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Literacy Now

Digital Literacies
Making a Case for Reading Joy
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Making a Case for Reading Joy
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    Using Alexa to Engage Children in Literacy Experiences at Home and in the Classroom

    By Tammy Ryan
     | Feb 08, 2019

    alexa-literacy“Alexa, spell.”

    “Alexa, define.”

    “Alexa, tell me a story.”

    Meet Alexa—the voice-controlled, search engine assistant who listens for commands and then responds with an answer, reminder, joke, fact, music, song, story. Users can also enable Skills, or third-party voice apps that allow the device to communicate with hardware and software to perform tasks.

    Yes, Alexa is a convenient device for checking the weather or playing music hands-free. But it’s also emerging as a powerful tool for engaging children in fun learning experiences.

    Engaging children in fun literacy learning using Alexa

    Following are five Skills that enhance children’s vocabulary, comprehension, and phonics development while engaging them in global topics. These Skills are free with the purchase of a device.

    • Play Mad Libs. “Alexa, open Mad Libs.” This Skill involves an entertaining word game. First, Alexia asks for adjectives, verbs, nouns, or plural nouns. After she collects the words, she embeds them in a uniquely created story or poem.
    • Listen to a short story. “Alexa, launch Bedtime Story.” These short stories are personalized using your child’s name. You can also upload your own stories.
    • Strengthen listening comprehension. “Alexa, ask Hutch to tell me a story.” This Skill offers happy, silly, spooky, or tall tale short stories focused on Hutch, a fifth-grade boy and his adventures, such as eating too much chocolate cake. After listening to the story, Alexa asks yes or no questions and gives correct answers to incorrect responses.
    • Encourage curiosity. “Alexa, open Curiosity.” This Skill delivers interesting facts on topics of interest. Subjects include science, fashion, history, music, health, current events, and more.
    • Practice spelling. “Alexa, open My ABC.” This Skill features alphabet, word, song, and spelling practice. Simple say, “Alexa, alphabet,” “Alexa, song,” “Alexa, word,” “Alexa, spell (give word).” It features animal sounds, rhymes, and songs.

    For more ideas, check out TurboFuture’s article “25 Amazing Kid Friendly Alexa Skills.”

    Tips for home and the classroom

    Alexa is continually updated with new Skills and features. The following tips will support your shared learning experience when using Alexa with children.  

    • Speak clearly. Alexa app offers a voice recognition option to help Alexa better understand a spoken command. If a statement is not recognized, you will need to rephrase the command. Rephrasing is an authentic way for children to practice speaking and listening skills.   
    • Practice commands. At first, you may want to write commands in a notebook and keep the notebook handy until they are memorized. “Alexa, Cheat Sheet for the Classroom,” offers commands to use at home.  
    • Stay informed about the pros and cons of using Alexa and activated voice assistants. “What Parents Need to Know Before Buying Google Home or Amazon Echo,” published by Common Sense Media, is a great place to start.
    • Do your research. Learn more from research exploring the use of technology with children. “Apps, iPads, and Literacy: Examining the Feasibility of Speech Recognition in a First Grade Classroom,” an article published in Reading Research Quarterly, examines the feasibility of using speech recognition technology to support struggling readers in an early elementary classroom setting.

    Tammy Ryan, and ILA member since 2002, has over 25 years of teaching experience. She is an adjunct professor of reading education at Jacksonville University and at the University of North Florida where she teaches undergraduate and graduate reading courses.

    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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    NowComment Enhances Students’ Composing Processes

    By Chris Sloan
     | Feb 01, 2019

    nowcommentIt’s common for ELA teachers to require students to cite the sources they use in their compositions, but it was always a bit of a mystery to me as to my how students were interpreting those sources and integrating them into their writing. When my students composed problem–solution online essays this semester, instead of having them link directly to their sources, I had them link to their annotations of those sources using NowComment—an online annotation tool that has given me unprecedented insight into my students’ writing processes.

