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    Teaching and Learning in a Digital World: Digital Literacies for Disciplinary Learning

    By Jill Castek and Mike Manderino
     | Jul 26, 2019

    collaborative-pl-2Over the course of a two-year period, we have been discussing digital and disciplinary learning with our colleagues in schools and universities. These discussions suggest that teaching and learning with digital technologies require us to think differently about classroom organization. They also introduce synergistic practices centered around teaching literacies in ways that cut across disciplinary boundaries.

    We argue that in a digital world where learning traverses digital/print, in- and out-of-school, face-to-face and virtual communication, disciplinary literacies that rely solely on print resources are no longer sufficient to fully convey complex and multilayered meanings. In this blog post, we briefly sum up three key ideas gleaned from our conversations.  

    Digital resources enrich disciplinary thinking and collaboration

    It is becoming increasingly clear that the digital world is a collaborative world. Meaning making is also a collaborative, networked activity that involves many individuals with different kinds of expertise. Discussion is often part of this process and includes both face-to-face and virtual, the latter often mediated through a shared, networked collaborative space such as This shared annotation space provides an online forum to hold discussions, read socially, organize a collection of reading materials and research archives, and take personal notes. and other similar digital tools provide a collaborative context for synthesizing ideas drawn from multiple resources and a means for discussing them with other learners. Such digital exchanges of ideas mirror the forums disciplinary experts use to exchange ideas, track the evolution of their thinking, and post ideas for critique and discussion with other disciplinarians. Incorporating flexible digital forums into classroom instruction invites multiple perspectives and encourages the examination of ideas from different points of view. Flexibility, multiple perspectives, and examining different points of view are mindsets that are vital in disciplinary learning and also in the digital world. 

    Digital collaborations promote opportunities for curation

    We recognize that teachers have limited time to keep pace with the infinite possibilities of digital literacies for disciplinary learning. We advocate for collaborative curation of digital resources that converge with disciplinary practices. Twitter chats, Google Docs and sites, and Tes Teach with Blendspace are great places for teachers to connect, curate, and share resources for digital literacies for disciplinary learning. Students can also use these forums to share, so they become tools for developing disciplinary communication and deepening disciplinary inquiry.   

    Collaborative professional learning experiences enhance engagement

    We advocate for professional learning that makes space for teachers, along with their colleagues, to design, iterate, and test learning tasks within and across disciplines. If teachers are to build students’ disciplinary knowledge, then they themselves must develop their own means of digital and disciplinary engagement. Teachers rarely get opportunities to build, tinker, and create their own disciplinary inquiry. Making time for such activities supports their development, instructional planning, and implementation as they guide their students through similar processes. We encourage collaborative professional learning, which can span online and offline forums.

    These networks create spaces for teachers to engage in their own learning while sharing with the texts and tools used by students and to develop the digital and disciplinary knowledge with and alongside their students. One exemplary program for collaborative professional learning is the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy. This multi-dimensional learning opportunity scaffolds collaborative, project-based inquiry using a variety of digital texts, tools, and technologies that support challenging and engaging learning opportunities. 

    Jill Castek is an associate professor in the College of Education at the University of Arizona. Find her on Twitter @jillcastek.

    Mike Manderino is the Director Of Curriculum And Instruction at Leyden High School District 212.

    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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    Extending Text-Based Strategies to Digital Environments

    By Amber White
     | Jul 12, 2019

    Extending Text-Based Strategies to Digital EnvironmentsTake a moment to reflect on your daily digital reading habits. How do you start your day? Perhaps you begin the morning by reviewing your Google Calendar to see what the day ahead entails, then catch up on the latest news from AllSides, next you read the latest education news curated from Troy Hick’s Nuzzel newsletter, and then spend a few minutes scrolling through your Twitter feed and notice an article highlighted by Nell Duke that you like and will read later. Within the first hour of waking, many of us have immersed ourselves in a significant amount of online reading, most of which is informational in nature.

    Regardless of our online reading habits, the “internet of things”  doesn’t sleep and will continue to soar in the variety of information being generated through the datafication of online clicks, likes, shares, postings, streamings, and more. The diverse reading that we—and our students—will have to traverse online requires that we have skills and strategies to navigate and comprehend the various multimedia elements in genre-bending spaces.

    It’s clear informational reading plays a significant role in our readerly lives yet early learners often have limited access and exposure to informational text in school. What can we do to help prepare our students to comprehend informational text in a digital environment?

