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    Film Shorts: A Storied Approach to Literacy Development

    By Mary Moen
     | Jul 14, 2017

    Film and LiteracyTake film to the next level in your classroom by moving your students beyond comprehension through active viewing, to critical thinking through discussion. Thanks to digital technology, there is a stock of creative independent film shorts from all over the world that can be used support students’ development of multiliteracies.

    The resources and examples in this article will provide teachers with turnkey lessons on how to use film shorts as short stories for students to analyze, and discuss. These resources, along with tips on how to use video effectively in the classroom from Common Sense Education, will give you the tools you need to adopt this new approach with confidence.

    I learned about the world of children’s independent film through my work on the Media Smart Libraries grant, an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) funded project awarded to the Library School at the University of Rhode Island. The mission of the Providence Children’s Film Festival,  a partner on the grant, is to bring the community together to watch, learn about, and discuss independent and international cinema.  A great resource is the PCFF FilmHub, which includes a directory of films that can searched and filtered by subject area, film type, and age group. PCFF provides film discussion guides for specific films, as well as a generic guide that can be adapted to any film. The film guides give background information about the content and techniques, sample discussion questions, suggested follow-up activities, and lists of book tie-ins.

    One film I have used in class is Just Breathe, a documentary about kindergarteners learning how to control their anger. The film guide helps students analyze the film through discussion about the narrative, characters, and setting. Students also learn how film techniques such as close-ups and sound are used to create a message that has an emotional and physical impact on viewers.

    Another popular choice is PESfilm, a creator of stop motion animation films. Western Spaghetti is an entertaining way to get students thinking about story line sequencing and procedural writing as well as inference and symbolism. Fresh Guacamole, an Oscar-nominated short, and Human Skateboard, a 30-second commercial, will amaze and inspire your students to create their own stop motion films.

    Autumn Leaves is a story about an Iranian girl who stops to play with a leaf while setting off to school. The film warrants several close viewings to give students time to identify details from the text that support their interpretation. This is a great way to introduce or reinforce argument writing skills.

    Suzanne Jordan, an elementary school librarian, took film discussion a step further. She was inspired to develop the Francis School Fifth Grade Film Festival to give her students the opportunity to be film critics. She had minimal film background and will vouch that the PCFF FilmHub resources gave her the materials she needed to get started. 

    Not all of the films in the PCFF Film Directory are available for free. One solution is to work with school and public librarians to build independent short film collections that support the development of literacy competencies. Another option is to find free educational films on sites such as Global Project Oneness. Help your students actively develop their literacy skills by using film shorts in the classroom. “Enjoy the show” will take on a whole new meaning!

    Mary Moen

    Mary Moen is an assistant professor and coordinator of the School Library Media Program at the Graduate School of Library Information Studies at the University of Rhode Island.

    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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    Ensuring Continuous and Ongoing Professional Development for Successful Technology Integration in Latin American Schools

    By M. Carolina Orgnero
     | Jun 30, 2017

    PD Latin AmericaI am a teacher educator and trainer in Argentina—one of the many Latin American countries where students are receiving laptops through the Conectar Igualdad (Connect Equality) program. According to a recent report, “Strategic Approaches on ICT in Education in Latin America and the Caribbean,” the program is working to bridge Latin America’s digital gap by increasing access to digital devices and providing training around these tools.

    Yet, sometimes this isn’t enough. Addressing the digital gap also requires the development of essential, 21st-century digital skills. When schools are not seeing results from the Conectar Igualdad program, I recommend the following three professional development practices:

    • Familiarize educators with important concepts. Technological changes in school settings are sometimes slow to gain traction. Consider Creative Commons; although it was founded in 2001, the resource didn’t become popular until nearly a decade later. Fast forward to almost two decades later, and most inservice teachers in Latin America are still not familiar with Creative Commons. Many teachers still operate under the notion that whatever is on the Internet can be freely used, as they did not learn about licensing concepts during teacher training. Helping all teachers to understand these important concepts is the first step in supporting their ability to model responsible digital citizenship for their students.
    • Increase purposeful uses of technology. There are no recipes or quick fixes to integrate technology in education; different strategies work in different settings. Sometimes educators attend training in search of the latest apps they can use in the classroom. As a trainer, I recommend first looking for pedagogical models, such as Ruben P. Puentedura’s Substitution Augmentation Modification Redefinition (SAMR) model, that guide teachers in designing, developing, and implementing digital learning experiences.
    • Encourage teacher networking and collaboration. Today, it is almost impossible to keep up with the pace of digital changes in education without connecting with other teachers. Those who are more familiar with online resources can help and encourage others to subscribe to blogs (such as Langwitches) or to join professional networks (such as ILA’s Special Interest Groups) to regularly exchange tips, resources, and information about promising practices.

