three: Provide Resources

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 08, 2017

    Teacher TrainingThis is the third installment of a four-part, how-to blog series on overcoming the digital divide, an extension of ILA’s latest brief.

    As we discussed last week, closing the digital divide requires a multipronged approach that pairs access and connectivity with strong pedagogy and training. Technology changes quickly, and professional development (and teachers) often lags behind; a recent Education Week Research Center study found a near 10% disparity between high- and low-income teachers and their access to technology training.

    Most districts lack the time, staff, and money to support on-site professional development activities. Luckily, the availability of free information for supporting classroom instruction is at an all-time high. Online books, blogs, podcasts, videos, and learning networks are increasing access to professional development, especially in underserved communities.

    Peggy Semingson, associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Texas at Arlington, sees open education resources and self-directed teacher education as the future of 21st-century learning. She’s demonstrated the effectiveness of these tools through her own YouTube channel, blog, and podcast.

    “The whole idea of teacher professional development is increasingly decentralized away from formal training led by schools, districts, or outside vendors. Increasingly teachers are taking learning into their own hands via social media (e.g., Twitter), digital platforms, and mobile learning (m-learning),” she said in a recent interview with Literacy Beat.

    Semingson also studies teacher-to-teacher knowledge sharing via professional learning networks (PLNs), where teachers connect, collaborate, and share resources such as forums, lesson plans, and classroom activities.

    “We are all seeing and participating in self-directed learning, or what I call ‘DIY PD,’ such as scheduled Twitter chats, hashtag learning and awareness, crowdsourced resources, and direct teacher-to-teacher supports,” she said. “I appreciate the grassroots nature of these types of digital learning activities that teachers can participate in.”

    With so much high-quality content available online, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. To save you time, we compiled a list of some of the most widely recommended free and affordable resources for 21st-century teaching and learning.

    Classes

    Professional Learning Networks (PLNs)

    Videos

    Podcasts

    Blogs

    For more resources, check out Edutopia’s “DIY Professional Development: Resource Roundup” and Edudemic’s “The Teacher’s Guides to Technology and Learning.”

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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    Using Technology to Cultivate a Culture of Readers

    By Katie Stover Kelly
     | Sep 01, 2017
    BiblionasiumOn the first day of school, Ms. Stafford read aloud First Day Jitters by Julie Dannenburg (Charlesbridge, 2000) to introduce herself as the new assistant principal and to share her feelings about starting her first day at a new school.

    To reach every student, she used the video presentation tool MoveNote, to pair the audio recording of her read-aloud and discussion with the images of the book pages. At dismissal that day, one student approached Ms. Stafford and said, “I loved the story you read to us today. You should do more!” Mission accomplished.

    Ms. Stafford continued creating MoveNotes to share read-alouds, create common language, and teach character education. She even used screencast to teach others how to create their own MoveNotes. Eventually both teachers and students used MoveNotes to share their favorite books school-wide.

    The use of digital tools such as MoveNote, the interactive whiteboard app ExplainEverything, and the online podcast platform AudioBoom can expand the way we share and connect through books, inside and outside of the classroom. In Smuggling Writing (Corwin, 2016) we share how to use ExplainEverything to create multimodal book reviews. We also discuss how to use AudioBoom to improve students' reading and writing fluency, in From Pencils to Podcasts: Digital Tools to Transform K-6 Literacy Practices (Solution Tree, 2017) and in a previous TILE-SIG blog post.

    Many adults use Goodreads to track reading lists, rate books, write reviews, and connect with other readers for book recommendations. Biblionasium is a kid-friendly version of this social book site. When teachers set up a classroom on Biblionasium, each student can add books to their virtual bookshelves. This gives teachers insight into their students’ reading habits and interests.

    Biblionasium reviewAfter reading, students can rate, review, and recommend books to other users within their group. This is an excellent way to integrate writing into a reading curriculum in a meaningful way, and to empower students to share their opinions. 

    For educators looking to cultivate connections beyond the classroom, The Global Read Aloud is a six-week event beginning in October where more than two million people connect across the globe using a variety of digital tools to discuss common books. Our class will be joining the #GRAWater slow chat on Twitter to discuss A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (Houghton Mifflin, 2011). We hope you’ll join us!

    In an age when educators are bombarded with endless digital tools, we must use technology to create purposeful student-centered learning experiences that connect readers both near and far and nurture a culture of reading.

    katie stover headshotKatie Stover Kelly is an associate professor of education at Furman University in Greenville, SC and coauthor of From Pencils to Podcasts: Digital Tools to Transform K-6 Literacy Practices (Solution Tree, 2017) and Smuggling Writing: Strategies That Get Students to Write Every Day, in Every Content Area, Grades 3-12 (Corwin, 2016). Find her on Twitter @ktkelly14.

    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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    Overcoming the Digital Divide, Step Two: Critically Frame 21st-Century Skills

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Aug 31, 2017

    Project Based LearningThis is the second installment of a four-part, how-to blog series on overcoming the digital divide, an extension of ILA’s latest brief.

    As we learned from ILA’s latest brief, “Overcoming the Digital Divide: Four Critical Steps,” teachers who have students from low socioeconomic backgrounds often assume those students have little or no access to digital technology, and then avoid it in their pedagogy.

    When those students—who don’t have access at home or in class—try to comprehend technology on the same level as their classmates, they fall twice as far behind. Poor digital comprehension and skills lead to lower levels of academic achievement, social advancement, and eventually, career mobility.

