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    Dismantling Hate, Assembling Community: Growing a Critical Professional Learning Network

    Cassie J. Brownell
     | Aug 18, 2017

    PLN CharlottesvilleAs I sit here writing this post, my heart is once again heavy with the hate displayed in Charlottesville since Friday night. I replay the sounds and images that flashed across my social media feeds last weekend: white men chanting Nazi-era slogans, people carrying torches and confederate flags, the face of a young woman who died defending social justice.

    As a white woman, I know that the work of dismantling the system of white supremacy that flashed across television screens this weekend is not for my friends, family, or colleagues who identify as part of a marginalized group. Rather, this is an undertaking for my white peers across the country, for me, and especially for educators.

    As a former elementary educator in post-Katrina New Orleans and now as a researcher in a racially and linguistically diverse Midwestern school, I know that discussing instances of racially motivated violence in the classroom can feel overwhelming, scary, and uncomfortable. Yet, to not take a critical stance on such issues and to engage the children and young people in our classrooms in such conversations is similar to covering a damaged floor with a beautiful rug—without seeing it, we can pretend that it is not there. In the same way that it takes effort to repair a damaged floor, we must roll up our sleeves to address these realities if we ever wish to make progress.

    For classroom teachers, especially those working in an environment wherein colleagues or students actively voice racist, derogatory, or other hateful views, the idea I am presenting likely feels impossible. I would suggest, however, that this is where technology in literacy education may serve us well. Since leaving the classroom five years ago, I have learned from many teachers and scholars online through Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

    Like many of the practitioners I follow, I have developed a professional learning network (PLNs) by participating in frequent Twitter chats and by following teachers on Instagram. Often the content they share addresses specific needs related to discipline or grade-level. Educational scholars have taken to Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and podcasts to make research more accessible to PK–12 educators.

    Brownell Twitter 1

    When events like Charlottesville occur, many PK–12 and university professionals are quick to share resources for how and why educators must discuss current events with their students. Among the more well-known resources is the Southern Poverty Law Center's Teaching Tolerance, which provides free resources to help educators integrate social justice, anti-bias, and anti-racism education into their curricula. Yet, the rapid change in technology during the last ten years has also allowed for more creative sharing of collective resources. In the aftermath of recent violent acts, various texts, videos, activities, research papers, syllabi, and other resources have been crowdsourced using the hashtag  #CharlottesvilleCurriculum

    Brownell Twitter 2

    Not only does this hashtag provide me with materials to use in my own classroom or to share with colleagues, but I frequently grow my PLN as I find individuals willing to challenge the status quo and confront white supremacy head-on. Alternatively, I begin to follow others based on suggestions from peers within and beyond education. Through growing my PLN in this way, I have come across more creative ways to engage my students in these critical discussions.

    Brownell Twitter 3

    Now, perhaps more than ever before, there are resources readily available for educators—especially my white peers—to discuss critical issues related to race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, ability, etc. With so many materials at hand, we cannot say we do not know how to talk to the children and young adults in our classrooms about such issues. Rather, we must take the time to educate ourselves, to grow our PLN, and to prepare. As a recent addition to my PLN noted, “These kids that we teach, they are going to grow up one day. And what we do in our classrooms matters."

    Cassie BrownellCassie J. Brownell is a doctoral candidate and Marianne Amarel Teaching and Teacher Education Fellow in the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University. A corecipient of a 2015 NCTE-CEE Research Initiative Grant, Cassie’s most recent collaborative project—#hearmyhome—explores how writing with and through sound might help students and teachers attune toward literacies and communities of difference.

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    Personalizing Your PD

    By Willona M. Sloan
     | Aug 16, 2017

    Personalizing Your PDBudgets for professional development (PD) have been shrinking for years despite the fact that no one denies the critical importance of PD for educators’ success. These days, in order to continue their professional learning, many teachers have to get creative.

    Thankfully, there are several budget-friendly options that literacy educators can rely on, even when faced with limited funding.

    Digital tools

    Digital platforms make it easy to connect with anyone, anywhere, build a professional learning network (PLN), and get the learning you need when you need it.

    Coaching

    Using cloud coaching, or virtual coaching, school districts can provide differentiated PD for literacy educators. “At a time when school districts may not have the resources to hire a full-time instructional coach or afford ongoing professional development, cloud coaching is an effective and innovative alternative to reduce teacher stress and empower literacy leadership,” says Julie Wise, literacy coach, consultant, and member of ILA’s Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group.

    School districts are using free platforms such as Skype and Google Hangout, or low-cost options such as Zoom and GoToMeeting, to provide teachers with access to support coaches as well as authors, experts, and other educators.

