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Literacy Now

Digital Literacies
Making a Case for Reading Joy
ILA 2019 Replay
Making a Case for Reading Joy
ILA 2019 Replay
  • A year and a half ago, I sat in my classroom on a late summer day and stared with trepidation at the giant vault-like cart that held the 24 iPads I would soon be integrating into my classroom. I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to enhance student learning through new technology, but it was already an overwhelming task.
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    Language Arts Apps Save the Day

    by Lindsey Fuller
     | Dec 18, 2013

    A year and a half ago, I sat in my classroom on a late summer day and stared with trepidation at the giant vault-like cart that held the 24 iPads I would soon be integrating into my classroom. I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to enhance student learning through new technology, but it was already an overwhelming task. Here I was, with a new set of standards to teach, no curriculum to guide me in doing so, and a whole lot of devices which required me to change just about every aspect of how I taught. These concerns were only heightened as I came to realize that integrating technology into an upper elementary classroom largely focused on language arts instruction created challenges I had not anticipated.

    p: teachingsagittarian via photopin cc

    Ways to accomplish tasks digitally are pretty easy to dream up when it comes to math and science. But it is a little trickier with language arts. Sure, reading eBooks, doing research and typing instead of hand writing essays were no-brainers. But language arts instruction encompasses so much more, and truly incorporating mobile devices in such a way that made them vital to the learning process was a bit daunting. Especially once I came to realize that there was an obvious lack of language arts apps for older students. I needed graphic organizers, writing reference tools, games that reinforced language arts concepts. But few existed.

    Fortunately, the incredible minds at ReadWriteThink.org have finally come to my rescue—and yours, too! If you are unfamiliar with ReadWriteThink.org, it is an amazing website bursting with free lesson plans and aids for teaching language arts. They also have wonderful online tools to help students practice language arts concepts. These have begun to be transformed into wonderful apps that are a huge relief to those of us who are working so hard to mesh technology with reading and writing instruction. My students and I have been using the apps in our classroom, and here are our thoughts:

    Trading Cards is by far our favorite app of the bunch. Students enter the name of a topic, person, character, place, etc. The app then generates a trading card, and the student is prompted to answer some questions about their topic. The questions are excellent, and ensure that the student has a real understanding of the subject. The answers are then inserted into the card, and a picture is added to complete the project. My students first used this app while working on a social studies assignment that involved researching a famous event in history, and I asked them to do a trading card once they felt their knowledge was enough to teach the class. Many soon learned that they weren't quite ready to create a presentation and that more research and discussion was in order—the questions helped them to realize that they did not know their topic as well as they should.

    Trading Cards is an excellent classroom tool that can be applied in so many creative ways. Saving, sharing, and printing the cards is very simple, and the app is even designed to allow for multiple users on the same device.

    Venn Diagram is another ReadWriteThink.org app, and it is so simple, yet so necessary! It is really difficult to create a usable and readable Venn diagram on a tablet without using an app. This one fills the need perfectly. The default setting is for two rings, but a third ring can be added as necessary, and different colors can be utilized. Students create labels that contain the information to be sorted, and these can range in size depending on the needs of the user. It is very easy to use, and all of the ReadWriteThink.org apps provide easy sharing and storage options for finished products.

    ReadWriteThink Venn Diagram appThe RWT Timeline app is exactly what it sounds like, and it was the one I was most excited to see in the App Store. I use timelines often with my students, and I had tried several different methods for creating them digitally—with lackluster results, at best. Timeline allows students to create simple timelines with dates, details, and even pictures. It is very user-friendly, and my students were even able to edit their work without any difficulty. I was thrilled with how easy it was to create and share the timelines that so often accompany our research projects and book reports.

    As if the apps already covered here weren't enough, ReadWriteThink.org also has three poetry apps on offer: Acrostic Poem, Diamante Poem, and Theme Poem. Each allows students to create original poetry in a different form, and they are versatile enough to use with younger students as well as older ones. The apps walk users through how to create the unique type of poem, making it fun for students and effortless for teachers. My students especially enjoyed the Theme Poem app, which offers a collection of shapes and figures to use as backgrounds in the finished products.