    As my students and I read George Orwell’s 1984 (Houghton Mifflin) this fall, we kept a running list of his predictions. Then, they were asked to craft inquiry questions about  whether there was any relevance to what they have observed, read, or experienced. For example, in her essay, Yulisa makes connections between the rampant xenophobia in 1984 and the treatment of foreigners in contemporary society. Not only does Yulisa provide links to her sources, it’s clear how her annotations contributed to the essay.

    It’s worth noting that Yulisa obtained some of her sources from SolutionsU, a website that curates stories that serve as models for how to identify, analyze, and solve problems.  This turned out to be a valuable resource because, as the quarter progressed, it seemed like this assignment was creating a sense of doom among students. I found it especially helpful for this assignment to have them annotate sources that not only documented problems, but also those that offered solutions.

    Another affordance of NowComment is that annotations are searchable and all in one place (using the blog feature in NowComment), which made it more manageable for students to reference as they composed their essay. Collaboration became a lot easier too; some students who were researching similar topics combined their collections using the group blog feature on NowComment.

    NowComment also enables students to be critical readers. For example, when Anika remarks on a questionable source, Ari counters, “This sounds a little extreme to me. Is there any example that proves this or that puts it in context of what is really happening in the US?”

    NowComment has also made it easier for me to help struggling writers. Yulisa’s essay was well written, but others weren’t. By being able to go to their annotations, I was able to make them aware of common problems, such as not providing enough evidence for their claims or where they had misread the text. In many cases, it amounted to merely going back over the source with the student to help them see the examples that were already present in the text but that they had overlooked.

    And finally, unlike many other annotation applications, NowComment allows users to annotate videos and images. That makes it especially useful for the kinds of multimodal compositions our students are producing.

    Chris Sloan teaches high school English and media at Judge Memorial in Salt Lake City, Utah. In the summer he’s an instructor for Michigan State’s MAET Overseas program in Galway, Ireland. Join him on the Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast every Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET.

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    The Portable Web in a Box: Why You Need It and How to Get It

    By Thomas DeVere Wolsey
     | Jan 25, 2019

    RACHELIn backpacks, pockets, and purses, students bring their connected devices to school. But “connected” may be the wrong term; perhaps “connectable” devices is more accurate. Bandwidth means that a network can deliver data in a specified amount of time. For many schools, bandwidth may be a limitation. For some teachers, there is nothing more frustrating than planning a lesson that requires students to access the internet only to find that the bandwidth delivers data at speeds at which snails would sneer.

    Some educational settings require restrictions on access to the internet, such as those that serve incarcerated youth or adults. Others are so distant from internet connections that it is prohibitively expensive to ensure all students have access.

    Meet RACHEL, a server capable of delivering open educational resources to students’ devices offline. Students connect their devices in the same way they would to any Wi-Fi connection. Once connected, they can surf sites, engage in research, and participate in educational simulations all without actually being on the internet.

    RACHEL-2RACHEL stands for remote area community education and learning. Stored open educational resources are downloaded to the device, and once downloaded RACHEL can be transported anywhere. Although they can use content gathered and curated by World Possible, the nonprofit organization that produces RACHEL, teachers are free to add their own resources, subject to fair use and other copyright considerations.

    Do you need RACHEL? You might if your school or district’s bandwidth is too slow for several students to be online at once. You might if your school or institution doesn’t have access to the internet because the school is in a remote or rural location and cannot reliably connect. If institutional requirements limit internet access (such as schools that serve incarcerated youth), you might need RACHEL.

    One strong example is the Maya Jaguar Institute in the Department of Huehuetenango. The Institute operates a middle school (basico) and a high school (secundario). Internet access is via satellite, a source that is unreliable, slow, and expensive. Adopt-a-Village in Guatemala bought its first RACHEL server last year for installation at Maya Jaguar. It became so popular for students to use critical internet skills that the foundation bought a second server for the middle school in 2019. Students use RACHEL and its open educational resources in the same way they would to participate in internet workshop, Webquest, or online simulations for science or history courses.

    Could your school benefit from RACHEL?