    Another trend is the hybrid online course/coaching support package. This can include the coach assessing educators’ videotaped lesson plans and offering timely feedback. Without the need for travel costs, substitute teachers, or any of the other traditional PD expenses, these options open up new avenues.

    Collaboration

    Free digital tools that allow for collaboration are trending for good reason. For example, Wise notes that some districts have started using Google Classroom to create online PD sessions where educators can post their assignments and lesson plans, upload student samples, and engage in ongoing discussions.

    Twitter is a powerful tool for motivated educators and a great way to build and converse with PLN members. Literacy educators are participating in ILA’s #ILAchat as well as #engchat and #titletalk, and even starting their own hashtags. Educators also use messaging apps like Voxer and Slack for sharing articles, podcasts, and other resources.

    “The trend is virtual, online professional development,” Wise says. “We’re talking about differentiated, on-demand professional development where teachers are actually able to select the specific support that they need, whether it’s one-on-one coaching, someone watching and observing them, or working with an entire group of people.”

    Micro-credentialing

    Many school districts don’t have funding to pay for educators to earn new credentials. Enter micro-credentialing, a new way of valuing the experience and professional learning educators have achieved.

    Educators can choose from more than 250 micro-credentials that explore different competencies and prepare the required evidence for evaluation to demonstrate mastery of the selected competencies.

    One organization that offers micro-credentials is the nonprofit Digital Promise. “Micro-credentialing is a professional learning tool that recognizes educators for the skills they develop that are critical to effective teaching,” says Digital Promise’s Jennifer Kabaker, director of Educator Micro-credentials. “Micro-credentials support educators who are committed to continuous professional learning and Digital Promise is working with districts and states across the country to incorporate micro-credentials into professional development structures.”

    Digital Promise uses the BloomBoard platform to offer its micro-credentialing. Using the platform is currently free, and literacy-focused micro-credentials include Introducing Digital Literacy Tools and Media Literacy.

    Edcamps

    Edcamps aren’t new, but they remain a growing trend for teachers who want to take control of their learning. The events are free, teacher-led, and entirely participant-driven. Edcamp Literacy was part of the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits! Learn more here.

    Shannon Montague felt so fired up by the first Edcamp she attended that she co-founded Edcamp Baltimore in 2012. “[Edcamps] have been an ongoing trend because they’re clearly something that is working for professionals,” says Montague, middle school dean of students at Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, MD, and an Edcamp Foundation board member.

    Last summer, Edcamp Maryland hosted an ELA/literacy-focused event that addressed topics such as guided reading and rotations for primary grades, inclusion and differentiation, and student publishing.

    “If you trust in your teachers and you believe in your teachers, then you should let them be in control of their learning,” says Colby Sharp, a third-grade teacher at Parma Elementary School in Michigan and a cofounder of nErDcamp, an Edcamp offshoot. “We have to empower teachers to be great and give them an opportunity to learn about the things that they’re passionate about.”

    Find what works for you

    These trends prove that no matter what your budget, there is some form of PD available to fit your needs. Self-directed literacy educators can build their skills by taking advantage of any of these low-cost PD options or taking one of the ideas and tailoring it specifically to their school’s needs.

    Wilona SloanWillona M. Sloan is a writer, editor, and literary host from Washington, DC. She has written for numerous publications, covering topics in K–12 education


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    Revisiting Technology-Enhanced Instruction

    By Kimberly Lilly and Michael Putman
     | Aug 11, 2017

    Tech InstructionIn thinking about the upcoming school year, we believe most teachers would agree that our students, especially tweens and teens, have been using technology all summer long: reading and writing posts to Instagram, texting, watching videos on YouTube, or scouring the Internet for information about Zendaya or Tom Holland. This would be consistent with a recent Pew Research Center study that found 92% of teens are online daily. It has also been reported that tweens and teens actually use screen media for an average of over four and six hours per day, respectively. While a large percentage of that time is spent on television, the report identified distinct patterns of use. While both groups indicated a preference for watching online videos, tweens were more likely to play mobile games, and teens engaged with social media daily.

    Leveraging technology for learning

    Despite students’ inclination to informally use technology to read, write, and communicate, a recent survey found a large percentage of teachers use it for drill, review, or practice exercises. Given our roles as teachers, it is important we move beyond drill and practice and look for ways to leverage the skills and engagement exhibited by students with instruction incorporating authentic uses of technology. In other words, potentially leveraging technology for higher level thinking or to produce an artifact—something that is still not widely practiced. This requires moving beyond simply incorporating technology into our instruction to thinking about how it can be transformative. Doing so will effectively prepare students for success in the digital world.

