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 

Amplifying the Writing Process with Technology

 

Conf

Yesterday marked the 8th year of the Iowa 1 to 1 Institute. A conference that is close to my heart, and has provided support, inspiration, and opportunities to me throughout the years. It is also one that I help to organize and run with an amazing team led by Nick Sauers.

This year, over 1000 educators gathered in Des Moines for the 2 day conference.  Dr. Robert Dillon kicked off the first day leading the learning on Leadership Day. The second day provided attendees with over 100 sessions to attend. My session focused on the influence of technology on the writing process and the changes that have occurred because of this influx. These changes have helped to amplify student writing in multiple ways. I have included my slides which highlights these changes, provides brief theory, as well as technology resources and tools to amplify the writing process.

Amplifying the Writing Process

Link to Slides found Here! 

What Gift Does Your Content Area Give to Children?

Gifts

Creativity, Problem-Solving, Self-Expression, Lifelong Communication Skills, Science, Thrive not Just Survive, Communication through Images; these thoughts, along with numerous other words and phrases that were shared, are gifts teachers give to their students through their content areas. Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to work with a group of educators from GHVS. The focus for the day was Cross-Discipline Literacy Strategies. Along with strategies to support literacy skills across the disciplines, I wanted the educators to keep in mind two points. First, every content area offers kids gifts; and second, to remember, they are the best reader and writer in the classroom.

While a common misconception is that cross-discipline literacy requires the use and study of non-relevant texts in content areas (ex. the teaching of Huck Finn in Industrial Technology), this was NOT a belief shared by the staff members at GHVS. A separate post could be written about the administration team at GHVS, but for now, I will simply state, the climate and culture in this district is one I wish I could share with others around the globe. First, the administration team has a clear focus and it is communicated with staff members, who they treat as professionals. Secondly, staff members believe that all students are the responsibility of ALL staff members. Finally, each educator came to the day with an open mind and collaborative spirit, helping each other through the sharing of strategies and practice is a norm for this staff!

With a positive culture, educators can do anything! And although the gifts that they felt their content area gave to students differed, they all agreed that promoting content-related literacy was something that helped to make these goals achievable. Providing instructional strategies, reading strategies, and writing strategies that are applied to content-specific “texts” increase comprehension and students’ ability to create similar forms of communication. We want savvy consumers of information, but also creators of content!

My passion, in education, is helping to support these gifts we give to students, specifically in the areas of literacy and technology. Here are a few of the strategies we used during the learning, as well as technology to support:

Sharing Cross-Discipline Literacy EDventureTo kickoff the day, staff members were randomly sorted into teams. Each group was given a pre-made set of slides (click on the image to the left to view an example set of slides). On each slide there was a link to a “point” on a Google Map that contained a text type and questions to answer. After each slide was filled out for the appropriate “point”, teams clicked on the next link (located on the bottom of the slide) which took them to the next “point” and text type. Staff members felt this game-based competition was engaging, relevant, and immersed them into thinking about text types! In fact, they have set up a time for further training on how to create a Google Map Adventure to use in their own classrooms.

When the Skill is Lacking, What Strategies  Will You Use to Make Meaning?

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (1)

 

Reading Strategy #1: Question and Purpose   Each staff member was required to bring 2 pieces of “text” that their students would read/view with them to the Professional Learning day. After the opener, they paired up with someone who was not in their content area. Each person shared their “text” and their partner then answered the following questions: If the “text” is the answer, what is the question? and What is the purpose of this text? This activity was eye opening. Staff members recorded their thought on a Padlet.(a virtual bulletin board where one can post text, images and video; collaborative and easy to use).

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Reading Strategy #2: Text/Me/So                    For this next strategy, the teachers actually applied it while digging into the Cross-discipline reading standards (click the image to view the template). This strategy requires the reader to use text evidence in the “Text” column, interpret and write in own words in the “Me” column, and finally make the connection or explain their understanding or application in the “SO” column. This effective strategy can be used on any “text” and is an easy fit cross-disciplines.

