The new Finnish national core curriculum (from pre-education to the ninth grade) will be used nationwide, beginning in the school year 2016–2017. The core curriculum work, involving the expertise of educational professionals, teachers, and different societal organizations, was completed in the end 2014. At the moment, local curriculum work (based on national core curriculum) has already launched in municipalities and in schools.
Along the way, the process has drawn international attention (see articles in The Washington Post and International Education News). From our perspectives as a researcher and a senior lecturer from the University of Jyväskylä, we have our own interpretations of how the forthcoming curriculum will provide opportunities to enhance students’ digital literacies.
The most essential aspect in the curriculum reform is the shift from focusing on learning objectives related to single subjects to an emphasis on broader competencies crossing all learning in schools. The seven competence areas are as follows:
In one way or another, digital literacies are embedded into all competence areas, but most explicitly into the areas of multiliteracies and ICT.
In the curriculum, multiliteracies refer to “interpretation, composing, and evaluation of written, spoken, and multimodal texts within a rich textual environment.” Multiliteracies help students to interpret the surrounding world and to understand its cultural diversity. By producing different kinds of printed and digital texts, learners are able to express themselves by using their strengths. Teachers are expected to use meaningful and authentic texts so that students learn not only literacy skills but also the enjoyment of reading and writing.
All classroom and subject teachers are responsible for developing students’ multiliteracies, including both everyday language and disciplinary language. Further, ICT skills are an essential part of multiliteracies and other wide-ranging competencies. ICT should be embedded into all teaching so that students learn to use digital technologies to cocreate and share new knowledge as well as to interact within and across communities.
The new core curriculum offers great possibilities to develop and support students’ digital literacies and digital citizenship. Of course, the extent to which Finnish schools will be able to realize this potential is dependent upon local curriculum work, the culture of each school, and engagement of individual teachers.
The local curriculum created by teachers and other educational professionals will play a key role in specifying and localizing the broader aims of national curriculum. In this curriculum process, the aims are also transformed into concrete teaching and learning practices. The strength of the Finnish curriculum process is that it enables teachers’ engagement in the curriculum development. However, one concern is that digital literacies may receive too little attention in this transformation.
School culture greatly affects the level of innovation with which digital technologies are used in schools. That means that it’s not only the level of equipment but also the level of commitment that educators have toward developing pedagogically meaningful ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning. At its best, the school culture encourages teacher collaboration and collaborative teaching. This collaboration is essential to integrate ideas and practices across different disciplines within and across schools.
In Finland, teachers have a lot of autonomy to realize the aims of the curriculum, which introduces possibilities as well as responsibilities. Teachers can actualize the curriculum according to their own pedagogical views and their strengths as teachers. Thus, this might result in varying levels of attention to digital literacies.
In spite of some critical viewpoints, we, like most Finnish people, believe that in the long run, our teachers and schools will do well.
You can learn more about the Curriculum Reform 2016 in the March 2015 blog post by Irmeli Halinen, the head of Curriculum Development for the Finnish National Board of Education. You might also enjoy this slideshow presentation about the reform, prepared by Jorma Kauppinen, the director of the Finnish National Board of Education.
Carita Kiili, PhD, is a researcher and Sirpa Eskelä-Haapanen, PhD, is a senior lecturer of Early Years Education. They are both at University of Jyväskylä in Finland.
Liza Flores is the amazing illustrator who created the cover for this year’s International Literacy Day Activity Kit. Her delicate work in cut paper has been used in children’s books and in art exhibitions, but she doesn’t stop there. She is also one third of Studio Dialogo, a design firm in the Philippines.
You studied Visual Communication (Fine Arts) in college. Did you always want to be an illustrator?
I have always loved drawing, but it never occurred to me that illustrating can be a career until college. It was only when I saw an exhibition of children’s book illustrations did I realize that real people made books!
The paper cutout technique you use seems so intricate. How much time do you usually have to complete your illustrations?
It depends on the size and the complexity of the illustration. A page for a book can take a day. The biggest I made was 4-by-5 feet. Those took me about a month each.
Between Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan (Ang INK), the only association of Filipino children’s book illustrators, and Studio Dialogo, your design company, you are always working with other artists. What do you enjoy about working in such a collaborative industry?
