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    How to Help Students Interpret Digital Texts

    Carolyn Fortuna
     | May 26, 2017
    How to Help Students Interpret Digital Texts

    Even in our increasingly digital world, some of my students still have difficulty interpreting digital texts; they seem to summarize main points rather than interpret underlying meanings and messages.

    How can we help students to move beyond summary and toward interpretation? I’ve found that a combination of digital popular culture modeling, heuristics, and choice—along with digital composition—can initiate that process.

    Interpretation combines summary, synthesis, and analysis. We take a whole text and break it into its parts. Those parts, when reassembled, create a more powerful whole than would any individual element. This concept is known as gestalt.

    Digital Culture Modeling

    Let’s take the example of the Chrysler Eminem Super Bowl Commercial in which the rapper protagonist is set against an increasingly revitalized Detroit.

    I showed this video to high school and college students and asked them a series of questions:

    • Identifying details: Who is driving the car? What do you know about him? What’s the camera’s perspective? Name what he sees as he drives.
    • Deciphering symbolism: What does a clenched fist represent? Why did the artist choose an image of workers pulling in unison? What could a statue with a Golden Globe symbolize?
    • Determining overarching thematic meanings: Why was it important, socially and culturally, for Eminem to stand below the chorus? What role do people of color have in Detroit? Who’s paying for this commercial, and why would they want these particular messages portrayed in these particular ways?

    I have found that the fluid and dynamic questioning process involved with this kind of modeling helps students connect the digital dots.

    Heuristics That Lead to Meaning-Making

    I also encourage students to use a step-by-step Digital Visual Analysis Protocol as they attempt to deconstruct digital texts. This protocol arose from my research into the work of Gunther Kress, the National Association for Media Literacy Education Association, and Renee Hobbs’ innovative methodology around digital media text analysis, including her Mind over Media interactive platform.

    Choice + Digital Composition= Interpretation

    William Glasser’s Choice Theory inspired me to let my students choose their own digital texts whenever possible. When they choose which digital texts to interpret through their own original digital compositions, their interpretation skills rise to entirely new heights.

    Interpretation isn’t easy for any of us. But, with guidance and protocols, students can interpret digital texts in ways that move beyond the classroom and into the real world. That’s where the important work of digital text interpretation takes place.

    Carolyn FortunaCarolyn Fortuna, PhD is a retired secondary school English teacher whose next career centers around producing events for the University of Rhode Island’s Media Education Lab and teaching in the Gender and Women’s Studies Department at Rhode Island College. You can contact her at c4tuna31@gmail.com.

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    Future Farmers of America: Not Just for Future Farmers

    By Kip Glazer
     | May 24, 2017
    FFA Presentation

    One in four students in the United States lives and learns in rural areas. Having lived and worked in the California’s Central Valley for over 10 years, I am aware of the unique challenges and opportunities these students face. While earning my bachelor’s degree at California Polytechnic State University—a school known for its engineering programs—many of my classmates were studying math, science, and technology, with plans to work in agriculture. As a high school teacher, I have had the privilege of watching my students participate in Future Farmers of America (FFA), an intracurricular organization for students interested in agriculture.

    In the spring 2017 issue of New Horizons, Mark Moore reported on a $454,000 grant that provides precision agriculture technology to FFA members at North Newton and South Newton high schools in Indiana. Although the students still learn how to use traditional agricultural equipment (such as tractors and combines), they also learn how to operate drones to collect, analyze, and interpret real-time data from the field.

    FFA programs provide instruction for students who want to learn about the science, business, and technology behind plant and animal production and natural resource systems. For example, students in one agricultural entrepreneurship class learned how to create, implement, and present a business plan. For their final project, they designed visual presentations that included the product, the mission statement, relevant statistics, and descriptions of the technologies involved. Projects like this help build critical literacy skills that can be applied to any subject.

    2016 Honorary American FFA Degree recipient Julie Beechinor once said to me, “Many people still think agricultural is just about cows, sows, and plows. They have no clue how much technology is involved in agriculture. My students are trained to be scientists, and we need them to be. Because without smart agriculture, no one can live.”

    Having seen what her students do, I couldn’t agree more! 

    Kip Glazer is a native of Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to the United States in 1993 as a college student. She holds California Single Subject Teaching Credentials in Social Studies, English, Health, Foundational Mathematics, and School Administration. In 2014, she was named the Kern County Teacher of the Year. She earned her doctorate of education in learning technologies at Pepperdine University in October 2015. She has presented and keynoted at many state and national conferences on game-based learning and educational technologies. She has also consulted for Center for Innovative Research in Cyberlearning and the Kennedy Center ArtsEdge Program. Her Purposeful Tech column looks at how classroom teachers can think critically about today's instructional technologies.