    Alphabet Organizer is an app that is aimed at younger readers, and therefore my students did not spend any time with it. It is designed to allow students to enter words and pictures that are associated with each letter of the alphabet. The app is outside my range of expertise, but I am sure it has been designed with just as much thought and care as all the rest of the apps from ReadWriteThink.org  and would be worth downloading.

    All of these apps are incredible resources for teachers who want to incorporate technology into their language arts instruction—students are practicing the application of new concepts and creating products to show their learning, using both technology and higher order thinking skills. In fact, these apps are so well-designed that students can use them independently—students are not only provided with necessary tools, but with instructional content that guides them through the process of applying skills and concepts.

    With this collection, language arts concepts for older students are finally getting the attention they need in the world of mobile devices. We have enjoyed using them in our classroom immensely, and hope you will find them just as useful as we have!

    The International Reading Association partners with the National Council of Teachers of English and Verizon Thinkfinity to produce ReadWriteThink.org, a website devoted to providing literacy instruction and interactive resources for grades K–12.

    Lindsey Fuller is a sixth grade teacher in Decatur, Illinois. Her interests are classroom technology integration, literacy instruction, and Common Core curriculum development and implementation. You can read more from Lindsey on these topics at her blog, Tales of a 6th Grade Classroom
    © 2013 Lindsey Fuller. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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  • Twitter booksMarjie Podzielinski from IRA's Advisory Committee of Teachers (ACT) recommends #titletalk, #sharpshu, #txlchat, and #IRAchat Twitter chats.
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    Have You Participated in a Twitter Book Club?

    by Marjie Podzielinski
     | Nov 21, 2013

    Twitter & booksNew to me in the past year is the opportunity to participate in a Twitter book club. If you have not had the opportunity, why not try this for yourself? On the last Sunday of each month, teachers, librarians, and book lovers gather for #titletalk. The time is 7:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, and the November event is scheduled for this Sunday, November 24. At the time and date go to Twitter and search for #titletalk. A topic announced at the beginning of the hour guides all participating. For example, one session I participated in was on historical fiction.

    The tweets start flying fast and furiously. You can find new titles in each session that you can bring to your classroom or library. The fun part, though, is developing a virtual friendship with folks all over the globe. You really gain camaraderie with librarians, classroom teachers, and college professors. The next time you attend a conference (like IRA 2014 in New Orleans) you can seek out your virtual friends and you have an instant connection!

    #Titletalk was founded by Colby Sharp (@colbysharp on Twitter) and Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks on Twitter). The chats are archived, so if you miss the time and date you can still catch up at http://titletalk.wikispaces.com.  There are two videos to help beginners join in, and on the right hand column is a list of the past chats. Scroll through until you find the date of the conversation you want. Because the tweets are so fast, this is a great way to go back and review book titles that have been discussed. 

    More great chats include:

    • The Sharp-Schu book club (#sharpshu on Twitter) was founded by Colby Sharp and John Schumacher (@MrSchuReads on Twitter).
    • #Txlchat focuses on library issues in Texas. It is held the 2nd & 4th Tuesday from 8:00-9:00 Central Standard Time. Visit the archives and read more information at http://txlchat.wikispaces.com/TXLchat+Archives.
    • IRA hosts bimonthly Twitter chats using the #IRAchat hashtag.  Past chats have included digital writing in the classroom with Julie D. Ramsay (Thursday, July 18 at 8:00 p.m. EST), International Literacy Day and “inventing your future” with Bill Hader and America’s Promise (Monday, September 9 at 8:00 p.m. EST), and informational reading and writing with Seymour Simon and Jennifer Altieri (Thursday, November 7 at 8:00 p.m. EST). Read the archives at https://storify.com/iratoday, and follow #IRAchat on Twitter to see when the next chat will be.

