Contemporary Literacy Practices, Go Where Your Students Are…

-Want to increase student achievement in reading and writing- Capitalize on the skills they use in their digital world.Education is slow to change. Before something is implemented it must be checked, researched, and statistically proven to impact student achievement before implementation occurs. While I  recognize the value of this system, it is the one that leaves professionals stagnant and places kids at a disadvantage. It also discounts the “gut-instinct” that teachers have when they recognize something is not working for their student and they need to change instruction.

The other day I was problem-solving with a building literacy coach at the middle school level. She spoke about a student, Allena (we will call her), an 8th grader who was classified as a struggling reader and writer by her teachers. The teachers wanted support in the form of strategies or programs that would help fix this child. A silver-bullet to implement that would magically make this student love writing.

In fact, the building literacy coach told me, all she cares about is watching YouTube and making videos for her own channel.

I paused, remembering a James Britton quote, “Go to where your students are – don’t make them come to you.” If you want to increase student reading and writing, go to where your students are in their “literary” worlds. Capitalize on the digital reading and writing that they do every day.

My question to the coach was How can we utilize YouTube to support this struggling writer? How can moviemaking and YouTube Stars be the vehicle in which she learns, practices, and demonstrates literacy skills? Could this entry-point then transfer to other areas of reading and writing?
Literacy is social, constantly changing, and impacted by the practices of a particular group. Contemporary literacy is multimodal, dynamic, and global. For students to be active participants in a global society it is essential to support student creation and consumption of 21st Century Literacies, even if it is driven by gut-instinct and has not had enough time to be deemed “research-approved.” Meeting students where they are does not only mean recognizing what skills they get and what they don’t, it also includes their interests, passions, and quite possibly YouTube.

10 Compelling Issues to Catapult Student Writers

compelling Issues forStudent Inquiry (3)Writing, like any activity, takes practice to get better. But writing, unlike reading or math, is often neglected in schools for various reasons. Educators find the teaching of writing difficult and many times don’t know where to start. This unfortunate occurrence places students at a disadvantage. In fact, three of the 10 Common Core Reading Standards requires reading as writers, the Common Core is also the first time in history that equal representation and importance (10 Standards each) is placed on both reading and writing. Moving beyond the What is the Why. Writing helps students develop an understanding of content, develop empathy, demonstrate mastery, not to mention writing plays a key role in participating in a global community and expressing one’s view thoughtfully.

Students should write every day! When students write every day they develop their voice and see value in written expression. But what should kids be writing is a question often posed to me.

The best writing is REAL – Relevant, Engaging, Authentic, and Lifelong. Laua Robb offers 10 compelling issues in her book Teaching Middle School Writers that I feel align to meaningful or REAL writing for all kids. These issues were often favorite ones to explore and write about in my own classroom with high school students. Plus, these compelling issues are great for not only conceptual thinking but could be used for Book Discussions and to launch Inquiry Units.

10 Compelling Issues that Catapult Kids to Write:

  1. Change & Loss
    • Death
    • Moving
    • Illness
    • Job Loss
    • Physical Change
  2. Challenges, Choices, & Decisions
    • Goals
    • Obstacles
    • Negative challenges that become positive
    • Life Choices
  3. Relationships: Insight to Self
    • Freinds
    • Fitting In
    • Parents, Siblings, Teachers
    • Relationship with self
    • Pets
    • Trust
  4. Coping with Fears
    • What
    • Why
    • Actions
    • Future
    • Fear affecting Thoughts, Decisions, & Actions
  5. Pressures: Inner & Outside Influences
    • Why
    • Peers
    • Gossip
    • Moving
    • Motives
    • Self
    • Athletics
    • Competition
    • Pop Culture
  6. Identity Shaping: Hopes & Dreams
    • Privacy
    • What do I want to be?
    • Future self
    • Daydreaming
    • Fitting In
    • Who am I?
  7. Obstacles
    • Language
    • Weather
    • Location
    • Religion
    • Race
    • Gender
    • Divorce
    • Expectations
  8. War & Conflict
    • War
    • Conflict Good or Bad?
    • Without Conflict
    • Peace
    • Power & Control
  9. Restrictions, Rules, & Rebellion
    • Rules
    • Rulebreaking
    • Rebellions
    • Protesting
    • Family, School, Friends
    • Activism
    • Emotions
    • Actions
  10. Conformity & Nonconformity
    • Fitting In
    • Feelings
    • Conforming
    • Not Conforming
    • Exclusions
    • Easier to conform or be different

Under each issue, I have offered general categories in which ideas may be sparked and questions created that can catapult our writers into personal narratives. Through personal narratives, students are able to anchor their thinking and blend genres as they notice these compelling issues arise in what they read, view, and listen to. Connecting their lives to outside texts (whatever mode that may be in) helps students understand the importance of writing and how their lives and experiences are related. It makes the writing REAL!

