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    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?


    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.


    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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    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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    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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    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.


    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.


    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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    Online Learning Tools for Learners of All Ages

    By Aileen Hower
     | Mar 01, 2019

    Earlier this year, I embarked upon the task of designing one of our graduate courses to be completely online. This cannot always be done with a master’s of reading program, but students see other online programs and desire this format.

    Additionally, spring weather in Pennsylvania can be challenging; I have already lost four days of classes and it’s only the beginning of February! Certification tests and future instructors need all the content covered. I had to find a way to teach, even if I could not be face to face with my students. Therefore, I sought out technology to support synchronous and asynchronous learning.

    Synchronous video chatting

    This past winter, at the start of our winter course (and to close it out as well), I used Zoom, a video conferencing app that was recently acquired by our university. I have also used Zoom to attend mandatory biannual meetings with an online professional development organization I worked for in the past.

    I prefer to use Zoom because it allows you to mute attendees to avoid distracting background noise; to foster interaction by using a polling tool, the results of which can be shared with the entire class; and to encourage students to ask questions and post responses without interrupting the speaker using the chatting feature. I was also able to record our live session in case a student wanted to revisit a lesson or could not attend.

    zoom-hower-1 copy

    Zoom also automatically saves a .txt receipt of any chatting that takes place during the session.

    zoom-hower-2 copy

    After my third set of classes was cancelled this past week, I used an intriguing feature that allows the instructor to divide students into breakout rooms. This was a great success. For one class, I manually and strategically broke students into groups so that they could present lesson plan ideas with each other. With another class that was being quiet (there were 21 students in attendance), I had Zoom break them into pairs for discussion. I could visit each of the breakout rooms, send all the rooms an announcement, and reunite the whole group with just the touch of a button.

    My mid-level education students shared that Zoom offered more opportunities to interact with others as opposed to just accessing static information online. Some of my students who commute long distances expressed gratitude that they could attend a Zoom session instead (I offered to add Zoom to a face-to-face class for students facing barriers to travel).

    Online discussion tools

    Of course, I don’t always plan for us to be synchronous. I have tried to mix up the different tools that I use for asynchronous discussion and interaction with the content of my courses.

    In addition to having students use the typical discussion board through the university’s online management system, I have been a long-time fan of Padlet, a digital corkboard where students can post through a variety of means (as shown in the figure below).

    zoom-hower-3 copy

    With Padlet, students can reply to each other’s post with a comment, whereas before, they would have to create a new post and name it to grab the attention of the person to whom they were responding. Students appreciate the opportunity to share a favorite resource that supports the content we are learning.

    Communicating online is convenient, but it can also be slightly impersonal, until students get to know each other. Therefore, I have recently become a big fan of Flipgrid.

    Flipgrid allows students to discuss a topic for as little as one minute and up to five minutes. Not only do students reply to each other with their own video, they can also respond with “vibes,” emojis, and stars. Its interactive nature and resemblance to social media platforms makes Flipgrid one of the “coolest” tools available.

    zoom-hower-4 copy

    With Flipgrid, I got to know my students better through listening to and watching them. It was also a personal way to hear their ideas.

    This spring, I have given students the opportunity to participate in a blog run by one of the Keystone State Literacy Association’s local chapters. A different teacher/author poses questions about the week’s chapter in a blog post, and all are encouraged to post their thoughts/reactions and reply to others. Although this takes a very similar format to our discussion boards, the opportunity to interact with individuals outside of class adds a layer of meaning and interaction that I would not otherwise be able to embed in my class.

    One colleague shared her frustration via social media that students as young as elementary school should not lose days of learning due to weather. Rather, they should know their learning can just take on a different format. Many of the same tools I am working to integrate into my college classes can be used productively with younger students. My colleague argued that it should become the standard to use virtual tools rather than miss learning opportunities because of closed facilities. After my experimentations this winter and spring, I would concur. I encourage you to explore these tools in your classroom as well!

    Aileen P. Hower is an assistant professor of literacy and the Graduate Coordinator for the Masters in Language and Literacy at Millersville University in Pennsylvania where she teaches at the undergraduate and graduate levels. She also offers a summer literacy institute in writing through her university. In addition to teaching, she is the president of the Keystone State Literacy Association and was the conference chair for the KSRA 50th Annual Conference in Hershey, PA, in 2017. Aileen is a proud member of TILE-SIG. You can find her on Twitter at @aileenhower or on her blog at

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