Learning Centers in a Blended Literacy Classroom

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I am excited to share this post which was co-authored with my friend, Steven Anderson @web20classroom. It is sponsored by ThinkCERCA, an online platform designed to empower teachers to personalize literacy instruction across disciplines.

There has been no greater impact on differentiation and student achievement in recent years than the effective integration of technology in the classroom. Traditionally, literacy educators spent long hours gathering resources, developing tasks and extensions, and reading and analyzing assessment to determine if the instruction was meeting the needs of students. Now imagine doing this same routine 3 or 4 times over to cover all Lexile levels in one classroom; exhausting. Technology has not only provided text access at students’ differing instructional levels, but has streamlined formative assessment, and has given back precious time to teachers to work with small groups and individuals.

The most effective blended learning model that literacy classrooms can utilize to meet the needs of all readers is the “Rotation Model” in which online engagement is embedded within a range of face-to-face forms of instruction. While this blended environment could look many different ways, we believe that the workshop framework provides the instructional vehicle that makes differentiation most successful. Technology or a blended model is not a component of the workshop framework, but utilized by a skilled workshop teacher, platforms such a ThinkCERCA, and an understanding of each student as a reader is when achievement is maximized.

In a workshop framework, there are 3 main components: Mini-lesson, Independent Practice, and the Share. The mini-lesson is whole group instruction. The teacher targets a learning objective, models it with a mentor text, actively engages the students in similar work, and then sends them on their way to apply the new learning to their own independent books. It is during the independent time that teachers experience the greatest challenges as well as the largest gains made by their young readers in the form of conferring. At the end of the time, the whole class is once again gathered to partner share or large group share out the important work they did during the day.

The question we often receive is centered around the Independent Practice. Teachers witness the benefits of small group instruction but are less certain about the learning taking place by the rest of the class. While there are many different ways to implement and manage independent routines, it is here where technology can best support young readers. During the independent time, centers are one way to keep students learning, not just completing busy work. Literacy Centers, infused with a blended environment is an example of rotation model at it’s best.

Centers –

  1. Student-centered, active inquiry, open-ended
  2. Purpose is to learn, offering opportunities for a variety of levels
  3. Center should be applicable to what you are teaching and what students are learning
  4. Established routines, organized materials, and dedicated space
Centers for the Early Grades Centers for the Intermediate Grades
Independent Reading

***accessible text at independent reading level, epubs, books and articles online

Independent Reading with Reader’s Notebook

***accessible text at independent reading level, epubs, books and articles online, digital reader’s notebook

Listening Center

***tablets, laptops, ipads, ipods

Multimodal Center

***devices and examples on one topic in multiple modes, consumption, and creation

Word Work

***active, and able to manipulate like a drag and drop option, text to speech, videos, word games

Beautiful Lines, Interesting Words, Author’s Craft

***accessible poems online, apps, resources, tools, publishing and sharing platforms

Writing Center

***comprehension checks, graphic organizers, student-created graphic organizers, video and audio, publishing and sharing platforms

Writing Center

***comprehension checks, graphic organizers, student-created graphic organizers, blogs, video and audio, publishing and sharing platforms

Wonder Center

***Virtual Reality, Videos, Infographics

Wonder Center

***Virtual Reality, Videos, Infographics

Poetry Center

***accessible poems online, apps, resources, tools, publishing and sharing platforms

Book Clubs, Literature Discussions

***accessible text, discussion forums, real-time chats and video options

Partner Center

***accessible text, audio and video

Drama Center (Reader’s Theater, plays, speeches)

***accessible material, video examples, clips, video and audio recording capabilities, publishing and sharing platforms

*** Technology Integration Ideas to Consider

Managing independent time in the literacy classroom is an area that teachers must address directly. Independent time, centers, or stations should not be busy work or only used sporadically. It does not have to be an either/or in regards to technology, instead, it is BOTH and supports students with all types of reading and writing they will consume and create in their lifetime.  It is a time for students to take ownership in their own learning. Integrating technology into independent time routines or centers is advantageous for both students and teachers and help to move all readers forward.

Want to learn more? Check out the Administrator Guide to Personalizing Literacy Through Blended Learning from ThinkCERCA! There is also a great webinar on crafting Scalable Blended Literacy Programs worth a watch as well.

