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Literacy Now

Teaching With Tech
Making a Case for Reading Joy
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    • Digital Literacies
    • Teaching With Tech

    Integrating Technology and Multiple Texts to Promote Differentiation in Literacy Instruction Across the Discipline

    By Sohee Park and Bong Gee Jang
     | Nov 30, 2018
    Differentiation for Disciplines

    It goes without saying that literacy (i.e., reading, listening, writing, and speaking) is the core set of skills necessary for learning fundamental subjects in the 21st century. Given its importance in learning, educators have coined terms such as content literacy, content area literacy, and disciplinary literacy to better support students’ learning in and across disciplines. More recently, Bong Gee Jang, Dawnelle Henretty, and Heather Waymouth suggested using the term “literacy across the disciplines” in order to encompass “both general and discipline-specific literacy practices within and across academic domains.” In the article, they also emphasized the need for differentiated literacy instruction across the disciplines and proposed a pentagonal pyramid model.

    Specifically, this model incorporates three for factors representing student characteristics for differentiation (i.e., literacy levels, cultural and linguistic diversity, and motivation) and two by factors that can be used as tools of differentiation (i.e., technology and multiple texts). In this post, we will introduce an example of integrating technology and multiple texts for differentiated literacy instruction in the science class of a middle school teacher, Ms. Smith.

    Ms. Smith’s science unit about air pollution

    Ms. Smith is planning to teach a unit on air pollution to eighth-grade students. Having recently read articles about air pollution coming from local factories and wildfires in Los Angeles, she decides to center her pollution unit on a question relevant to her students’ lives: “What are the issues about local air pollution and what should be done to improve local air quality?”

    Differentiation for diverse culture, language, and literacy proficiency through multiple texts and technology

    In Ms. Smith’s eighth-grade science class, about half of the students are English language learners or have below grade-level proficiency in reading. To ensure all students have adequate prior knowledge about local air pollution, she creates a list of the following resources:

    To improve students’ understanding of the materials regardless of their language proficiencies, she carefully creates heterogeneous groups and asks them to complete the same tasks after reading different texts, such as the following:

    • Group A: resources no. 1 and no. 2  
    • Group B: resources no. 3 an no. 4
    • Group C: resources no. 5 and no. 6

    Each group watches and reads the assigned resources and organizes the available information about focal topics (i.e., air pollution status, causes of air pollution, impact of air pollution, current solutions for air pollution, and further actions to be taken) from the resources into tables, concept maps, and/or diagrams using online infographic tools such as Infogram and Venngage. Students who are proficient in languages other than English can also obtain information from resources through help from peers, the 40 different language supports embedded in the websites (resource no. 6), or Google Translate.

    Once each group completes the tasks, the students report what they found to other students. As a wrap-up activity, Ms. Smith cocreates a map about the current air quality and causes of air pollution in the Greater Los Angeles area using Google Maps’ Create Map function. Overall, this activity contributes to promoting students’ active engagement with a variety of literacy levels in her class because the use of their local knowledge, culture, and experience is valued and shared in this activity with multiple texts and technology tools.

    Differentiation for students’ motivation through technology

    As the final product of the inquiry-based project, Ms. Smith provides students with two options. The first is to write a letter/email to a state representative or to the editor of a local newspaper in order to draw his or her attention to this issue and to ask him or her to take action. The other option is to create a video showing and describing the status of air pollution, its direct and indirect impacts on the students and their family and community, and the possible efforts to improve air quality.

    After completing the final product, each student will be required to send the letter/email or publish the video on YouTube and share the link via social media (e.g., Instagram and Snapchat) that they have access to actual audiences. By providing options on the genre (i.e., persuasive vs. informative), platform (i.e., print-based vs. digital), and modality (i.e., monomodal vs. multimodal), students can make choices based on their abilities and preferences, and the realization that they are capable of doing the work can motivate them. Letting students have real and authentic audiences is another way of motivating them because it allows them to receive feedback and reactions from real people.

    We hope this example from Ms. Smith’s class helps educators better understand the pentagonal pyramid model of differentiated literacy instruction across the disciplines and gives them ideas for its application in their teaching.

    Sohee Park recently finished her doctoral study in education at the University of Delaware. She is currently participating in several research projects on digital/multimodal literacies, writing instruction, and struggling readers.

    Bong Gee Jang is an assistant professor in the Department of Reading and Language Arts at Syracuse University. His main areas of research include literacy motivation and engagement in digital settings and disciplinary/content literacy. His research has appeared in referred journals such as Reading Research Quarterly, Educational Psychology Review, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, and The Reading Teacher. Jang teaches courses related to disciplinary literacy and language arts for both preservice and inservice teachers. He also teaches introductory and advanced quantitative method courses to graduate students.

