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    Together Apart: Fostering Collaboration in a Remote Learning Environment

    By Katy Tarasi
     | Aug 25, 2020

    Student at computerAs a literacy coach for grades K–6, there is nothing I love more than seeing students deeply engaged in collaboration. From the excitement on the faces of kindergartners as they turn and whisper their thoughts in a think-pair-share to the quick-paced discussion of sixth graders determining where to place vocabulary words according to their shades of meaning, the classrooms in my school are typically full of authentic and lively student interactions.

    Student collaboration is critical. Partner reading builds fluency. Sharing manipulatives to retell a story strengthens language development and reading comprehension. The ability to share the pen with another, communicate clearly, and problem solve in teams has so many benefits.

    Students need collaborative work now more than ever. Social distancing is taking its toll on student learning, particularly the kind that comes when students work in groups. But how do we bring collaborative learning into a virtual setting this year?

    I’ve been meeting with teachers around the United States virtually this summer to support them with the implementation of a literacy curriculum that we use at my school, which calls for authentic collaborative work and rich student discourse. In the course of these meetings, I’ve come up with a few ideas for bringing collaboration into a virtual space.

    Set up routines

    Just like at the start of any school year, set up class routines for collaborative work during remote learning. Explicitly state expectations, routines, and procedures. Talk about digital norms and practices, such as how to raise a hand or get attention during an online class and how to appropriately use the chat function of a digital platform.

    Just as you’d have a checklist of expectations taped to the wall of your classroom, post your expectations on a shared site within the digital platform. Give consistent praise as students are learning the routines and redirect as needed. Allow time for student reflection on routines because learning how to participate and collaborate is just as important as learning the content.

    Make the learning purposeful

    Collaborative learning should be purposeful. Just like in the traditional classroom, teachers should establish why they’re using a particular group-based or partner approach during instructional time. This will focus the activity and give teachers a lens for choosing a collaborative strategy.

    When students can’t be together in person, have them record video conversations on tools like Flipgrid or Padlet. Require students to watch and respond to classmates by posting their own short video or writing a response to create a chain of linking comments. Don’t shy away from giving students—especially younger students—prompts or sentence starters to help them build rich and meaningful conversations, at least initially.

    Make the learning authentic

    As adults, we work together to achieve a goal or converse to learn about one another, and we want to provide this same experience for our students.

    This can mean taking collaboration out of the virtual classroom space and engaging in collaborative experiences with family, friends, or community members. Consider this question we ask kindergartners: “How has life in America changed over time?” They can reach out to caregivers or family members and ask them questions about their experiences in school and at home. If a student doesn’t have anyone available to talk to, the teacher can share experiences through recorded clips or a Zoom call. Stakeholders such as administrators or PTA members can share experiences, too.

    Provide fundamental feedback

    Keep an eye on how collaborative work is going and give students guidance to steer it in the right direction. That tends to happen naturally in a classroom environment but will take extra work virtually. Provide praise and corrective feedback regularly on both procedures and collaboration. Use class time to reflect on the process of virtual learning, noting what students like and dislike.

    If students are engaging in peer editing using a shared online platform, teacher feedback is necessary for it to be purposeful. If student feedback isn’t particularly robust, use this as a formative assessment. Use your next class session to model an appropriate response and introduce a rubric or sentence starters.

    Modify activities for virtual learning

    Many in-person activities that educators already use in their classroom have the potential to be moved into a remote environment with a bit of creativity. An example of an activity I’ve been thinking about converting to a virtual experience involves Chalk Talks.

    As an in-person activity, students meet in groups and answer questions about a book that is posted in the classroom. With my fourth graders, I have used Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. Students responded collectively to questions around topics such as how the main character changed over time and the difference between literal versus figurative text. In addition to responding to teacher questions, students have to weigh in on other groups’ comments.

    Virtually, a teacher could place the students in several configurations. First, each student would work independently to answer a question. Next, students would meet in small groups in online breakout rooms and agree on one answer. Then, students would all come together in a whole group, giving “expert” groups a chance to share out. Finally, students would go back to breakout rooms and reflect on the different answers.

