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Literacy Now

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    Empowering Students as Guides and Lifeguards of the Internet

    By Paul Morsink
     | Jun 29, 2018

    Sticky Note“Okay Web Guides, what type of ‘reader alert’ or ‘navigation help’ sticky note should we put on this website to help other sixth graders? What should it say?”

    One by one, the sixth graders chimed in.

    “The alert could say, ‘Make sure you also visit other websites about global warming,’” one student suggested.

    “We could include links to other websites,’” said another.

    The brainstorming discussion continued for several more minutes. Then it was time to type the sticky note and place it on the target website. Although the students were familiar with this step, the moment of actually placing the sticky note where it would be seen by other sixth graders generated lively discussion and excitement.

    “Put it here in the white space where it’ll be easier to see!”

    “Let’s check that the links work.”

    As we concluded the activity for the day, I asked the group, “How many of you are ready to be a Web Guide on your own tomorrow? How many of you are ready to train someone else to be a Web Guide?”

    In this small group of five summer campers, everyone’s hand shot up.

    The importance of roles and identities for learning 

    Literacy growth is about acquiring new skills and new knowledge, but it’s also about growing into new roles. These roles are an important part of literacy development because they connect the skills and knowledge our students acquire in school—about vocabulary, text structure, reading comprehension strategies, and so much more—to identities and purposes that have meaning and value beyond just “doing school.”

    Consider, for example, a class of sixth graders reading expository informational texts to learn about pond and lake ecosystems. If these students have no purpose for learning other than doing well on a future test and no role to play other than that of diligent student, the available research suggests that many may come away without deep understanding of ecosystems and without much improvement in their ability to read and write expository informational texts.

    By contrast, if learning about pond and lake ecosystems is connected to an authentic task (such as producing an informational brochure for visitors at a nearby nature center) and inhabiting a meaningful new role (such as environmental scientist or freelance designer of educational materials), more students are likely to feel engaged and motivated.

    As they grapple with new technical terms and get better at parsing dense informational texts, they aren’t just accumulating knowledge and skills to get a good grade. These students are inhabiting a new role that connects them to an audience and adds value to the world—making contributions about which they can feel proud.

    Learning to be a safe and critical web user

    This issue of roles and purposes is on my mind this summer in relation to the internet safety concerns Michelle Hagerman addressed in her recent blog post as well as the challenge of helping all students become critical seekers and users of information on the web.

    Working with students in grades 4–12 as well as with preservice teachers, I’ve observed that, while the self-protective purpose of staying safe on the internet is generally acknowledged, learning strategies for staying safe and becoming a critical reader and researcher on the internet isn’t usually connected to any new role or identity students can grow into and feel proud of.

    As a result, I’ve seen students leave class having learned a thing or two about noticing a website’s domain name (e.g., .com, .net, .org), checking out a website’s “About” page, and not divulging one’s name or address online. But I often have not felt confident that this new knowledge is going to stick and be applied in the future.

    Growing guides and lifeguards of the internet

    Internet GuideAlongside K–12 colleagues, I’m working this summer to develop curriculum that puts roles center-stage. Our idea is to have students train to become “guides” and “lifeguards” of the internet. They will learn to use free web tools such as Diigo and InsertLearning to provide peers and younger students at their school with tips, alerts, helpful resources, and encouragement to safely and critically navigate designated websites.

    The appeal of these free web tools is that the annotations they create appear to the user to reside on the web page where they are posted. When other students visit an annotated web page, as long as they have logged into Diigo or InsertLearning and are members of a designated group (Diigo) or class (Insertlearning), they will encounter sticky notes and other annotations as though they were part of the web page (as illustrated above).

    Internet Lifeguard Our initial trials with this approach look promising. For students, the work is about more than just gaining more knowledge and skills for self-protection and individual success on the web; it’s about stepping into a new role in a community of learners, looking out for others, and developing knowledge and skills that feel relevant and valuable.

    What innovative ideas have you tried out to connect your students to meaningful roles and purposes to deepen their literacy learning?

    Paul Morsink is an assistant professor in Reading and Language Arts at Oakland University in Michigan.