The idea that one problem or opportunity can be addressed in many ways is what excites me about working in the creative industry. Each person (or artist) brings in something new and different to the table. I enjoy the challenge of figuring out how to bring so many ideas and talents together towards a common goal. There’s so much potential and possibilities!
How do you bring each author’s unique vision to life?
I attended a design conference several years ago, and one thing that stuck with me was, “The problem is the problem.” Which basically means the only way to solve a design problem is to figure out what the problem is. I feel the same is true with illustrating stories. I try to find the core message of the story first. Only when this is clear does the possibilities on how to visualize it opens up.
Is there a character that you have illustrated that you love most?
I illustrated a story entitled “The Star Thrower” in 2008. The character didn’t have a name. It was just a girl, but I’ve repeatedly drawn her or a version of her in other works. Because of the simplicity of the character’s form, I feel that she’s like a blank canvas. She can be anybody.
Olivia Duke is ILA’s communication assistant.
Develop a love of reading.
Nurture your reading identity.
Connect personally and deeply with characters and stories.
All these are phrases I have found myself proclaiming to students as a literacy specialist. Understanding the critical importance of devoting time to reading for pleasure, I always charged myself with helping all students see themselves as readers. Equally, as an educator, I always understood the power that modeling can have on learning. However, it was in this area that I found I was not leading by example. This is my story of how I rediscovered my reading identity through friendship, connection, and a lifelong love of reading.
In February, as I was approaching my birthday and setting goals for the year, I suddenly realized I had lost touch with my connection to books. Though I was constantly reading educational research for my doctorate program and buying every professional development book I could to help me learn and grow as an educator, I was no longer the read-for-fun-and-enjoyment reader I had been years before. As a literacy specialist, this went against everything I knew of the importance of reading for enjoyment. So I decided at that moment I wanted to reunite with my dormant reading identity.
Energized by my mission to find great new titles, I woke up on a Saturday morning and sent out a simple tweet asking for any good book recommendations. Soon after, my friend on Twitter, Sean Gaillard, a high school principal and former English teacher, responded with a suggestion. Within the hour, fellow educators Lena Marie Rockwood and Connie Rockow also joined the conversation. Soon we were taking our conversation on books to a group direct message. By that afternoon, though we were states away from one another, we each were at our own local bookstores, messaging together with sheer excitement and joy. Four people who had never met were connected and inspired around the topic of books. Our passion was ignited!
We likened our conversation to a discussion over a virtual cup of coffee. After preparing our lists of must-read books, we decided we would challenge one another to read at least 15 minutes per day and would do a “status check” on Twitter on Sunday evenings. To make it simple, we created the chat hashtag #Read4Fun. We were set! We had our challenge, our book picks, and a date of March 1 to “meet” for the first time. This date, as it soon occurred to us, couldn’t have been more fitting, as it was World Book Day, Read Across America Day, and Dr. Seuss’s birthday! What happened next was pure “Connected Educator Magic!”
Over the week, as we were gathering our books, we had other educators express interest in joining us. When we finally got to our first chat on Sunday, we were amazed—we had hundreds of educators join in, and, within 15 minutes, we were the #1 trending topic! We had educators from all over the world joining us, and, in what felt like a moment, we went from being an inspired group to a truly ignited global community.
Over the months, extraordinary things have continued to happen with our group; it truly has been a life-changing experience. What we found was that teachers, a group who selflessly gives of themselves and constantly encourages children to find a love of reading, had often neglected to make time for themselves. Together as a #Read4Fun community of connected educators, we realized it wasn’t about having time, it was about making time!
This adventure has brought such positivity to a truly deserving group of educators, and we look forward to continuing our journey with #Read4Fun and with books this school year!
All educators are invited to join the #Read4Fun movement and share in our mission to connect with books and reading. Please visit our website for more information. The #Read4Fun “reading heroes” meet on the first and third Sundays of the month at 7:00 p.m. EDT sharing in conversations surrounding books, literacy, and teaching. Also, check out Shelfie Wednesday, where book picks are shared on Twitter and Periscope.
