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    Celebrating Open Education

    By Todd Bryant
     | Mar 29, 2018

    Open EducationEarlier this month, educators, technologists, and learners across the world celebrated Open Education Week, a global event that seeks to reduce barriers, increase access, and drive improvements in education through open sharing and digital formats. 

    Organized by the Open Education Consortium, the event showcases open projects, resources, and ideas and encourages the further creation and dissemination of educational resources. While OEW may have passed, advocates can continue to celebrate and advance open education all year long. Here’s the why and how:

    What is open education?

    The open education movement started in response to two critical issues facing educators and students. Most are aware of the rising costs of learning materials; a study published by U.S. Department of Labor found that the cost of textbooks increased by 88% from 2006–2016. Eliminating these costs can significantly reduce financial barriers for our most disadvantaged students.

    Furthermore, open resources have the additional advantage of being published under a Creative Commons license. This means teachers can take portions of open texts or digital materials, add their own material or include them within a lesson, and share with other teachers. One example of this is the Mixxer Language Exchange site hosted by Dickinson College, which connects language learners with native speakers as part of a mutual language exchange. Users can practice via Skype or submit a short writing piece and ask for corrections. The site also provides “lessons” that integrate materials from the Center for Open Educational Resources and Language Learning (COERLL) to support and guide exchanges.

    Next steps

    We believe that education should be open and free, and there are several resources to help teachers interested in collaborative learning. Those just getting started may want to check out  MERLOT, an open educational resource project from the California State University. Anyone can contribute or use materials from the repository, which includes whole courses, open textbooks, small instructional modules, and more. Those looking for open textbooks should browse California’s Cool4Ed library, Minnesota’s Open Textbook Library, OpenStax from Rice University, and aggregators of these resources, such as OER Commons’ hub.

    Finally, institutions and governments are becoming proponents of openness in education. The Cool4Ed library was established by California legislation that called for the establishment of an open educational resources council and a digital open source library. Community colleges have started an OER Degree Initiative to create entire degree programs that exclusively use open textbooks and online resources. The open education movement has also for the first time succeeded in allotting federal funds for the creation of open and free textbooks. Open education still has a long way to go, but it’s slowly becoming a reality.

    Todd Bryant is a language technology specialist at Dickinson College.

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    Literacy at the Barre: A Focus on Differentiation

    By Kathryn Caprino
     | Mar 22, 2018

    Literacy at the BarreBarre is my new go-to fitness class.

    When I signed up for my first class, I thought barre would allow me to escape briefly my world as a literacy teacher educator. And then I had this amazing teacher, who just happened to be a former English teacher. The way differentiation played out so organically in the class was something I wanted my students to see.  

    In this blog post I share what I have learned about differentiation from the excellent barre teachers I have had and ask questions to help pre-K12 literacy teachers consider how we create spaces for and engage in differentiation.

    • Effective teachers create a positive environment that encourages risk-taking. The best studios always make me feel calm when I arrive and energized when I leave. How can we do this in our literacy classrooms? Can we design our classrooms like barre studios, adding soft lighting and incense? Maybe not all of us. How can we create environments that put students at ease so that they feel comfortable enough to take risks?   
    • Effective teachers encourage students to make decisions. At various times during my barre journey, including when I was expecting my first child and when I returned to the studio after having my little boy, I had to make adaptations that were appropriate for my fitness and ability levels. Sometimes these levels changed from class to class and even during class. Instructors’ comments, such as, “You make the choice” and “Whatever you need today” gave me the autonomy to decide what I wanted to work on or not work on in class. For example, during one of my most recent classes, I went up to relevé to challenge myself but also did modified push-ups when I was not sure if my arms could support me. How do we encourage our students to engage in this type of on-the-spot individual choice?
    • Effective teachers do not make students feel ostracized for needing modifications. I used to motivate myself during fitness classes by trying to outdo my classmates. I wanted to lift more weights or to hold my balance just a little longer. This changed when I attended a barre class 37 weeks into my pregnancy. There were things I just could not do. I had to learn—with my instructor's support, of course—the appropriate modifications. At first, I did not like doing arm circles with no weights while the woman next to me was using three-pound weights. But eventually, I learned to be confident in who I was and to not rely on social comparison. I also learned that a group of people can share a similar goal (e.g., to have a good barre workout) but reach that goal in myriad ways. How can we create this reality in our classrooms?
    • Effective teachers encourage students to push themselves. As educators, sometimes we wonder if we should offer students choices. What if they always select what is easy? From personal experience, I know this is not the way it goes. I have heard my barre instructors use phrases such as, “Whatever you are doing is awesome,” but then come back with, “You’re stronger than you think you are.” In these moments, I hold my weights up just a little bit higher or hold on for one more rep. The instructor’s praise does not fall on deaf ears. Like many of the pre-K–12 students with whom I have worked, we appreciate when our teachers notice we have done something well. How can we apply this in our literacy classrooms?
    • Effective teachers help students understand that barre is really hard. There are certain times—during plank especially—when I just want to stop. And sometimes I actually do have to stop (so that my arm does not fall off). But pushing through challenges is an important part of learning to read and write—or learning to teach reading and writing, for that matter. How do we encourage our students to push themselves as readers and writers and to strive to reach new levels?
    • Effective teachers celebrate strengths and accomplishments. One of the reasons I can push myself during barre classes is because my instructors are quick to celebrate my strengths as well as those of my classmates. When someone does something well, she is praised immediately. There are no gradebooks, no formal assessments—just simple praise for a job well done. Someone might have challenged herself to hold a move for just a bit longer. The person beside her might have stopped a few seconds before. Yet, they both did their best. How can we recognize each student’s personal growth and success?

