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    Navigating Tensions When Connecting Classrooms to Online Communities

    By Jayne C. Lammers
     | Sep 14, 2018

    Facebook FrustrationsI have long advocated that our literacy classrooms would do well to design instructional opportunities that connect students with online writing communities. Doing so gives students authentic audiences for their creative work, helps them develop important digital literacy practices, and bridges in- and out-of-school literacies in meaningful ways. In particular, I have argued that fanfiction spaces such as and, where writers post creative works based on their interest in storylines, settings, characters, and worlds from existing books, television shows, and other media, offer important scaffolds for writers and allow teachers to meet literacy standards as they guide youth to write for online audiences.

    My continued research in this area and my role as a literacy teacher educator have also helped me grapple with the myriad challenges that teachers face when trying to incorporate online communities into their writing instruction. For example, I have written about the privacy concerns that teachers face when they consider whether to recommend that youth participate in a particular digital space.

    In an article published in the October 2017 issue of Literacy, my coauthors and I shared about our experiences with bringing digital spaces into more formal learning environments. We pooled the lessons learned from Alecia Magnifico’s work with preservice and inservice English teachers who participated in the #walkmyworld project, Deborah Fields’s use of Scratch-based collaborative design challenges in an elective computing class, and my experience teaching a three-week high school elective class that guided students in publishing their fanfiction and other creative writing in online communities.

    Our collaboration helped us better understand the tensions that arise when educators seek to take advantage of informal online spaces within their classrooms. We recognized that, although much of the research about online communities highlights success stories, when all students are required to participate in an online space, experiences will be mixed. Not every student will feel comfortable sharing his or her writing with strangers. Not every student will receive constructive feedback from the online audience. Although many online communities welcome the posting of works-in-progress, not every student will want to share such projects when they know their teachers and classmates might also see this unfinished work. These and other tensions emerged when we examined our experiences.

    I offer the following tips for teachers to consider as they design opportunities for students to share their writing in online communities.

    • Guide students in examining a variety of online communities. Rather than mandating that all students share their writing on the same site, scaffold students’ evaluation of many different sites and empower them to choose whichever one best suits their expectations as well as genre and interaction preferences.
    • Tap into students’ expertise about online communities. Although it may be beneficial for teachers themselves to have some familiarity with sharing writing in an online community, it is not a requirement. Learning who among your students might already participate as readers or writers in online communities allows a teacher to leverage that experience. Give knowledgeable students roles as mentors or guides who introduce their classmates to the inner workings of their preferred online community.
    • Explore authentic assessment opportunities. Online writing communities have their own ways of assessing quality, often through narrative reviews and less descriptive rating systems (including giving “likes” or “favoriting” a piece of writing). Rather than assessing their contributions to an online community using school-based norms or rubrics, students can submit evidence of community engagement. 

    I offer these suggestions to help interested literacy teachers connect their students to online writing communities in ways that begin to navigate the tensions revealed in our research.

    Jayne C. Lammers is an associate professor and director of the secondary English teacher preparation program at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education in New York. She can also be reached on Twitter.

    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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    Building an Open Narrative With Open Learning

    By Verena Roberts
     | Aug 31, 2018

    Open NarrativeEarlier this year, I had the opportunity to travel to the Netherlands with other PhD candidates from around the world who are interested in open learning and open research through the Global OER Graduate Network. At the end of our seminar, our leader, Bea de los Arcos, asked us, What does open research mean? How can we, as open researchers and educators, describe how to support open learning?

    In that moment, our group struggled to come up with clear examples of how to describe what open research and learning looks like, sounds like, or feels like. However, in the last few months, I have had the opportunity to interact and learn with others, hear others’ perspectives, and fully reflect on the possibilities of open research and learning. Now, I think I have a better answer; open learning means being part of the open narrative and open research means describing the narrative.

    Open research is the narrative in which we express ourselves as educators and researchers. Openness is not just a language based on sharing texts, images, or mediated artifacts. Instead, it’s a means of communication which follows the Butterfly Effect theory that any action, word, sound or visual has the potential to influence others across the world or across the room in synchronous, asynchronous, and serendipitous ways. Open learning is a mindset, an epistemological belief in the potential to share and build knowledge together.

