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    Lego-Infused Literacy

    By Csaba Osvath
     | Apr 20, 2017

    Group of children in bright shirts_300wThe 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_author photo_80w.jpgCsaba 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.

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    Celebrate Earth Day With Literacy Daily

    by Clare Maloney
     | Apr 19, 2017

    Young Child With Sunflower_300wEnvironmental 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.

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    Take Action for Social Good: Four End-of-Year Literacy Projects

    BY JENNIFER WILLIAMS
     | Apr 12, 2017

    TT-20170412_w200With 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

    my-name-my-identity
    Photo Credit: My Name, My Identity

    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:

    • Make Films: PSAs, documentaries, storyboarding
    • Write Persuasively: Craft persuasive letters, find balance between fact and opinion, commentaries
    • Write Songs: inspire with music, discover poetic devices in lyrics, listen to music as a Songwriter

    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

    sustainable-development-goals
    Photo Credit: United Nations

    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

    global-oneness-project
    Photo Credit: Unni Raveendranathan
    for Global Oneness Project

    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.




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    Show, Don’t Tell: Revealing Revision Through Modeled Instruction

    By Justin Stygles
     | Mar 29, 2017

    2017_03_29-TT-w300What is the most difficult component of the writing workshop for young writers?

    Take a second. Consider your response.

    In my experience, the revision stage is the toughest part.

    Maturing writers need a tremendous amount of time to brainstorm, develop, and draft ideas. Under the time constraints of pacing schedules and scripted programs, even 40 minutes per writing session seems insufficient. Revision is then relegated to a single lesson, implicitly reinforcing what students have already habitualized: write a draft, add some ideas, consider it final.

    Let's face it—revision is tedious, even defeating. To say “Take your writing to the next level” can be very ambiguous for young writers. Ultimately, I find myself wondering where the line is between writers' dependency and self-efficacy within the revision process.

    When I ask my students what they think about the revision process, here's what they tell me:

    • I've already done my best work—why do I have to change it?
    • My drafts are so bad I have to revise everything, which feels like I have to do it over again.
    • Just tell me what I need to fix.
    • Revision makes me feel bad for the things I didn't do the first time.

    Then, of course, there is always the instance when I realize that writers haven't made a single revision despite all the work I put into telling them what (and how) to revise.

    To turn the responsibility of revision over to maturing writers, I consider the writing process and how revision is a process itself, one with its own distinct and individualized functions.

    First, I show students examples of my own revisions and model how to revise a paragraph in a 10-minute session. They watch as I evaluate the sentence fluency, word choice, and often the organization of “live” pieces. (“Live” pieces are writings I am currently working on.) I model reorganization of sentences and paragraphs to show how to eliminate redundancy. I demonstrate that revision is “done in parts, leading to the whole” by showing drafts in multiple points of revision.

    The intent behind this practice is to model and establish personal experimentation within the revision process.

    The act of revision is like grouping loose puzzle pieces. Many first drafts represent a chaos of ideas. When we revise, we are trying to define the vision that those ideas become. The chaos of ideas can be cumbersome, especially if a student is new to revision or inexperienced.

    The true art of revision is fostered within the writing conference where the teacher and the student collaborate on the next draft. By breaking apart paragraphs and reorganizing sentences, the student has turned a rough draft into a piece of art that demonstrates an investment in writing. At the end of a conference, reflect on the editing changes and how they enhance the writing.

    Time must be invested in modeling and experimenting with revision because students’ writing in general and revision improve with time and deliberation. Revision, then, becomes more than a procedural step on a checklist; it is about fulfillment of a vision and a personal investment in writing and becoming a writer.

    Justin Stygles is a fifth-grade teacher at Guy E. Rowe Elementary school in Norway, ME. He has taught for 13 years at the intermediate level and in various summer program settings.

