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Literacy

It’s Time To Think Differently About Writing In The Classroom

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It’s Time To Think Differently About Writing In The Classroom

by Terry Heick

Among the biggest changes of modern academic standards is the shift in the burden of general literacy. Rather than only ‘writing teachers,’ teaching reading and writing, now all teachers across all content areas are being asked to do so (something we’ve talked about before).

In the past, literacy—the ability to read, write, and understand—has been the domain of the English-Language Arts teachers (and elsewhere in the world, Literature and Composition teachers).

And this has levied untold damage to student academic progress.

Limiting the craft of writing to a single content area has altered the landscape of students’ minds in ways that are only now being revealed as math teachers are told to teach writing. Students are now used to flinging rudimentary understandings on exit slips in broken sentence fragments, taking notes that neatly curate other people’s ideas, and otherwise ducking the responsibility to craft compelling arguments that synthesize multiple perspectives on a daily basis.

So we—English-Language Arts teachers—respond by handing them fill-in-the-blank graphic organizers that coax them to give reason 1 reason 2 and reason 3 in clear sentences that shun complexity or intellectual endurance, provided their ‘writing’ adheres to an expected form.

And handing those same graphic organizers out when other content area teachers ask for resources.

Now, generations later, the idea of writing about math or science seems not just challenging, but forced and awkward. Science and Math, properly taught, are more akin to philosophies and ways of making sense of the world than “content areas,” offering an infinite number of prompts to spur students to write.

Are patterns important in the world today?

How do we create, test, and validate a model?

How do spatial relationships change over time? 

In any learning, writing is a seamless fit.

The Erosion Of Content Areas

In our pursuit of efficiency, we have reduced math to a series of equation-solving steps and extended arithmetic. Science has become a perhaps overly-micro study of stuff rather than a system for acquiring knowledge and moving from theory to data.

And here we are, and new standards and expectations are asking all teachers to teach writing. (Perhaps we could make ELA teachers teach Social Studies, and Science teachers teach Math and sufficiently confuse the situation once and for all.)

But worried math and science (or STEM at large) teachers struggling to cover their own academic standards are missing the incredible learning potential that writing has. Few things place the cognitive load on a student that the process of crafting a piece of writing can. And you might notice the idea of craft has shown up a couple of times already—a mix of art and science that’s (not coincidentally) perfectly parallel to the learning process itself.

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Dirt and metal.

Color and shape.

Culture and industry.

Learning and education.

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Writing is simply thinking with that idea of craft.

It needn’t be some blank, sterile, and academic form that makes students wail and teachers squirm. It’s just a commitment of what you think to paper.

While writing, students are required to put their fingers in their ears and try to wrap their heads around something in a way that not even close-reading can demand. It also has built-in personalization; done well, in writing students make their own hills to climb. 

The Problem of Appearance

Sadly, the poor essay has been abused in classrooms for generations, to the point where students think they hate to write.

Which is among the most significant barriers to true academic progress schools will have to make in the digital age: Convincing students accustomed to streaming YouTube while texting about an instagram thread on reddit and snarking later about it all on twitter while only burdening themselves with coming up with the most clever of #hashtags that sitting and dwelling with a single media is worth their time.

While English-Language Arts and general writing teachers will still be tasked with the teaching of the parts itself–including the writing process and grammar–spreading the burden of teaching writing across content areas will do a lot of things: increase formal and informal PD resources for all teachers and decrease the jargon that can obscure the teaching of quality writing as it becomes more commonplace.

But more than anything else, by spreading the practice of writing-to-learn and writing-to-demonstrate learning activities across content areas, there will now be the opportunity to reconsider the essay, re-frame the idea of authorship, and re-contextualize what it means to think and write deeply about something.

This is the 21st-century, and 21st-century thinking is different.

While it is full of connectivity and collaboration and stunning possibility, the 21st-century learning era is one of infatuation with image, visual spectacle, flashing alerts, endlessly accessible whimsy, and cognitively stunted communication patterns.

And in capable response, writing could be the answer we’ve been looking for, right beneath our noses the whole time.

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Literacy

11 Underlying Assumptions Of Digital Literacy

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11 Underlying Assumptions Of Digital Literacy

by Terry Heick

In understanding the shift from literacy to digital literacy–or rather to understand them both in their own native contexts–it may help to take a look at the underlying assumptions of digital literacy.

This means looking at what’s changing, why it’s changing, and what that means for education.