    I just scheduled my next barre class, and I am excited. I am equally excited for the work to come in our literacy classrooms.

    Maybe we should all take some lessons from the barre. As we imagine our classrooms as studios, what are some steps we can take to foster differentiation in our literacy classrooms? I would love to hear your ideas!

    Kathryn Caprino is an assistant professor of pre-K–12 new literacies at Elizabethtown College and a book blogger for teachers and parents at katiereviewsbooks.wordpress.com.

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    What Writing My Mother’s Eulogy Taught Me About Writing

    By Rebecca Harper
     | Mar 08, 2018

    harper1As a literacy teacher, I tend to look at the world in ways that others may not. I listen for figurative language in song lyrics, find the craft of argumentative writing on ESPN, and ask strangers reading The Hunger Games what their image of Cinna looked like after Lenny Kravitz was cast in the film. However, I learned more about literacy through the composition of one single writing task: my mother’s eulogy.

    When my mother was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer, I began the task of writing her eulogy. Not on paper, but in my head. For almost four months, I drafted this document in my head whenever I had time and ideas. In the hospital while she slept. On a plane to speak at a literacy conference in Arkansas. In a car line while waiting to pick up my children. At night when I could not sleep. However, it was not until the day after she died and the night before her funeral that I put pen to paper. The accompanying images are some of the documents I used as I delivered my mother’s eulogy at her funeral last December. If you notice, it looks messy. Haphazard. Unorganized. Yet these images represent almost four months of deliberate planning, drafting, and revision. Rewrites that existed only in my head, but which aided substantially in the final—yet not so final—product.

    harper2Drafting this piece made me seriously reconsider how writers plan, think, and revise. It also made me think hard about the emphasis that is often placed on written prewriting or planning. In fact, I am ashamed to admit that I required a graphic organizer for all writing tasks my first year of teaching. In many classrooms, my mental planning and thinking that went into the crafting of this piece would not have been acceptable. How can thinking be measured? How could a teacher assess my mental planning without some type of written piece of justification or evidence? These types of questions are often the very ones that prompt teachers to continue to use traditional teaching methods and assessments when it comes to writing instruction. However, any teacher could have assessed my thinking and planning just by simply having a conversation with me about my writing.

    Here is what writing my mother’s eulogy taught me and reminded me about writing:

