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Literacy Now

Teaching With Tech
Making a Case for Reading Joy
ILA 2019 Replay
Making a Case for Reading Joy
ILA 2019 Replay
    • Literacies
    • Topics
    • Teaching With Tech
    • 21st Century Skills
    • Foundational Skills
    • Digital Literacy
    • Digital Literacies

    Developing Language and Literacy Through No- and Low-Tech Coding

    By Stephanie Branson
     | Apr 16, 2019

    internet-safetyQuality early childhood classrooms are language rich and full of opportunities for children to learn through storytelling, exploration, problem-solving, socializing, and inquiry-based activities. Moreover, early childhood teachers use a plethora of diverse tools that foster literacy and language and spark children’s interest to learn and develop. Literacy is seamlessly embedded throughout the day and exposure to rich and robust language is intentional and meaningful. However, often these rich environments neglect to include technology as another important tool to build language and literacy.

    According to a joint position statement of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media at Saint Vincent College, technology can support learning and development when it is used appropriately and intentionally by a teacher well versed in developmentally appropriate practices. And although there are screen time debates and fear of young children spending too much time on devices, there are no- and low-tech choices that align with and reinforce the goals and vision of an early childhood classroom.

    One such prospect is to incorporate basic coding games and screenless coding devices into project-based learning and centers. Coding affords children the opportunity to acquire and practice communicating with clarity and precision, while also encouraging decision-making, risk-taking, creativity, visualization, and problem-solving. Further, coding develops persistence, resilience, and confidence.

    In layman’s terms, coding is a basic language of the digital world, directing computer-based technologies on what to do and how to operate. It requires exact step-by-step instructions to operate a device correctly. While there is much more involved, young children can begin to develop the necessary habits and processes of coding that can transfer into more complex coding later on. The following are suggestions for getting started and incorporating coding language in the early childhood classroom with no- and low-tech solutions.

    No tech and unplugged

    Young children begin to develop the language, vocabulary, and the processes of coding without a device or screen using body movement, games, and storytelling. In order for unplugged coding to work in the classroom, children must use precise language and communicate exact commands. Following are ideas from different early childhood classrooms for precoding.

    • To get started with basic commands and vocabulary, create directional command cards with symbols or write them on the whiteboard for students to physically execute as the card is pulled or as the “programmer” directs (similar to Simon Says). Children get in the habit of following a specific command tells them when and how to move. Like robots or devices, children can’t move until directed. Eventually, children transition into the role of programmer and practice clear communication and strategic thinking to move peers within the grid.
    • Incorporate a human coding grid on the floor to visually represent space and boundaries. Have children work together and take turns assuming the role of game programmer. The programmer flips a series of 2–3 cards and communicates precise directions for the teammates to execute. Include obstacles in the grid to challenge children to be flexible and creative in their thinking and choice of commands.
    • Create a storytelling grid with familiar books. Take a favorite picture book and plot out different setting or events across the grid. Ask children to move a character through the story grid, following the correct order of events and retell the story as they go. This not only encourages students to recall story elements, but also reinforces coding essentials and clear communication. Children can also create their own storylines, characters, and coding cards. Variations are numerous, and I suggest following the embedded NAEYC link to get a better idea of how to incorporate storytelling with coding grids and extend coding play in the classroom.

    Low tech and screenless

    A next logical step is to transition children to operating a device with basic codes. There are a number of coding bots that are the perfect fit for different early childhood settings. Most require minimal setup, and many are screenless, encouraging children to explore and manipulate physical coding pieces to control a bot.

    • Cubetto is especially interesting and appealing because of its natural aesthetic, minimalist design, and open-ended features. Children arrange tactile tiles on a board to control the movements of a robot. Although Cubetto comes with premade mats, children can design their own courses and experiences. This is a perfect transition from the low-tech coding activities described previously and appropriate for ages 3–6.
    • Similar screenless devices include Beebots, Code-a-pillar, Matatalab Coding Set, and Botley. The devices are low-risk, hands-on, and high-challenge and embolden children to fail and persevere through tasks.

    Incorporating coding through stories, games, and screenless bots is a fantastic way to reinforce and foster a language-rich classroom and introduce children to future skills and thinking. For more information or anyone interested in how coding fits into an early childhood classroom, please take a look at our ILA 2018 Conference presentation in collaboration with the USF Preschool for Creative Learning.

    Stephanie Branson, an ILA member since 2015, is a PhD candidate at the University of South Florida, pursuing literacy studies and elementary education with a special focus on digital literacies and teacher development. Connect with her on Twitter @blueskysb.