    To sum up, continuous and timely professional development has always been considered a necessity. The value of high-quality professional learning experiences goes far beyond earning credits. The vast changes in technology demand that we make professional development for teachers a priority to ensure that all learners are prepared for success in their digital worlds.

    Carolina Orgnero

    M. Carolina Orgnero is a professor at the Universidad Nacional de Río Cuarto and Instituto Juan Zorrilla de San Martín, and is the technology coordinator at Facultad de Lenguas at Universidad Nacional de Córdoba. 

    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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    Too Much Screen Time? Develop a Summer Family Media Plan

    By Joan Rhodes
     | Jun 23, 2017

    Family Media PlanU.S. schools are out for summer! It’s summer time and the living is easy! Or is it? 

    Perhaps you have encountered the same challenge: From the moment our grandchildren wake up in the morning, they are clamoring for digital devices. From Peppa Pig to hours of texting and constant “selfies” during family vacations, children are using technology and social media more than ever.

    The Pew Research Center reports that 86% of 18–29-year-olds use social media, which is probably no surprise to most parents and educators. Another recent national survey by the Erikson Institute reports that 85% of parents allow their children under 6 years old to use technology at home. Television, tablets, smartphones, and computers are now part of the typical early childhood experience.

    A joint position statement issued by the National Association for the Education of Young Children and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College notes there is conflicting evidence related to the impact of technology on child development. Research indicates a strong relationship between passive media use and childhood obesity, delayed language development, behavioral issues, and irregular sleep patterns. However, research also suggests that digital resources, when designed to incorporate best practices for reading instruction, can be positive learning tools. So how do parents and educators proactively manage their children’s media and technology consumption?

    The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of their interactive Family Media Use Plan tool, which takes a step-by-step approach to creating a personalized media use plan for families. Users are asked to consider each family member’s individual needs as they work through questions related to screen-free zones and times, device curfews, digital citizenship topics, and more. Once a plan is completed, it can be printed and shared.

    The Media Time Calculator provides information on how much time each person spends on daily activities such as eating, exercise, sleep, and media use. While the tool is designed specifically for families, educators will find that working through the questions will help them address media use during the school day.

    After giving the Family Media Use Plan tool a personal test-run, I have made some changes in how our family uses media with our grandchildren. We have a media curfew at meals and are making sure to balance media time with outdoor and other physical activities. These efforts are helping to make our summer a time to “live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air” (as suggested by Ralph Waldo Emerson), with maybe a little dose of Peppa Pig!

    Joan RhodesJoan Rhodes is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning at Virginia Commonwealth University.


    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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    Use E-Mentoring to Engage, Enhance, and Support Summer Reading

    By Tammy Ryan
     | Jun 16, 2017
    E-mentoring

    Two years ago, my nephew was disengaged and struggling academically as a sophomore in high school. After failed attempts to turn things around, his parents reached out to me for help. Using our iPads and Zoom, a free video conference service, I e-mentored my nephew twice a week. We referred to our own copies of required readings to virtually read aloud unclear passages, to critically infer authors’ messages, and to discuss unfamiliar terms. Zoom’s screen share option allowed us to view Khan Academy algebra videos simultaneously and to work through the problems together. Most important, e-mentoring gave me the opportunity to serve as a positive role model for my nephew, to build his self-confidence, and to cheer him on as he hurdled over an academic slump. Following are more examples of how to use e-mentoring to improve students’ academic performance.   

    Virtual book club

    Invite family members, friends, and children to join you in a virtual book club. Establish a day and time to meet online monthly. Like a regular book club, members should have read a particular section in a book or a book chapter. Using a device with a webcam such as an iPhone, iPad, laptop, or computer, members convene on Zoom. During the meeting, members take turns reading their favorite sections aloud, discussing what they liked or didn’t like, exploring themes, and sharing how the book resonated with personal experiences. For additional book club tips and discussion ideas, see “Having Great Discussions at Kids’ Book Clubs” and “How to Discuss a Book With Your Child.”