    • Most writing is messy. Most of what we write in our daily lives never becomes published and polished. Instead, it functions mainly to inform, communicate, understand, explain, and process information. In the classroom, this tenet is especially important. For one, it gives students the freedom to write without the pressure of ensuring that every piece of writing they complete is publishable quality. In fact, 90% of what students should be writing in their classrooms should fit the previous descriptors. But here’s the really important part: Students should be writing in class every single day. Practicing writing for a variety of purposes gives students opportunities to improve basic skills and prepares them for writing tasks that need to be more polished and presentable. In my experience, many students care only about the letter grade and either ignore the comments if the grade is satisfactory or shut down completely if the grade is poor. With less emphasis on the final product, teachers should spend less time grading; qualitative, focused feedback may yield better results.
    • Prewriting does not have to be written. One mistake I made as a writing teacher was requiring students to submit a graphic organizer or other form of written prewriting as proof that they had planned their writing piece. Although the written prewriting task did aid some students in the construction of their composition, I found that others haphazardly filled in the obligatory organizer at the end of the writing task so they would not lose points for omitting this portion of the assignment. This is not the true purpose of prewriting, planning, or both. Some tasks require more planning than others. Planning and prewriting need not be written; valuable planning may take place through thinking or oral discussion. These venues are no less important than written ones.
    • Revision is ongoing. Revision is not a destination; writers do not simply arrive at the revision step, complete the task, and move on to the final draft. Rather, revision and writing are recursive processes that are ongoing and certainly not linear. While I was drafting Mom’s eulogy in my head, I was also revising and modifying the writing, whether it was in phrasing, word choice, or organizational structure. Revision is a sophisticated process and is not as simple as capitalizing letters and adding punctuation (that’s editing). Revision requires writers to revisit their pieces, consider their audience, think about the words they chose, and make decisions about the flow, purpose, and voice of their piece.

    When designing and implementing writing engagements in the classroom, I implore teachers to consider these principles. Instead of focusing on a final product or the steps within the process, teachers can encourage and facilitate writers as they plan, revisit, and revise. Acknowledging these simple principles offers opportunities to nurture and support writers as they wade through a variety of writing engagements in both the academic and personal realm.

    Rebecca Harper is an assistant professor of literacy at Augusta University. She received her PhD in Language and Literacy from the University of South Carolina. She is the author of Content-Area Writing that Rocks (and Works!).

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    Three Ways to Spark Curiosity in Reading and Writing

    By Jacie Maslyk
     | Mar 06, 2018
    sparkcuriosity1

    Last year our elementary school opened a makerspace. The colorful space is always full of active learners using new tools and materials to advance their learning. The room itself has sparked the interest of teachers and students to try new things and explore ideas that they are passionate about. Although science, technology, engineering, and math are logical connections in the makerspace, we are also working to integrate meaningful connections to literacy that spark curiosity and engage our learners.

    Start tinkering

    Tinker trays are one way to pull students in and provide opportunities for exploring objects as a part of the writing process. A tray of found materials or small loose parts can spark creative ideas that evolve into a piece of narrative writing or a poem. The trays can include items like buttons, beads, rocks, or any craft item. As students explore with the materials, they are using manipulatives to activate their minds and to generate writing ideas.

    While tinker trays (like the ones described above) align with the invitation for learning approach often associated with primary students and Reggio inspired learning, trays can be used in middle school classroom, too. Our junior high English department has found that students enjoy the hands-on invitation to fiddle with materials while they brainstorm and write.

    What's the hook?

    Lesson hook. Anticipatory set. Whatever you may call it, it's the way we generate interest in the content of a lesson. Fueling student curiosity can happen naturally or we may need to facilitate opportunities to draw our students in. Have you tried a mystery bag or a curiosity box? Imagine revealing artifacts to students that can serve as a clue to the content of a story or a prop that might be used by the character. What if these materials were placed in the box or even placed in a special location in the classroom? How might this get students wondering?

    For example, when reading a familiar story like Charlotte's Web, strategically place a spider web across the corner of the door. Infuse story vocabulary words, such as "humble," "terrific," or "radiant" in the classroom (written on the chalkboard, taped to the back of a chair, or on the windowsill) and place prop items like hay, a spider (fake, of course), or a stuffed animal pig in classroom. Would students notice? Would they begin to wonder why? How else might you build suspense to heighten student curiosity around a good book?

    sparkcuriosity2

    Try new tools

    Hands-on making can be a pathway to generate student engagement in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Consider trying a new tool to pique the interest of your students. Create with Legos. Program a robot. Build a circuit. Our fourth-grade students used copper tape, coin cell batteries, and a little bit of tape to complete a circuit and light up a small LED light bulb. Not only did it spark a new interest in circuits, but it also served as a springboard for procedural writing. Students were able to document the steps they took to design and complete the circuit. They were also able to communicate those steps to their peers as they presented their circuits to the group.

    There are lots of great ways to ignite the spark within your students around literacy. These three ways are just a start toward building student interest in reading and writing by connecting their learning to hands-on literacy experiences.

    For more ideas about literacy and hands-on learning opportunities, visit my website steam-makers.com.