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (3) Reading Strategy #3: KWHLAQ                       This reading strategy takes a contemporary spin on the traditional KWL charts (click on this image to make a copy of this template to use in your classroom) that we have used in the past. While applying this strategies, educators read the Iowa Core cross-discipline writing anchor standards. The “K” column helps to activate prior knowledge by asking the reader what they already know about a topic or concept. Each letter of this acronym provides a specific task/purpose for the reader. This strategy could be used for a short piece of text, or could be utilized across a whole unit (for instance, when we studied Romeo and Juliet, my students used this organizer).

RAFTs Writing Strategy #1: RAFTs                                RAFTs strategy is a writing to learn strategy to help students understand lens and bias. (click on the image to read my blog post detailing RAFTs strategies). Staff members applied their notes from the KWHLAQ reading strategy to RAFTs. Each team chose a specific role (which could be anyone or anything,from a teacher or future boss to the voice of a pencil), a specific audience (student, parent, board member), format (letter, blog post, list), and purpose in the form of a strong verb. The topic was the same in each piece written: Iowa Core Cross-discipline Writing Standards.

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (4)Writing Strategy #2: Mindmapping                 Another writing to learn strategy is mindmapping. Here students demonstrate their understanding of a concept or topic through a visual, in the form of a map. Using Google Draw, the staff members created their own mindmap (cause-effect, flow chart, sequential) utilizing Google Draw to demonstrate their own understanding of a group members “text”. (Mindmaps are great for graphic organizers. Google Draw could also be used as formative assessment, think Exit tickets)

Cross-Discipline Literacy- A Focus on Pedagogy, Reading, and Writing (5)Writing Strategy #3: Infographics                   In almost every content area, Infographics can be used as a writing to learn strategy. Analyzing, evaluating, synthesizing; all of these cognitive operations can be applied to a text and then comprehension demonstrated through the use of an infographic. Canva (click image to access website) provides free templates for creating professional-looking infographics.

The day ended with a return to the gifts that we give to students in our specific content-areas, a sharing of the work that we did during the day, and a reflection on the value placed on pedagogical practices that support the students’ comprehension and creation of “text” across the discipline. On the way out the door, a student teacher stopped me and said, not only was this a fun day, but in college, it is hard to understand your role in literacy as a music teacher. Having a collaborative environment that even the physical education teacher could share ideas for me to use was nothing like I ever experienced before! I am a teacher of literacy, and the gift I give to students is communication through music!

My Mission – Accomplished!

All of my slides from the day can be found HERE

RAFT Prompts & Technology: Writing to Learn Across the Disciplines

RAFTsStudents need an arsenal of literacy strategies to apply in their personal and academic lives. The ability to locate, evaluate, synthesize, analyze, and compose content across multiple communication platforms demand educators to reevaluate their role in literacy. Middle school and high school teachers find this a daunting request, often confusing “Learning to Write” and “Writing to Learn,” and struggle to incorporate strategies to help students Read, Write, and Think in content areas.

“Learning to Write” involves explicit instruction, ranging from Kindergarten lessons in decoding, to understanding grammar or tone as Juniors. Learning to write focuses on a writing process to guide instruction. It can be used across the curriculum; having students construct a persuasive essay in social studies in support of democracy is an example. Through feedback, revision, and conferencing the social studies instructor is supporting the student through a writing process.

“Writing to Learn” provides opportunities for students to explain their current understanding of the learning and concepts being explored in the classroom. As a catalyst for future learning, writing to learn strategies have students recall, question, and clarify what they know and what they are still curious about. Writing to learn strategies often include a teacher developed prompt, but differ in that they are not typically writing pieces that students edit, revise, and take to the publishable state. Instead, students reflect, apply, and demonstrate their current understanding; teachers use this information to help guide future instruction as a type of formative assessment.

Students can learn perspective during writing to learn by using RAFTs Prompts. This acronym stands for:

  • R – Role (who is the writer, what is the role of the writer?)
  • A – Audience (to whom are you writing?)
  • F – Format (what format should the writing be in?)
  • T – Topic (what are you writing about?)                                                                                   and typically added
  • S – Strong Verb (why are you writing this? or purpose:Inform, Argue, Persuade, Entertain)

Gradual Release of Responsibility will help set students up for writing RAFTs prompts. At first, students may answer the same prompt:

  • R – A Jewish prisoner in a Concentration Camp
  • A – Cousin who fled to America
  • F – Letter
  • T – Their living conditions
  • S – Express

When students grasp the RAFTs strategy, student can play more of an active role in the design of the prompt by choosing to fill out the letters themselves . Allowing students to demonstrate understanding through a particular lens and chosen format increases engagement, relevance, and ownership. RAFTs Prompts can be used as formative assessment, to spark discussion, can be created from course content or readings, and can be completed individually or in a small group.

