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    Rethinking Literacy in 2017

    By Verena Robert and Susan Noble
     | Oct 13, 2017

    Literacy in 2017In a 2012 Journal of Literacy Research article titled, "Rereading 'A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies'," authors Kevin Leander and Gail Boldt urge educators to move from a perspective on literacy as passive consumption of texts to understanding and enacting intentional literacy practices. How students communicate and access meaning in 2017 is not always demonstrated by reading a text or writing a sentence.

    How do students experience multimodal literacies throughout the day, every day? Let’s follow the usual morning routine for one 12-year-old student, Will.      

    Will was nervous about the first day of seventh grade. His school had emailed his parents a welcome letter along with his schedule, list of required school supplies, and first day reminders. The night before school started, Will’s mom read this on her computer. Across the table, Will watched a fellow student’s YouTube channel, where she video blogged, or “vlogged,” about her first day nervousness. He looked up from his iPhone to share what his fellow student said with his mom, and to say how relieved he was that others felt the same way.

    Will’s mom noted that there would be no school buses for seventh grade. Together, Will and his mom used a public transit app to configure his journey on the first day of school. While Will checked out four possible routes, his mom connected to a social media group that was created to support the parents and caregivers of seventh graders. That night, Will went to sleep knowing what to expect, how to get to school, and that everyone else was feeling anxious as well.

    Will wakes up to his iPhone playing a popular song. As he walks to the kitchen for breakfast, he reads over the weather alerts, Buzzfeed notifications, and texts from his friends. Will laughs as his friend John sends out a musical invite encouraging his “fans” to watch him comb his hair on the first day of school. Will types a quick comment to his friend telling him that he looks great and will see him at school.  As he sits down to eat breakfast, his phone reminds him that his citizens are going to revolt if he doesn’t get more food. Will jumps into his SimCity app to keep his virtual society happy for the day. Will finds his Fitbit as he has a soccer practice after school and wants to ensure he reaches 10,000 steps by dinner time. He has been tracking his steps as well as his heart beat at soccer practices, as he thinks his coach is making them run too much.

    When Will gets on the bus, his friend John pulls out his phone to show Will pictures of possible new hairstyles. John had already posted various remixes of “possible John with this hair” images on Instagram and Snapchat, and he was watching to see which photos were getting the most likes. Sandra (the vlogger) introduces Will to her cousin from Mexico, and Will quickly uses a translator app on his iPhone to welcome her to Canada.

    Finally, Will arrives at school, throws his bag in his locker and rushes to class. As he enters his classroom his teacher greets him with a warm hello, then asks him to put his cell phone in a basket. He will get it back at the end of class. The teacher then starts the class by saying, “Take out a piece of paper, and write a 500-word paragraph that describes who you are.” Will looks longingly over at his phone and considers the photos, videos, texts, games, apps that help describe who he is. Then he turns back to his paper and dutifully writes his paragraph. As the bell rings for the class, Will hands in his assignment and takes his phone out of the basket.  

    Did Will’s teacher miss out on an opportunity to learn more about the “real” Will? How can we, as educators, best integrate text focused and multimodal literacies in our learning environments? What are you doing?

    Verena RobertVerena Robert is a doctoral student at the University of Calgary and an educational technology learning specialist at Rocky View Schools.



    Susan NobleSusan Noble
    is a master’s student at the University of Calgary and a literacy learning specialist at Rocky View Schools.


    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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    Cultivating Classroom Community Through the WRITE Method

    By Carrice Cummins, Kimberly Kimbell-Lopez, and Elizabeth Manning
     | Oct 06, 2017

    2017_03_30-DL-300wAs we move forward in the new school year, we strive to help students continue to learn about each other and to foster a strong classroom community. This can be done using WRITE, a five-step process that employs digital tools and resources to help students share their stories. You will find that students will quickly become engaged as they use technology to move through each step.