    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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    Tuning in to the Community: Using Digital Devices to Amplify School Sounds

    By Cassie Brownell
     | Jun 22, 2018

    Student Using iPad“Wait, bring it closer! We need to see if we can hear the caterpillar walking on the wall!”

    As the first grader called his fourth-grade buddy carrying the iPad to the brick wall of the school’s exterior, I chuckled to myself both with surprise and delight.

    Following a series of read-alouds and grade-level activities focused on sound, noise, silence, and listening in their respective classrooms, the two boys were exploring the sounds of their school community by recording them on an iPad. Their recordings were in response to a prompt which asked “What sounds are most important for a new student or visitor to hear to understand our school community?” This prompt was tied to the class activities the boys had completed within their individual homerooms as well as the ideas they had brainstormed together the previous day.

    Broadly, the boys’ teachers and I were interested in considering how children hear in the space of the school. As others have discussed, the current era is one wherein listening is more individualized than ever. This is in part due to the proliferation of smartphones and tablets as personal sound systems that many children and adults carry in their pockets. Thus, the teachers and I were curious how hearing takes shape in their public elementary school, one of the few public spaces in which access to such devices is limited.

    The two boys were actively attuned to the world around them while also attempting to use the map of community sounds they had previously created. For example, neither boy had mentioned a caterpillar when they discussed the prompt beforehand, but, by attending to visual cues, the boys were able to hear the sounds of their school community in new ways. At the same time, the boys also worked together to record sounds they had anticipated. In one instance, the fourth-grade boy glided across the zip-line-esque track on the playground while his friend recorded the act.

    The two boys I mention here were not only attuning to the world as they could recall it, but also to the variability they experienced as students each day. The boys were quite nuanced in their listening and recording; they attended to the sounds of the water fountain as water flowed from the spout and to the hum of the motor that ensured the water arrived cool to each patron.

    The sounds the boys listened to and for were also often sounds that my adult ears could never have expected. For instance, while in the gym, the boys insisted their peers run around them, squeaking their shoes. Other children’s recordings were marked in similar ways—they recorded “big” sounds, such as the flush of the classroom’s individual toilet, as well as “small" sounds, such as the brushing of eraser remains from a desk or the tapping of a peer’s pencil. For myself—a former elementary teacher and now as a researcher—many of the sounds the children noticed were not necessarily the immediate sounds I would call to mind when I think about schooling. Children’s ears are, in many ways, better equipped to hear the sounds of their communities than adults—some of the sounds that we hear as noise help form a child's understanding of community. 

    Through the varied read-alouds and activities the teachers facilitated, the children’s vocabulary for discussing and describing sounds grew. But, it was only through the recording and playback of sounds on the iPad that children could amplify the sounds they wished for others to hear. Through this activity, the children were encouraged to focus on process rather than an end product. Likewise, children were positioned as experts of the school—a role that is sometimes hard for children to access in everyday elementary classrooms.

    For their teachers and for me, the children’s attuning to sounds, such as the caterpillar’s slow and steady walk within the school community, encouraged us to open our ears—and our minds—in new ways. As a team, we talked about persistent sounds in the classroom that we had not noticed until the children called them to our attention, such as the seemingly quiet hum of the interactive whiteboard. In this way, the adventure of watching 25 pairs of children bound across the schoolyard and weaving through its halls with iPads in hand, was a listening experience we won’t soon forget.

    Cassie J. Brownell is an assistant professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education within the University of Toronto and the 2017 recipient of the Helen M. Robinson Dissertation Grant. 

    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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    Engaging Children in Photo-Writing Adventures

    By Tammy Ryan
     | Jun 15, 2018
    internet-safety

    Recall fun adventures shared with a child. Did these moments occur while grocery shopping, fishing, building sandcastles, eating ice cream, baking cookies, swimming, visiting Disney, or discussing a book or new experience? Any one of these activities, along with many others, can be used to engage children in a visual storytelling activity. Following are step-by-step instructions and examples to inspire photo-writing adventures.  