    Motivating reluctant readers

    Meeting virtually is particularly helpful for students who have limited access to books or who need an nudge to experience the pleasures in learning through books. Get to know the student’s interests and select a book based on those interests. Using a device with a webcam and Zoom, hold up the book to show its illustrations while reading aloud. You can also use Zoom’s screen share option to watch and listen to an actor read aloud on Storyline Online or to view other online resources together. While reading, engage the student in discussion.

    Tutoring beginning readers

    Meet virtually with a student who needs extra reading support. Using a device with a webcam and Zoom’s screen share option, guide the student in reading aloud one of the many books available on Unite for Literacy. First, select a book and ask the student what he or she thinks the story might be about. Then, point to the objects displayed in the photographs or illustrations to introduce important words used in the text. Finally, return to the beginning of the book and ask the student to read it aloud, choral read with you, or read along with audio.

    For additional ways to support beginning readers, see Tutoring Strategies for the Primary Grades.

    Tammy RyanTammy Ryan has over 25 years of teaching experience. She is an associate professor of reading education at Jacksonville University, FL, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in literacy. Her research focuses on beginning readers, digital learning, and international teaching experiences.

    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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    Reel Communities in Action: Mobilizing Youth Through Digital Media Production

    Jon M. Wargo
     | Jun 09, 2017

    Communities in ActionIn a global political climate of fear, oppression, and increased nationalism, how do we make the English language arts classroom a space for political and civic inquiry? How can we explore technology as a means to leverage social action and engagement?

    These questions guided a semester-long teacher inquiry study that Kara Clayton, a media teacher at Thurston High School, and I undertook. We investigated how secondary students in Clayton’s digital media course used video production and participatory action research as a nexus for what some may call “participatory politics.”

    Through a curricular scope and sequence that invited students to work through genres like public service announcement and documentary, students examined a range of topics. From highlighting the contemporary “sounds of silence” in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) school violence to studying the intersections of racial justice, meritocracy, and academic achievement in Detroit, students used video to create counter-stories of the urban metropolis. Below, I highlight one project and its potential in mobilizing youth digital media production as civic action.

    “My City, My Story: Reel Communities”

    The “My City, My Story: Reel Communities” assignment was a remix of CSPAN’s StudentCam competition. The following is a brief overview and description:

    “Riffing off of StudentCam’s theme, this semester you will work collaboratively to produce a 3–5 minute documentary related to the theme “My City, My Story.”  Using elements of storytelling and narrative, video production, and independent research, you will work together as a group to collect and synthesize data about how your topic is produced, mediated, experienced, subverted across local, state, and national contexts. Your message should focus on a contemporary local issue that has equity and social justice as one of its goals. Successful videos will thoroughly explore a variety of viewpoints related to your chosen topic, including those that may oppose the filmmakers’ points of view.”

    Through brainstorming, shooting film, interviewing local stakeholders, and producing video, groups tackled complex issues that were paramount to their local contexts and communities. Youth interviewed community and school leaders, used “expert” film to amplify their argument, and inspired response through calls to action.

    A Critical Case of Catfishing: Using Digital Media to Talk Across Sex Trafficking

    One group used the reel communities project to highlight the real but lesser known consequences of “catfishing” (the practice of luring someone into a relationship through a false identity) in their community. Zeroing in on one aspect of the digital offense, students began to see that an unlikely, but potential pitfall of catfishing youth is sex trafficking. Brainstorming alongside of group members, Clayton and I worked with the students to situate the larger pandemic of catfishing with the problem of sex trafficking. Working with community law enforcement, students used video to not only survey the story of sex trafficking in their community, but to draw attention to signs that predators often exhibit towards youth. The full video is available online here.

    Outside of the written rhetorical force and digital production, youth used multimodal literacy and semiotics to enliven community action. Through digital media production, students engaged in and cultivated new core practices of civic and political engagement. My City, My Story: Reel Communities offered new understandings and more nuanced narratives about urban youth using participatory politics as tools for direct civic engagement and resistance.

    As a teacher educator and digital literacies researcher, I invite you to examine how digital media and video production can facilitate deeper learning while augmenting civic action in your classroom. As your school year closes and the summer amps up, consider the following: How does technology offer a new vocabulary for cultivating engagement in your English language arts classroom and local community? How can video production help students to not only develop a compositional fluency in multimodal writing, but to grow their knowledge and grammar of community organizing, pluralism, and social action?

    Jon M. Wargo is an assistant professor of literacy at Boston College in Chestnut Hill, MA. 

    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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