    Younger students can also collaborate virtually. During an in-person kindergarten lesson, students might have worked together to identify the genre of a set of books. Then the students would have justified their choice by placing it on a graphic organizer.

    To do this activity virtually, the teacher could record and share a video about the traits of different genres, and then students could come together in small groups in online breakout rooms to discuss their thoughts. Finally, students could drag-and-drop the titles in categories on Seesaw. Remember that younger students need to practice routines like speaking one at a time and using sentence frames such as “I agree with Katy because….”

    I know educators are feeling nervous about the days and weeks ahead, but I also know they are putting a lot of thought into how to teach effectively and creatively in an online environment. By focusing on students’ needs, including the need to work collaboratively, I’m confident we can deliver great instruction.

    Katy Tarasi is an elementary literacy coach in the Avonworth School District near Pittsburgh, PA, and a fellow with the Great Minds’ Wit & Wisdom English Language Arts team. In that capacity, Katy delivers professional development and coaching to educators around the United States. She can be reached via email.
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    Connected Communities of Literacy Learning: Keeping Students From Feeling Isolated During This Time of Remote Instruction

    By Cynthia Pope
     | Mar 20, 2020

    Smiling asian girl at computerIn just a matter of days, educators from kindergartens to colleges around the world provided their students with printed learning packets or online learning plans before packing up their desks and leaving their campuses. Scan school websites today, and you will see instructions indicating that learning will be delivered “remotely.”

    By its definition, remote means at a distance, far removed, and isolated. At a time when students may still be settling into learning routines and developing self-directed learning skills, these children are faced with schooling at home amid a global health crisis. Students are confronted with learning independently, away from school-age friends and their loving extended families.

    Today’s COVID-19 crisis has come at a time when a digital divide still exists. With few days to prepare for delivering learning at a distance, many schools struggled to make learning continue through closures and extended breaks. In the end, whether students are asked to read print or digital texts or to write with pens or keyboards, the one important common denominator is that students need to feel a connection with their teachers and their classmates to succeed.

    When planning for the best possible learning outcomes, educators must be mindful that learning requires social interaction for students to remain motivated. Yes, students need assignments tied to the curriculum, but they also need the continued support of a learning community, whether they are in grade school or graduate school. When students feel connected to their classes, they retain a commitment to their classwork, and teachers’ beliefs about the importance of fostering a class community are paramount.

    What can teachers do to create connected communities for literacy learning?

    • Provide timely and frequently written communication for students, whether sending home an online newsletter that you can make with Smore or posters made with Poster My Wall.
    • Be available for two-way communication via telephone, email, or tools like Google Classroom and Google Hangouts.
    • Build classroom relationships among students through their writing about their learning or about how they are learning differently at home. Students can establish classroom pen pals by exchanging tradition, handwritten letters and postcards or by posting to sites like Edmodo.
    • Keep learning active and fun while respecting the diverse interests and abilities of students. Let students show what they know by composing comics with ReadWriteThink’s Comic Creator, creating characters with Voki, or uploading poems set to music with Flipgrid.
    • Reduce the distance in distance learning by providing opportunities for synchronous learning wherever possible. Establish a class meeting time during regular school hours to check in with students using tools such as Zoom or Skype.
    • Provide opportunities for students to share their knowledge with others by recording research projects and presenting them with digital tools such as Screencast-o-matic.
    • Maintain high expectations for learning by getting a pulse of what your students have learned and still need to know. Kahoot! and Socrative are great game tools to garner student understanding and inform teachers of the need for future instruction.
    • Keep students committed to reading and writing with high-quality lessons that can be found on sites such as ReadWriteThink, Newsela, CommonLit, and DOGOnews linked to engaging TE Ed videos.

    Distance learning communities nurture feelings of continued connection and collaboration. For primary-age students especially, educators need to include families and caregivers as part of that community and join with them as partners for educating students. Online distance learning ends up becoming a family literacy experience because young children cannot easily negotiate technologies without help, and they should not be expected to do so.