    W: What to Write

    R: Research

    I: Initial Draft

    T: Two Kinds of Editing

    E: Extend to an Audience

    What to write

    During stage one, deciding what to write, students will tell their life stories. They can start this project by creating a timeline to detail their key life events. Using ReadWriteThink’s Timeline Generator or Sutori, students can import picture slides into movie software and add voice narration and background music. The idea of sharing content is not unfamiliar to your students as they do this on a regular basis through their interaction in social media platforms (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, My Story, etc.).

    Research

    The research stage requires students to locate pictures that illustrate their story. For hard copies of pictures, students or parents can take a picture with a cell phone then either air drop, message, or email the picture so it can be saved to a folder on the computer they are using for this project. Sometimes, the quality of the picture is lost when a picture is taken of the picture. If that is an issue, CamScanner can be used to scan pictures so that picture quality stays intact. 

    Initial draft

    The initial draft stage involves students inserting their pictures into Google slides, Microsoft PowerPoint, or Apple Keynote.  Each key event from their timeline becomes a slide in the slideshow. The title of the slide can be the significant date (e.g., August 3, 2008) while the subtitle could be a brief description of the key event (e.g., Best birthday presenter ever—my dog, Chica!). Students insert the corresponding picture to the slide, then they write a script that elaborates more on the key event (e.g., This was probably my favorite birthday of all times. Mom and Dad gave me my very own puppy.  I named her Chica, and we go everywhere together.) 

    Two kinds of editing

    During the fourth stage, students perform two kinds of editing: editing for content and editing for CUPS (capitalization, usage, punctuation, and spelling). For both editing tasks, students can work in small teams and edit each other’s slideshows for the following content elements:

    • Title: Date included on slide
    • Subtitle: Brief description of key event
    • Picture: Reflects the key event
    • Script: Additional information about the key event

    Any feedback from the peer reviewers can be provided using the comment option in Google Slides, Microsoft Office, or Apple Keynote. During CUPS editing, the peer reviewer checks the work for capitalization, usage, punctuation, or spelling errors. If errors are found, then the peer reviewer adds a comment. Once this review cycle is finished, each student revisits their slideshow and script to make any needed corrections.

    Extend

    During the last stage of the WRITE process, students have the opportunity to publish their life story as a movie. Students import their pictures into Apple iMovie or Windows MovieMaker, and then use their script and add voice narration to provide the additional information for each key life event they shared. The last step is to add a remix of music that plays in the background.  Once completed, these life story movies can be shared with the rest of the class so they can learn more about other members of their classroom learning community.

    Community building is a critical component of a strong student-centered, collaborative learning environment. Students can only learn and grow when they feel that they can take a risk and try something new without fear of judgment or ridicule. This project allows students to recognize and to appreciate that they each have a story to tell and that the community of the classroom would be incomplete without each one. In a classroom with a strong community spirit, there is a sense of encouragement, understanding, and empathy. This type of technology integration is a way to allow students to express themselves using a digital fingerprint while building interpersonal connections with their classmates.

    Carrice Cummins is a professor in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Leadership in the College of Education at Louisiana Tech University. She has over 40 years’ experience as an educator with primary areas of interest in comprehension, content area literacy, and teacher development. She served as the 2012-13 president of the International Reading Association.

    Kimberly Kimbell-Lopez is a professor in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Leadership in the College of Education at Louisiana Tech University. She has been an educator for over 30 years, and her areas of expertise include literacy and technology.

    Elizabeth Manning is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction, and Leadership in the College of Education at Louisiana Tech University. A veteran K-8 teacher of over 25 years, her areas of interest include content area literacy, writing workshop, and curriculum design and development.

