The mysterious philosopher in Jostein Gaarder's Sophie's World defines Lego as the "most ingenious toy in the world." When Sophie rediscovers a bag of abandoned Lego blocks in a closet, she remembers her childhood and the thrills of endless possibilities offered by this clever toy.
With Lego blocks, the same pieces can be assembled and reassembled into objects, prompted and limited only by one's imagination. Thus, a castle today becomes a spaceship tomorrow, and a spaceship may easily morph into a fire engine by reassembling the same pieces in a new configuration.
However, Lego is much more than a building toy that comes in defined packages with step-by-step instructions, calling for the replication of an already imagined or popularized object.
For example, offer a collection of random Lego blocks to a group of students with the daunting and challenging task of creating a new written language system. They can come up with their own Lego alphabet, where each specific block or piece represents a sound or sounds in speech. Thus, students can also develop new modes of "writing" with these Lego symbols, as the blocks may have various ways to be connected. These types of activities also offer opportunities for engaging classroom discussions about the ways language work or how languages develop.
Creative Lego constructions can also be used as instructional tools to illustrate abstract concepts or ideas. Instead of using PowerPoint slides—which are often oversimplified, poor visual aids—consider building a three-dimensional object that best represents, for example, the ideas and workings of Vygotsky's theory of the zone of proximal development or any other concepts related to a given academic field. Also, asking students to explore abstract or symbolic concepts with the use of Lego blocks engages their whole body and provides opportunities for collective creativity and collaboration.
As a storytelling device, Lego can also enhance visual and multimodal literacy skills. I often ask students to create scenes or illustrations for the stories they explore in the classroom. Sometimes they will use Lego blocks to create a version or adaptation of an existing story or to build scenes from new stories they've created. With simple, easy-to-use applications and tools, students can create virtual or physical picture books with the use of Lego. Similarly, an inexpensive tripod and a smartphone can allow students to use stop-motion animation to produce and share short films or movie trailers for books.
In addition, Lego's visual building manuals are among the best guides to aid the process of assembly. They function as a universal language without the need for one's ability to read written text. Students can use these manuals as a model to produce virtual building manuals for their own Lego products, and by doing this they improve their skills of visual communication.
Lego is inherently a creative medium. If we value the use of imaginative classroom engagements to instigate divergent thinking, play, and problem solving, Lego blocks deserve a distinguished place in our instructional toolbox.
Csaba Osvath is a PhD candidate at the University of South Florida, pursuing literacy studies with a special focus on qualitative methods and arts-based research. His research explores the epistemological and pedagogical roles/functions of artmaking in the context of literacy education.
Csaba Osvath will present a workshop titled "Reimagining Literacy Through Lego" at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits, held in Orlando, FL, July 15–17.
Environmental literacy is the key to preserving the Earth's natural resources, creating laws and jobs that help protect them, and understanding out why it's so vital that we, as a global community, are proactive in doing so.
Project-based learning, innovative technology, and texts that are both informative and fun help us become greener global citizens. Use the following ILA resources and tips to help you bring these issues into the classroom as you celebrate Earth Day on April 22.
Follow @ILAToday and tell us how you are incorporating #EarthDay in your classroom.
Clare Maloney is an intern at the International Literacy Association. She is currently seeking a BA in English from the University of Delaware.
Room 404 at Miami Norland Senior High School in Florida is a second home for Precious Symonette’s creative writing students. The love and acceptance they feel upon entering is something they treasure and hold onto long after graduation.
Symonette is a Freedom Writer teacher. She teaches students, many of whom are inner-city teens from troubled backgrounds, that no matter what challenges they face, they can find success in the classroom and beyond. By embracing writing as a tool to discover their identity, Symonette is literally transforming their lives through literacy.
She founded Miami Norland’s Viking Freedom Writers Club and annual Writing Gala, she regularly has her students compete in spoken word competitions and, most recently, she created the Florida Freedom Writers Foundation with her students to encourage others to use writing as a means to explore some of today’s most important topics such as racism, diversity, and empathy.
“I actively create lessons that reinforce the idea that there is strength in diversity,” Symonette writes on the national Freedom Writers Foundation website. “I force my students to learn about themselves so that they can learn to love themselves.”
