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!

Differentiation: Workshop Framework to Support All Students

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 3.55.32 PMA week after an invigorating ITEC conference, Matt Degner, a principal in Iowa City shared a blog post with me from a teacher implementing Genius Hour in his classroom. Matt and I have had many conversations about this topic, and while his teacher spoke about the various tasks students in his room may be working on; I realized, for many, constructing a framework that supports student-directed learning is difficult for many educators. Breaking the traditional model of a factory-like education system, where all students are expected to be in the same place and on the same content, is a daunting expectation.

Channeling my personal experiences with Genius Time, mixed with the instructional framework of Atwell’s Workshop Model Classroom and the refined learning from my experience at the Teacher’s College in New York this summer, it dawned on me that the Workshop framework would be ideal in this type of setting.

My Advice:

End Goal: A deep student understanding of a concept while honing skills necessary to tackle any project-based exploration. Through Genius Hour, or Passion-Based Learning, we want students to become experts in a particular area, obtaining a depth of knowledge that is transferable to multiple situations the concept is placed within.

Skills: For this area, the advice of my friend Cornelius Minor is a constant reminder! Identify the skills necessary to move all students forward. What does this type of exploration and eventual sharing of learning have in common no matter the student-chosen content?                                                        **********Teach the STUDENT, not the assignment!*****************                                      Example skills may include, developing a driving question that is unGoogleable, gathering reliable and relevant sources, or communication through writing.

Instruction: The beauty of the workshop framework is that it allows multiple student and teacher activities to be taking place in one class period. The 3 major type of instruction include:

  1. Whole Class Instruction – Identify a teaching point, decide on mode of delivery, model, practice and send them off to continue application. This should be streamlined to take 10-15 mins.
  2. Small Group Instruction – Identify a common need with a small group of students. Intentional learning with modeling, application, and follow-up is a basic template. Targeted instruction to enhance student application of skill identified. During small group instruction, it is an excellent time to leave specific “mentor texts” behind for continued reflection and application.
  3. One on One – During independent work time, teachers can confer with students about their progress, success and challenges, in order to collect formative assessment. This general pulse of the class allows future instruction that is targeted and relevant to the needs and end goal.

Share/Reflection: The workshop model also builds in the value of reflection and the sharing of work within the framework. Many times the learning is in the Process, not necessarily the end product. The sharing of their learning is not only valuable in Genius Hour, but in many other projects. A different audience than the traditional, lone teacher increases engagement and relevance and demonstrates the application of learning beyond the four walls.

The Workshop Framework is versatile to fit any content and time restraints. To orchestrate differentiation within the classroom, the focus must be clear and the ability to get many “plates” spinning at the same time an objective. The framework allows all students to progress simultaneously no matter where on the continuum they enter our room!

Advice That Hurts…

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As I prepare to begin my second year as a consultant for a state organization, a conversation I had with an administrator many months ago weighs heavily on my mind. Actually, one sentence he stated specifically.

“If you want to make any sort of impact on education you need to get back into a building, not work as a consultant.”

Upon the completion of my graduate degree, I knew I wanted to pursue a different type of leadership role within the education field. I debated, and am still debating, if being a principal or superintendent is the right calling for me, but I knew it was time for me to take a new career path. As luck would have it, a position opened up that provided opportunity to blend my passions of literacy and technology while assisting districts with school improvement initiatives. As I explained to my son one day, my new role would allow me to have an impact on the education of many students across the state. I was proud of this opportunity.

That is, until I realized that some view my job as detached and uninspiring.

The one sentence mumbled in the middle of a conversation is something I think about weekly. And although I do not have a clear opinion yet, I reflect upon it often.

 

to be continued….