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 5.04.13 PMThrough the addition of technology, teachers can use this strategy as an exit ticket, responded via Google Form. The responses are collected in one spot and the form can be reused. This snapshot of understanding is perfect for determining focus for the next day’s instruction.

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-08-31 at 4.47.59 PMHave students create a comic strip demonstrating understanding of a concept  using Comix. Easy and free to use, comix allows any child to show their creative-side one thought bubble at a time.

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Understanding informational text or a sequential process can easily be demonstrated through Canva. Students can choose from many different layouts and design options to create a professional and free infographic that can be downloaded and shared!

 

 

 

RAFTs Prompts, used as a writing to learn strategy, provides students time to read, think, and write across multiple disciplines and using multiple modes and genres. Allowing student choice in part or all of the selected components increases meaning and engagement, launching our students into the mindset of utilizing writing to work through their understanding of concepts!

 

Fisher, Frey. Improving Adolescent Literacy: Content Area Strategies at Work. Columbus: Pearson, 2008.

 

 

Cross Discipline Literacy: Technology Infused Anticipatory Activities

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Currently, I am digging deeper into cross-discipline literacy strategies to support the educators I serve. Many non-ELA educators find teaching and modeling literacy skills to students a daunting task. It is my goal to break-down common barriers that teachers face, and to equip them with research-backed strategies to implement into their own classroom.

Currently, I am reading, Improving Adolescent Literacy: Content Area Strategies at Work (Fisher and Frey), which I would recommend as an excellent resource with practical strategies, including supporting struggling readers and ELL students.

In the chapter entitled, “Attention Getters: Anticipatory Activities to Inspire Learning,” Fisher and Frey state that anticipatory activities should not be focused on behavior, for example, bell ringers, time-bound, but instead should be tied to the introduction of a new concept. Anticipatory activities should elicit curiosity, provoke questions, and evoke recall and activate background knowledge. These activities are not intended to provide entertainment, but instead, to scaffold learning so that the responsibility shifts to the student. In fact, they suggest to ground new learning in meaning-based inquiry.

Literacy- Content Strategies That Work

1. Demonstration

  • Display a theory, concept, or phenomenon
  • An interesting demonstration does not replace the need for deep exploration of a concept
  • Also important to tell students the “Why”
  • Technology Tip: Connect with Experts via Social Media and connect with experts for demonstrations, guest speakers, or other classrooms. Check out G+ for “hangouts” and communities (my students connected with poets to learn from and share with the poems they wrote)

2. Discrepant Events

  • Surprising or startling to command students’ attention
  • Staged performance
  • Powerful to aid in memory – emotional connection
  • Include music, art, dramatic play
  • Technology Tip: Students are passionate about censorship, bullying, etc. Use iphoneFakeText to create a fictitious conversation between two students or you and the principal to evoke an emotional connection and introduce a concept.

3. Visual Displays

  • Visual tools to construct knowledge
  • Active participation by the learner because of the interactive nature of “technoliteracies”
  • Construct, share, and interact with information
  • Technology Tip: Use Google Maps to view pictures pre and post a natural disaster, such as a tornado, tsunami, or fire. Let students experience the devastation, visually.

4. Thought-Provoking Questions

  • This helps to assist students in organizing information
  • Meant to appeal to emotional channels of learning
  • May be general (KWLSH)  or more specific to the unit and encourage interdisciplinary examination “What is a hero?”
  • Driving or essential questions
  • Technology Tip: Use Popplet to have students mind-map and organize components to a specific concept.

Each of these instructional strategies can be used to introduce a new concept and provide meaningful work for students! And although these strategies may not be considered new, they provide a specific reason of what, why and possibly why. The best part… they are not content-specific and can be applied across grade levels and content area.