    We know many of you are already planning activities for the students that will soon enter your doors. Yet, the last few weeks (or hours) of summer may offer opportunities to reflect on the ways students use technology for creation, rather than consumption. Both Bloom’s (Revised) Digital Taxonomy and the SAMR model are helpful in this process. Thinking about how you create opportunities for higher level thinking or transformative instruction will likely lead to authentic applications of technology that involve your students in reading, writing, and communicating for real purposes and audiences. Considering the two simultaneously may help rejuvenate previous lessons as you consider both the level of thinking, as well as the related purpose of technology (see discussions of this here and here).

    Once you have thought about the “big picture,” it may be time to revisit the tools you are currently using. While there are many tools that remain relevant, including PadletVoiceThread, and Storybird, this site presents resources directly applicable to Bloom's and SAMR. Given the popularity of Instagram, here are a number of uses for the popular social networking tool in the classroom. Pablo allows students to add a phrase over a picture, which can be useful in creating pictures or memes to share on Instagram or Snapchat. For the YouTubers in your class, Biteable is a tool (similar to Voki and others) students can use to create animated videos from scratch or from an editable, premade template. Willing to try Twitter? Check out this presentation that provides a number of authentic, creative uses.

    Join the conversation

    Rethinking our use of technology is not always easy, but social media can be helpful. If you are on Twitter, check out @JenRoberts1, @techlearning, @wiobyrne, and @Alex_Corbitt for a few ideas. We’d also like to hear from you: How will you use technology in your classroom this year? Which apps or tools do you plan to integrate? Share your thoughts on Twitter using #newtechthisyear. We look forward to seeing your questions and ideas!

    Kimberly LillyKimberly Lilly is a seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher in the Onslow County School System of North Carolina. She has nine years of teaching experience, holds a bachelor's degree in middle grades education, and is currently pursuing her master's degree at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

    Mike PutnamS. Michael Putman, PhD, is a professor and the chairperson of the Reading and Elementary Education Department at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His areas of research include the impact of teacher preparation and professional development on teacher self-efficacy; student dispositions toward online inquiry; and the effective use of technology within teaching practices.

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

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    Six Ways to Plan for Digital Literacies Learning

    By Michelle Schira Hagerman
     | Jul 28, 2017

    Digital Literacies LearningSummer is the time when teachers recharge and set priorities for the next school year. As a teacher educator and digital literacies researcher, I’ve been using my “downtime” this week to synthesize a set of recommendations, grounded in evidence, that seem most important to share with the inservice teachers, graduate students, and teacher candidates I'll be working with during the 2017–2018 academic year.

    I hope this list helps you to set priorities and reflect on what you can do to support digital literacies learning in your classroom this year.

    • Use definitions of (digital) literacies to guide pedagogical design: There are many definitions of digital literacies to guide instructional practice (see definitions by Lankshear & Knobel, Spires, Bartlett, Garry and Quick, and the British Columbia Ministry of Education for three helpful examples) and in this TILE-SIG blog, authors have written about conceptalizations of digital literacies many times (see recent posts by Maha Bali, Ian O’Byrne, Paul Morsink for examples). For me, ILA’s recent definition of literacy is a helpful instructional touchstone. If literacy is “the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, compute, and communicate using visual, audible, and digital materials across disciplines and in any context,” then instructional planning should include activities that teach skills (e.g., identifying relevant information in a range of texts or critically evaluating trustworthiness on the search engine results page), social practices (e.g., using hashtags in social media messaging) and communications mediums (e.g., blogging and podcasting) with digital technologies.
    • Plan for online: Online inquiry projects driven by students’ own questions about a topic are ideally suited to scaffolding development of many digital literacies skills, strategies, and dispositions through iterative cycles of information seeking, evaluation, synthesis and creation, research shows. Importantly, much of the preparation for successful online inquiry happens before students touch the keyboard. Students need time to develop researchable questions, to generate lists of helpful search engine keywords that they predict will return relevant, reliable results, and to discuss how the questions and their communicative purposes will inform their choices during online research. Preparing students to stay focused on their inquiry and communicative goals can frame their online inquiry, equipping them to quickly skim and scan for information that is most likely to meet their needs. 
    • Integrate making: According to research, when students learn to design and create digital and physical products (e.g., 3D designs for printing or laser cutting or e-textile projects) they develop new understandings of how digital systems work and begin to see themselves as powerful digital creators. For ideas and resources on how to integrate digital making into your curriculum, check out resources from Agency by Design, Make Magazine and those developed by range of research labs and nonprofit organizations dedicated to coding, making, and digital innovation in classrooms.
    • Integrate video production: Work by many scholars including Suzanne Miller, Jason Ranker, and Diane Watt shows that video production can be a powerful instructional tool to empower youth and encourage creativity. When students produce videos about themselves, or about an issue that is relevant to their lives, they (re)write their own stories, show the world who they are, what they believe, and what they can do. 
    • Plan for multiple projects on multiple topics for multiple audiences and purposes over time: A single project is never enough. Don’t assume that students’ out-of-school social networking and Internet use activities necessarily develop the complex literacies skills that students need to use, create and communicate via digital texts in any context. To see evidence of students’ growth in digital literacies skills and practices, you will need to create a range of opportunities for students to use digital information, create digital texts and to participate in a range of digital literacies contexts over time. This year, your students could create screencasts in which they describe a problem-solving process, create multimodal posters on a topic of curricular relevance, collaborate to develop and maintain a resource-filled classroom hashtag on a social networking site, design infographics, create a computer program using Scratch, or produce a website or a vlog. 
    • Encourage an evaluative stance: Evidence from offline and online reading research suggests that students who understand knowledge as a human construction, who know that information serves ideological or economic interests, and understand how messages are constructed to influence, persuade, or further an ideological position are better equipped to question the trustworthiness of a text and to hold information as contingent as they seek out other evidence. Recent work by the Stanford History Education group suggests that even students attending elite colleges may not be able to detect fake news. Plan for activities that emphasize evaluation to prepare students to question authorship and the interests driving information this year.