    So why not try it? Whatever the topic winds up being, you know it’s gonna be a good conversation!

    Marjie PodzielinskiMarjie Podzielinski is a librarian at Coulson Tough School in The Woodlands, Texas, marjiepodge@yahoo.com.

    Teaching in ACTion is a series from the Advisory Committee of Teachers (ACT), an International Reading Association committee comprised of exemplary reading and literacy teachers from around the world. Educators who best exemplify the mission of IRA are chosen from a pool of applicants to serve a three-year term. Among other responsibilities, the main charge of ACT is to be the conduit between IRA’s members and the board of directors.

    ACT invites member to engage in the conversation by sending responses to us. ACT’s goal is to get a feel for how members feel about current hot topics, so that we may better serve members by sharing their concerns with the board of directors.

     

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  • Do your students struggle with grammar? Mine often do. This admission sometimes feels like a dirty secret to be hidden away. Yet, the way the human brain processes language is fascinating—and incredibly intricate. In the push to meet goals and achieve grade level targets, perhaps we sometimes forget what a difficult task we are actually putting before our students.
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    Excellence is in the Extension: Using Practice Apps Effectively

    by Lindsey Fuller
     | Nov 20, 2013

    Do your students struggle with grammar? Mine often do. This admission sometimes feels like a dirty secret to be hidden away. Yet, the way the human brain processes language is fascinating—and incredibly intricate. In the push to meet goals and achieve grade level targets, perhaps we sometimes forget what a difficult task we are actually putting before our students. Considering the complexity of the English language, is it any wonder that it takes students a long time to master grammar skills?

    p: barbaranixon via photopin cc

    Practice is imperative to helping students improve their language abilities. Ideally, most of this practice will come as an integrated portion of reading and writing instruction. Using language skills in context, through real-life tasks, is always going to be the best way for students to gain deep understanding. That being said, teachers know that practice in any form can be helpful for students who are struggling.

    Technology provides teachers and students with such varied opportunities to approach learning in different ways. With all the buzz around project-based learning and higher-order thinking, we may sometimes dismiss too quickly the ways in which simple practice can be utilized in the classroom, especially with struggling students. Even these basic activities can be applied in positive ways, and with a little creativity, extended to further enhance learning.
    I recently had the opportunity to use the Grammar Pop app with my students. The app was designed by Mignon Fogarty, aka “Grammar Girl.” Many readers may be familiar with the Grammar Girl’s blog, Quick and Dirty Tips, which offers all kinds of useful grammar tidbits for adults and students. The app is game-based, requiring players to race against a clock to identify the parts of speech in increasingly complex sentences. As the game progresses, the player is able to earn rewards and unlock more difficult levels.

    As far as educational game apps go, Grammar Pop is pretty typical. However, it addresses an area that many students struggle with, and grammar practice apps aren’t particularly plentiful. Grammar Pop fills a specific need, and will appeal to students who are more easily engaged through game-based learning, or who learn best through repetition. 

    Apps such as Grammar Pop are excellent resources to provide for students when they have down time or as options for rewards and recess on rainy days. Every teacher understands that each minute in the classroom is valuable, and needs to be put to productive use. Keeping fun and engaging educational apps such as this one in supply can help fill in some of these small bits of time with opportunities to learn.

    Not only can a practice app be used to keep students engaged in educational content, but they can also be used to spark an interest in students that leads to more in-depth inquiry. For instance, a student trying to achieve the next level on Grammar Pop, who doesn’t know how to identify a particular part of speech, could be encouraged to do some independent research in order to meet their goal. This app contains highly complex sentences in the higher levels, which may lead students to investigate beyond what they would normally study as part of their grade-level curriculum.

    It can be tempting to dismiss out of hand any technology tools that don’t immediately appear to require those coveted higher-order thinking skills. But it is always important to realize that using technology effectively often isn’t about the technology at all—it is about how the technology is utilized. Viewing every available tool as an opening to create significant learning experiences ensures that students are not deprived of any opportunity to practice the skills they are working so hard to master, in any way that appeals to their specific learning needs.    