    In last week’s installment of our Overcoming the Digital Divide series, we discussed how administrators and educators can increase funding for technology and Internet access in classrooms. This week, we’ll shift our focus to a second digital divide that’s rooted in “weak or ineffective digital pedagogy.” As educators secure access and begin to embrace 21st-century learning, they may need to rethink their teaching approaches to better support the acquisition of these new literacies and skills.

    To help you cut through the Internet’s cacophony of 21st-century frameworks, guides, and methodologies, we asked David Ross, CEO of the Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21), and Karen Wohlwend, associate professor in the Department of Literacy, Culture, and Language Education at Indiana University Bloomington, what they believe are the defining characteristics of effective 21st-century learning models.

    Distributed leadership

    Before leaders can get teachers and administrators to embrace transformation, they have to create a climate in which all educators are inclined to "buy in" to the vision.

    “It’s very difficult to effectively run a school from the top down,” says Ross.

    Earlier this year, P21 issued its first Patterns of Innovation report, which identifies five key ingredients to successful 21st-century learning environments. The report found that almost all exemplar schools embody a “distributed leadership” model, wherein all stakeholders—principals, superintendents, teachers, faculty, and students alike—share ownership over a clearly articulated mission for the school, and are actively and enthusiastically involved in execution.

    For a closer look at the leadership models of successful 21st-century learning environments, check out P21’s list of case studies.

    Collaborative culture

    As Wohlwend notes in a report titled  "One Screen, Many Fingers," today’s students are tomorrow’s 21st-century workforce “who, very likely, will need to be experts at collaborating and inventing together...with literacies and technologies one cannot yet imagine.”

    In our globalized, technology-driven world, most jobs require the ability to collaborate in both physical and virtual spaces. Today’s employers value individuals who can communicate effectively, work productively in diverse teams, be open-minded to different ideas and values, and use social and cultural differences to generate new ideas and innovate, according to a 2015 UNESCO report.

    Wohlwend says she prepares students for these global opportunities by introducing “collaborative composing,” where students play together with digital apps on a single touchscreen device.

    In addition to lowering overhead costs (bonus!), device sharing naturally encourages students to “listen to one another, to see from another player’s perspective, to negotiate their ideas, and to develop strategies for sharing materials and decision making,” concepts that can be applied to real-life social and employment situations.

    Student agency

    When students enter Wohlwend’s Literacy Playshop, they are not there to learn—but to create. In this space, they become filmmakers, performers, and designers who work together to produce sophisticated animated puppet shows, live-action plays, digital films, and more.

    Through the Literacy Playshop model, Wohlwend is working to transform students from passive consumers of knowledge to “coproducers” who are actively involved in the creation of educational resources, curricular content, and teaching itself.

    Wohlwend says that as students produce 21st-century texts, they not only become more proficient technology users, but also they learn how media messages are constructed.

    “We need to be thinking about the ways that people are coproducing, and not just writing texts to be read silently. That is the way we operated with the printed page,” says Wohlwend. “We need to move beyond that thinking and create spaces for people to collaborate, interpret, and produce media in real-time together.”

    For ideas on how to incorporate play-based literacy learning, check out The Buck Institute for Education’s (BIE) Project Search, “A Better List Of Ideas For Project-Based Learning” by TeachThought, and “The Materials of a Makerspace” by Makerspace for Education.

    Teacher agency

    In an Edutopia article, ELA teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron argues that in order to support the valuable innovation of their students, teachers need the freedom to be innovative as well.

    “By denying teachers their chance to develop their own creativity in curriculum, we deny them the power of modeling enthusiasm for their content and the process of delivering that content. We also inadvertently cause a stagnation of imagination and critical thinking in the very troops closest to the students themselves and those tasked with bringing out those very traits in our clientele,” she writes.

    Wohlwend has applied this line of thinking to her own work with preservice and inservice teacher inquiry groups. Rather than assign a curriculum, she provides opportunities for them to collaborate, create, and test-drive projects.

    “Once they’ve had those experiences, they think, ‘How do I make this happen in my own classroom?’” says Wohlwend. "It’s trusting in teachers."

    Emphasis on higher order thinking

    Studies show that nearly 65% of today’s students will be employed in a job that has yet to exist.

    Our ever-changing world demands an ability to think critically, use continually evolving technology, be culturally aware and adaptive, and make complex decisions based on accurate analysis, according to Judy Willis, board-certified neurologist and former classroom teacher.

    To prepare students for these challenges, teachers are starting to ditch prepackaged teaching methods in favor of teaching higher order thinking skills.

    In 2015, ILA introduced the Scaffolding Higher Order Thinking Skills (SHOTS) strategy, which provides scaffolding tools and processes—including cue cards, graphic organizers, and question prompts—that educators can use to support text-generative and independent thinking skills.

    Other helpful tools for introducing higher order thinking include TeachHUB’s Teaching Strategies that Enhance Higher-Order Thinking and Edutopia’s Higher-Order Thinking Questions presentation.

    21st-century professional development

    With a unified vision and strong pedagogy in place, educators’ next step is to operationalize those concepts.

    “You can give teachers great ideas, but then their standards response is, ‘So, what do I do on Monday?’” says Ross.

    Ross has delivered professional development to more than 10,000 teachers in the past decade. He says that good PD equips teachers with the tools, knowledge, and skills they need to integrate critical thinking, collaboration, and other 21st-century competencies into all content areas. 

    “As a classroom teacher, I love content. But if kids don’t have the ability to critically look at content, I can’t be a good teacher.”  

    Ross encourages educators to draw inspiration from P21’s 21st Century Skills Map, which provide concrete examples of how 21st-century skills can be integrated into core subjects. He also recommends 21st-century professional development resources from organizations like Common Sense Media, The National Education Association, and the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.

    Alina O’Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.

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