    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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    • Literacies
    • Teaching With Tech
    • Topics
    • 21st Century Skills
    • Foundational Skills
    • Digital Literacy
    • Digital Literacies

    Twitter’s Cozy Reading Corner

    By Judith H. Van Alstyne
     | Apr 05, 2019

    Writing letters to authors has long been a practice in schools to create connections between children and the authors they admire. This activity allows children to see authors as real people and perhaps to imagine themselves as future authors. Although nothing can replace the tangible connection of exchanging handwritten letters, and emailing is also an option, I would like to suggest a third alternative: Tweeting to your favorite author.

    An important aspect of becoming literate in the digital age is understanding not just the technological skills but also the norms of digital spaces in order to successfully participate in that digital community. Although most social media sites, such as Twitter, are intended for users ages 13 or older, many younger children are already participating. Nearly half (46%) of children have some form of social media by age 11, according to a 2017 Ofcom report, and most learn about social media long before that. Which begs the question, what concepts are they forming about the ethos of Twitter before they ever try their hands at tweeting?

    Process

    As a school librarian and doctoral student in digital literacies, I was interested in trying a “Tweet to Your Favorite Author” activity with elementary school students. I created a Twitter account for our school’s readers and designed lessons for students in grades 3–5, which started with exploring what they already knew about Twitter. It didn’t take long for a student to bring up statements by and about President Trump. I was delighted to introduce them to a different corner of the “Twitterverse,” where children’s book authors, librarians, teachers, and readers passionately communicate about books.

    Students then decided on an author and set about discovering his or her Twitter handle. Googling for current, relatively easy-to-identify information such as a Twitter handle was an accessible, satisfying exercise for them; the answer was usually the first thing listed in the search results. Once the children finished composing their tweets on paper, we revised and proofread them, typed them up, tweeted them out, and then anxiously waited for responses.

    Results

    We were very excited to receive some “likes” and even replies. I took screenshots of the responses and printed them out as keepsakes for the students. Some tweets did not receive any responses, which was naturally disappointing. However, it provided an opportunity to discuss the emotional aspects of social media, such as how it feels to get “likes” or not. Luckily, many authors are dedicated tweeters and we found that specific questions sometimes received informative answers such as the one below from Kazu Kibuishi.

    twitters-reading-corner-1 copy

    Some enthusiastic students tweeted to multiple favorite authors and even had more sustained conversations, such as the one below with Kiki Thorpe.

    twitters-reading-corner-2 copy

    We had many thoughtful responses from children’s book authors, which brightened our day. I suspect the feeling was mutual, as they probably do not get many tweets from 8- and 9-year-olds. Below is a reply from David A. Kelly, who said, “I live to hear from readers like you.” There truly is a cozy reading corner on Twitter. Exposing children to the supportive, book-loving conversations that happen there, and allowing them to participate, not only expands their understanding of how social media works, but also how it can be used meaningfully to connect with the people they admire.

    twitters-reading-corner-3 copy

    Judith H. Van Alstyne is head librarian at Allendale Columbia School and a PhD student at The Warner School of Education at The University of Rochester.

    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 Literacy
    • Literacies
    • Job Functions
    • Teaching With Tech
    • 21st Century Skills
    • Topics
    • Foundational Skills
    • Teacher Educator
    • Librarian
    • Reading Specialist
    • Literacy Education Student
    • Literacy Coach
    • Classroom Teacher
    • Digital Literacies

    Please Listen to Me: When Students Insist They Work Better While Listening to Music

    By Tim Flanagan
     | Mar 29, 2019

    starbucks-modeTwo years ago, I took leave of absence from my seventh-grade teaching position and spent much of the year teaching and traveling in Southeast Asia. Classrooms at the schools I visited also had no computers, students did not carry cell phones, and sometimes I even struggled to find a piece of chalk. The lack of technology was frustrating at times, but it usually meant my students were not distracted. They were accustomed to listening to their teacher. Since returning to the United States, it seems that my students have a different set of priorities when they enter the room, and listening to me isn’t always on their agenda.

    “Can we listen to music?”

    This is a frequent request from my students. I should be prepared to answer, but honestly, I don’t know the right answer most days. I want them to listen to music so they will avoid distracting each other. I want them to listen to music if it motivates and inspires them to do their best work.

    On the other hand, I know that some of the students will spend most of their time hopping from one YouTube video to another. Others will have the music on so loud that even their peers will say it’s distracting. And then there are the students who sneak out their phones or wirelessly connect to their smart watch. This just leads to distracting and tempting notifications from social media accounts, putting further distance between my students and me.

