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    The Disconnect Between Digital Literacy Trends and Educational Realities

    By Vicky Zygouris-Coe,
     | Feb 16, 2018

    ThinkstockPhotos-stk146244rke_x300Many years ago, I sat down with a fourth-grade student to review one of her papers. We discussed the comments and suggestions I had written and established shared goals. At the end of the conference, I asked her if she had any questions, to which she responded, “You tell me what you do, but will I be able to do it?” The content of this blog post reminds me of my former student’s question. 

    Both in research and in practice, “we” (i.e., federal and local policymakers and researchers) “tell” educators, parents, and others about the importance of teaching and learning in the 21st century and about developing our students’ abilities to comprehend, communicate, and evaluate information in digital forms. On the other hand, it appears that what we know about the need to develop students’ 21st-century literacy skills conflicts with the realities of everyday teaching and learning and other literacy-related and educational goals.

    Top three requests related to digital literacy

    Over the years, I have been involved in school-based professional development, collaborative projects between my university and school districts, and funded projects that have focused on the language and literacy needs of teachers and students across grade-levels and content areas. I have conducted several workshops on digital literacy, disciplinary literacy, and online reading comprehension, among others.

    These are the top three requests (related to digital literacy) I hear from teachers:

    • Digital content they can incorporate into their curricula for differentiated instruction purposes
    • Instructional ideas about how to develop students’ digital literacy without sacrificing content
    • Guidance on how to communicate to their principals, and to others who evaluate them, the role of digital literacies in supporting students’ overall literacy, content knowledge, and skills

    Digital literacy is more “hot” than “important”

    These situated teacher needs support ILA’s 2018 What’s Hot in Literacy survey findings, which rank Digital Literacy No. 1 among all hot topics but No. 13 in terms of importance. Respondents expressed concern that digital literacy is being presented as a quick fix for complex teaching and learning issues and that it is “crowding out a focus on basic foundational literacy skills.”

    Although I both recognize and understand the challenges of adopting a 21st-century instructional and pedagogical digital literacies framework, I also wonder what would happen if digital literacies were conceptualized as a common “thread” that both supports and develops within each one of the top five important literacy topics ranked in the findings: Early Literacy, Equity in Literacy Education, Teacher Preparation, Strategies for Differentiating Instruction, and Access to Books and Content.

    Recommendations

    The 21st-century literacy skills students need to develop are far greater than the sum of their parts; literacy is given meaning by the cultural discourses, practices, and contexts in which it is surrounded. Young readers need to develop their reading and literacy skills using print and digital texts in ways that are developmentally appropriate. In my view, the reported disconnect between digital literacy’s trendiness and importance also highlights the need for more supports that specialized literacy professionals and digital literacy researchers can provide to teachers and parents about the role of digital literacy during the early literacy, intermediate, and adolescent years.

    For example, when I teach my students how to locate, read, comprehend, and evaluate information about the Great Migration movement from the History Channel and how to analyze primary sources from the National Archives, I am accessing content while demonstrating digital literacy knowledge and skills. I spend time over the course of the year modeling, providing feedback, and creating opportunities for my students to collaborate with peers, discuss, and apply what they learn in my classroom in a variety of learning spaces.

    I also use a variety of digital and print texts and resources (e.g., The Great Migration: An American Story by Jacob Lawrence (1993); This is the Rope: A Story from the Great Migration by Jacqueline Woodson (2013); and relevant Newsela articles—e.g., “Jim Crow and The Great Migration” and “Songs of African-American Migration were Influential Across the Land.” Furthermore, I differentiate my instruction, the texts, and the supports I provide to help all students construct meaning.

    Digital literacy is neither a quick remedy for the complex demands of literacy teaching and learning nor a substitute for the expert classroom teacher. In closing, I choose to view the results of ILA’s 2018 What’s Hot in Literacy Report as a call for new, teacher-centered, collaborative, relevant, and strategic discussions among specialized literacy professionals, K–12 educators, researchers, and teacher educators.

    vicki-zygourisVicky Zygouris-Coe is a professor of reading education at the University of Central Florida. 
     