    Lindsey Fuller is a sixth grade teacher in Decatur, Illinois. Her interests are classroom technology integration, literacy instruction, and Common Core curriculum development and implementation. You can read more from Lindsey on these topics at her blog, Tales of a 6th Grade Classroom

    © 2013 Lindsey Fuller. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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  • Coming into this school year, I knew that bullying could be a major concern with my new students. My school uses PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports), which focuses largely on recognizing and reinforcing positive behaviors. I wanted to do something proactive that fell in line with the beliefs of PBIS, and start changing the attitudes of my students before we had a serious problem on our hands.
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    Bring Kindness to Your Classroom through Social Media

    by Lindsey Fuller
     | Oct 09, 2013

    I deal with bullying on a daily basis, year after year.  Some years are better than others, but regardless of the make-up of a particular group of students, it is inevitable that bullying will be an issue that comes up regularly. Whether the specific incidents are minor or major, short-lived or chronic, the effects can be devastating for all involved.

    Coming into this school year, I knew that bullying could be a major concern with my new students. My school uses PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports), which focuses largely on recognizing and reinforcing positive behaviors. I wanted to do something proactive that fell in line with the beliefs of PBIS, and start changing the attitudes of my students before we had a serious problem on our hands.

    Like most pre-teens, my students are fascinated with social media in its many forms. I decided to use it to my advantage by creating a "Say Something Nice" social media challenge. To kick things off, we watched the Kid President's Pep Talk video, which provides excellent opportunities for discussion on this topic. In the video, the Kid President implores other kids to "be more awesome."  We focused on the idea that kids can, and do, make a difference.  What they do is important, and they should be actively working towards being a positive force in the world.  Eventually, I brought the discussion around to ways my students could apply these ideas to how they treat the people in their lives.

    Once my kids were thinking along these lines, I challenged them to show kindness to each other in their words and actions.  Not only that, but to actually notice when others were doing the same. I created a Facebook page and a Twitter account, which are dedicated to giving "Shout Outs" to students who have been observed showing kindness. These Shout Outs are displayed anonymously, as the whole point is to recognize the student who is being nice to someone else. 

    Students can either send a message to the inbox of one of the social media accounts when they have observed a kindness, or they can fill out a paper slip and drop it in a box in the classroom.  School staff has also been invited to participate and give Shout Outs to students.  Every day, I collect the Shout Outs and post to the social media sites. I sent home a letter to parents with the website links, asking them to follow the pages. 

    My students were a little leery at first.  But as I began posting the first few Shout Outs and bringing up the sites during class to read the posts, the enthusiasm began to build.  My students love seeing their own names come up on the pages, but they also love seeing the Shout Outs they've submitted getting published. 

    It is still early in the year, but I am beginning to see a shift in my classroom climate. Students are not only being nicer to each other, they are paying attention to and focusing on the positive behaviors they see around them. They are beginning to be less interested in talking about each other, and more likely to talk to each other. We started small with just a couple of social media sites, but as the year progresses I hope to include more sites, and open the Shout Outs up to the younger classes in our building. Soon, I will turn management of the sites over to my students, so that they will be in full control of the project as it expands past the boundaries of our classroom, and spills out into the world. 

    Effecting change rarely happens in a flash. Nor does it always begin as a grand scheme.  More often than not, a small shift in perspective gains momentum until it snowballs into transformation on a massive scale. What small step can you take? How will you encourage your students to be more awesome?