    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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    Blogging in the Elementary Classroom

    By Susan Luft
     | Sep 29, 2017

    Students BloggingIt’s September, spirits and motivation are high, and most quality assignments seem to be well-received. Still, when a group of teachers approached me about introducing our elementary school students to blogging, I proceeded with caution. Sure, the students want to set up their blog site, find flashy themes with cool wallpaper, and add widgets that teachers were not aware even existed—but what is the real purpose of a student blog? Is it simply a container to fill with a year’s worth of assignments made public, or is it a writing tool that gives agency, voice, and community to its creator? I believe it is the latter.

    Working together, we decided to approach the work of blogging with students as a genre study. We set to create a series of blogging lessons that we used inquiry to define the common features of the medium and then developed and curated a set of mentor texts. What we found was that blogs, or weblogs, are unique.

    So, what are the characteristics that define the genre of blogging? We observed that most blogs are:

    • Public
    • Short
    • Specialized in an area of interest or expertise
    • Personal and informal
    • Interactive (allowing for feedback and conversations)
    • Frequently updated
    • Unstructured (can be incomplete, open-ended, and ongoing)
    • Multimodal
    • Varied in format

    When we study blogging with our students, we give them opportunity to study different features and formats of digital communication, as well as concepts such as digital citizenship, digital identity, and critical literacy. Furthermore, blogging is motivating for young learners; recent research shows that students who create their own blogs are motivated to write both inside and outside of the classroom.

    Through blogging, educators can help students build capacity to communicate with broader audiences and to understand the features of electronic communication. These skills can be developed at a very young age as the ability to manipulate digital text begins as early as kindergarten. As New York-based educators bid farewell to the Common Core State Standards and embrace the recently adopted New York State Next Generation English Language Arts Learning Standards, with its focus on 21st-century learning, now is as good a time as any to begin blogging with your students. 

    Susan Luft is an elementary English language arts coordinator for Scarsdale Public Schools, New York, and an adjunct professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Education. Luft is also a member of the Digital Literacy Collaborative project.

    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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    Confronting Harmful Discourses in the Classroom

    By Ian O'Byrne
     | Sep 22, 2017

    Harmful DiscoursesThe intersections between learning, technology, and media are often scenes of tumult and change. These digital texts and tools provide groundbreaking opportunities to communicate and access information that cannot be underestimated. Sadly, however, they also enable people to spread hate, vitriolic language, and bigotry—harmful discourses that are often embedded with elements of harassment, threat, cyberbullying, and trolling. Today’s educators struggle with how to discuss these trends that affect youth learning and engagement in myriad, global contexts.

    In the context of recent events, we need to be cognizant that children and young adults (and their educators) are watching and learning from these interactions. Children may be exposed to harmful discourses or hate speech as they read or communicate online. In an Edutopia article, author Jinnie Spiegler defines online hate speech as “the use of electronic communications technology to spread bigoted or hateful messages or information about people based on their actual (or perceived) race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or similar characteristic.” After encountering these messages, students may bring them into our buildings and disseminate them.

    What to do

    There are several ways educators can address harmful discourse if it enters the classroom. The first step is to observe the culture of your classroom and school campus. It’s also important to keep in mind the age and developmental level of students before working to address challenging content. You’ll want to make sure that your response is appropriate, direct, and devoid of your own bias, perspective, or judgement.

    In The Educator's Playbook, professor Howard C. Stevenson suggests four steps that educators can take to confront hate speech at school:

    • Start with you: Process your own feelings, and address your own vulnerabilities before entering the classroom. Develop a support system with your colleagues. Review school and district policies as they relate to these issues.
    • Practice: Classroom reactions usually happen in a split second. Prepare yourself for these instances by role-playing with colleagues in your building, or online with your professional learning network.
    • After an incident: Resist the urge to condemn the action or content. First try to understand the motivation if is disseminated through your classroom or building. Allow the school’s code of conduct to address instances where students actively spread this information. Strongly explain to students that these harmful discourses and the messages being spread about individuals and groups are not accepted. You will not accept the silencing of voices.
    • Keep talking: After these events, the best course of action is to keep talking. Difficult discussions will often ensue, but children and adults alike need to be able to process their feelings and reactions. This is an opportunity to shut down and be silent, or engage and promote change.