    What the research says

    Not surprisingly, there are many different opinions on whether or not listening to music helps students study. Many variables, such as the volume of the music, type of music, and presence of lyrics, have been studied. A review of research published in The Guardian explains that students did not perform as well while listening to music as when learning in silence, and if students do listen to music, higher volumes tend to be more distracting. On the other hand, music can help improve one’s mood. Perhaps this could put students in the right frame of mind for completing their school work.

    Starbucks to the rescue

    One solution for me has been to implement “Starbucks Mode” during some classes. This idea has been shared frequently online since it was first posted by teacher Megan DuVarney. Students love following these simple guidelines, adapted from DuVarney’s original poster, during Starbucks Mode:

    • Headphones in if you want jams
    • You can sit anywhere (except somewhere dangerous)
    • It’s Starbucks, so we’re all strangers here. Don’t be the weird guy who talks to strangers.
    • Quiet, zen coffee shop vibes

    This has helped a great deal while students are working on writing assignments. Students now just ask if we are in Starbucks Mode. They have learned that there are times when listening to music would be a distraction, and they know that Starbucks Mode will return on days when it is appropriate.

    Since reflecting on this issue, I’ve also realized that I frequently listen to music while working, as I am now. Sometimes it is distracting and I turn it off to work in complete silence. Other times, I use it to drown out the screaming toddlers next door or to motivate me through a mundane task, such as grading.

    I realize now how important it is for students to monitor themselves and learn how to make their own decisions about when to work in silence. So, I will continue to have conversations with students about what works best for them and what the research says. I will remind them to keep the volume down, maintain a balanced approach, and listen to their barista.

    Tim Flanagan is a seventh-grade social studies teacher at Pawcatuck Middle School in Stonington, Connecticut. You can read more on his blog, The Alternate Route: Teaching, Traveling and Learning Across the Globe, and follow him on Twitter.

    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 Literacies
    • Teaching With Tech
    • Topics
    • Foundational Skills
    • 21st Century Skills

    Leveraging PBL in the Literacy Classroom

    By Kasey Smith
     | Mar 22, 2019
    leveraging-pbl copy

    The recent shift in education brings to light a heavier emphasis on college and career readiness at all levels of learning. The critical skills needed to be prepared for an ever-changing college and career future are all wrapped up in project-based learning (PBL).

    The basis of PBL is in the design, thinking, exploration, and creation of materials for authentic purposes, learning, and discovery. The process allows students to see transfer opportunities for skills with teacher support and facilitation. But what does the process look like for ELA classrooms at various levels?

    PBL for the elementary classroom  

    leveraging-pbl-2Much of early literacy exposure comes from whole class read-alouds and teacher modeling. Imagine this process as a close read pointing out text features followed by a conversation about how valuable books are and the importance of sharing. This discussion turns into a PBL opportunity where students dig into the purpose and use of Little Free Libraries through newspaper articles and website research where text features are also emphasized.

    Taking this project to the next stages of planning and design based on a specific audience (their community) and following it through all the way to creation. Throughout this process the students have done close reading, looked at nonfiction text, collaborated, written letters asking for donations of materials and books, perhaps even participated in the hands-on creation of the library, and then advertised the opening of the library. Think of the learning possibilities and authentic opportunities to teach literacy skills as well as the application of college and career readiness skills.

    PBL for the secondary classroom

    leveraging-pbl-3 copyResearch papers and informational process pieces are traditional staples in the English language arts classroom. PBL takes all those standards and authenticates them through project-based learning, allowing students to dig deeper into standards-based content that interests them and ignites their curiosity. With PBL, students have opportunities to create in multiple avenues using technology and hands-on creation. Here are a few of my favorite 21st-century PBL tools.

    Kasey Smith is a staff developer at Lincoln Intermediate Unit 12 in Pennsylvania,  where she specializes in K–12 literacy support as well as curriculum development with technology supports. Prior to staff development, she spent 11 years in the secondary English language arts classroom. Kasey is also an ISTE Certified trainer. Connect with her on Twitter at @kaseysmithpd.