    Given the prevalence of online learning, educators  must not forget issues of privacy and online safety. Teachers should direct families and caregivers to appropriate resources for reading books (Epic! for example) and writing (Storyjumper). Common Sense Media is a great resource to use to determine appropriate digital tools. Furthermore, teachers need to check if new technology choices planned for lessons require added permissions. Also keep in mind that, although families may have laptops or smartphones, students may still need to share one device among several siblings.

    For necessity’s sake, remote learning has now taken on a front seat as an instructional delivery method to teach and learn. We must recognize that remote learning can feel like removed learning if students aren’t connected with their families, teachers, and peers. It will take continued creativity and collaboration to make this new learning paradigm work as we all look toward “doing school differently.”

    Likewise, educators must seek support from their schools and work with colleagues to find the best literacy learning solutions for students. Whether participating in peer-led conferences for professional development or seeking out professional organization resources, teachers also need to feel like a connected community of practicing professionals, even when teaching from home.

    Cynthia Pope has researched K–12 online learning extensively, including her 2013 dissertation, Digital Distance Learning Communities. She an experienced K–12 educator, school administrator, and higher education professional, currently serving as a visiting assistant professor of education for Stockton University’s Teacher Education Program in New Jersey.

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    The #BookYourself Reading Challenge for Teachers

    By Stephanie Affinito and Kris McGee
     | Sep 13, 2019
    BookYourself_w680Teachers have great power in shaping students’ reading identities and reading lives. As the lead learners in the classroom, we model reading habits, invite students into reading with powerful read-alouds, cultivate diverse classroom libraries, and protect sacred, student-led independent reading time in the classroom. But before we can create the kind of vibrant literacy community that readers thrive in, we must first live as readers ourselves. And not just readers, but readers who read wide and diverse children’s literature selections and understand the potential power reading and writing has to change our lives and our place in the world.

    This past summer, we created the #BookYourself Challenge to help teachers think about their reading lives and create the spaces they need to tend to it. Each day, we posted “Think Abouts” across multiple social media platforms to remind teachers to find the time to read daily, connect with other readers and broaden their reading community, and boost their book knowledge to include current and diverse children’s literature. 

    Teachers across the United States came together for 21 days to renew their commitment to their reading lives. The #BookYourself Challenge pushed participants to change their daily routines to include time for reading, explore new titles and genres, and showcase their efforts through screenshots and “shelfies” (a photo of a person with the book that person was reading).  Participants read books in print and online, listened to audiobooks, subscribed to podcasts, explored local bookstores, and connected with the adult and student readers in their lives. The impact was immediate and a strong community emerged, particularly on Facebook and Twitter. This is a community that continues to thrive. 

    The #BookYourself Challenge was so successful that we plan to offer an abbreviated challenge over the winter months to help keep us and our participants’ reading lives strong and to recharge our reading community. Over each day of winter break, we will post daily Think Abouts to help our participants find the time to read and broaden their reading selections using #BookYourself. 

    You can access the #BookYourself Think Abouts on your favorite social media platform (Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter) or you can choose to receive a daily email sent directly to your inbox instead. You can follow the hashtags, like and retweet the posts, and share the challenge with other educators you think might enjoy the daily reminders. You can even join our Facebook community to connect with other teachers and educators to share book recommendations and to contribute your own ideas for carving out time to read. You’ll find a supportive reading community of teachers and educators who read, waiting there for you!

    Stephanie Affinito is a literacy teacher educator in the Department of Literacy Teaching and Learning at the University at Albany in New York. Stephanie regularly teaches graduate courses on elementary classroom literacy instruction, literacy intervention, and children’s literature. She has researched literacy coaching as part of her doctoral studies and focuses much of her current work on how technology and digital tools can impact teacher learning and collaboration. You can find her on Twitter at @AffinitoLit.

    Kris McGee is an associate professor of Literacy at Frostburg State University in Maryland. She has been sharing her love of teaching and children’s literature for 29 years with children, preservice teachers, and inservice teachers.