    Steps to create writing adventures

    • First, decide on a child-friendly, motivating adventure. While completing the adventure, ask the child what they are seeing, hearing, doing, and learning. Repeat, comment on, and ask probing questions about what the child is saying and experiencing. Add sophisticated language and vocabulary. For example, if the child says, “I like seeing the butterflies.” You repeat, “I like observing butterflies, too. I especially like how they flutter their wings back and forth. Tell me more about what you like observing.”
    • Then, using an iPhone, iPad, or tablet, the child uses the device’s camera to take photos of what is being discussed, explored, and experienced. While reviewing photos with the child, restate comments associated with each photo.
    • Next, import photos to a Microsoft Word document, Microsoft PowerPoint, or creative writing app such as Story Creator. When reviewing each photo, talk about what occurred, restate comments, vocabulary, and sophisticated language associated with each photo. Using the keyboard, type what is said. Assist younger children in locating and typing letters, words, sentences, or type what the child is saying. Stop after every few words or sentences and, with the child, reread what was typed, using the cursor to track what is being said. Edit as needed. Use colored font to highlight important vocabulary and give the adventure a creative title.
    • Lastly,  the child rereads summer adventures with others and shares them with family and friends using Gmail, Blogger, or Facebook.

    How photo-writing adventures facilitate learning

    Learning occurs through interest, doing, visuals, and repetition. When interested in a topic, we think more deeply about what we see, hear, and experience. When “doing” or participating in the process, we remember more clearly what was learned or experienced. Visuals stimulate recall of previous conversations, language, and vocabulary. Repetition in hearing and engaging in oral language supports reading and writing development while repetition in rereading written adventures strengthens phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension—all essential ingredients to successful reading and writing experiences.

    Examples below should be personalized to a child’s interest and stage of reading and writing development. Follow or modify examples to create your own writing adventures.  

    Cook together

    Involve a child in helping with each step of a recipe. During each step, stop and discuss what’s happening, why, and how. Engage the child in repeating what is being said, adding important terms and vocabulary. Take photos of each step of the process. When reviewing each photo, the child restates what happened, how, and why while you type text next to or below the photo. This experience reinforces sequencing skills. More cooking activities can be found here

    Discuss favorite books

    After reading aloud a book, you both retell your favorite part, character, setting, create a new ending, or describe facts learned. Draw your retelling and take photos of the drawings. After importing photos, type your comments next to each photo. This activity strengthens comprehension skills.  

    Document a trip or vacation

    Involve the child in taking photos of various points of interest. Engage the child in conversation about the photo. After importing, assist the child in adding labels, keywords, names of places, locations, date, time, special moments, or important facts. This activity reinforces purpose and importance of text features when reading informational text.

    Visit a store

    Stores offer endless opportunities to capture and categorize products depicting favorite colors, textures, shapes, or items representing letters of the alphabet. After importing, type the word associated with each photo to teach important vocabulary or alphabet letters.

    Walk and talk

    A walk around one’s neighborhood offers ample opportunities to explore, learn, and ask questions about the environment, birds, rocks, wild animals, marine animals, and plants. Plan a walk and select a topic of interest. Child then photographs and records observations of various points of interest. Discuss what was captured and why, supporting the development of inquiry and critical thinking skills.

    Tammy Ryan has over 25 years of teaching experience. She is a former associate professor of reading education at Jacksonville University, where she taught undergraduate and graduate courses in reading. This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

    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 Playlists to Personalize Learning

    By Michael Putman
     | Jun 08, 2018
    Learning Playlists

    Imagine a school where students arrive at their classroom and start their day by using their mobile device to scan a unique QR code posted on the door. The QR code points the students to a website that includes a series of activities aligned with their individual learning needs. As the teacher enters the room a short time later, she briefly conferences with each student regarding his or her progress, while the rest of the class continues to engage with their tasks.

    This approach to instruction would be analogous to what most people refer to as personalized learning. Specifically, the scenario represents a form of personalized learning referred to as playlist-based instruction. Unlike our Spotify or iTunes playlists, however, these playlists are not composed of music. Instead, they are a series of activities focused on specific content and matched to student needs. The intent of playlist-based instruction is to differentiate instruction while providing students control over various aspects of learning, including path, pace, or modality. Digital playlists are a natural extension of how many students are using technology in their personal lives, and thus may increase motivation as students gain ownership for how they will meet their academic objectives.