    Proactive curriculum

    There is also a wealth of resources available online to help address these harmful discourses before they enter your classroom or school campus. Teaching Tolerance offers a guide for administrators, counselors, and teachers on “Responding to Hate and Bias at School” as well as how to “Speak Up at School” about prejudice, bias, and stereotypes. Edutopia also provides a collection of resources to help you learn more about Internet safety, cyberbullying, and media literacy.

    If you want to be really proactive, Common Sense Education published an Anti-Cyberbullying Toolkit to help protect your school’s culture and community. The organization also offers Scope & Sequence, a digital citizenship curriculum that includes videos, interactive activities, assessments, professional learning, family outreach materials, and grade-level specific lesson plans on topics such as “Show Respect Online,” “Cyberbullying: Be Upstanding,” and “Breaking Down Hate Speech.”

    Counteract harmful discourses

    It is imperative that we explore how information and technology shapes the contours of the spaces in which learning takes place. Within these contexts, there are also broader civic, educative, and social-emotional concerns arising in national and international contexts. As educators, it is our role of to work with youth to identify best ways for youth to safely learn, engage, and connect online. Our future needs individuals that are more informed, literate citizens that educate themselves and others as to the need for new, helpful discursive practices.

    Ian O'Byrne is an internationally recognized educator, researcher, and presenter. His research investigates the literacy practices of individuals in online and hybrid spaces. Ian’s work can be found on his website. His weekly newsletter focuses on the intersections between technology, education, and literacy. Ian is an assistant professor of Literacy Education at the College of Charleston.

    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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    Overcoming the Digital Divide, Step Four: Advocate

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Sep 20, 2017

    KEYSPOTThis is the final installment of a four-part, how-to blog series on overcoming the digital divide, an extension of ILA’s recent brief.

    Too often, education policy changes are made without consulting those who are most attuned the everyday realities of today’s students—the teachers themselves.

    Teacher ownership is a powerful construct with the potential to create meaningful change in schools and systems. As state departments of education revise accountability systems to meet the new requirements of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), now, more than ever, teachers have opportunities to contribute to these changes as architects—not just as implementers.

    Using the City of Philadelphia as a case study, and advice from Jennifer Kobrin, director of digital initiatives for the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Adult Education (formerly the Mayor’s Commission on Literacy), we outlined how teachers can take on a greater role in addressing digital equity challenges.

    If the poorest big city in the United States can bring digital support fellows, technology integration specialists, and high-speed Internet access to its school district, so can your city. Here’s how.

    Leverage community partnerships

    Kobrin, who formerly served as senior director at nonprofit Foundations, Inc., and a content specialist at the U.S. Department of Education initiative You4Youth, says coalitions facilitate the sharing of community resources while lending visibility and credibility to individual members. She has demonstrated the value of coalition building in her own work with KEYSPOT, a network of public, private, and nonprofit organizations that provide technology, training, and other opportunities through more than 50 public access centers.

    “I think it’s really all about building partnerships with other organizations in the community,” says Kobrin. “When that grant opportunity comes along, they like to see really well-defined partnerships and know that you’re not working in isolation.”

    Before you mobilize, look at the efforts that are already underway and identify areas where collaboration makes sense. For example, the School District of Philadelphia is a part of the Digital Literacy Alliance, a coalition of 19 diverse stakeholders, including government entities, telecommunications companies, media agencies, universities, nonprofits, and more, that are all working to alleviate the digital divide in Philadelphia.

    The Open Technology Institute found that the following organizations play a critical role in the long-term sustainability of local technology investments:

    • Churches and faith-based social services
    • Community-based organizations, community centers
    • Libraries
    • Educational and workforce programs
    • Social service facilities
    • Cooperatives (food, child care, etc.)
    • Makerspaces
    • Major bandwidth buyers (hospitals, technology firms, universities)
    • Commercial internet service providers

    If there is no existing coalition within your community, start your own—use the list above to create a list of potential partners, find out what resources they offer, and conduct outreach to determine their capacity and interest in collaborating.   