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    App Smash With EDpuzzle to Enhance Your Flipping Videos

    By Mary Beth Scumaci​
     | Sep 06, 2019

    girl-on-computer-w680App smashing is the act of combining two or more technology applications for the design and creation of your project. In 2013, I wrote a blog post on the use of creating screen casts to assist with your flipping classroom goals. Now, I’d like to introduce you to a free, savvy app called EDpuzzle. EDpuzzle allows you to upload your content videos to the platform and then add quiz questions to the video, which will engage your viewers, enhance their learning experiences, and increase accountability for instructional video use to support your curriculum goals. Additional perks of the tool include the ability to crop the video to help you focus on the most important content, creating voice-overs, and adding notes. EDpuzzle also offers a library of videos that will spark collaborative sharing with educators throughout the world.

    How does EDpuzzle work? First, you set up a teacher account and upload your videos. You then add your quiz questions, voice-overs, and notes, crop videos, or both. When finished creating, assign them to students within EDpuzzle classrooms, have students enter an access code for viewing, send out guest links, or embed the instructional videos on your websites, blogs, classroom management systems, or wherever else you can embed code.

    Conveniently, when you set up the classroom, the data for the quiz questions are collected on the back end and compiled on a spreadsheet. At a glance, you can see which students watched the videos, how long they spent on the activity, and their answers to the questions you asked throughout the video, which is helpful for facilitating any necessary reteaching. The management options include the ability to not allow students to continue watching the video until they answer the question posed at the checkpoint, which is a useful accountability check and motivator for students to engage with the video content. The videos also come in handy when students need to revisit the content for mastery learning, when students miss a class, when working with families/tutors, or when reviewing for tests and exams.

    EDpuzzle offers a curriculum section that is categorized into three levels for elementary, middle school, and high school needs. You can also filter by topic when searching for videos of interest. With a click of a link, EDpuzzle makes it easy to connect with popular educational channels like Khan Academy, National Geographic, TED Talks, Veritasium, Numberphile, and Crash Course. Need more assistance? Subscribe to the EDpuzzle YouTube channel to learn more.

    I’ve used EDpuzzles in many ways. Most recently, my teacher candidates explored the application for their flipping instructional video projects and to create interactive read-alouds. They had a fun time with the projects and were impressed by how easy Screencast-o-Matic was to use for recording their videos and app smashing them with EDpuzzle. The ability to enter comprehension questions, voice-overs, and notes and to crop their videos in one application was icing on the cake. EDpuzzle is so user friendly, even your students can create them!

    Mary Beth Scumaci is the associate dean for technology education and associate professor of the Practice with the Department of Education at Medaille College in Buffalo, NY. She has a passion for working with teacher candidates to prepare them for the excitement of today’s tech savvy classrooms. Mary Beth instructs technology and literacy courses; is an online courses designer, and facilitates technology trainings for students, faculty, and staff. She can be reached at mscumaci@medaille.edu.

    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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    Motivating Resistant Readers With PBL in the Reading Workshop

    By Jenny Gieras
     | Aug 23, 2019

    Although I’m sure it exists, I’ve yet to encounter that mythical class of students, the one where every student enters my classroom an avid reader, embraces every genre we explore within the course of our school year, and cheers when prompted to write about their reading. Rather, the norm seems to be that some students would spend their days reading only nonfiction texts or graphic novels if they could, others fight any type of assignment that requires them to write about their reading, and some would be content spending the workshop period not reading at all, just flipping through the pages of a glossy magazine filled with photos of their favorite athletes.

    Although I am a strong supporter of student choice for independent reading, the fact remains that, as a teacher of elementary literacy, I have a curriculum to teach that purposefully exposes my third graders to a variety of text genres (character fiction, mystery, expository and narrative nonfiction, etc.), affording them opportunities to strengthen decoding, fluency, and comprehension skills they need to be lifelong readers and thinkers, as well as—let’s face it—standardized test takers.

    This can be a tough pill to swallow for a kid who just wants to read about sea animals or laugh his way through comic books all day, use her reading notebook to draw cartoons, or in some cases, not read anything at all. That’s where I’ve found a motivator is helpful, and I’ve had great success motivating even my most reluctant readers with interest-driven, technology-enhanced, project-based learning experiences based on students’ in-class reading.