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

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    • 21st Century Skills
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    • Digital Literacies

    Integrating Social and Emotional Learning in the Classroom

    By Marilyn Moore
     | Nov 09, 2018
    emotional-self-regulation

    A diverse classroom library is needed to increase students’ reading volume, reading breadth, and motivation, according to this 2004 study published by the American Psychological Association. Self-selection of reading material is a salient factor for students’ reading development, as is access to a diverse classroom library.

    Students’ social and emotional learning (SEL) has become a growing area of interest in classrooms. A study published by Child Development in 2011 found that SEL programs yielded “significant positive effects on targeted social-emotional competencies and attitudes about self, others, and school.” The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning identifies five core social-emotional competencies as keys to success in school and beyond: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making.

    When students examine the emotions of the characters they are reading about, they gain not only a better understanding of the text but also a better understanding of their own feelings.

    The following books offer a gateway to the development of these five social-emotional competencies.

    Self-awareness

    Using the following texts, ask students to identify a time they may have experienced the same feelings as a character and then ask them to discuss in small groups how they addressed them.

    • Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio (Atheneum): Gaston works hard at his lessons on how to be a proper dog. He sips—never slobbers. He yips—never yaps. Gaston fits right in with his poodle sisters. But when a chance encounter with a bulldog family in the park reveals there’s been a terrible mistake, Gaston doesn’t know where he fits in anymore.
    • All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor (Katherine Tegen): In a small town in Nebraska, Perry T. Cook has grown up with his mother in a private detention facility for women, but he attends a regular school. When a lawyer discovers Perry living in this facility, he makes a move to put him in foster care. Now it is up to Perry to clear his mother’s name and to prove to everyone the idea of what constitutes a family.

    Self-management

    After reading one of the following texts, discuss how the characters persevered through hard times to reach a goal.

    • After the Fall by Dan Santat (Roaring Brook Press): In this version of the nursery rhyme, Humpty tells his own story. This time, the emphasis is not on the infamous fall, but on what happens next. In search of the best view, he is motivated to climb back up the wall—demonstrating that the will to reach a personal goal goes far in overcoming a momentary setback.
    • Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul (Poppy): This was originally a Broadway musical reinvented as a novel. When a letter that was never meant to be seen draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family’s grief over the loss of their son, Evan is given the chance of a lifetime to belong. He just must pretend that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend.

    Social awareness

    The following texts provide easy and creative introductions to lessons centered around empathy, compassion, and tolerance.

    • Whoever You Are by Mem Fox (Reading Rainbow): All over the world, children are laughing and crying, playing and learning, eating and sleeping. They may not look the same. They may not speak the same language. And their lives may be quite different. But inside, they are just like you.
    • Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson (Nancy Paulsen): Maya is the new kid in school, and her classmates team up to torment her. When Maya is absent one day, the teacher brings in a pot of water and drops a stone into it, noting that “each kindness is like that,” as the ripples spread outward. The queen of the mean girls vows to change her behavior when Maya returns to school; however, Maya does not return.

    Relationship skills

    Use literature as an opportunity to teach students a lesson on conflict resolution.

    • Lions & Liars by Kate Beasley (Farrar, Straus and Giroux): Fifth grade is off to a terrible start when Frederick is sent to a disciplinary camp for troublesome boys. His fellow troop mates—Nosebleed, Specs, The Professor, and little-yet-lethal Ant Bite—are terrifying. But in between trust-building exercises and midnight escape attempts, a tenuous friendship grows between them. This is lucky, because a Category 5 hurricane is coming, and everyone will have to work together to survive!
    • Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (Penguin): Four young teens are trying escape the conflict happening in Europe during World War II. They board a German boat called the Wilhelm Gustloff, only to learn that the Russians will be sinking the ship. Told from the perspectives of the four characters before and after the boat sinks, it is very moving piece of historical fiction.

    Responsible decision making

    The following stories feature characters who must make complex decisions about conflicting principles and loyalties. Use these examples to discuss ethical dilemmas.

    • Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick): Louisiana lives with her grandmother, who wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that they must leave home immediately. They travel by car to Georgia, where Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with a motel owner and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder. Her grandmother abruptly leaves, and Louisiana must make decisions about forgiveness and whether to stay or return to Florida.
    • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (Riverhead): A generational story spanning 33 years, the book concerns two different women as they deal with the problems of war and domestic violence in Afghanistan. Themes include family, love, survival, war, and refugee issue.

    Marilyn E. Moore is a professor and faculty director for the Reading Program at National University, La Jolla, California.

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

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    Why Are There So Many Flat Screens in the Library?

    By Kara Clayton
     | Nov 02, 2018

    The library–media center of old was a silent place where students read, researched, and studied in isolation. However, as students are asked to think more critically, create, and discuss, the library–media center has evolved into a place where collaboration and engaging discussions take place.