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    Amplify Student Talk Through Video

    By Angie Johnson
     | May 12, 2017

    Amplify Student Talk Through VideoTeachers know from experience that quality student talk in a classroom improves depth of thinking and reflection. Organizations including the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) encourage teachers to use the power of student talk through best practices like teacher–student conferencing, literature circles, Socratic seminars, and student-led parent–teacher conferences. Lately I’ve extended that power through two video tools that facilitate robust student-to-teacher and student-to-student exchanges:  Recap and Flipgrid.

    With Recap, students record videos up to two minutes long in response to assigned prompts. My eighth-grade students recently shared ideas for a poem in which they were to use personification or apostrophe. In their Recaps, they explained how they planned to incorporate the devices and why they chose them and then assessed their own understanding. A comment stream below the video allowed me to dialogue with students about their ideas and self-assessments. Finally, I compiled four responses into a “Daily Review Reel” to illustrate the various ways these literary devices might be used.

    Recap allows unlimited classes and students and is currently free. Pictured is a teacher view of a single set of responses; students see only their own responses, not their classmates’.

    teacher-sees-class-responses_w800

    With Flipgrid’s free version, teachers create prompts with text or video and students respond in up to 90-second videos. Flipgrid offers automatic transcription as an added feature but does not provide a self-assessment tool. Unlike Recap, students can view their classmates’ responses. With the Flipgrid upgrade, students can record responses to classmates’ videos and connect with other students around the world through the Global Connections page.

    Teachers can assess responses using a built-in performance rubric. The free version allows only one class but unlimited prompts and students, whereas the upgrade allows unlimited classes. I recently used the upgraded version of Flipgrid to hold a poetry slam. This removed performance pressure and upgraded the quality of final performances.

    memory-poem-idea-responses_w800

    What else can a teacher do with a tool like Recap or Flipgrid?  The list below includes some of the ways my students have interacted using these tools.  

    To build classroom community, students have...

    • Shared introductions
    • Introduced others (parents, siblings, grandparents, pets) to classmates
    • Shared places or favorite things with classmates
    • Shared personal stories

    In the writing process, students have...

    • Shared writing ideas
    • Discussed prewriting plans
    • Asked for targeted feedback on drafts
    • Shared final pieces and responded to others

    In the reading workshop, students have...

    • Recorded and shared book talks
    • Summarized assigned reading, jigsaw style
    • Performed oral interpretations of favorite poems
    • Posed questions about words, ideas, or concepts that confused them
    • Shared interpretations or analyses of assigned reading

    With group discussions students have...

    • Suggested essential questions to begin a Socratic seminar
    • Summarized the central takeaway of a discussion
    • Critiqued a discussion and offered suggestions for improvement

    There are other ways to combine apps for video sharing, but I find the seamless efficiency of programs like Recap and Flipgrid to be game-changers. Both provide apps for multiple platforms and are intuitive to use. Most important, they amplify student talk in new and exciting ways.

    Angie JohnsonAngie Johnson is a doctoral student in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology at Michigan State University. She teaches eighth-grade language arts and is a media and technology integration specialist at Lakeshore Middle School in Stevensville, MI.


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    How to Engage English Learners With Technology

    By Aileen Hower
     | May 05, 2017

    Teach and Engage ELsOne question all teachers ask when they have an English Learner (EL) in their classroom is, What more can I be doing to help support this student?

    First and foremost, it is important to remember that learning a new language takes time. In our high-stakes testing environments, we hope to have ELs reading on grade-level as soon as possible. Yet, we must remind ourselves that learning a new language, especially when there may be gaps in a student’s education due to time away from school or curriculum differences, is a slow process; ELs deserve sufficient time to listen first. Along the way, there are many digital tools that support a variety of literacy learning goals.

    Communication: Speech-to-text tools like Google Translate and American Wordspeller & Phonetic Dictionary can help students convert their native languages into English. Likewise, if a student is confused about a concept, the teacher can translate the lesson into the student’s first language for easier comprehension. While these tools are not perfect, they can be used to relay simple or important messages.

