3 Instructional Strategies to Support Literacy in all Classrooms

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“All educators are teachers of literacy”

– a common phrase I echo when speaking or writing. Notice, I did not say “All educators are teachers of reading,” which would demand a skill set many educators do not have, although that is often what most people think when they hear the first statement. There are no expectations for educators at the middle and high school grades to understand reading instruction (phonological awareness, decoding, fluency, etc.), instead, expectations reside in supporting student understanding in literacy acquisition in discipline-specific consumption and creation.

The Question Becomes How?

With this lens, fears often subside and educators realize that they are the EXPERT in that content area. The question then turns to – How? Zooming out to a wider view of discipline literacy, one understands that much content learning by students is done through reading or viewing and their demonstration of understanding is exhibited through writing or communicating in some form. From the larger view, teachers can then zoom back into specific disciplines and ask themselves what are the skills a student must possess to tackle discipline-specific texts (which includes multiple modes) and what components of communication do I need to teach in order for students write and create in a discipline-specific way.

3 Instructional Strategies

The How is one area that I am often asked to address with staff. I offer 3 Instructional Strategies that are applicable to any discipline and support literacy in any classroom:

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ExamplesA History Teacher demonstrating how historians read and make sense of primary sources. Read/think aloud text – Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. A reading strategy historians often use is to consider the time period it was written in and what was happening in the world during that time to help them understand meaning and context. This would be modeled aloud to students.  Math –  Rafranz Davis shared with me a movement among math educators, shifting the focus from test made questions to real-world problems. During a read/think aloud in math class,  Davis suggests utilizing Polya’s 4 Step Method as a model to demonstrate to students – 1. Understand the problem. 2. Devise a plan. 3. Carry out the plan. 4. Look Back. Students can call upon this strategy anytime they approach an unfamiliar example.

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ExampleAlice Keeler provided the perfect example foridentifying Concept and Label vocabulary in a math classroom. Students are given a problem to solve and explain their thinking around parabolic, cubic, and porabolas within the context of 2 illustrations, one is a visual of a climbing path for El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, the other a water fountain. Parabolic would be an example of a Concept vocabulary term, as opposed to Yosemite, bagging the peak, or bushwhacking. The last 3 terms are ones the teacher would define for students and move on, on the other hand, concept vocabulary would demand more attention in both the instruction via the teacher and the acquisition and demonstration by the student. Providing a non-example, such as the climbing path, also pushes kids to think differently and solidify their demonstration of understanding of a concept.

 

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Example – A science teacher uses multiple lab reports published in a scientific journal as a mentor example. Students examine how the data sets were organized, recurring vocabulary, and structure. The content of the lab report may not be an area that is covered in the course, but as a mentor example, students to grasp the essential components of a lab report – how labels work to inform to support the format, the proper way to insert lists and data into the report, and when longer explanations are needed in paragraph form on lab reports.

 

Once educators understand the Why of discipline-specific literacy, the How is the next step in learning. Applying these 3 instructional strategies will help students consume and create discipline-specific literacies.

Sources:

Polya – Berkely  

What is Disciplinary Literacy and Why it Matters – Shanahan & Shanahan 

Developing “Healthy Skeptics” in the Age of New Literacies

DevelopingHealthy Skeptics in the Digital Age.One of my most poignant “slaps on the face” in the classroom came while conferring with a student over their research paper. During our conversation, confusion arose from the conflicting information that he had found on the web. Upon further dialogue, I learned he relied heavily upon the source, Martin Luther King.org , which was supported by StormFront, a white supremacy group. The information that he found here was in stark contrast to many of the other sources he was citing. This insight hit my like a ton of bricks. I had done very little in terms of supporting students in the areas of discerning information, locating reliable and relevant sources, from learning abilities to the care of their body, with the help of supplements from sites as Reportshealthcare.com.

Technology has launched education into an exciting time in terms of literacy and instruction. These opportunities not only provide rich content, connections to a global learning lab, and creation modes unimagined; but also the exciting challenges to equip our young people with the skills and strategies to not only be creators to the sea of information but also “healthy skeptics” during consumption. This new era of information can bring a lot of benefits into young people, they are able to go online to find many useful things as information for their studies or supplements as this heart attack defender to keep good health.

Proficiency in these constantly evolving literacies will help to “define student success” in both their personal and public lives. Read, writing, communicating and learning in this digital arena is now commonplace instead of a rarity and we must, as educators, lead the charge in educating our youth instead of running away from the lion!

A foundation in multimodality in online media should be included across disciplines and grades. In fact, the Common Core mentions the introduction to digital text as early as Kindergarten. By the upper grades, students in a CCSS aligned district will analyze, synthesize and evaluate digital information, as well as using digital means in their own projects, writings, and multimodal communication.

Support on where to begin and how to build their own knowledge in New Literacies baffles educators. Here is a collection of my favorite resources to support educators and students!

Google Inside Search  – Understand how Google Search works, explore the interactive timeline highlighting the advancement of Google Search throughout the years, and view lesson plans for educators.

BrainPop – A video introduces students to search engines and how to use keywords and phrases to locate the information they want. This site also includes lesson plans which include multi-media ideas and also skills to promote with students for online research!

ReadWriteThink – A great lesson plan to help students focus their internet searching. This lesson not only supports skills need in the initial search, but also reading strategies to locate and evaluate information once it is found!

 

 

Digital Literacies: Multimedia Projects as Mentor Texts

Multimedia Projects provide students a different alternative to demonstrate their learning and understanding of a concept or theme. Traditionally, students demonstrated knowledge by taking a test or writing a paper. These unimodal demonstrations do not equip students with the necessary skills and understandings of their literary reality.

Currently, our students live in a time with multiple digital means of communication. From videos to blog posts, students consume most of their daily reading digitally. As educators, it is necessary to not only explore these multimodal literacies in the classroom; but also hone student skills needed to enable them to create and communicate their message in multiple forms.

As a literacy expert, I have found the need for Mentor Texts within my classroom. Everyone needs mentor texts to become better writers/communicators. Mentor texts are those pieces that we return to again and again. They provide a myriad of possibilities and are full of curriculum potential. Mentor texts are not pieces that are used once for specific demonstration, instead they can be approached by the reader from multiple angles.

I believe that mentor texts can also be in the digital form. Digital Mentor Texts are a collection of videos, infographics, blog posts, websites, etc. that provide students inspiration by asking the question, “I wonder if I can do that too?” When teaching digital modes of meaning, I like to refer to the work of the New London Group for consideration, and approach the Digital Mentor Text from the Linguistic, Audio, Spatial, Visual, and Gestural Design modes of meaning (image below). These Digital Mentor Texts are visited multiple times throughout the course, offering a new possibility for improvement when applied to a students’ own work. Whether it is storyline, camera angle, graphics, or music; requiring students to produce high-quality, multimedia products is possible with the inclusion of Digital Mentor Texts.

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When choosing a digital mentor text it is important to remember 5 things:

  1. You (the teacher) must love it!
  2. Show, not just tell.
  3. Contain multiple examples of awesomeness
  4. Students need to be able to connect to it
  5. Promotes out-of-the-box thinking

Any type of digital communication can be used as a Digital Mentor Text, the only qualifier is that it must contain richness in multiple forms. As a recommendation, start collecting Digital Mentor Texts to use in the future when you stumble across them. This way, students will be provided with inspiration in multiple modes, not just an example to copy!