    • The school or district internet bandwidth is so slow that pages end up timing out.
    • Your school or institution restricts access to the open internet.
    • Access to the internet is expensive, unreliable, or unavailable.

    RACHEL-3How do you get RACHEL?

    The best ideas are often openly available. Savvy educators can build RACHEL themselves. World Possible also sells the servers with the content you choose. If you want to download or customize the content on your portable web server, that’s no problem. You can choose resources in several languages, in addition to popular websites including Khan Academy, Wikipedia, Career Girls, and more. Knowing there is a problem is one thing. Working toward a solution to that problem is quite another. The digital divide remains a problem in today’s world, but RACHEL is helping bridge that gap.

    Thomas DeVere Wolsey teaches in the Graduate School of Education at The American University in Cairo.

    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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    Here for You: The Gift of Shared Digital Literacy

    By Carolyn Fortuna
     | Jan 18, 2019

    As a literacy teacher for nearly 25 years, I’ve seen many trends ebb and flow, each one seeking to enhance lifelong learning. Cornell notes. Dialectical journals. Writer’s workshop. Visualization. One-page diagrams. Mind mapping. Freytag Pyramid. Transactional reader response. As Julie Coiro notes, literacy tools of all kinds motivate students, to “wonder, anticipate, explore, and think deeply about things that matter to them.” With each “new” movement, a kernel of what came before is carried along.

    Digital literacy practices in today’s classrooms and out-of-school learning centers incorporate some of the best literacy learning across domains, platforms, and practices, such as Microsoft and Google environments, blogs and websites, coding and filmmaking, digital storytelling, and portfolios.

    fortuna-1 copyAnd, yet, digital literacy is also a bit different than other types of literacy. It’s a very hands-on learning experience. Although it is possible to acquire the skills and strategies of digital competence through reading a how-to tech text, the likelihood of digital mastery increases with 1-to-1 instruction. This makes sense, as all learning is social.  Let’s look at some examples to get you thinking about the possibilities.

    Could Google Sites such as mine be useful for modeling how electronic portfolios can support learning?  Or maybe you’re interested in exploring how Padlet or Socrative can be used to develop quick formative assessments? Perhaps Piktochart (such as this project) or Canva more closely approximate commonly-accepted conventions of 21st-century text rather than markers and a paper poster board?

    Would Storybird increase student engagement in ways that worksheets can’t, as students learn how to identify narrative structure—such as in this poignant student-created children’s book about gender equality? Or are memes a better way to teach metaphorical language and symbolism than mining a text for an author’s meaning? You can see how I modeled memes in the mashup below for my Sports and Popular Culture course during a unit on race and class.

    fortuna-2It’s likely that the answer to at least some of these questions is yes. But I believe the most efficacious way to translate the ability to navigate each of the platforms is person to person. The digital educator is a facilitator, spreading expertise in what begins as small pockets of individual epiphanies into currents of students teaching each other.

    The domains of literacy merge and recede, too, so that digital literacy meets and extends other types of literacy learning. With the help of digital tools, informational literacy, media literacy, and traditional literacy speak to each other vividly. Indeed, a new-and-improved type of mastery learning, asynchronous digital literacy, invites in all kinds of learners to take advantage of tools that weren’t available to previous generations who relied on pen and paper, print textbooks, and the sole option of face-to-face instruction.

    fortuna-3Rather than seeing digital instruction as an additional expectation for educators, I’d like to suggest that expertise in digital tools and texts eases an educator’s multiple and frequently contradictory responsibilities. When the educator is a facilitator whose models can be hyperlinked, for example, all kinds of learners and learning experiences become possible. Students and educators are able to investigate (as shown in this mental illness WebQuest for a psychology and literature course), collaborate (students worked together in teams to analyze The Zoo Story),  and reflect (I created a teacher model for a film assignment on a “sense of place”). A more nuanced toolkit of literacy strategies has the capacity to stick with students after an individual lesson or even course ends, as digital literacy seeps from one classroom to everyday textuality.