References:

Blended Learning Models (Friesen, 2012)

Guided Reading, Fountas & Pinnell

Shaelynn Farnsworth is a Digital Literacy Expert in the Iowa. You can follow her on Twitter @shfarnsworth

Steven W. Anderson is a Digital Teaching and Relationship Evangelist. You can follow him on Twitter @web20classroom.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale, Censorship, & Banned Books

Adobe Spark (19)Last week, I began watching The Handmaid’s Tale, a Hulu original series based off of the novel by Margaret Atwood. Set in a dystopian society and ruled by an extreme, fundamentalist regime; the series draws viewers in with multiple storylines, dynamic characters, and pendulum swings oscillating between hope and despair. Along with the brutal objectification of females in this radical, religious Totalitarian society, The Handmaid’s Tale, sheds light on the power of the literate individual.

Books, reading, and writing are outlawed in Gilead, and one scene in an early episode where “The Eyes” are burning books and art, immediately reminded me of other stories about censorship and book banning, such as Fahrenheit 451. The ability to read, write, and think for oneself is seen as a threat to the new government of Gilead and there is not a more powerful illustration of this then in the “Closet Scene”  from episode 4. Offred, the main character, was locked in her room for 2 weeks straight and finds a Latin phrase, Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum, carved into the corner of her closet. This single phrase, written by her predecessor who failed to bear a child for the commander and his wife, risked her life to offer hope in the form of words that Offred couldn’t even translate. This small carving of words, hidden in the closet, reignited the fire of freedom that had been dimmed inside of Offred.  

                                            _________________________________________________

Words have the power to transport readers to new places, they can inspire a movement, and bring hope to those who identify with characters they read about or quotes that sing to their heart. This week marks the beginning of Banned Books Week, an annual celebration that recognizes  Students’ Right to Read and emphasizes the First Amendment. The theme for this upcoming Banned Books Week (Sept. 24 – Sept. 30) is “Words Have Power. Read a Banned Book.” The words in these banned and challenged books have the power to connect readers to literary communities and offer diverse perspectives. And when these books are threatened with removal from communal shelves, your words have the power to challenge censorship. (ALA)

The Right to Read implies that individuals have the choice in what they read and the ability to be selective in this endeavor. The same freedoms are extended to the group as well and oppose the individual’s efforts to limit what others read. “The right of any individual not just to read but to read whatever he or she wants to read is basic to a democratic society,” (NCTE). Censorship and the banning of books limit the access of information for students. It distorts their understanding of information, creates bias, and neglects to provide a whole picture of the successes and challenges of a community or culture.

In this age of information and with the access to content at the touch of a button, it is essential to develop critical thinking skills and savvy discerners of information instead of limiting what students read. Just as important is the classroom discussion around censorship, along with individual dives into inquiry around bias, banned books, and healthy skepticism.

During Banned Books Week,  I urge you to take part in the activities or create one of your own. In my classroom, I had students select a commonly banned or challenged book, preferably one they were familiar with, and answer the following questions:

  • Why is this book banned or frequently challenged?
  • What passages, lines, words, or characters are often attributed to the challenging or banning of the book?
  • What are the different opinions about this book?
  • What is your opinion?
  • Should this book be banned? Should any book be censored or banned?
  • How does censorship play a role in your life?

This short exercise made students aware of the issue, the sides, take a stand, and defend their thoughts. It provided us a perfect launch into Huck Finn (another frequently challenged book), as well as a larger, conceptual lens on censorship and the Right to Read.

Literacy = Power, Opportunities, Democracy, and Improved Professional & Personal Lives. And although contemporary books and movies, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, paint an extreme cautionary example of censorship and banning books, it does illustrate the importance of freedom and the role literacy plays in our lives.

***And if you are wondering the translation of the Latin words Offred found hidden in her closet, here it is: “Don’t let the Bastards grind you down”… fitting, don’t you think?

Contemporary Literacy Curriculum, #MakeLitREAL

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is “Do you believe curriculum needs to be more relevant for a 21st-century world? If you had the power to change the school curriculum, what would you change?