    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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    Using the Language of Code to Empower Learning

    By Mark Davis
     | Feb 13, 2018
    Coding

    For educators trained in traditional literacy, the idea of becoming proficient in—and teaching—digital literacy might be overwhelming. When I propose teaching coding to my fellow educators, the common reaction is to assume that they must have a science or mathematics background. The misconception makes sense when schools continue to teach coding as an elective and to emphasize its importance to only those interested in computers.

    The past decade has given rise to a campaign to teach coding as a fundamental literacy in all schools. Some might see the movement as part of a political or cultural resurgence from the previous decades. In the late 1950s and early 1980s, many feared that the United States was losing its edge in business and scientific achievements. Educators responded with a renewed emphasis for teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Indeed, STEM and the addition of the arts (STEAM), are still perceived as a critical pathway to college and career readiness. I have spoken with literacy colleagues who believe STEAM is trend that draws attention away from core instruction in literacy.

    As a longtime educator of secondary literacy students, I understand this concern. There are few universal rules or grammar to the various modes of digital content. Writing, for instance, is guided by syntax, formatting, and style. We can examine text with accepted standards whereas digital grammar is still evolving. Instead, we have to rely on research in other fields.

    I challenged myself to develop a digital literacy curriculum where students produced projects focused on their interests. My goal was to focus on information and media literacy with some elements of digital production. In developing the digital literacy curriculum, I had to borrow ideas from the fields of computer science, engineering, and business. During this time, I encountered the vast untapped resource of coding for experiential learning.

    Today’s generation has unlimited access to videos, apps, and readily available content. Just two decades earlier, curating information required significantly more time and skill. Now our broadband access and mobile devices expedite these processes with greater ease.

    This is the critical point of digital literacy: learners have to engage in the creation of content in order to fully comprehend its messaging. My students practiced decoding through the process of coding, learned syntax as a new vocabulary, and became fluent in a global language of programming. As an educator, the exhilaration of observing students bring creativity to problem-solving is empowering. Students, families, and fellow educators want to share in the excitement of innovation.

    The expectations placed on technology have not kept pace with our level of understanding. Educators can bridge this gap by introducing coding. Students who become knowledgeable in the design process learn the value of understanding a problem, researching effective practices, and prototyping methods for achieving greater success. I have seen firsthand how this models literacy instruction. The gratification is unparalleled when a learner breaks the code needed to move the process forward.

    Anyone can start coding without a background in computers. Websites such as code.org provide outstanding resources, lesson plans, and projects for all ages and skill levels.

    Moreover, it is encouraging to see the interdisciplinary connections that can be made; often I see an increase in motivation among teachers and students after engaging in coding. Many of my colleagues were willing to engage their students in coding because they realized how it supported core instruction and produced higher-order thinking. The products could be distributed to families and communities to offer a showcase of project-based learning at its best.

    If you’re not yet convinced to integrate coding into your curriculum, I hope you might at least consider the merits of a digital literacy framework that includes coding as an essential learning process. Seek the support of collaborator and see what can be created. You might find that coding improves not only what you have taught, but also what you have learned. It’s not glamorous or mysterious; coding is just another way to empower ourselves in the digital age.

    Mark DavisMark Davis is a former reading specialist and current middle school computer technology educator. He is a doctoral candidate in the joint Ph.D. in Education program at the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College and holds a graduate certificate in digital literacy. You can find him on Twitter @watermarkedu.

    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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    Using Digital Documentary Shorts to Explore Social Issues With Students

    By Kristine E. Pytash, Todd Hawley, and Kate Morgan
     | Feb 06, 2018

    ThinkstockPhotos-538202245_x300Students live in a world saturated with media, influencing how they consume and produce information and develop the social skills and cultural competencies they need to engage in conversations about democratic and social issues. To fully embrace civic participation, students need to be able to access, analyze, and evaluate digital media, as well as effectively communicate their beliefs and ideas using digital media, according to The Alliance for a Media Literate America. This requires students to become both critically and media literate, so they use their resources to foster “social communication and change.” When students are empowered to be producers of digital media, they learn to “create their own messages that can challenge media texts and narratives.” 