    Jacie Maslyk is an educator, presenter, and the author of STEAM Makers. You can find her on Twitter @DrJacieMaslyk or on her blog, Creativity in the Making.

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    Adding a Different Kind of Coach to Your Literacy Lineup

    By Debra Em Wilson
     | Feb 27, 2018
    ThinkstockPhotos-78423346_x600

    Within tiered intervention frameworks, collaboration is an essential key to providing early and effective intervention for students who may lag behind their peers. Stalled and unresponsive to our coaching, it may be time to expand collaboration and invite coaches with unique skill sets and fresh perspectives to join our intervention teams. Our students need these skills to get in the game, yet they’re stuck sitting on the dugout and warming the bench.

    Who’s missing from intervention teams?

    After reading numerous research articles on tiered intervention, a common theme emerged: Occupational and physical therapists are left out of the discussion. Yet, as a reading coach, I have come to value these roles in my own lineup.

    For students in reading intervention programs, therapists have a lot to offer in terms of strategies to get students off the bench and into the game. Therapists contribute unique skill sets when it comes to helping children access reading curricula—especially students with autism, ADHD, sensory processing issues, dyslexia, and writing challenges.

    Expanded definition of stamina

    The term “reading stamina” is often used when describing a student’s ability to focus and read independently without being distracted or distracting others. From a therapist’s perspective, stamina includes not only the ability to focus for literacy lessons, but also the ability to monitor his or her own behavior and to know what to do when focus starts to wander.

    Additionally, the therapist’s view of stamina includes the ability to sit upright at a desk; to understand directional tracking, or to process letters in order from left to right; and to “cross midline,” or to use and move the limbs of one side of the body in the space of the opposite side (for example, holding a paper with one hand while writing with the other).

    When students struggle to build reading stamina, they may warm the bench longer than students who do not. Getting students off the bench and into the game is easier when using therapy strategies proven effective for improving literacy skills for the diverse readers in today’s classrooms.

    “In the school environment, our jobs are to provide access to school curricula for all students. Going into the classrooms to support students and teachers is rewarding,” says Rachel Gambino, a physical therapist in Long Island, NY. “We help our students to be more available for learning and feel successful alongside their peers.”

    Collaborating with therapists taught me that a few simple yet effective techniques can go a long way toward turning passive benchwarmers into active players. Three valuable concepts I learned from working with therapists are deep pressure, heavy work, and self-regulation.

    Deep pressure

    As mindfulness and meditation becoming buzzwords in today’s classrooms, it’s important to understand that, when deep pressure is added to deep breathing, the routine becomes even more effective—especially for children with ADHD and sensory processing issues.

    A simple deep pressure technique is to press into the palm of one hand with the thumb of the other. Press all around the palm on one hand to a count of 10. Stop. Take a deep breath and repeat on the other hand. Stop. Take another deep breath.

    Then squeeze 10 times up one arm. Stop. Take a deep breath and squeeze up the other arm. This simple technique activates the vagus nerve and causes the release of serotonin in our bodies, which reduces stress and increases feelings of safety. This is essential for students who become stressed during reading activities, such as timed tests.

    For added benefit, children can spell words during deep pressure therapy. This simple activity helps with both word retention and overall focus.

    Heavy work and spelling

    While collaborating with classroom teachers, occupational therapist Jennifer Vogtmann introduced heavy work—a therapy technique that uses large muscle movement to help children calm down and focus.

    She says students’ favorite activity is to do wall push-ups while reading their sight words, which are posted on the wall above. This activity improves postural stability, shoulder differentiation for writing, and visual convergence for reading—all while building that all-important reading stamina.

    According to Heidi Bartle, principal at Michigamme Elementary School, MI, this exercise has been effective.

    “We have seen tremendous gains in our students' overall academic performance, especially in math and spelling scores, due to the wall push-ups,” she says.

    Self-regulation

    Therapists have shown me the value of teaching children how to monitor their own behavior and to recognize when they are losing focus or need to move. I’ve learned that there is no point in pushing students through literacy lessons when they are unduly stressed, tired, antsy, or losing focus.

    Next time you gather your intervention team, invite the therapists to the coaching strategy meeting. In doing so, there’s a good chance your benchwarmers will be swinging for the fences in no time.

    Debra Em Wilson is a reading specialist and collaboration coach and the founder of S’cool Moves

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