It was no surprise to Symonette’s students when she was named Miami-Dade’s 2017 Teacher of the Year, as well as a 2016 National Education Association Superhero Educator. Her Freedom Writers all use similar words and phrases to describe her: more than a teacher; a mother; someone with the ability to help students discover who they are, the ability to help redirect their path toward a more positive future.
Her class pledge says it all: “I am not everyone, but I am someone. I cannot write everything, but I can write something! What I can write, by the grace of the universe, I will freely write as a means to become the best person that can be for me, my household, my community, and the world. I have something to say because I am somebody. I am freely writing myself into existence. I am a Florida Freedom Writer.”
To better understand the impact of this award-winning educator, we knew we only needed to turn to her Freedom Writers to discover that she truly is a teacher who comes along once in a lifetime.
Read their words here in the open access March/April issue of Literacy Today, and hear her message about the power of writing during Opening General Session at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits.
Precious Symonette will speak during the Opening General Session of the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits on Saturday, July 15. She will also take part in the ILA Meet & Eat Networking Lunch that day at noon, which is a ticketed event, and a workshop session on the iWrite My Story Movement on Sunday, July 16. For more information, visit ilaconference.org.
Colleen Patrice Clark is the managing editor of Literacy Today.
As a former English and journalism teacher, I entered education with a bolstered bravado that I would teach America’s youth to become great writers. Naturally, the correlation between great writers and avid readers is significant, so my mission as a first-year teacher was to inspire my students to develop an indelible passion for reading and writing.
Along the way, I founded Maplewood High School’s first-ever AP language and composition program, resurrected a dead journalism program, and advised the student-centered, student-run school news magazine. It is worth noting that Maplewood High School is an inner-city, high-poverty school in an area with all the familiar trappings: high-crime rate, high unemployment, food desert, gang violence, et cetera, et cetera. When our student news magazine began gaining notoriety and competing at the top-level of the Tennessee High School Press Association—and when one of my AP students went on to pass the AP exam and graduate as salutatorian with full-ride scholarship offers to more than 40 universities, I knew I had truly found my calling.
Flash-forward 10 years: I am now the executive principal of the Mount Pleasant Arts Innovation Zone, the first pre-K–12 STEAM campus in the United States. My role in education has significantly changed, yet my unbridled passion and love for reading and writing has not wavered.
I am often asked, “Just what is a STEAM school?” and my response echoes with each inquiry: STEAM is as much a mindset as it is a curriculum. Through a holistic learning model, we are synergizing content and curriculum with concentrated efforts to inspire a new generation of creators, not merely consumers. The bedrock of the STEAM mindset and curriculum, however, is literacy. Through literacy, students develop sought-after communication skills, which translates to effective writing, persuasive speaking, and ultimately coveted problem-solving.
Thus, after all of the bells-and-whistles of the STEAM education zeitgeist, literacy remains at the heart of the school paradigm. Even with our school’s new 1:1 initiative, through which every student will have a mobile device and untethered access to a digital world of resources, the written word still stands true. How we prepare students to read and write is certainly changing—as it should be in the 17th year of the 21st century. Yet, let us not panic as digital platforms usurp traditional books or throw in the towel as text speak and 140-character tweets attempt to supplant proper grammar and well-written prose.
Now more than ever educators are needed to connect students with their passions, using literacy as the thread. When educators serve as the conduit between student and student interest, the learning platforms become secondary to a greater, more sustainable purpose: creativity. The universal truth surrounding creativity is its relationship with literacy. Our STEAM campus is charged with inspiring a new generation of thinkers, problem-solvers, and creators, absolutely none of which is possible without literacy, writing across the curriculum, or effective public speaking.
Has the how changed in our approach to teaching literacy? It has. But, the why remains.
Ryan B. Jackson is the executive principal of the Mt. Pleasant Arts Innovation Zone in Tennessee. He is a former film producer and English teacher whose TEDx Talk details the significance of securing student belonging in the classroom. As an English teacher, Jackson also taught AP language and composition and journalism, and he believes literacy is the bedrock of education.