    Lindsey Fuller is a sixth grade teacher in Decatur, Illinois. Her interests are classroom technology integration, literacy instruction, and Common Core curriculum development and implementation. You can read more from Lindsey on these topics at her blog, Tales of a 6th Grade Classroom

    © 2013 Lindsey Fuller. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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  • I have an incredible principal. I work in an urban district, and our school has struggled for years with AYP requirements, test scores, and the effects of poverty in our community. But every summer, when our staff comes back together and prepares for a new school year, our principal is ready and waiting for us. He never fails to find a positive outlook and an inspiring message to get us focused and motivated.
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    Inspiring Innovation in Digital Literacy

    by Lindsey Fuller
     | Sep 18, 2013

    I have an incredible principal. I work in an urban district, and our school has struggled for years with AYP requirements, test scores, and the effects of poverty in our community. But every summer, when our staff comes back together and prepares for a new school year, our principal is ready and waiting for us. He never fails to find a positive outlook and an inspiring message to get us focused and motivated.

    This year, his message to us was simple: "Bring it." These two little words are our motto, our mantra, our battle cry as we step into another year that is sure to bring both challenges and rewards. For the last couple weeks, "bring it" has echoed through our halls, our emails, and our social media messages—because I am also part of an incredible staff that has taken this phrase and decided not only to bring it, but to own it.

    We have a lot of obstacles in front of us, but through those obstacles we have the opportunity to do great things. We must do whatever it takes to make our time at school an incredible and worthwhile experience for our students. It is time for us to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones, become innovative thinkers, and create a school and classroom environment that not only provides the necessary elements for success, but accepts nothing less.

    This new slogan from my principal is perfectly timed. The introduction of the CCSS has prompted great change in schools, and we are not alone in the need to step up our game. Behind the new standards is the belief that students need to be better prepared for the real world. They need to be critical thinkers, capable of complex reasoning and independent problem-solving. In essence, our students need to be able to "bring it," too.  And if this is what we want our students to become, we not only need to model the behaviors for them, we must also give them the opportunity to develop the necessary skills. These abilities and experiences are the key to truly giving students the opportunity to invent their futures.

    Technology plays a central role in this philosophy behind the CCSS. Technology skills are mentioned repeatedly throughout the standards, because they are imperative to functional literacy in today's world. But simply being able to use it is not enough. True digital literacy is being able to apply critical thinking abilities and manipulate technology to solve a problem or fill a need. So, how do we bring about the kind of learning that fosters the development of those skills?

    On the surface, providing the necessary learning opportunities may seem incredibly difficult. But the truth is, these opportunities are everywhere if we just know what we are looking for.

    Recently, registration opened for the Verizon Innovative App Challenge.  The challenge is for a group of up to five students at the middle or high school level, with the guidance of an advisor, to create a concept for an app. The app must incorporate STEM principles and fill a need in the school or the community of the kids who are creating the concept. The entries are judged based on the idea and the presentation, so the app doesn't actually have to be built and functional. This opens up the challenge to anyone, even those who don't have the detailed technical knowledge or resources required to create an app. The winners will receive up to $20,000 in grant money, tablets for the students involved, and the opportunity to work with experts to make the app a reality.  Proposals must be submitted by December 3, 2013.

    Challenges such as this exist all over the Internet, and often don't require a lot of money to participate in. Such activities are an excellent method for pushing students to develop the skills they will need in the real world. It is imperative to give them the chance to become proficient in those skills by applying them to real-world problems. And yes, this also means giving them the freedom to struggle and fail before they get something right. 

    By reaching outside the familiar world of our individual school or district and actively encouraging our students to be innovators in the wider world, we allow them the opportunity to strengthen and refine the necessary abilities to truly invent their futures and live their dreams. To me, that is what it really means to "bring it" in my classroom.

    If you are interested in participating in the Verizon Innovative App Challenge, please visit the official website for the contest. You can also find other technology related contests on the Technology Student Association website.

    Lindsey Fuller is a sixth grade teacher in Decatur, Illinois. Her interests are classroom technology integration, literacy instruction, and Common Core curriculum development and implementation. You can read more from Lindsey on these topics at her blog, Tales of a 6th Grade Classroom

    © 2013 Lindsey Fuller. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.
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