1. Schools should teach the content that matters most.

Put another way: We should promote the cognitive growth of the kinds of “things” that help people make their lives better.

2. People communicate through a variety of means chief among them reading and writing.

Put another way: Reading and writing are common and critical.

3. Literacy is about both skills (e.g., reading and writing) and understandings (e.g., when, why, and how to express and communicate ideas).

Put another way: Literacy isn’t any one thing, but rather represents a person’s ability and tendency to communicate and be communicated to.

4. Through practice, literacy skills will change with or without academic guidance. Thus, promoting literacy is a matter of transforming that reckless change to growth.

Put another way: Through practice, media users will, for better or for worse, ‘get better’ at communicating through technology. Through analysis, planning, modeling, scaffolding, and practice of our own, as educators, we can facilitate more strategic growth.

5. Literacy is unique in that it affects almost all other formal and informal learning, across all content areas, grade levels, and professional fields.

Put another way: Literacy is crazy important.

 

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6. Digital technology changes literacy–becomes digital literacy.

Put another way: Technology isn’t just about connecting; ideas are like fluid, adapting to the vessels that hold them.

7. Among these changes in the shift from literacy to digital literacy are the quantity, frequency, endurance, and tone of how we communicate.

Put another way: Abundance changes everything. When you can communicate almost any thought anytime, anywhere, things change. (See whimsy, snark, cyber-bullying, passive aggressiveness, skimming-abuse, devaluing of quality data and content, and other effects of this abundance.)

8. Holistically, then, literacy is literacy; on a more practical level, however, digital literacy creates slightly unique needs in terms of both skills and understandings.

Put another way: If literacy is different, what developing readers and writers need to know is different.

9. This could mean a lot of different things, from knowledge of the nuance of social media platforms (e.g., subtweeting), to acronyms, to quicker transitions between ideas, unique structures (shorter paragraphs) to social dynamics imposed on almost everything.

Put another way: It’s complicated and only going to get worse.

10. Eventually this will produce new genres of literature and media (e.g., transmedia, gamified social experiences, blurring of video games and movies, blurring of blogs, books, and transcriptions, etc.)

Put another way: See #7.

11. For now, this requires educators to reconsider what it means to read and write.

Put another way: That means us.

11 Underlying Assumptions Of Digital Literacy; image attribution jennydowning

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Literacy

4 Ideas For Motivating Adolescent Male Readers

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ideas-for-motivating-adolescent-male-readers4 Ideas For Motivating Adolescent Male Readers

contributed by Kenny McKee

It’s no secret that state and national assessments continue to indicate that male readers lag behind female readers in literacy and literacy skills.

The gap tends to grow larger as students enter adolescence. It’s also no secret that many students dislike reading — in class or at home. Just ask a high school teacher…or a teenage boy. While it’s not true that all teenage boys dislike reading, there is a growing trend of many becoming unmotivated readers.

Obviously, students who are resistant to reading are unlikely to get better at it. Here are four ideas for motivating adolescent male readers.

4 Ideas For Motivating Adolescent Male Readers

1. Focus On The Now

Oftentimes, teachers emphasize the importance of reading skills or reading content by saying, “You will need this for the test,” or “You will need this for college,” or “When you get to the real world, you’ll need to be able to do this.” Well, students are living in the real world right now and for the most part, they have real concerns about their lives that they want to solve.

Many boys (and teenagers overall) like to know how learning impacts their lives in the moment, and they are generally not concerned with how schoolwork relates to an unclear future. Focusing on the future can lead to procrastination, since, to young men, the future seems a long time away (Smith & Wilhelm, 2002). Also, teachers can lose focus on students’ needs in the present.

We can make the reading we choose for whole-class instruction more motivating by relating it to the ‘here and now.’ Survey your students to determine what they want to learn, and select reading materials aligned with their interests. Have students—male and female readers—create products, presentations, or skits from their reading materials.

Many boys will readily engage in activities that ask them to create something meaningful or to perform for their peers. Also, consider designing inquiry units where students research answers to questions that concern teens, such as “Is the senior year of high school necessary?” or “Is love really all you need?” Weaving literature and informational texts around such topics can motivate many students, especially if students have some voice in what the inquiry topics will be.

2. Use A Variety Of Text

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In some schools, there is a narrow view of what constitutes literacy. Even with the adoption of Common Core State Standards that emphasize informational text, the primary focus of secondary English language arts classes, especially in high schools, is often the study of literature. Male readers engage in many other forms of literacy that traditionally are not valued by teachers. Since many boys do not read teacher-privileged literary fiction texts at home, many of them classify themselves as non-readers, even if they do extensive reading from the Internet, magazines, and newspapers (Cavazos-Kottke, 2005).