As society and technology change, so does the definition of a literate person. Teaching students to read and write through traditional means, paper and text, is no longer the only skill set needed to be considered literate. Literacy is a foundational curriculum component to every discipline. More than that, literacy is “inextricably linked with particular histories, life possibilities, and social trajectories of individuals and groups.” (NCTE)

The literacy demands of contemporary society require students to be dynamic, multimodal, skeptical, and global.  Few, if any, curriculums address these needs in full. It is up to the knowledgeable educator to provide a curriculum that ‘Makes Lit. REAL”. (Relevant, Engaging, Authentic, Lifetime) #MakeLitREAL

When planning units, creating tasks, evaluating curriculum, working with other educators, or coaching PLCs, I continually return to the acronym REAL. This helps to center the conversation, keep students at the forefront of decisions, focuses on the verbs (communicate), not the nouns (tech tool), and provide literacy opportunities that will not only strengthen their skills now but forever more. When you Make Lit REAL, educators see the absurdity of assigning a 7 page, single-spaced, book report and reimagine curriculum and tasks that prepare our students to hone skills needed today, not 20 years ago.

 

Traditional Contemporary
Consume 2 Dimensional Readers

Unimodal, one way, text on paper. Limited access based on demographics and teacher knowledge/experience

3 Dimensional Readers

Multimodal, multiple ways, interactive text, media literacy, dynamic infographics, and visuals, etc. Ubiquitous access to information, people, and experts. Healthy skeptics and discerners of information

Create Multiple types and purposes but typically done with paper/pencil or word processor Dynamic, interactive, unique, multiple types and purposes but additional modes (posts, video, audio, visual) that provide student choice and voice
Communicate Contained to classroom or school Global, allowing students to cross the geographical divide digitally
Connect Contained, local, never talk to strangers Connecting and building relationships cross-culturally and globally
Curiosity ? Inquiry, design thinking, PBL; developing problem seekers not just problem solvers
Contribute Community-based, volunteering Developing empathy and ethical responsibilities. Pose and solve problems at a global level. Strengthening collaboration and independent thought.

 

Literacy is not only a foundational part of every curriculum it is a cornerstone to us as humans. The traditional curriculum is falling short in providing contemporary students the skills they need in life. When you Make Literacy REAL (Relevant, Engaging, Authentic, Lifetime) and apply this lens to the current curriculum,  a clear picture of our past and where we need to head as educators emerge.

 

3 Essentials for Success in a Blended [Literacy] Classroom

Adobe Spark (13) (1)This post is sponsored by ThinkCERCA, an online platform designed to empower teachers to personalize literacy instruction across disciplines.

The use of digital learning spaces has exploded in use in classrooms nearly everywhere. Through Learning Management Systems (LMS) many educators are moving to put content online and extend learning beyond the four walls and beyond the school day. This Blended Learning approach is both beneficial but its definition can be tough to nail down. Blended Learning is different than merely integrating technology into the classroom. It provides all learners the ability and opportunity to contribute both openly and differently than they would in a traditional classroom. Simply putting a lecture online and calling it blended learning doesn’t cut it. Students need opportunities for collaborating with peers, creating new ideas, and formatively assessing their knowledge, all taking place in the digital environment.

When done correctly, any classroom can benefit from the blended approach, literacy classrooms especially. Literacy learning is unique in that there are both concrete and abstract concepts that work well in face-to-face teaching and in the digital space. We believe there are 3 essentials for success in any blended literacy classroom.

 

  1. Maximizing Physical and Digital Space – In a blended literacy classroom, success is partly attributed to identifying the “best” practices in both the traditional classroom and a digital space and blending them together. Whole class literacy instruction is best-done face to face. From the modeling of the teaching point to the scaffolding of the active engagement, a physical space in which students can gather and learn is preferred. Co-constructing anchor charts and a quick formative assessment during the active engagement provides educators timely information in which to inform instruction. On the other hand, enrichments for learning, differentiated content, and substantive conversations to construct knowledge may be best in a digital space in which the teacher can support student needs on a larger scale and students can personalize learning anytime and anyplace.  When one considers student needs in both a physical and digital space the list looks similar:

 

Instructional Practices Physical Space Digital Space
Whole Class Purpose: Gathering area to learn and share as a whole class, direct instruction

What it Looks Like: A carpet or rug, open area to accommodate students, transition or movement of bodies/tables for older students

Purpose: Shared digital space by all classmates and teacher(s)

What it Looks Like: A forum or class-stream where everyone can view, post, and comment. A repository of accessible resources, information, and tools that students can utilize during learning.