    Listening, Vocabulary, and Comprehension: Reading aloud is essential, especially for entering, emerging, or developing listeners. There are many digital resources that include read-aloud features, including the following:

    • Scholastic’s Storia has a “read to me” feature for some of its e-books.
    • PebbleGo offers read-aloud audio and word-by-word highlighting.
    • Scholastic’s BookFlix pairs classic children’s storybooks in video format with nonfiction e-books. TrueFlix offers multimedia science and social studies readings for older readers (explore trial versions of both programs here).
    • Storyline Online features actors who creatively read books aloud.
    • One More Story offers Read-Along Mode for pre-readers and a supportive I Can Read It Mode for emergent readers who want to transition into independent readers.

    Another low-tech, but useful device is the television. ELs can turn on the closed captioning feature for a relaxing, enjoyable way to build listening skills.  

    For students who are ready to challenge their listening and speaking skills, the Speaky app provides an international language exchange community where users can practice language socially. Other popular language learning tools include Duolingo, which enables students to learn over 20 languages through gamification, and Voice Thread, a web-based application that helps students produce interactive, multimedia video conversations.  

    Most importantly, get to know your student(s) and his or her family, and celebrate their heritage and culture. The best strategy is to be patient as you find creative ways to engage all students, including ELs, in authentic literacy learning opportunities

    Aileen HowerAileen P. Hower, Ed.D. is the K12 Literacy/ESL Supervisor for the South Western School District in Pennsylvania. She also teaches graduate level reading courses for Cabrini University in Pennsylvania. In addition to teaching, she is Vice President of the Keystone State Reading Association (KSRA) and conference chair for the KSRA's 50th Annual Conference in Hershey, PA. You can find her on Twitter at @aileenhower or on her blog at aileenhower.wordpress.com.

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

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    Computer Coding as a Second Language

    By Kip Glazer
     | Apr 26, 2017

    Boy in yellow shirt on a laptopI recently read a story about a Colombian security guard named Edison Garcia Vargas, who learned to speak English using duolingo.com, one of my favorite language learning tools. As a teacher, I have recommended Duolingo (also available as an app) to several parents who want to learn English, including my own in South Korea. I was excited to hear Vargas' story, which demonstrates the life-changing impact of this tool.

    Improving literacy is a longtime passion of mine. Despite having lived in the United States for over 20 years, I know I will be a second-language learner for the rest of my life. I feel this acutely when my colleagues and friends make references to the '90s pop culture, to which I must explain that I lived in Korea until 1993 and didn't speak English until the late 1990s.

    One thing I have learned about language acquisition is that it requires daily practice. I often find myself searching for Korean words in conversations with my family, despite having attended a university in Korea. I frustrate my parents when I answer them in English.

    In many ways, learning to code is similar to learning to speak another language. Duolingo reminds its users to practice the language 20 to 30 minutes every day. Its website provides pictures, audios, and quizzes, and allows users to repeat the lessons as many times as they desire. I believe that's how we should approach teaching our students to code; students must practice every day, and in a structured environment.

    However, many schools do not offer coding courses. For these high school and middle school students, I recommend online learning tools such as codehs.com, codecademy.com, and codeavengers.com. For younger students, I recommend scratch.mit.edu and tynker.com, which,use colorful blocks and animated characters to help users build logical reasoning skills.

    Students also need to be immersed in the language that they want to learn. While I had Korean-speaking friends, I deliberately befriended Japanese, German, and French-speaking students at the language school I attended. We all spoke different languages, which forced all of us to communicate in English when possible. I suggest that students create similar support systems when learning to code. If they do not know someone locally, I tell them to visit github.com and hackpledge.org, sites where experienced computer programmers and developers offer help and answer questions.

    A report published by Burning Glass identifies coding experience as one of the most valuable and employable skills. With the advent of online coding courses, the educational resources that students need to develop these skills have become more broadly accessible.

    The most important thing, however, is to encourage students daily to persevere, even if they experience failures. I explain to my students that learning to code is learning to speak another language. Having struggled to learn English as an adult, I remind my students that they can learn to code successfully, even if they start later than others.

    Kip Glazer HeadshotKip Glazer is a native of Seoul, South Korea, and immigrated to the United States in 1993 as a college student. In 2002, she graduated Cum Laude from California Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo with a Bachelor's Degree in Political Science. She earned her Master's Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Chapman University in 2004, while receiving her California Single Subject Teaching Credential in both Social Studies and English. Since then, she has earned additional teaching credentials in Health, Foundational Mathematics, and School Administration. Glazer is currently pursuing a Doctorate of Education in Learning Technologies at Pepperdine University. She is the current team leader for Independence High School's Teachers' Professional Development Grant funded by California State University, Chico. She maintains a blog about her projects and grants.


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