    Adapting and extending research

    Bridget Dalton and C. Patrick Proctor’s research suggests that text-based pedagogical strategies, such as reciprocal teaching, can help support students’ thinking when extended to a digital literacy environment. Moving reciprocal teaching into an online environment involves supported instruction around the adapted use of four comprehension strategies—predict, question, clarify, summarize—and has text-based research for improving reading comprehension.

    In an adapted version of reciprocal teaching, an upper elementary student from Michigan created several short metacognitive screencasts to demonstrate the strategic reading of online informational text in a digital learning environment.

    Reciprocal teaching screencasts 

    Note that other digital tools, such as InsertLearning or DocHub, could be used to make digital annotations viewed in the screencast clips above.

    Although this tailored version of reciprocal teaching took place in a static digital space, it still beautifully captures how online tools can be leveraged to better navigate and comprehend online information. After receiving explicit, direct instruction, this student demonstrates how using the strategies—making predictions, clarifying thinking while reading, and using questioning to set authentic purposes for reading—can strengthen comprehension. In addition, the digital think-aloud clips of the strategy itself amplify the student’s learning within the digital environment.

    Implications for text-based strategies

    We can move students from effortful strategy use to a more automatic skill by intentionally introducing them to a repertoire of impactful strategies that will help them monitor their understanding of online informational text. As the information at our fingertips continues to soar, increased action research and scholarship exploring the successes and/or failures of proven text-based strategies in digital environments will be highly beneficial for classroom teachers and their students.

    Amber White is a reading specialist, a teacher consultant for the Saginaw Bay Writing Project, and the Director of Curriculum and Instruction for North Branch Area Schools. You can reach her on Twitter @AWhite100.

    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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    Digital Tools for Book Clubs and Choice Reading

    By Angie Johnson
     | Jul 05, 2019

    My school is one of many whose ELA departments have moved from a focus on whole-class novels to independent reading and reading partnerships (both pairs and clubs). These combine the essential elements of choice, volume, engagement, and quality talk, which professor of education Richard Allington asserts are foundational to quality literacy education. What follows are a few digital tools for helping teachers and students from upper elementary through high school support choice and shared reading.

    Choosing a book

    Rudine Sims Bishop talks of books as windows into the lives of those who are different from us, and mirrors reflecting characters whose experiences are like our own. Readers need both. OurStory is a site designed specifically by We Need Diverse Books to help students locate books about diverse experiences and by authors from marginalized communities. Rather than searching by title or keyword, users take a brief quiz to narrow their preferences by level (from toddlers to YA), genre, identity and experience type, and story elements. The suggestions generated include an overview of each book, the specific diversity elements found in it, links to reviews, and a “More Like This” button to find similar titles. For a modest fee, additional resources like study guides and book bundles are also available

    our-story-1 copy

    OurStory’s list of tailored book suggestions show what makes a book diverse. Green indicates categories the user specifically chose and red indicates categories the user did not choose but are present in the book.

    A few other sites for choosing books include YourNextRead by Goodreads, where students type in a favorite title to find other books like it; Epic Reads, which searches by author, genre, and subject and posts video trailers; and Yalsa’s Teen Book Finder, a mobile app for compiling and keeping digital book lists. 

    Tracking student reading and organizing clubs

    A newer tool for tracking student reading across a school is Loose Canon. For guest visitors, the site is a solid tool for browsing a well-curated collection, but it’s really set up to encourage schoolwide, face-to-face discussions about books. Teachers can create reading “assignments” within a school pool that are accessible to anyone in it, which facilitates both in-class and extracurricular book clubs. Within assignments teachers can narrow students’ choices to a set of books, and users see everyone’s choices, allowing students to self-sort into book clubs. The site tracks a student’s current assignments and books previously read, so teachers have quick access to each student’s reading resume. After a three-month trial, the cost for schoolwide groups depends on size, while a single teacher account is free for up to 60 students. I believe it’s a promising new tool for creating a culture of reading within, across, and outside classes.

    Below is a photo of an individual assignment in Loose Canon, showing a sortable list of students who have chosen books for that assignment.

    our-story-2 copy

    Discussing and sharing books

    The award-winning Book Club for Kids is a personal favorite for upper elementary and middle level readers. It hosts a weekly podcast of students discussing their favorite books with public radio journalist Kitty Felde. The shows include celebrity guests reading passages aloud and author responses to the students’ questions. There’s so much to explore here: tips for creating lifelong readers, QR codes for books, recommendation lists from kids and adults. What’s more, kids can even call in their own book recommendations. The site is wonderful for book browsing, but I also share it as a model for book club discussions and student-created podcasts and offer it as an opportunity for kids to share their own voices about the books they love.