Jennifer Williams is the cofounder of #Read4Fun. As a literacy specialist, she is inspired by the power of books and stories of connection. Connect with her on Twitter and at the #Read4Fun chat hosted by @read4funchat.
Being literate means being able to connect the dots of learning between what we read, what we hear, and what we see. It is actually about how you create connections so that a student understands something and then once they understand it, they can do something with that knowledge. That’s the most important thing, and that’s the leap from learning something to actually become literate in it. —Marcie Craig Post, executive director, ILA
Recently, I ran across a children’s picture book that echoes Post’s message. Library Mouse by Daniel Kirk is a delightful book telling the journey of Sam, a mouse who lives in a library. Sam discovers he loves not only reading books, but also writing them. Sam starts to leave his stories in the autobiography section and students stumble upon his creations.
The students begin to wonder who wrote the stories, but Sam realizes he cannot tell the students that he, the author, is a mouse. Sam hatches a plan to show both teachers and students that they all are authors. In essence, he helps students connect the dots of learning between what they read to what they can write.
Each year, I want to do exactly what Sam does: I want to show my students that they all are authors and have the ability to “do something with [their] knowledge,” as Post states. Each year brings challenges; already this year I have back-to-school forms that say I have students who do not favor writing. To be honest, most parents say they would like to see their child grow in the area of writing. Writing often is considered the most difficult of language skills to teach. It is a tall mountain to climb, but I know we all can do it.
Writers can be motivated by talking with authors. Discussions can be arranged through Skype in the Classroom. Over the last two years, I’ve invited authors such as Jane Kohuth and Max Kornell and asked them to highlight the writing process as a guide for students as they made their way through the journey. Jane and Max were great resources who drew attention to obstacles and high points. My students referred to their feelings using the same experiences Max or Jane shared. The great advantage here is that Skype is free to use.
When planning, I plan backward. I look at my intended genre or topic and find authors who match. After finding an author, I reach out to him or her to see if he or she is available to talk with my students. Once confirmed, I allow for a week or two to prepare. My preparation includes using read-alouds of that author’s books to promote a more natural discussion.
Of course, I plant question stems such as the following:
As students share their responses, I write them down frantically so when we get to talk with the author, we will have a bank of questions and responses.
To generate excitement, I have a countdown and talk up the event. I post it on social media and tag the author and publisher to encourage others and to let the author know we are ready. I am also promoting and engaging students about what is to come. When the day arrives, I do a quick walk-through of what will happen. I remind students of their question stems and responses so when the author opens the floor for questions, my students are ready.
For those who cannot use Skype, turn that challenge into an opportunity to explore other social media platforms. Twitter allows students to connect to a myriad of sources; most authors and publishers have Twitter accounts. I created a class account for us to use to connect successfully with authors and publishers.
What are you waiting for? It is time to connect the dots between authors and students and then “do something with it.”
Allison Hogan is a primer teacher at The Episcopal School of Dallas in Texas where she teaches kindergarten and first grade. She holds a bachelor’s in communications from the University of North Florida and a graduate degree in education from Southern Methodist University, where she specialized in reading and English as a Second Language. She has been recognized as both an Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development Emerging Leader and a National Association of Independent Schools Teacher of the Future. She can be found on Twitter at @AllisonHoganESD or @PrimerESD.
Are you ready to go back to school? Build excitement for learning and new school-year adventures with these books—perfect to kick the year off to a great start!
ABC School’s For Me! Susan B. Katz. Ill. Lynn Munsinger. 2015. Scholastic.
A perfect ABC book, especially for preschoolers who are heading to school for the first time. Katz’s ABC book features an adorable class of bear cubs who are ready to learn their alphabet, read books, and color with new crayons. Read this rhyming picture book to find out what else they do during their busy school day!
Daddy’s Back-to-School Shopping Adventure. Alan Lawrence Sitomer. Ill. Abby Carter. 2015. Disney-Hyperion.
What happens when Dad takes the kids for school supplies? He’s likely to go OFF THE LIST! How can anyone resist such temptations as glow-in-the-dark glue sticks or sparkly purple wet wipes? Check out this picture book to see if Dad gives in to the kids’ wishes or if he sticks to the list!