    Literary projects appeal to everyone because of the innate differentiation embedded in them, offering entry points for all learners. They capture the attention and motivation of even the most reluctant readers, giving them purpose as they read, and they provide extension opportunities for those kids who are intent on reading the entire classroom library in a school year. In addition, comprehensive projects like these nudge students to think more deeply about text to ensure what they are sharing or presenting will make sense and appeal to real audiences; they also provide authentic formative assessment opportunities, enabling teachers to monitor student comprehension as they plan, create, modify, and present their projects.

    Following are some of my favorite ways to shake up reading workshop, modifiable across genres, grade levels, tech accessibility, and ability levels.

    Character interviews

    After reading self-selected fiction books in partnerships, students choose a character from the book to critically analyze, citing text evidence to back claims about his/her motivations, traits, and interests. Then, they draft questions they might hypothetically ask the character in an interview. Working together, the reading partnerships write a script between the character and an interviewer, create one or more background(s) that made sense for the book’s setting, and use an app with green screen (we use DoInk) to record a “live” interview “on location.” My students are always eager to share their interview videos with others on sharing apps like SeeSaw, and they put great effort into generating thoughtful questions and answers that would accurately depict the character to their peers. They speak in character and borrow quotes from their books. It’s especially fun comparing interpretations when more than one group chooses the same character to “interview.”

    Book trailers

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    In their reading partnerships (I love this for our Mystery unit), students select a favorite text, then create book trailers. (We always first watch a few current movie trailers to get a sense of what a trailer is.) Some kids use the easy-to-use templates in iMovie, others get crafty and create stop motion animations (my favorite tool is Stop Motion Studio Pro) with clay, paper, or drawings, and others write scripts, paint backdrops, and film themselves as characters from their books to entice others to read them. We roll out the red carpet and serve popcorn as a final celebration on our Book Trailer Premiere Day. Students also have the option to create book trailer posters to display in the classroom or school library, which can include a QR code that directs interested readers to the recorded book trailer.

    Comic books based on chapter books

    Graphic novels have been enjoying their moment in the sun. Comic book images not only appeal to our more visual learners, but also lend graphic support to often complicated storylines. Having the opportunity to create comic book versions of chapter books (usually just a portion, but for some more ambitious students, an entire, abbreviated, book) or short stories encourages many students to keep going during periods of marathon reading, such as during our mid-winter Test Prep unit. Some students love drawing their own comics to create homemade graphic novels; others digitize their work with basic drawing tools like Sketchbook which they import into slideshows using Apple Keynote or Google Slides, or by using cartoon creation tools in an app like Pixton. Once the comic books are “published,” we add them to our classroom library, alongside their companion books, for others to enjoy.

    Newsreel

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    Kids love creating their own news segments and teaming up with peers to create a broadcast. Typically during a nonfiction unit of study, students choose a topic and read several related books, collecting information as they hone their research skills. Creating short news clips provides a great opportunity for learners to demonstrate their understanding and share their learning with a broader audience. One or two students play anchor and introduce the segments, and the whole package can be streamed to the school’s broadcast system (if one exists), or recorded and shared on a learning management system (like Google Classroom), viewed by other classes in an assembly, or sent home to parents in a linked email. To prepare kids to make nonfiction book segments, we watch videos on National Geographic Kids, or perennial favorite The Kid Should See This. We add some snazzy sound bites to liven up the broadcast with snips from ZapSplat or StoryBlocks Audio. For fiction books, the news segments can be reports on what’s actually happening within books (“We interrupt this newscast to tell you that author Wallace Wallis had been reported missing!”), or, with a little imagination, an extension of a storyline. Kids love talking about their characters like they are real people!

    As literacy educators, we know that best practices include matching texts to readers, exposing students to a variety of genres, and differentiating assignments. We also know that, while literary writing is an essential academic skill our students need to develop, the fact is that there are multiple ways to demonstrate comprehension of text. Not every student will need a motivator to read, consider and comprehend, and respond to text across the school year. For those who may need a little motivation, literacy projects just might be what it takes.

    Jenny Gieras teaches third grade at Roaring Brook Elementary School in Chappaqua, NY. She is passionate about student-centered, technology-enhanced, inquiry-driven learning. You can find her on Twitter @JennyGieras.

    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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