    Angie Johnson is a teacher librarian, instructional coach, and eighth grade English language arts teacher at Lakeshore Middle School in Stevensville, MI. She earned a PhD in educational psychology and educational technology from Michigan State University. You can find her on Twitter @angkjohns.

    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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    Digital Introductions for Building Classroom Communities

    By Kristin Webber
     | Jun 28, 2019

    As the school year wraps up in the United States, many teachers are already thinking about their fall classes. For most educators, the planning will begin with how to get to know their students and introduce them to each other. Digital introductions are an excellent way to begin building a classroom community.

    I teach several online graduate courses where my students meet virtually from across the United States. Since these are early courses in their programs it is very important that they get to know each other as they will be studying together for the remainder of their coursework. To begin building these relationships, my very first assignment is a collaborative slideshow using Google Slides. Students are asked to introduce themselves by posting their name, current position, something they love, something they do not like, one fun fact, and a “selfie.”

    I ensure the settings are set to edit and link it in the learning management system. Below is an example of my slide that I share to begin the presentation. The full class slide show introduction can be viewed here.  


    The slides take as little as five minutes to create and provide useful information about the student while a us to learn names and faces, which can be difficult in online learning environments. Of course, the questions and information can be changed as needed so it does not become redundant. In reviewing the amount of interaction between the slideshow and a regular discussion post-introduction, I have found my students to be more engaged with the slideshow. It does not take much time to read through them and they can “meet” their entire class rather than just reading a few discussion posts.

    Another way to introduce students and build class communities is through digital autobiographies. VoiceThread is an excellent tool for this project as it allows students to easily upload pictures and add narration. Even the youngest of learners can use it with ease. When I assign this project to my undergraduate students, I limit them to 12 slides with no more than 30 seconds of narrative per slide. These parameters help them focus on determining importance and summarizing when they are telling their stories—direct practice with the skills they will be teaching their future students. Throughout the start of the semester, we share one or two VoiceThread autobiographies each class session.

    One of the best features of these tools is their ability to have students collaborate and comment on each other’s work. Once the introductions and autobiographies are complete, opening them up to comments from peers takes the community building to the next level. I often see my students connecting with each other when they learn they are teaching the same grade level or they both share a passion for their pets!

    The beginning of the year is the time for creating a sense of community. From the youngest learners to graduate students, it is crucial that students feel supported from their classroom environment, their teacher, and each other. Using digital technology to create introductions connects to important literacy content as well as integrating 21st-century skills such as creativity, collaboration, and communication.

    Kristin Webber is an associate professor in the Early Childhood Education and Reading Department at Edinboro University where she teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses in literacy and technology.

    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 Webjets to Elevate Students’ Technology Use in Literature Circles

    By Kimberly Kimbell-Lopez, Carrice Cummins, and Elizabeth Manning
     | Jun 21, 2019

    Webjets is a visual collaboration tool that allows users to capture, record, organize, and connect information from the web. Users can gather items (such as documents, links, text, videos, and images) on cards and add them to the platform, creating a virtual bulletin board.

    Webjets has a huge potential for teaching and learning across all content areas. Drawing on its collaborative features, students can capture and record information about any topic being read and discussed. Once the information is captured in Webjets, students can log into the cloud-based app using cell phones or iPads. Recorded notes can then be used during group or class discussions and new notes can be added during or after the discussion, if needed. 

    Literature Circles is a strategy used to engage students in a shared reading experience with a small group of their peers who are reading the same material. Students independently read designated pages/chapters of the text while keeping a written record of their responses. Students then meet face-to-face with other group members once or twice a week to discuss the reading. This process of independent reading, response, and discussion continues until the entire text is covered.