One solution that can have tremendous positive effects on motivation is incorporating self-selected reading as part of the English language arts classroom. Conferring with students individually over self-chosen reading provides opportunities to validate and support boys’ independent reading. Once you have learned a bit more about your male students’ reading preferences, you can find texts with similar genres, themes, or topics to include in whole-class reading. You can also better select texts for a classroom library.

3. Set Them Up For Success

Many boys need to feel like they can accomplish a task in order to even attempt it. Thus, goals must be perceived as achievable in order for boys to feel competent. The most-motivating activities offer success and demonstrate evidence of growth (Cleveland, 2011).

Scaffolding and differentiation strategies can contribute to developing a sense of competence. For example, many teachers use Newsela, a site that allows the user to alter the reading complexity of recent news stories. Students can even self-select their own readlng levels based upon factors such as familiarity with the topic, their reading purpose, and their comprehension.

Another option for students is using social scaffolding techniques such as Say Something. Students can select reading partners and then take turns reading, frequently stopping to discuss their comprehension of the text. Sentence starters can be used to help students initiate those conversations.

4. Use Male Reading Role Models

Many educators believe that a ‘Boy Code’ that stems from an absence of positive male role models, the massive influence of the media’s distorted images of masculinity, and the fear of being labeled ‘feminine’ impacts reading motivation. Because girls generally develop literacy skills at an earlier age, many boys perceive reading as a feminine activity. This perception leads to some boys shunning reading. Since they do not participate in school reading, they become less proficient at it, which perpetuates their lack of motivation (Cleveland, 2011).

Role models for male readers are important for infiltrating the beliefs of the ‘Boy Code.’ Many people point to the under-representation of males in the teaching profession, especially in English classrooms, as a factor giving the ‘Boy Code’ more power. Some studies have found that bringing successful men into schools helps. Some evidence of this claim is that boys in wealthier districts generally report reading more often and have higher reading assessment scores because their fathers are likely to have jobs where literacy is valued.

These boys are more likely to view literacy as a masculine trait (Sadowski, 2010). Especially for boys living in poverty, it is important for male educators to discuss their reading and the importance of literacy in their lives. In addition, having successful and influential community members share the ways they use reading can be enlightening to young men.

Kenneth McKee is a literacy and instructional coach with Buncombe County Schools in Asheville, NC. He is a 2014 ASCD Emerging Leader. To learn more about his work, follow him on Twitter (@kennycmckee) or visit his website kennycmckee.com; 4 Ideas For Motivating Adolescent Male Readers; image attribution flickr user gammarayproduction

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Literacy

A Reading Comprehension Tool To Simplify Text

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reading-comprehension-toolA Useful Reading Comprehension Tool To Simplify Text

by TeachThought Staff

Need a reading comprehension tool to simplify texts for students?

Something practical, along the lines of our “How To Google Search by Reading Level,” and Conversion Chart For Reading Level Measurement Tools? You may find some use in rewordify.

In short, you copy/paste text to be ‘simplified,’ and it does its thing. It attempts to simplify the text at the vocabulary level (as opposed to syntatical, structural, or idea level). Nonetheless, when vocabulary is the barrier, it does the trick. The replacements don’t always do what they should–simplify the text to make it more readable for struggling readers, or students reading beyond their natural level. Sometimes the definitions are themselves confusing, as they add an additional cognitive movement the student has to make, internalizing this now sterile definition back into some kind of meaning.

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In our brief use, we’ve found it useful in the right circumstance. You can’t copy/paste a chapter from a book and hand it to a child to read as a ‘modified text’ that has been ‘personalized’ for them. It’d simply make a mess of the text, and likely ruin the reading experience.

What you can do, however, is use it to simplify short excerpts for individual readers, or for a whole-class read. You can also let students use it themselves as they will, or as a model of how passages can begin to be deconstructed.

The developers explain the features of rewordify:

  • Work with all your documents in one convenient place
  • Edit and delete your documents
  • Make any document public, so anyone can find it from the search box
  • Make any document link-only, so people need a link to view it
  • Make any document private, so people need a password to view it
  • Save vocabulary lists
  • Keep track of what words you’ve learned, are learning, and want to learn, and more!


A Reading Comprehension Tool To Simplify Text

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