    Creating digital documentary shorts

    To explore instructional projects that might foster students’ critical media literacies, we worked with a high school social studies teacher and his class as they produced digital documentary shorts, or 8–10-minute videos that present research findings on a chosen social issue. The goal of digital documentary shorts is to help students make learning visible, communicate their findings, and take informed action as citizens. Here are the steps they followed:

    • Students selected a contemporary social issue. Topics included: kneeling for the National Anthem, Examining the word “feminism,” the border wall, cultural appropriation, police brutality, LGBTQ rights, terrorism, bullying, healthcare, and immigration.
    • Students worked individually and in pairs to develop a research focus and at least one research question.
    • Students researched their issues and found evidence to support their ideas. This included textual evidence from digital media (e.g. videos and pictures), interviews with other students and community members, and print sources.
    • Students developed storyboards, which is a way to graphically display images in a sequence so students can visualize an animation or video.
    • Students used Windows Movie Maker software to create their digital shorts. We used Windows Movie Maker because it was on the computers in the school media lab, however, iMovie, Animoto, Prezi, and Powerpoint are all tools that could be used for students to produce their digital documentary shorts.

    Benefits

    In follow-up interviews, the students expressed some of the benefits of participating in this project. Students explained that selecting their own topic of interest gave them the opportunity to examine their positions on the topic in an in-depth manner. They had to wrestle with their personal beliefs as well as beliefs held by others. They recognized that their identities were incorporated into aspects of the project and they expressed how using media to produce digital documentary shorts could be considered a form of activism. Students also discussed the intentional decisions they used to inform and persuade their audience. They discussed how they used popular media images, music, and text as evidence and the decisions they had to make so that their evidence best represented their knowledge, beliefs, and ideas about their particular topic.

    This project has helped us recognize the benefits of using digital documentary shorts to teach students to be critically and media literate. We see this assignment as a gateway into conversations about social issues, students’ positions and identities tied to contemporary social issues, and how digital media projection can be used to empower youth’s voices.

    pytash-headshotKristine E. Pytash is an associate professor in Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies at Kent State University where she co-directs the Integrated Language Arts program.

    hawley-headshotTodd S. Hawley is an associate professor of Social Studies Teacher Education and the coordinator of the Curriculum and Instruction Program at Kent State University.

    morgan-headshotKate Morgan is a doctoral student in the Curriculum and Instruction program at Kent State 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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    Using Source Information to Evaluate the Credibility of Online Content

    By Eva Wennås Brante and Carita Kiili
     | Jan 19, 2018

    shutterstock_160130306_x300In our earlier blog post we introduced the idea of a monthly quiz to give students opportunities to regularly practice their evaluation skills. To maintain students’ interest, educators need to create different tasks and provide a variety of lenses that enhance critical thinking.   

    As professor Julie Coiro points out, students rarely attend to source features, such as author, publisher, or publication type, to evaluate the credibility of information. And, if they do so, their evaluations are often superficial. One main challenge for students is to evaluate both content and source information in relation to each other—to read content in light of the source information, and vice versa. Educators can use the step-by-step guide we present below to walk students through this practice.

    Step one: Teacher Preparation

    Select a piece of website content that may represent commercial, ideological, or personal interest. One example is this blog post on CocaCola's website, which references a report concluding that aspartame is safe for consumption “at current levels of exposure.” We selected this website for our lesson because CocaCola sells products that contain aspartame and therefore has a vested financial interested in promoting the ingredient’s safety.

    Reading the blog post without knowing who has published it may influence how readers receive the message. Our intention is not to say whether the blog post is true or false; we selected this site to give students experience in understanding how the content shifts when they know who has authored/published the information and discussing how that relationship influences their interpretation, as readers.

    Copy relevant text from this website and paste onto a presentation slide, being sure to blind all source information about the publisher (e.g., logos and names).

    Step two: Content evaluation

    Let your students carefully read the text on the presentation slide and discuss the following questions in pairs.

    • What is the main message?
    • What kind of evidence supports the main message?
    • How credible is the information? Why do you think so?

    Step three: Make an educated guess

    Ask your students to guess who could be the author or the owner of the content shown on the slide, based on the underlying message.