    Building on Catherine Cronin’s definition, I believe that open educational practices (OEP), in K–12 contexts, describes an intentional design that expands learning opportunities for all learners beyond classroom walls and across cultures through collaboration, knowledge sharing, and networked participation. According to Leo Havemann, learning technologist at Birkbeck College, University of London, it is essential to note that, “Open is not, after all, the true opposite of closed; rather, open indicates some degree of difference from closed. On closer inspection, openness is better understood a matter of degree or quality, rather than one half of a binary.” Open is not the opposite of closed—it is a continuum and different for everyone.

    What does open learning look like, sound like, or feel like?

    When I consider the divisive perspectives and voices in K–12 educational contexts today, I think about the need for me to open my own practices with others and to trust my students so that they can trust me and we can start building a shared narrative. They should feel included in the process of learning.

    For example, as I prepare to teach teachers this fall, I am considering how to include their voices and perspectives in our online learning environments. When considering how to build open narratives in your learning environments, there are many aspects to consider.

    Create safe learning spaces

    To begin, I have considered how to create safe open learning spaces. It is essential for learners to feel like they can be open, share ideas, and be a part of building learning opportunities. In their book Learning Spaces: Youth, Literacy and New Media in Remote Indigenous Australia, authors Inge Kral and Robert G. Schwab suggest some key design elements when considering safe learning spaces:

    • Design principle no. 1: A space young people control
    • Design principle no. 2: A space for hanging out and ‘mucking around’
    • Design principle no. 3: A space where learners learn
    • Design principle no. 4: A space to grow into new roles and responsibilities
    • Design principle no. 5: A space to practice oral and written language
    • Design principle no. 6: A space to express self and cultural identity through multimodal forms
    • Design principle no. 7: A space to develop and engage in enterprise
    • Design principle no. 8: A space to engage with the world

    Building relationships and trust is an essential aspect of any open learning context. Really, what story ever began without some kind of relationship?

    Consider digital privacy and data

    However, it also essential to consider how openness can also hurt learners. As Jade Davis, director of digital project management at Columbia University Libraries, so eloquently described in her Digital Pedagogy Institute keynote, it is essential to consider the fact that not all learners can be fully open, especially marginalized learners. As an educator, always design for openness, which includes choices and options for all learners to be and feel included—and safe.

    Building culture through collaboration

    Remi Kalir, assistant professor of learning design and technology at the University of Colorado, Denver, uses, an annotation tool, to weave a narrative with his students and to encourage them to share perspectives, listen to other perspectives, and collaborate to build new perspectives. Alternatively, Whitney Kilgore, cofounder and chief academic officer at iDesign, fosters human interaction through student-centered learning. She suggests how this kind of learning could look, sound, and feel in her recent keynote.

    Open narratives also develop through collaborations and interactions that build culture.  Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown describe this new culture of learning as one where culture emerges from the learning environment (as opposed to the culture being the environment) and in which learning happens by engaging with the world.

    The possibilities for global collaborations are described by educators such Tracey Poelzer, who organized the "CAN-BAN connection" project, a virtual exchange between her Canada classroom and a classroom in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Similarly, Laurie Ritchie's E-book, California Dreamin, describes how her university music class in the UK collaborated with David Preston’s high school English class in California. Preston describes the potential for open source learning in a wide variety of contexts that involve sharing and expanding learning environments.

    As I continue to build my open narrative, I look forward to the relationships I started with my colleagues in the Netherlands that now reach all over the world.  As I start this new school year I know that I am never isolated in a classroom; I am part of a learning ecosystem with multiple communities and networks that connect me and my students to real people all over the world.  My new open narrative involves examining an open learning design intervention to support open educational practices, which start with building relationships. How will you start YOUR open narrative? Let the stories begin.

    Verena Roberts is a doctoral candidate, sessional instructor, and research assistant at the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary.

    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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    Using Cloud-Based Apps for Planning, Writing, and Publishing Texts

    By Kimberly Kimbell-Lopez, Carrice Cummins, and Elizabeth Manning
     | Aug 24, 2018

    Technology IntegrationThe start of a new school year is a great time to revisit some cloud-based digital tools that can be used when writing and publishing texts. Our students have such a vast array of digital media tools they can use to create a digital text that incorporates hyperlinks, digital images, video, animation, voice narration, and other features. By pairing innovative teaching with powerful technologies, we can transform our students’ understanding of tools that can be used when moving through the writing process.