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    Looking for a Fresh, New Design for PD? Try a Residency, Part 2

    By Patty McGee
     | Mar 23, 2017

    2017_03_23-TeachingTip_W220Although most people associate a residency with learning in the medical field, I shared the value of a literacy residency in last week’s post. Here is my day-by-day plan of a four-day residency.

    Day 1: The literacy leader teaches and the participants observe

    Pre-residency meet-up

    • The literacy leader should explain her role and the purpose of the residency, using some of the information from Part 1. She should also share the plan for the week and each participant’s role in this experience.
    • Participants choose an intention for the residency as a study focus, such as integration, feedback, transfer, or independence, and share with the group.

    During the residency

    • The literacy leader teaches the entire residency block, keeping in mind the participants’ learning goals and adding comments to explain what she is teaching, why, and how.

    Debriefing the residency

    • Participants should gather and discuss the residency based on the focuses that they chose.
    • The literacy leader should prepare for the second day of the residency during which participants will take over part of the teaching.

    Day 2: The literacy leader teaches whole-group structures and the participants teach in small-group structures

    Pre-residency meet-up

    • The literacy leader shares the planned whole-group instruction and asks participants to revisit their intention of study for the residency.
    • Participants, in pairs, decide who will take on which part of the small-group teaching. For instance, one participant may take on the “research” and “teach” part of the conference while another will take on the “coaching” and “link” of the conference.

    During the residency

    • The literacy leader demonstrates whole-group teaching, which might include the minilesson, read-aloud, shared reading, or writing experience.
    • Pairs of participants work with students, holding conferences and small-group sessions and offering feedback to one another.

    Debriefing the residency

    • Participants should gather and discuss the residency in terms of the focus that they chose.
    • The literacy leader should prepare for the third day of the residency where participants will take over other parts of the teaching, including whole-group instruction.

    Day 3: The paired participants teach “their class” and the literacy leader gives feedback

    Pre-residency meet-up

    • Participant pairs decide on the parts each is responsible for teaching and tie up any loose ends before moving into the residency.

    During the residency

    • Participants, in pairs, will teach a part of the class. To clarify, if there are four teachers that are part of the residency, split the class in half. Each pair of teachers will have their own “class” that they teach from beginning to end (minilesson, conference, shared reading, etc.).
    • The literacy leader jots down feedback to share with the pairs during the debriefing.

    2017_03_23-TT-scheduleDebriefing the residency

    • The literacy leader shares the feedback with participants by passing along what she noted.
    • Participants should prepare for the final day of the residency during which each will teach individually. The literacy leader makes a schedule like the example shown.

    Day 4: Each participant teaches a portion of the residency

    Pre-residency meet-up

    • The literacy leader should set the tone for celebration Here’s some wording I use: What a week it has been! So much learning time together feels decadent and sort of like “teaching camp.” As we plan our last day together, our bigger purpose is to share our teaching gifts with one another by each taking on a part of the instruction. Think of this as a time to try out some new learning and an opportunity for the rest of us to soak up your greatness. When we do, a little piece of your teaching talent will be carried within each of us every day.
    • 2017_03_23-TT-feedbackThe literacy leader should share the feedback method. Each participant will write a note to the others about what she or he admires about another participant’s teaching. Here’s an example of one participant’s feedback.

    During the residency

    • Participants teach while others observe and jot down feedback.

    Debriefing the residency

    • Participants share the notes with one another and take one final moment to share what they have learned throughout the week.
    • Participants write a note to the students to share their gratitude for the chance to learn in their classrooms.

    Teachers have described residencies as transformative. A residency holds incredible power for teacher-learners who are looking for the next step in professional learning, are eager to integrate all they know about literacy instruction, and are looking to grow a community of teachers who learn from one another.

    McGee_w80Patty McGee is a literacy consultant whose passion and vision is to create learning environments where teachers and students discover their true potential and power. She is the author of Feedback That Moves Writers Forward: How to Escape Correcting Mode to Transform Student Writing (Corwin 2017). Patty’s favorite moments are when groups of teachers are working collaboratively with students in the classroom.

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