Independent Purpose: Student area to work, learn, and create on their own
What it Looks Like: A desk, table or flexible furniture, storage space, materials
Purpose: Student area to work, learn, and create independently
What it Looks Like: Individual student logins, profile page or virtual “locker” to store materials, information, creations
Small Group Purpose: Area designated to work as a small group of peers or a teacher working with a small group
What it Looks Like: A table; grouping of desks, chairs, or pillows; flexible for student needs and task intent
Purpose: Area designated to work as a small group of peers or a teacher working with a small group
What it Looks Like: A breakout room, group room, or other “digital space” language that designated a spot for students to work together. It may also include a way to assign and share resources peer to group or teacher to group
One on One Purpose: Area designated for partner work, peer conferencing, or teacher to student conferring
What it Looks Like: Conferring table, flexible seating, teacher moves to student
Purpose: Similar to small group with the addition of private peer to peer feedback, teacher to student feedback, messaging
What it Looks Like: Space used can be similar to a small group. Ability to target and differentiate messages and feedback to an individual or privately. Private assessment and gradebook
  1.  Fostering Collaboration and Communication – Although most of our students do not know the world without the internet, collaboration and communication in a digital space does not come naturally to them. In a blended literacy classroom, students are sharing their writing, participating in literature circles, creating multimedia projects in small groups, and providing feedback to each other. A blended environment asks educators to not only support student learning in content areas, it also requires special consideration on how best to grow and support students in a healthy and safe reading and writing community. These skills are often overlooked but essential for success in a blended literacy classroom. To do so, we must foster digital communication and collaboration skills that will impact not only their current learning but their digital footprint as well. One of the best ways is to co-create and establish norms for the blended literacy classroom. Digital space expectations would include communication, collaboration, sharing, messaging, appropriate use, etc. Here are a few to get you started:
  • Communicate effectively when in a digital space.
    • ALL CAPS = Shouting
    • Know your peers/partner/audience, is text lingo appropriate?
    • 3 before Me – have 3 other people read before you publish
  • Recognize all voices in group and peer to peer spaces.
  • Be careful when using jokes or humor online, it is hard to convey meaning through text alone.
  • When providing feedback to peers address them by name, use the PQP Strategy (Praise, Question, Polish), be specific, and sign your name at the end.  
  • During a class discussion on the forum: Be Engaged, Be Active, Be Reflective

 

  1. Accessible Texts and Materials – Finally, recognizing the capability of differentiating content based on student needs in a blended literacy classroom is an essential component for success. With the access to information and support from platforms like ThinkCERCA, blended learning should not limit student choice to one particular text or resource. In fact, through collaboration with the librarian or media specialists, student choice in what they read should increase exponentially. A digital text that is linked to an LMS (Learning Management System) is not blended learning. Blended learning in a literacy classroom includes multiple texts and information that are high interest and available at all independent reading levels. The Common Core State Standards are end goals that are scaffolded and applicable to any content which is seen in the expert reader. Expert readers apply similar skills no matter what they are reading. These transferable strategies are what we intend to fill our students’ toolboxes with and are done so through text in which they can independently access. And just like the fluidity of student interests, so too is their independent reading level. It can change based on prior knowledge, motivation, or interest. When students have endless access to information and texts everyone wins. Fill your blended literacy space as you would a classroom library; full of books, informational texts, articles, media, and audio at all levels and interests!  

 

These 3 Essentials for Blended [Literacy] Learning help to maximize the digital space to support all young readers and writers. Intentional virtual spaces, scaffolding collaboration and communication, and surrounding students with high-interest, accessible texts promote literacy learning and help to raise student achievement that will last a lifetime.

 

Want to learn more? Check out the Administrator Guide to Personalizing Literacy Through Blended Learning from ThinkCERCA! There is also a great webinar on crafting Scalable Blended Literacy Programs worth a watch as well.

Shaelynn Farnsworth is a Digital Literacy Expert in the Iowa. You can follow her on Twitter @shfarnsworth
Steven W. Anderson is a Digital Teaching and Relationship Evangelist. You can follow him on Twitter @web20classroom.

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.