    Think of all the ways that our students are composing today. As a social constructivist digital space, YouTube's Which University gives youth voice to compose and publish. The mash-ups so popular on social media connect cultural allusions to contemporary current events. In a 2013 article How Media Literacy Supports Civic Engagement in a Digital Age, researchers Hans Martens and Renee Hobbs discuss how media literacy supports civic engagement by explaining how civic engagement has been revived by the commenting feature of online magazine and newspapers. Each of these composition and publishing practices requires a facility with digital literacy that is acquired through what researchers Christine Greenhow and Kathy Lewin call social modeling.

    Digital literacy that emphasizes learners as coproducers of knowledge has a strong focus on students’ everyday use of and learning with Web 2.0 technologies in and outside of classrooms. Social digital learning imbues classrooms with challenges for students to interact, share information and resources, and think critically. With its inherent increased levels of peer support and communication about course content and assessment, digital learning is a win-win scenario, offering positive effects on the expression of self and voice across disciplines and intelligences.

    Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is the program chair of the Northeast Regional Media Literacy Conference and professional development coordinator for the Media Education Lab. You can follow her digital and media literacy work at idigitmedia.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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    Questioning, Digital Images, and Students’ Digital Literacy Learning

    By Vicky Zygouris-Coe
     | Jan 11, 2019

    questioning-digital-imagesTeaching students how to evaluate online sources (i.e., for usefulness, accuracy, and reliability) is what I refer to as “nonnegotiable” for developing students’ 21st-century literacy skills. Questioning the author’s purpose, making personal connections with the image, raising questions about how to use the information communicated in the image, negotiating meaning with others about the image, and questioning how relevant and adequate the information is to a topic under study are skills that can shape students’ online reading comprehension and digital literacy skills.

    Following are examples of digital images and a set of questions from a unit I recently developed on the topic of global crises. My goal with the unit was to search for digital learning experiences that would expand my students’ online reading comprehension and critical literacy skills. My search focused on credible, reliable, and complex digital images on a topic that is current and relevant.

    Accessing digital image collections

    The first collection of digital images on Refugee Camps in Europe is from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting—an innovative, award-winning, nonprofit journalism organization dedicated to supporting in-depth engagement with underreported global affairs. As part of this digital text, students read and analyzed how a journalist used images, language, and tone to represent multiage refugees’ experiences with seeking asylum in Europe.

    The second collection of digital images is from The International Rescue Committee—an international organization with the mission to help people whose lives are impacted by conflict and disaster to survive and recover. Many of the images are about the more than 50,000 refugees in Greece who are not legally allowed to travel from Greece to other European countries.

    The third collection is called Drawings by Refugee Children, an edited collection of children’s drawings about subjects such as the Syrian war and the deadly crossing of the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to the Greek islands of Lesbos and Chios.

    Asking questions that inspire learning and digital composition

    Students can interact with these image collections in several ways. For this unit, I chose to focus on student engagement through a series of questions that prompt students to evaluate the sources I selected. You might also use the following questions to begin small-group or whole-class discussions, asking students to provide evidence from the image to support their assertions.

    • What is the image about?
    • Who is the author of this image?
    • When was the image published?
    • Where was the image published?
    • What do you see in the image?
    • What words would you choose to describe the image?
    • What is the tone of the image?
    • What three adjectives describe how the image makes you feel?
    • What questions do you have about this image?
    • What is the author trying to communicate through this image about the experiences of the refugees who are trying to relocate to Europe?
    • What additional images would you like to have about the topic?
    • What headline would you write about the topic using information from the image(s)?

    To further develop students’ digital literacy skills, you could encourage students to engage with a range of extension activities as they use technology to recompose what they are learning about the topic through their reading and discussions about the images.

    Reading digital texts and images requires much more than just reacting to what is visible. Through careful and deliberate selection of digital texts followed by scaffolded questioning about the digital images they encounter, your students will enjoy exploring new topics while also learning how to apply a range of digital literacy practices.

    Vicky Zygouris-Coe is a professor in reading education at the University of Central Florida, College of Community Innovation and Education.

    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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