    Traditionally, students capture their written responses to text using a paper/pencil literature response journal. The journal may be open-ended, allowing students to respond in any way they wish, but most often it is used via assignment of specific roles. This format assigns (or students self-select) different roles to each member of the group so that the responses are specific to a task or way of thinking about the material. Common roles include the discussion director, literary luminary, connector, artistic adventurer, vocabulary enricher, and character captain, but book/material specific roles can be used as needed. Students who take on these roles are responsible for the following tasks:

    • Connector: Connect what was read to their own lives, their feelings, and their experiences
    • Illustrator: Draw a picture, sketch, cartoon, diagram, or flowchart that relates to the reading.
    • Literary luminary/passage master: Select quotations or special sections of the book for the group to discuss.
    • Questioner: Write down questions about what they were wondering about as they read the story, questions they had about what was happening, or questions about the meaning of words.
    • Summarizer: Prepare a summary that includes key points about the reading.
    • Vocabulary enricher/word wizard: Identify puzzling or unfamiliar words, mark them in the book, then later look up the definition.
    • Travel tracer/scene setter: Use words or diagrams to track the action that took place during the reading.

    These roles help students focus on one specific area for their responses, which are shared at each discussion meeting. The roles rotate after each discussion, allowing all students to engage in different ways of thinking.

    So how can Webjets be used to elevate students’ use of technology when using Literature Circles in the classroom? Simple—instead of using the traditional paper/pencil literature response journal, students can create cards in Webjets  to house their responses to the assigned reading. Although the Literature Circles strategies were originally designed for fiction texts, the concept can be modified for nonfiction content. For example, one tweak might be changing the role of “character captain” to “fabulous fact finder” (in which the student is responsible for identifying a specified number of interesting facts) or simply eliminating that role from the assignment. The possibilities for roles are open to your area of content and your imagination!

    Artistic adventurer

    webjets1To demonstrate how Webjets can enhance Literature Circles strategy, we used The Watsons go to Birmingham—1963 (Yearling) by Christopher Paul Curtis. The first example shows the artistic adventurer role using photos of Flint, Michigan from the 1960s. The pictures are used to illustrate what Flint, Michigan looked like during that time period.

    The second example includes interesting words identified by the vocabulary enricher for chapters 1–4 from the same story. The words were selected by the student and recorded using the card feature in Webjets. When it is time to share with the group, each student can discuss their role using their Webjets cards as talking points.

    Travel tracer

    Students (or one student with the role of travel tracer) can also create a mindmap with Webjets by using lines to connect different parts of the map. In this example, the mindmap is used to trace the Watsons’ journey from Flint, Michigan to visit Grandma Sands in Birmingham, Alabama. The lines follow the route traveled by the Watsons with other lines connecting to photos that relate to that leg of the trip. Similar to the travel tracer role, students can create a collaborative map of the Watsons’ journey by sharing it with other students. As the role is rotated to a new student for each group meeting, the new student will add the latest information about the Watsons’ trip to Birmingham.

    Students often investigate what they know about the characters as the story unfolds. Webjets has a table tool where students can add information about what they learn about the characters. The following example highlights the characters Byron, Kenny, and Joetta Watson, siblings in The Watsons go to Birmingham—1963. The dynamic of their relationship evolves throughout each chapter, and students, or the one student identified as the character captain can capture this information as they identify what they learn about each sibling based on how Christopher Paul Curtis revealed these character traits through their thoughts, words, or actions.

    The virtual bulletin board offered by Webjets allows students to create a visual representation of their learning. Students can choose from multiple options to display their work (i.e., boards, lists, cards, tables, and mindmaps), and they can organize their information in folders. They can easily incorporate images, video, text by dragging and dropping from their browser or from their desktop. Students will be actively engaged in the learning process as they make decisions about what types of information to include in their projects.

    Illustrating character traits


    Students come to us with much ease and comfort in using different forms of technology. By using these technologies in our classrooms, we can rejuvenate sound research-based strategies designed to cognitively engage students in thinking and talking about texts. Webjets and Literature Circles can work hand-in-hand to help students learn how to think about what they are reading, record their reflective thoughts about the reading, and share their understandings with group members in a very engaging and technological way.    

    Kimberly Kimbell-Lopez is a professor in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Leadership in the College of Education at Louisiana Tech University. She has been an educator for over 30 years, and her areas of expertise include literacy and technology.

    Carrice Cummins is a professor in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Leadership in the College of Education at Louisiana Tech University. She has over 40 years’ experience as an educator with primary areas of interest in comprehension, content area literacy, and teacher development. She served as the 2012–13 president of the International Reading Association.

    Elizabeth Manning is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Leadership in the College of Education at Louisiana Tech University. A veteran K–8 teacher of over 25 years, her areas of interest include content area literacy, writing workshop, and curriculum design and development.

    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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