Ollie’s Class Trip: A YES-and-NO Book. Stephanie Calmenson. Ill. Abby Carter. 2015. Holiday House.
Encourage shared reading with this book that invites new readers into the story by having them respond with YES or NO to the questions posed along the way. Will Ollie’s class go to the moon? NO! Will they visit the aquarium? YES! Complete with a Class Trip YES list at the end of the story, this book is perfect to prepare for the first field trip of the year.
Ready for School, Murphy? Brendan Murphy. 2015. Disney-Hyperion.
Murphy’s got a bad case of butterflies-in-his tummy. Or is it the heebie-jeebies? Or maybe it’s—OH NO—a computer virus?! Whatever it is, he’s pretty sure he’s too sick to go to school today. Will Murphy be able to convince his dad to let him stay home? Read this book to find out what happens!
Ginny Louise and the School Showdown.Tammi Sauer. Ill. Lynn Munsinger. 2015. Disney-Hyperion.
Dagnabbit! There’s some rowdy rule breakers at Truman Elementary, like Make-My-Day May, Destructo Dude, and Cap’n Catastrophe. These pint-sized bandits rule the school with their rule-breaking ways until Ginny Louise moves in and starts turning things around. Filled with lots of alliteration, this picture book is perfect for teaching figurative language and for getting the school year off on the right foot.
Ruby on the Outside. Nora Raleigh Baskin. 2015. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
Eleven-year-old Ruby has a pretty big secret—her mom is in jail. This is an important topic in the lives of children that is often overlooked or not discussed. Ruby’s inner struggle with whether to tell her friends the truth about her mom is at the heart of this novel about family and friendship.
Rufus the Writer. Elizabeth Bram. Ill. Chuck Groenink. 2015. Schwartz & Wade.
Build excitement for writing with this picture book about Rufus, who created his own Story Stand! Young writers might be inspired to make their own Story Stand in the classroom and create stories for their friends. This is a wonderful book to create a community of writers.
After the Bell Rings: Poems About After-School Time. Carol Diggory Shields. Ill. Paul Meisel. 2015. Dial Books for Young Readers.
Fans of Shields’s other poems about school will enjoy this new collection that features verses about common after-school activities like homework, snacks, car pools, and text messaging. Great for using as a mentor text to have middle-level learners write their own after-school poems.
Saving Mr. Terupt. Rob Buyea. 2015. Delacorte.
The kids from the first two Mr. Terupt books are getting ready to start middle school. Fans of Buyea’s series who may also be starting middle school themselves will enjoy this book that captures each character’s story through alternating chapters.
We Are All Made of Molecules. Susin Nielsen. 2015. Wendy Lamb.
When popular girl Ashley and nerdy science geek Stewart suddenly find themselves living in the same household, how will they possibly survive middle school? This novel about compromises and seeing each other’s strengths is a great way to challenge the cliques that inevitably form in middle and high schools.
Galgorithm. Aaron Kato. 2015. Simon Pulse.
High school student Shane Chambliss has finally done it—he’s figured out the secret formula for dating success that he names “the Galgorithm.” Word travels quickly, and Shane becomes the unofficial “dating guru” of Kingsview High. Filled with both hilarious and poignant moments, this book will appeal to teens experiencing their first foray into romance.
Sophomore Year Is Greek to Me. Meredith Zeitlin. 2015. G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers.
The author of Freshman Year & Other Natural Disasters is back with a new book aimed at the high school crowd. In this story, main character Zona finds herself unexpectedly spending her sophomore year of high school in Greece when her journalist dad announces that they will be living there for 6 months while he finishes a story he is writing. This book about being brave, facing new challenges, and the power of family will resonate with teen readers.
Why’d They Wear That? Fashion as the Mirror of History. Sarah Albee. 2015. National Geographic.
Nothing says “back to school” like a new outfit! This nonfiction book shows how “what people wore” was also a reflection of the era in which they lived. Filled with drawings, photos, and infographics, this is a great way to get teens excited for research.
Jennifer W. Shettel is an associate professor at Millersville University of PA, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in literacy for preservice and practicing teachers. Prior to joining the faculty at Millersville, she spent 16 years as both an elementary classroom teacher and a reading specialist.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Reading Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG)and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.