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.

Digital Literacy: Teaching Infographics, a sub-genre

infographic components

During the past few months, I have had the pleasure of teaching a Digital Storytelling course. The focus was on how students can use digital modes to communicate their understanding of concepts, topics, and problems. Recently, the learning was on infographics. We live in a visual world, digital communication makes up most of the reading one does daily. Videos, images, and infographics are commonplace and examples of reading and writing digital literacies.

Digital modes of communication are best taught as sub-genres in the classroom. When considering Infographics and how best to teach students to consume and create them, the following are guidelines that will assist you in this endeavor.

First, start with an inquiry lesson in which students investigate a collection of infographics that are considered to be of high quality. I like the ones listed in the article entitled, 11 Best Infographics of 2015. students will find a variety of designs, structural examples, along with content areas. Students are charged with Identifying Commonalities, Naming Components of Good Infographics, and Providing Reasons to Justify Claims. (All which are aligned to the Common Core Writing Standards).

Second, identify a mentor “text” (in this case an infographic) in which students can use to refer back to when making decisions on their own infographic. Remember, a mentor text is one that has many access points students can use. It can be one that is teacher-created, or student-created, as well as one from an expert. It does not need to align to content, instead, the focus is on skills and components students use and show when designing an infographic.

Third, good writers/designers plan before they start creating an infographic. A storyboard or checklist containing components of an infographic will provide structure to budding designers. Check out Google Templates for examples, or better yet, have students create their own. The more complete their planning is, the more successful their creation of infographics will be.

Finally, provide a checklist containing the 7 Elements above with explanations, examples, or other activities that allow students to dig into the different areas while constructing their  own knowledge of this sub-genre.

  1. Topic: Student-Choice should be given when selecting a topic. Remember, we are working on skills and components of stellar infographics that they can use from this day forward, not the content! The topic should be relevant, engaging, as well one that is not currently an infographic that they can Google and copy.
  2. Audience & Purpose: Identifying audience and purpose of communication provide a lens in which to look through when sharing information. Just as in all types of communication, the skills students use to demonstrate their understanding through an infographic are transferable to multiple digital and text-based modes.
  3. Structure: Infographics have structure similar to what a reader may notice in non-fiction. Description, Compare and Contrast, Order, Sequence, Chronological, Cause and Effect are a few of the ways students can consider when structuring their information and flow.
  4. Hook: Good Infographics have a catchy title or image that “hook” the viewer at first glance. Students should identify this, not only in mentor examples but also as a skill that is transferable to all forms of communication. Taking time to practice this skill is essential!
  5. Balance: Infographics have a balance between text, images, icons, and white space. Succinct communication through words, phrases, and images demonstrate a command of the information and also design elements.
  6. Design: There are many different strands to infographics when dissecting design elements; start with the basics and build from there. Notice color schemes, fonts, and images. How do they promote or detract from the message? A site for those of us that are clueless when it comes to color choices is Coolors which generates possible options for users. When deciding on fonts, Canva’s Design School provides examples as well as reasoning.
  7. Sources: Finally, when students cite their sources, they not only enhance their credibility when providing data, support, etc., but they are also demonstrating good digital citizenship by avoiding plagiarism and recognizing copyright.

My love for infographics has been reawakened through the teaching of this course. It allows me to blend my passions in literacy and technology. Teaching digital literacy, and the modes that are associated with it as a sub-genre provide accessibility to educators and students for reading, viewing, and creating their own! Here are a few sites to support the creation of Infographics:

Day 3 Digital StorytellingGoogle Draw

Canva

Piktochart

Easelly