    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 Literacies
    • Teaching With Tech
    • Topics
    • Literacies
    • Digital Literacy
    • Job Functions

    At the Crossroads of Art and Technology: Mobilizing 3D Printing as a Tool for Responding to Children’s and Young Adult Literature

    By Jon M. Wargo
     | Mar 08, 2019

    3D printing—an emerging technology that facilitates the creation of objects through material design—is a powerful educational tool. Research has documented the technological affordances of 3D printing as an innovative learning tool across disciplines such as secondary history, anatomy, chemistry, and technology education. Despite these STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) perspectives, 3D printing is a lesser known technology in teacher education classrooms and, more broadly in English language arts classrooms. I work with prospective teachers in an undergraduate education program, and one of the classes I teach is titled “Teaching Social Studies and the Arts.” Through experimentation, I've discovered ways to mobilize 3D printing as both an educational technology and an artistic medium for developing my undergraduate students’ response to children’s and young adult literature.

    Fabricating a response: Explore, engage, and evaluate

    The “Fabricating Response…” assignment was designed to demonstrate the connection between technology, literacy, visual arts, and social studies. The 3D printing project engaged prospective teachers in a collaborative, semi-guided inquiry activity. As part of their inquiry, they were asked to design an “artifact” that signaled their response to Francisco Jimenez’s The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child (University of New Mexico), one of the central young adult texts in the course. We centered our literary inquiry on the topic of immigration, and used 3D modeling and printing technologies to discuss the politics of design. In essence, we explored how responding with the visual arts could enhance, affect, and/or reject student’s responses to a text.

    Figure1 copy

    Spanning three class meetings, the project followed a three-phase model of explore, engage, and evaluate. During the explore session, prospective teachers became familiar with 3D printing technologies and software such as Tinkercad (see figure above). In this phase, our conversations focused primarily on integrating children’s and young adult literature in the social studies curriculum. After discussing central themes of The Circuit, we examined what it may mean to crystalize our understanding of these themes through materials. Prospective teachers used an array of materials (e.g., rocks, tempera paints, pipe cleaners, etc.) to respond (see figure below). This introductory class session was critical to building an understanding of how elements of design (i.e, color and texture) led to both literal and metaphorical responses to The Circuit’s plot.

    Figure2

    During the engage phase, prospective teachers worked in grade-level teams to both discuss the focal text and prototype their design using cardboard (see below). Our discussion in this session focused on understanding the politics of response as design. With a goal of having three prototypes to share during the last phase, prospective educators brainstormed numerous possibilities. As expected, students were less familiar with the technical elements of 3D printing. As a result, they were drawn toward third-party sites like Thingiverse to remix and remediate user-produced designs.

    Figure3

    In the third and final phase, students staged and evaluated their group’s 3D artifacts. Using a variety of critique protocols and strategies (e.g., Visual Thinking Strategies), we collaboratively talked across the affordances, constraints, and tensions of fabricating response. Working with mixed media, prospective teachers were asked about their responses as they detailed the artifact’s purpose and possible reception. After this final in-class session, students returned to their prototype designs and revised them for the final time. Afterward, students submitted the final TinkerCad file and used the 3D printers to print their designs in class.

    So, what? Why 3D print?

    As we discovered, most students worked toward the prepared goals of multimodal design. In other words, designing the 3D artifact merely encouraged students to reproduce the knowledge they received during the instructional activity. TinkerCad was a means to an end, rather than an iterative tool to disrupt or otherwise challenge traditional ways of thinking about design and literary response.

    Conceptually, however, fabricating response illuminated the material conditions of ideology and the politics of arts-integrated response. In other words, what students designed signaled their attitudes concerning the recent rhetoric surrounding the Mexico–U.S. border wall and beliefs about immigration. Prospective teachers used the available tools of design to construct a 3D artifact that conceptually detailed personal responsibility (e.g., an empty classroom with a single chair knocked down) over a pertinent topic and theme (e.g., immigration and the inequitable education for migrant youth) in The Circuit.

    Figure4 copy

    Teachers were also concerned by the limitations of 3D printing and yearned to use other aesthetic materials and media to design meaning. As Colleen, a prospective teacher, described, “I couldn’t just design something on TinkerCad and be OK with the printing. I felt like I needed to make something more, something else.” In sum, prospective teachers felt as if they had to use media outside of 3D printing in order to illustrate their personal conviction of a political topic (see figure above).

    By encouraging invention and fostering creative thinking, 3D printing served as an invitation to arts-based production and literary response. I encourage you to explore the possibilities of 3D printing in your own learning space to see firsthand how the practice can help to promote design-based learning, creativity, and critical thinking.

    Jon M. Wargo is an assistant professor of literacy in the Lynch School of Education and Human Development, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate level courses in digital literacies, qualitative research methods, and arts-based inquiry. Follow Jon on Twitter @wargojon.

    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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