    Step four: Revealing the source information

    Reveal the website to your students. Ask them to write a few sentences reflecting on their own understanding of the content after seeing who wrote/published the text, Then, ask students to share their thinking and responses to the following questions with a partner:

    • Has your understanding of the content shifted, and if so, why?
    • Did the source information change your perception about the credibility of the information?

    Ask the pairs to briefly summarize their discussions with the class. Together, discuss why it is important to attend to source information.

    Step five: Corroborating with additional sources

    Encourage students to search for corroborating evidence. As a class, discuss with students what they find and whether or not this additional information influences their thinking about the overall credibility of the content.   

    We hope that you will find this blog post helpful for expanding your repertoire of teaching critical evaluation of online information.

    BranteEva Wennås Brante and Carita Kiili are both postdoctoral fellows at the Department of Education at the University of Oslo.



    CaritaKiili_w80This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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    Online Resources for Selecting High-Interest Texts

    By Marilyn Moore
     | Jan 16, 2018

    Whoever You Are If we want to make students better readers, how much they read matters.

    To foster students’ interest in reading, teachers can use interest and motivation inventories as well as online resources—such as book trailers and YouTube videos—to entice students and to empower them to choose their own texts.

    In the context of reading, interest is a person’s willingness to engage with specific content. Capturing students’ reading interest is important, as interest can impact students’ motivation to read. In The Reading Teacher, Springer, Harris, & Dole (2017) present four research-based principles of reading interest. The first research-based principle is individual interest, which is self-directed and tied to a student’s personal interest in a topic. The second principle, situational interest, occurs when teachers create exciting instructional activities. The third way teachers can affect reading interest is by choosing texts that are interesting in terms of organization, design, and storytelling. The fourth principle is interest regulation, when students learn how to read and comprehend texts that are not interesting to them. Using these principles, teachers can help students to develop a lifelong motivation to read. 

    One way to create reading excitement is by sharing book trailers—short, promotional, often animated videos designed to introduce a book and to “hook” readers’ interest.  Examples include Geek Girl by Holly Smale and Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai. Students can browse YouTube channels, such as Scholastic’s Book Trailers playlist and the Children’s Book Council’s Picture Book Trailers and YA Book Trailers playlists to gather ideas.

    Students can also find book summaries, reviews, recommendations, read-aloud channels, and more on YouTube. For example, if a student wants to listen to Mem Fox’s Whoever You Are, he or she can choose from a long list of video readings, including a musical version. Robert Sabuda, pop-up book designer, has adapted books such as The Little Mermaid. These videos provide a multisensory reading experience to help make the story more engaging and enjoyable for students.

    Teachers can also explore free, high-quality, audiobooks and e-books for children ages 12 and under here. These stories can be accessed anywhere and anytime, in different languages, and on many kinds of devices.

    When teachers choose literature to add to their curriculum, they must also provide students with options that reflect a wide range of gender, racial, ethnic, cultural, and language diversity.

    A great source of diverse literature options is the International Literacy Association’s (ILA) Children’s Literature and Reading Special Interest Group, which publishes weekly book reviews on ILA’s blog, Literacy Daily. Other popular lists include ILA’s Choices Reading Lists, Caldecott Medal Winners and Honor Books, Newbery Medal Winners and Honor Books, The Coretta Scott King Book Awards, American Indian Youth Literature Awards, Arab American Book Awards, and Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. Although browsing these lists is a time-consuming task, I believe that enriching classroom and school libraries with interesting books for all readers is vital.

    The following is a list of my own recommendations for high-interest, children’s and young adult reading in a diverse classroom.

    • All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor (HarperCollins)
    • The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak (Penguin)
    • A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig (Penguin)
    • Fall Is for School by Robert Neubecker (Hyperion)
    • Full of Fall by April Pulley Sayre (Simon & Schuster)
    • Geek Girl by Holly Smale (HarperCollins)
    • The Girl Who Saved Christmas (Knopf)
    • Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty (Abrams)
    • Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai (HarperCollins)
    • The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown)
    • The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka (Viking)
    • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Penguin)
    •  Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto (Puffin)
    • Whoever You Are by Mem Fox (Houghton Mifflin)

     

    marilyn moore headshotMarilyn E. Moore is a professor at National University in La Jolla, CA, and serves as the faculty director for the Reading Program.



    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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