    Playlist creation is fairly straightforward: Teachers begin with a unit, standard, or objective and break it down into a series of tasks. These tasks are then meaningfully reassembled based on assessment data to address students’ learning needs, including readiness, interest, and background knowledge. Students are then provided access to the playlist to complete the tasks, ideally with the flexibility of choosing where to start and what order to proceed through the tasks. Access is provided through technological means, which further facilitates assessment and differentiation as it allows teachers to monitor performance quickly and create or adjust tasks accordingly.

    There is a growing variety of tools that can be used to create and deliver playlists. Some, such as Gooru and PowerMyLearning, provide specific content that can be used to organize and deliver playlists while also allowing for teachers to integrate content from other sources. Other tools, such as Blendspace, Symbaloo, and Google Docs, offer similar functionality but often without the flexibility of design. Fortunately, many work with the common learning management systems such as Google Classroom, Moodle, and Canvas.

    The following playlists use some of these tools:

    Consider these recommendations as you explore creating your own playlists: 

    • Start small with a specific standard or single unit
    • Ensure opportunities to learn through different media (e.g., text, video, podcasts)
    • Use symbols for visual references (e.g., a book for a reading task or headphones to indicate a listening/viewing task)
    • Preview content on different devices to ensure it can be used/viewed properly

    It is important to remember that creating and using playlists is an iterative process, thus continuous monitoring is necessary to determine potential adjustments. As comfort and proficiency are gained, there is also the potential to consider codesigning the playlists with students.

    Tom Vander Ark notes that playlists create “opportunities to expand the roles of student and teacher in diverse, exciting ways that better meet individual student needs.” Indeed, playlist-based instruction can provide students with greater choice and motivation while giving teachers more time to provide individualized support to students who need it most.

    The following resources provide additional information about personalized learning and playlists:

    S. Michael Putman is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

    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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    Creating Visual Stories With Data

    By William Yang
     | Jun 01, 2018

    school-stairsAccording to a recent Forbes article, data storytelling, which involves weaving data and visualizations into a compelling narrative, has become a sought-after skill in the job market. Today’s variety of online tools and resources offer an opportunity to prepare our students to interpret their research in new and creative ways and to effectively communicate data-driven insights.

    Getting started

    There are several powerful examples of data visualizations that students can learn from. Tableau, a powerful online data storytelling tool, has a public gallery that students can peruse to gain insight into telling stories visually. Other unique data visualizations can be found on Gapminder’s Dollar Street Project, which displays global public data in colorful, moving charts that make global trends and patterns easier to understand. You can also find many techniques and strategies for creating data visualizations on the Storytelling with Data blog, which provides tips, tools, models, and even an invitation to a monthly challenge for everyone to share ideas.

    Once students become comfortable representing their data visually, they can begin to focus on storytelling formats. There are a number of ways to present information beyond reports or slideshow presentations. One popular example is the use of word clouds through sites such as Wordle or Tagxedo. Word clouds display words or short phrases in a list or body of text, in which the size of each word indicates its frequency or importance. The visual representation of the larger texts stands out to an audience and focuses their attention to the words/phrase rather than the number of responses. Many teachers and students have used this to represent class feedback or to show survey responses in a different way.

    Telling stories with infographics

    Infographics have become a standard way to tell a story, persuade an audience, and present facts and figures in a visually appealing way. Students can easily create their own infographics through online tools such as easil.ly, Visme, and Canva.

    Teaching students how to weave a story around data visualizations is a great way to help them translate concepts learned through both data interpretation and the writing process. Students can brainstorm important ideas about specific content while interpreting and analyzing data. Those ideas can then be structured into a narrative or an argumentative form to highlight the points behind the data. Finally, students can think about injecting detail, emotion, or language to inform their target audience. With data storytelling, ideas from both literacy and math can be integrated to help students move beyond the pie and bar graph report and effectively communicate their ideas in new and creative ways.

    William Yang is an assistant principal at the Edgewood School in Scarsdale, New York and is on the faculty for the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy at the University of Rhode Island. He can be reached on Twitter @wcyang.

    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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