    Michelle HagermanMichelle Schira Hagerman is an assistant professor of educational technology at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Canada where she also directs the Canadian Institute for Digital Literacies Learning

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

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    Sharing Books Across Miles: The Global Read Aloud Project

    By Terry Atkinson
     | Jul 21, 2017

    Global Read Aloud Some of Erin Kessel's fourth graders have never left their rural North Carolina hometown, or even ventured to the nearest beach just an hour-and-a-half away. This fact is a major motivator for their participation in the Global Read Aloud (GRA), which allows “Kessel’s Crew” to connect virtually with students in faraway classrooms to read and share their ideas about the very same book. Conceived by seventh-grade teacher, author, and blogger Pernille Ripp, the Global Read Aloud has grown from its 2010 start with 150 students to among more than one million K-12 readers in 2017. In her September 2015 ILA chat, Ripp discussed the project’s beginnings and its continuing evolution.

    Erin, a four-year GRA veteran, has connected her students with classrooms in three Canadian provinces and in Sunbury, Victoria, Australia to share their ideas about Marty McGuire, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Fish in a Tree, and The BFG. She and her students will join Global Read Aloud 2017 this October. After selecting a book study that's best suited for her students, Erin will connect with another teacher with similar interests through GRA’s Edmodo network. Together, they will decide how and through what venues their students will communicate. 

    As a tech innovator in her school, Erin’s early GRA interest was linked with a grant-funded 1:1 Chromebook project meant to integrate global awareness, digital literacy, and technology within her literacy block. However, one of GRA's strongest assets is that teachers can employ whatever tech tools fit their comfort levels. In fact, her maiden voyage relied only on Edmodo, Skype, and “old school snail mail” to deliver a North Carolina-style care package to their classroom partners.

    Erin and her students report huge payoffs from connecting with classrooms across the world, echoing benefits documented by expert sources such as the Center for Global Education. In addition to learning about tech apps and programs from other teachers, Erin signed on to GRA with the main goal of opening doors to the world for her rural students. “I want to ensure my students have an open mind about all people in our world and not just a stereotype based on what they see on TV or hear on the news. Allowing students to actively communicate and even see students from around the world and realize the commonalities that they share allows my students to create their own opinions of other's cultures and allows them to realize that although we may be different in some ways, we are all humans with the same purposes in life.”

     Autumn, a student who had not traveled outside of her hometown, said “The kids we talk to have the same interests as me…they even like Barbies and play video games! I thought since they spoke another language that they didn't do the same things as us.”

    As these examples illustrate, using literature to forge connections across cultures has huge potential to promote empathy and unity, foster cross-cultural friendships, and help students gain greater understandings about the global community by looking more critically at the world.

    Ready to take the leap? Erin encourages other literacy teachers by sharing her experiences and mentoring teachers who are new to GRA. Her first-time suggestions include:

    • Setting attainable tech expectations
    • Trying GRA with a small group of students before launching with the whole class
    • Partnering with another grade-level classroom in your own school
    • Being mindful of international time zones if you wish to connect live with international classroom partners
    • Collaborating with only one class partner (GRA allows collaboration with multiple classrooms reading the same book)
    • Considering the demands of adhering to the six-week timeline involved

    terry atkinson headshotTerry S. Atkinson is an associate professor in the Department of Literacy Studies, English Education, and History Education at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC.

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