 

 

10 Tenets of a Student-Centered Writing Classroom

 

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Today my work consisted of supporting educators on how to teach writing. Upon reflection, we realized that very few of us remember being specifically taught how to teach writing. Sure, we learned a lot about content, genres, and types of writing; but not one person raised their hand when I asked if they had an undergrad program that explicitly taught them how to teach writing. Empowering kids through writing is my passion, and I am driven to change the writing landscape that is found in many schools!

As a teacher of writing, I believe there are 10 Tenets of a Student-Centered Writing Classroom

  1. Teach the Writer, not the Writing – Focus on the learning, not the end product.
  2. Write in Front of your Students – Dispel the notion that writing is magic. Let young writers see and hear your process as you write in front of them.
  3. State the Why – Explain why Good Writers use specific skills, strategies, and resources when they write.
  4. Focus on Transferable Skills and Strategies – Answer and remind young writers how the skill or strategy can be used today and whenever they write. 
  5. Student Choice – Transfer ownership by letting students choose what they write about. Is it really about the content or is the content the vehicle in which demonstration occurs? Learning to Write, not Writing to Learn.
  6. Student Voice – Developing voice takes practice. Have students write often and in various genres. 
  7. Write for Real – An authentic audience and writing purpose engages young writers, provides relevance to writing, and allows them to share their story with the world.
  8. Surround Writers with Exemplars– Collect and share examples of writers and writings that students can gain inspiration from or that challenge them to apply a similar technique in their own writing.
  9. Differentiate – Pull small groups of writers or confer one to one with students based on needs and goals. While whole class instruction is efficient, small groups or one to one learning is more effective.
  10. Never Forget the Share – Honor the hard work young writers do through the share at the end of the class. Sharing promotes a safe community, builds relationships, and can target a teaching point!

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 

Recap App: 3 Back-to-School Ideas for Student Videos

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Last time we co-authored a blog post, Steven Anderson and I shared Blab. It was so much fun and such an easy app to integrate into the classroom we wanted to share another favorite of ours!

Recap is a free video response app created by Swivl which allows students to reflect, respond, and demonstrate through video. Recap is easy to use as both an educator and as a student. It is also an excellent way to model and use digital literacy modes in the classroom! Simply create a class and assign a Recap to students. Questions or prompts can be teacher-created in the forms of text or video, and can be assigned to individual students, small groups, or to the whole-class. When completed, teachers can share the whole “Review Reel”, or each individual child’s video. Share options include email or weblink!

Here are 3 Back-to-School Ideas that will have your students (and parents) Recapping through video response:

  1. Reading Interest Inventory – At the beginning of the year, giving students a “Reading Interest Inventory” provides valuable information about each students’ reading preferences and how they view themselves as readers. It also provides a launchpad to place the “right book” into their hands that may hook a reader for a lifetime. Using Recap, students could record themselves on their computer or ipad. These video responses would provide valuable insight to climate and culture of literacy in the classroom. Here are a few of unique questions to include on a Reading Interest Inventory: What is your earliest memory of reading or books? How do you choose a book? What do you notice adults reading? When should a person leave a book? What two books or magazines do you wish we had in our classroom library?
  2.  Student Goals and Reflection – Another way Recap could be used at the beginning of the school year is to capture a student’s goals for the year. Part of educating the Whole Child is helping the student see where they are with their learning and where ultimately they want to end up. We know that learning is a continuum. So using Recap students can record where they’d like to see their learning be at the end of the school year. Maybe they want to be a better math student. Or perhaps they want to be able to read more proficiently. What ever their goal they can capture it. Then throughout the school year they can refer back to it. Use it as part of their own personal reflective practice. How are they progressing? What do they still want to do. Have they met their goal and maybe it’s time for another. These videos can become a part of a larger learning portfolio where students examine their learning throughout the year.
  3. Parent Involvement – At the beginning of each school year, many of our youngest learners attend a back-to-school night or an open-house in which they meet their teacher, unpack their school supplies, and explore their new surroundings in the safety of their parents. It is also a time that many parents and family members come to the realization that their child is growing up and “leaving the nest”. What a perfect time to have a “message station” set up for parents or family members to leave a Recap for their student. Imagine the joy in a child’s eye after receiving a message from their parent or family member on their first day of school. Recap classes can be accessed through a pin number assigned to the class, so those parents or family members unable to attend can record their message from anywhere. It is also a great way to demonstrate to parents how you will meet the digital literacy demands in the Common Core State Standards, as well as how technology can be used in a meaningful way even with our youngest learners!

Recap is an engaging and creative way for students to share their understanding through video response! Recap is a free app and is available via the web (so perfect for chromebooks), as well as an iPad app. Coming soon – a  phone app, Recap from anywhere at anytime!