    Recently I worked with physical education teacher Colleen Donakowski and her aquatics class to help students analyze their freestyle and elementary backstroke. We started by recording each student swimming two widths of the pool. The first width was freestyle and the second was elementary backstroke. After their swimming demonstrations, I edited the footage so small groups of students could watch and critique their swimming abilities. About four class days later, when the students reported to class, they went to the media center instead of the pool.

    When the first group of students arrived, one student asked, “Mrs. Clayton. This is a library, right? Why do we have so many flat screens in here?” I was excited for them to discover why.

    The planning stage

    clayton-1Groups of three to five students were assigned to a collaboration station that included a Chromebook, flat screen monitor, and dry erase board. Within Google Classroom, each group quickly accessed their video.

    Before viewing 

    clayton-2At the dry erase board that was set up at each station, students were asked to write down what they thought their group would see when that person swam their freestyle and elementary backstroke. Each person wrote their own notes on the board. Then they sat down to watch their video.







    During viewing

    clayton-3As each student played their individual video, group members compared the student’s attempt at the stroke to a set of stroke guidelines that had been prepared and distributed for analysis. They also collaborated with each other by providing warm feedback and suggestions for improvement.

    After viewing

    clayton-4Each group member took turns discussing the notes they had taken to help each individual think critically about and reflect on what they saw in the video. Students wrote down what they planned to do to improve their stroke once they were back in the pool.




    Observations and suggestions

    When there is planning time for both the classroom teacher and the instructional technology coach, collaboration stations provide opportunities to facilitate deeper learning for all students. Moreover, keeping group size small opens a gateway into the discussion for even the shyest of students.

    A tightly planned lesson helps to keep students on task during this activity. Additionally, give the instructional technology coach time to prepare the media center in advance to ensure that all the equipment is set up, working, and ready before the students arrive.

    How can you use collaboration stations?

    The ways to use the collaboration stations are limited only by your imagination. Can your students work in collaborative groups to discuss and research current societal issues? To make plans to build something? To conduct research for a project? To work on a math problem? To analyze a piece of student-produced writing? To analyze student performances in broadcasting, instrumental music, and sports? The opportunities are endless.

    Kara Clayton is a video production teacher and instructional technology coach at Thurston High School in the South Redford School District in Redford, MI, and offers professional development on the integration of video production in the classroom.

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

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    Build-Your-Own Online Magnetic Poetry Kit With Google Drawings

    By Nicole Timbrell
     | Oct 12, 2018
    Online Poetry Kit

    When I first encountered Google Drawings, I assumed it was a tool for creating diagrams, labeling maps, or annotating science experiments. Although I recognized that it could be used in the English classroom to create a character profile, plot timeline, or a concept map, as far as I could tell, an instructional tool Google Drawings most definitely was not. So I was happily surprised when, while doing a poetry writing activity with my seventh-grade English class, I discovered that Google Drawings could be fashioned into a creative writing tool.

    Some of the fun poetry writing activities I use with my middle school students include Book Spine Poetry, Found Poetry, Blackout Poetry and Magnetic Poetry. What they all have in common is the requirement to compose a poem from a preexisting set of words. The central idea of all these writing exercises is that students recognize that poetry can be inspired by—and built from—any text in any setting.

    The original version of Magnetic Poetry (launched in 1993) required the purchase of a “kit” of tiny magnets, each containing a word, that users could shuffle around the refrigerator door (or other magnetic surface) to create short poetic texts. Once I discovered an online version of magnetic poetry, I would have students create an online magnetic poem, take a screenshot of their completed poem, and then add it to a shared Google Slides for peer review. However, when my 2018 seventh-grade English class completed this activity, they were not content to be lumped with someone else’s words. They expressed a desire to build their own themed magnetic poetry kits using word banks they had created among themselves.

    So, with the help of Google Drawings, our class’s Build-Your-Own Online Magnetic Poetry Kit was born.

    In addition to the customizable frame in which the final drawing is composed, the Google Drawings template provides blank space around the edges of the frame where other items and instructions can be placed. In the case of the Build-Your-Own Online Magnetic Poetry Kit the “magnets” containing the word bank are placed around the blank space, and students simply click and drag the required words or punctuation marks onto the framed area to write their poem. Once the poem is completed, it can be downloaded into a range of file formats and shared with an audience, either digitally or in print.