    Brainstorming and organizing

    Students can begin the writing task by creating a storyboard/textboard in Google Slides or Google Docs, which can serve as a map of critical elements they want to include in their text, depending on the type of writing assigned. For example, the three types of writing identified by Common Core State Standards Initiative are as follows:

    • Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence. 
    • Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.
    • Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

    According to the type of writing assigned, students can include the key structural information as part of their storyboard/textboard. For example, if students are writing an opinion piece, they can state an opinion and identify the potential arguments/counter arguments. This information establishes the plan that students will follow as they continue their writing.

    For brainstorming and organizing what to write about, Popplet can be used to create a graphic organizer where related topics are grouped together. Students can incorporate text, pictures, and video as part of the graphic organizer. Ideament (formerly Idea Sketch) is another graphic organizer app students can use to brainstorm what they will write about, illustrate a concept, or create an organizational chart. Students can opt to display the info in diagram or outline form. A third option, iBrainstorm, enables the user to add a note, then drag and drop it anywhere on the iPad's screen to create a desired order or pattern.

    A great way for students to start the school year is to write an “All About Me” informational text. Students can use Google Docs to list key categories they want to include in the text (e.g., family, hobbies, etc.) and then use one of the graphic organizer apps to make a web that adds key information for each category. They can complete this same task in Google Docs. The graphic organizer app allows information to be displayed in a more visual format.

    Drafting and publishing

    There are a variety of digital media tools that can support students as they begin drafting. The initial draft can be written using Google Docs—students can add text, pictures, audio, and hyperlinks as they flesh out their writing. Once the initial ideas are down on paper, they can begin exploring what format they want to use to share the work. For example, Google Slides, Prezi, and Slideshare are presentation tools where students can insert text, pictures, audio, video, hyperlinks, and the like. Students can also opt to share their writing using Glogster, which allows users to create a poster format to share key information about a topic. They can incorporate text, pictures, video, audio, and hyperlinks with this app as well.

    Students may also choose to post information using a blog format, consisting of dated entries with pictures, embedded videos, and links to external information. As part of their blog entries, they can post links or embed work they created in Slides, Prezi, and Slideshare. For example, students can post an entry that summarizes their “All About Me” piece and insert the link or embed the presentation as part of that entry. Regardless of the tool used, students can share their story by blending text, pictures, and voice narration.

    Although this is not a comprehensive list, it can serve as a reminder about possible digital tools we can use in the classroom. As a bonus, these tools enable writers to collaborate with others either through coauthoring of text or providing suggestions and feedback to authors for works-in-progress. The fact that their work can be shared with an audience also makes the writing task more authentic. There are so many cloud-based digital tools that students can use as they write in the classroom, so just give them a try and see what works best for you and your students! 

    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. 

    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.

    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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    You and Your Selfie

    By Carla Coscarelli
     | Aug 17, 2018

    2017-literacyTaking and sharing selfies are common acts in today’s digital world. People take pictures of themselves alone or with their family and friends in many different places and situations. Apps and social networks often ask users to add a profile picture.

    As a result, we need to talk to our students about the act of taking selfies and the impact of sharing selfies with others. Students need to know that the pictures they take and share communicate a lot about them. More specifically, students should consider the following questions before sharing their selfies on social media:

    • Am I allowed to show (exhibit) this place that’s pictured?
    • Am I exposing anyone in a negative way? Will this picture hurt anyone’s feelings?
    • How am I representing myself?
    • Is this the image of myself that I want to convey?
    • Is this picture appropriate to share in this context?

    Talking about selfies

    There are steps we can take as educators to help promote students’ abilities to think critically about these issues. One activity involves asking students to choose a selfie to bring to class and then discussing the following topics as a group:

    • Where were you when it was taken?
    • What were you doing in that location?
    • Were you having fun, or were you working?
    • What is your facial expression, and what feeling does it express?
    • What does this picture say about you?

    Students may also take time to reflect on issues that occur with selfies such as when they are taken in irrelevant situations or when selfies are used just to impress others or to create a false reality (e.g., taking a selfie that depicts a rarely experienced activity and misleading others to think that the activity is a part of his/her everyday life).