With required benchmarks reached and curricular lessons accomplished, the last months of the school year often bring opportunity for both explorations of new ideas and deeper investigations of previously covered topics. These final weeks offer ideal space and time for teachers to bring in projects that can harness student interests and passions and ignite classes to take action for social good. Through advocacy and awareness campaigns, students can apply learned literacy skills and evidence understandings by researching and sharing with diverse audiences of our world.
Looking for ways to inspire your students to become instruments of positive change as global citizens? Here are programs of four literacy-based global education organizations complete with free lesson plans, alignment to standards, and connections to all areas of literacy that are ready for exploring.
Build a culture of respect with the My Name, My Identity Campaign
As our classrooms become increasingly diverse, teachers can serve as catalysts to model the great importance of properly pronouncing student names. With the My Name, My Identity Campaign, teachers can take the pledge and commit to saying student names correctly and join with a global group of passionate educators that value student cultures and heritages. Free resources and teacher guides on the website offer lessons and guided exercises for students to Investigate the World, Recognize Perspectives, Communicate Ideas, and Take Action.
Literacy activities invite and guide students to create multimedia presentations, poems, essays, and infographics to demonstrate beliefs and points-of-view. Through discussions and reflective practices, classrooms can further explore ways to recognize and appreciate perspectives of diverse audiences.
Students as creators of content to share messages through literacy
Offered as a free project-based curriculum for middle school and high school students, the Rock Your World organization highlights the importance of using creative media for students to take action on issues important in their lives. With an enter-where-you-wish curriculum, teachers and students can customize learning with standards-aligned lessons.
To begin, students can examine model advocacy campaigns, learn ways to effectively create brochures and visuals, and study presentation techniques. Based on individual interests, students can follow pathways to Make Films, Write Persuasively, or Write Songs. Each course provides modules that incorporate research, synthesis of ideas, and creation of a product for sharing. Multimodal artifacts for completion include the following:
Final student projects can be submitted for publication and then featured on the site. Students can also explore other student-created projects by searches based on cause, subject, medium, and grade level.
Positive change for people and the planet through the UN Sustainable Development Goals
In 2015, the United Nations dedicated to meeting the agenda for sustainable development by the year 2030 by carrying out work per 17 goals. These purposeful Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were developed to inspire positive change for people and the planet in areas ranging from climate change to poverty to peace and justice for all.
Inviting educators to join in this effort, the TeachSDGs Project offers ideas for classrooms to meet the call to action with students working to amplify the goals through advocacy and educational initiatives. Teachers can take the pledge to become a TeachSDGs educator and can find curated collections for each of the 17 SDGs for classroom projects that include related lessons, videos, and resources.
Simple ideas to get started in connecting students to the SDGs are shared with tips such as printing out the free SDG full-color poster in your classroom to prompt discussions. Teachers connected on Twitter can also follow and use the hashtag #TeachSDGs to see ideas shared by educators in classrooms from around the world.
Examine stories of our world and create your own global message
Through photo essays, film, articles, and interviews with people of our world, the Global Oneness Project explores cultural, social, and environmental issues within our global society. Capturing international stories through a humanistic lens, lessons provide opportunity for students to look into the lives of people in distant and not-so-distant lands. Teachers and students can select from Collections that range from topics centered on nature to climate change to inspiring people, or they can choose individual lessons that provide approaches to learning that incorporate critical thinking and active engagement.
Check out these beautiful, multicultural stories of people of our world: Flamenco: A Cross-Cultural Art Form, Marie’s Dictionary: Recording a Dying Language, Melting Away: Witnessing Icebergs, Cross Borders: A Refugee Story. Each lesson is organized for teachers with key ideas, themes, listings of materials, and directions for planning/preparation. Students can engage in personal ways with stories, offered in both English and Spanish, through various literacy activities that propel ideas forward and through discussion with accompanying conversation cards and in-depth study guides.
Dr. Jennifer Williams is a globally minded educator that works with classrooms of the world to connect learning and experience through meaningful uses of technology. She is a literacy specialist and professor and serves on the Board of Directors for the International Literacy Association. You can connect with Jennifer on Twitter at @JenWilliamsEdu.