    Back in my seventh-grade class, students created word banks (taking some inspiration from the Magnetic Poetry Original Kit word list), filled in their Google Drawings template, and practiced creating a poem from their own online magnetic poetry kit. It was during this stage that my students quickly realized that for their poetry kits to be effective, the word banks needed to contain all the parts of speech: nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, articles, determiners, prepositions, and even punctuation. So we modified the template to categorize the words and, in addition to our intended poetry writing exercise, we ended up with a revision lesson on the parts of speech. The final stage of the exercise involved collaboration, peer editing, and publishing. In small groups, my students shared their online magnetic poetry kit with students in other classes. Those students used my students’ templates to write poems and, in turn, shared their own poetry kits with my students to try. 

    The success of this activity has me thinking about other potential analytical, persuasive, or creative writing exercises that could be taught with Google Drawings. After sharing the poetry kit at school, one English teacher took the idea and created a Google Drawings to help students analyze the play A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. She placed the play’s important themes, sentence starters, quotations, and analytical phrases in the vacant space around the drawing and invited students to write a paragraph about an important scene in the play using the Google Drawings framework.

    The lesson learned? I plan to approach all new collaborative technologies by first asking myself, How can this tool help me to improve student writing? Chances are, there’s a writing tool in there somewhere—even if I cannot see it at first.

    Click here to view the blank template for the Build-Your-Own Online Magnetic Poetry Kit. To edit this document, you will need to make a copy.

    Classroom tip: If you have Google Classroom enabled for your school’s domain, set the Build-Your-Own Magnetic Poetry document as an “Assignment” and select “Every Student Gets A Copy.”

    Nicole Timbrell is the Head of Digital Learning and Australian Curriculum Coordinator in the Secondary School at the Australian International School Singapore, where she also teaches English. Formerly, Nicole was a graduate student and a research assistant at the New Literacies Research Lab at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education.

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    After the 1:1 Honeymoon Period: My Love/Hate Relationship With Student Chromebooks

    By Tim Flanagan
     | Oct 05, 2018
    Chromebook Use

    I looked at the pile of Chromebooks on my desk and wondered how I had gotten to this place. I had spent the period remotely closing tabs students had opened, mostly related to Fortnite or some other addicting game, and eventually got to the point where I was taking Chromebooks away from my seventh graders.

    I had waited so long for my school to embrace the 1:1 concept. Providing each student with a Chromebook would solve a lot of problems. No more wheeling the clanky cart down the hallway to my classroom and no more students dashing out the door without plugging their computers back in. With Google Classroom and Chromebooks, we could now be a paperless classroom. Teaching global competencies, creating authentic projects, and reaching an audience beyond our classroom would be so much easier once they had their Chromebooks.

    So why was I now taking Chromebooks away from my students? The short answer is that they were playing games, but upon further reflection I realized it was a result of my own lack of preparation. Because I had been using computers in my classroom for decades, I thought that I was prepared. I hadn’t considered the unique issues that arise when each student is assigned his or her own device. As the new year begins, I’ve realized I need to make a few changes.

    Set clear expectations

    It seems so obvious, especially for a teacher with over 30 years of experience, but I failed to do this with the Chromebooks. Because the devices were already in students’ hands as they entered the room, they saw no problem in opening them at the beginning of class to play a game or listen to music before the lesson started. The problem, of course, was getting them to stop the game when I was ready to begin teaching. Setting clear expectations will help alleviate this problem.

    Don’t forget about paper

    I love using online annotation tools and having students submit assignments through Google Classroom. I have learned, however, that some students really do need paper copies, and that everyone benefits from a balance of digital and paper assignments. Even middle school students get tired of looking at screens all the time.

    Digital doesn’t mean better

    This summer I visited several schools in Germany as a participant in the Transatlantic Outreach Program. One thing that struck me was the lack of technology in German classrooms. In conversations with students and teachers, I learned that German students are just as addicted to their phones as students in the United States, but technology use in the classroom is limited. There were computer labs and other places to use technology at school, but the typical classroom had just a whiteboard and desks. This reminds me that 1:1 does not mean students should be on their devices all the time. Good teaching can happen without a computer.

    Not every student is ready for the responsibility of 1:1

    Although I’d like to blame my Chromebook woes on Fortnite, I know that the issue is much bigger than one game. Some students really do struggle with having access to a device that offers so many tempting distractions. On one message board of parents who were opposed to 1:1 programs for their children, an anonymous parent wrote, “The school is giving a piece of technology that is inherently hard to resist to children with impulse control issues . . . and then expecting the impulsive kid to resist one of the most seductive drugs out there.” We need to listen to parents when they tell us that the laptop we just gave their 12-year-old is not in their child’s best interests.

    Despite the challenges of the past year, I am still a strong advocate of using technology in the classroom and 1:1 programs. I believe it is our responsibility to teach students how to use technology to research, collaborate, solve problems, and engage with the world. By preparing properly for a 1:1 program, setting clear expectations, and considering individual student needs, a 1:1 program can help achieve these goals.

    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 @tflanagan01.

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