    Of course, there is nothing wrong with taking selfies for fun, but when we share them publicly, it’s important to consider how others may react to the picture and how it may inadvertently (or purposefully) reflect elements of exaggeration, exhibitionism, ostentation, or the desire to escape from reality. All postings should be made with an awareness of these critical issues and a sense of respect for those both in the selfie and those viewing it.

    Learning more

    If you’d like to learn more about selfies, there are many online tutorials available, including “How to Take The Perfect Selfie” by Michelle Phan. You may also ask your students to create a few tutorials on how to take different kinds of selfies, such as a funny selfie versus a professional selfie.

    Your students may also enjoy developing projects or sharing other inspiring stories depicted in selfies. For instance, you and your students can watch and discuss a Ted Talk in which Christina Balch, a multimedia artist, talks about an empowering project she founded titled "Selfies and Seeing Ourselves: One Artist’s Look in the Mirror."

    Another successful selfie project was developed by now famous “vlogger” Rebecca Brown, who took a daily photo over the span of six and a half years while fighting Trichotillomania, a compulsive hair-pulling disorder. Her story, on BBC Trending, is titled “Trichotillomania: 6 Years of Selfies.” 

    After these kinds of reflections and critical thinking activities, your students will be better prepared to take many meaningful selfies.

    Carla Viana Coscarelli is a professor at the School of Language Arts at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais (UFMG), Brazil, and coordinator of Project Redigir at UFMG.

    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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    Using Virtual Reality to Motivate Writers

    By Kristin Webber
     | Aug 10, 2018

    Virtual Reality The classroom teacher announces that it is writing time and is immediately met with a chorus of groans and the typical student response: “I have nothing to write about!”  Does this sound familiar?

    Classroom teachers daily face the struggle of engaging students in writing. One reason students may struggle with writing is lack of background knowledge. Research has shown that background knowledge is essential for understanding text; if students have not developed sufficient background knowledge on a topic, it will be very difficult for them to write about it. Wide-reading, simulations, experiments, videos, and field trips are all traditional ways teachers can build background knowledge and, with today’s technology, virtual reality can also be a means to build background knowledge and motivate students to write.

    Recently my department acquired some virtual reality equipment and students in my literacy foundations undergraduate course were curious to see the impact of virtual reality on the writing of fourth graders at a local elementary school they would be teaching at. Together, we planned a mini-writing experiment that involved a writing lesson with and without the use of virtual reality. With the help of the classroom teacher, we chose two high-interest topics to develop integrated reading and writing response lessons: wild weather and sharks. Both lessons were structured the same and consisted of activating prior knowledge, vocabulary development, reading a text, and a written response to the text, however, during the second lesson (on sharks) we added a virtual reality experience before asking students to write. Using Google Cardboard googles and the Discovery VR app, the fourth-grade students were able to see a 360-degree view of sharks swimming, just as if they were in the water with them. Needless to say, they could not contain their excitement.

    Upon debriefing after teaching, we looked at the writing from both lessons and noticed that most of the writing from the shark lesson was longer in length and contained more description than the writing from the first lesson. The teacher candidates also stated that the fourth-grade students were more engaged and motivated to write. One candidate reported that a student whom he had to heavily prompt to write one sentence during the first lesson was able to write several sentences on his own in the second lesson. The virtual reality experience also enabled the students to build cooperation and collaboration skills. Since we only had one virtual reality headset for each small group of students, they had to practice turn taking skills. We worried that this could be an issue, but students readily took turns with the headsets and, when they were not viewing the sharks, they composed their writing and discussed their experiences with one another.

    Virtual reality is a great option to help students build background knowledge and assist students in their writing. Teachers can take their students anywhere in the world without having to leave their classroom, thus widening their experiences and building background knowledge. There are several virtual reality apps that are free to download and can be used with or without a headset, such as Discovery VR, Google Expeditions, and Google Street View. Integrating virtual reality into the literacy curriculum allows for deeper understanding and retention of content as well as the enrichment of literacy skills. The immersive nature of virtual reality improves the quality of students’ language and the immediacy of the experience is particularly beneficial for students who struggle to think of what to write.

    Kristin Webber is an associate professor at Edinboro University where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in reading, technology integration, and teaching methods.

    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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