    Set an agenda

    From broadband connectivity to one-to-one initiatives to online learning, which digital divide issues are most important to your school and district? Where can you make the most impact?

    Community engagement is about not only communicating to a community but also creating an opportunity for feedback and dialogue. Community members who have been traditionally excluded from such processes should be among the first to be invited to participate—enlisting all institutions will bring a diverse perspectives, ideas, and resources to the table.

    The Consortium for School Networking's (CoSN) sample survey is a useful starting point for districts to identify local needs. Keep in mind that people living in digital deserts are unlikely to get announcements for local events related to digital equity issues. To reach offline and immigrant residents, translate the survey in dominant languages and distribute copies through local social service agencies and at community meetings.

    Engage policymakers

    After solidifying goals and strategies, Kobrin recommends school leaders meet with elected officials to help them to understand the school’s goals and how they factor into their platforms.

    “It’s about understanding the school’s goals, and how it is an anchor for the larger community. How can our local government really concretely invest in schools and see what it’s providing not only to students, but also to community members?" says Kobrin.

    Media Alliance provides the following ideas for engaging with policymakers on a local, state, or federal level.

    • Invite your elected officials to witness successful digital inclusion projects at your school.
    • Testify at a public hearing (school board, city council, state, federal).
    • Request a meeting or delegation visit with an elected official who has a track record of supporting social justice issues.
    • Attend or convene a town hall meeting with your elected officials. Ask teachers and students to testify about digital divide issues.
    • Apply for seats on task forces or advisory boards on digital inclusion efforts. If there’s no existing task force with community representation, create one or join an existing task forces on related issues and encourage them to take up digital inclusion.

    Demonstrate community value

    Kobrin says the key to getting buy-in is preemptively answering the “what’s in it for us” question for all stakeholders. Even corporations like Comcast, for example, have an interest in their community’s future workforce and client base.

    “We are shaping students who might one day work at their company,” she says.

    Philadelphia has seen several successful public–private partnerships, including Comcast’s Internet Essentials—the company’s low-cost service for low-income residents and the Philadelphia Housing Authority and T-Mobile partnership to provide 4,500 public housing families and students with free tablets and internet access.

    Events like the Philly Technology Exposition and Competition (TEC), technology fairs, “techmobiles,” and other hands-on demonstrations increase demand for access and training and demonstrate the transformative impact of technology and training. Visit ISTE’s student technology showcase planning tips for more ideas.

    State and federal advocacy

    Signed into law in December 2015, ESSA moves critical federal funding back to the control of the states through block grants. Although this money is intended for shoring up educational technology, it is left to the states to decide how the grants are used.

    Familiarize yourself with the opportunities available under ESSA to employ federal funding at both the state and district level to support classroom-based technology programming. Refer to ISTE’s public policy statement and advocacy plan template for guidance in developing long-term policy priorities and advocacy activities.

    For those looking to influence education policy on a state and national, programs like the Educator Voice Fellowship, the Teaching Policy Fellowship, the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship, the U.S. Department of Education’s School Ambassador Fellowship, and E4E’s Teacher Leadership Program seek to amplify the voice of teachers, principals, and other school leaders in national dialogue.  

    For more advocacy resources, check out ILA’s ESSA advocacy toolkit.

    To explore the rest of this four-part series, visit the links below:

    Overcoming the Digital Divide, Step One: Increasing Funding for Technology and Internet Access

    Overcoming the Digital Divide, Step Two: Critically Frame 21st-Century Skills

    Overcoming the Digital Divide, Step Three: Provide Resources


    Alina O'Donnell
     is the editor of 
    Literacy Daily.

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