This post is the first in two part series of posts on some ideas I have been exploring over the past year in a half through in my Graduate Program. These ideas originate from a project I completed, Multimedia Literacy in the Elementary Language Arts Classroom: A RESOURCE FOR EDUCATORS. So often I hear people talking about educational technology without thinking about the why. This series of posts focus on why I believe we should be moving to teaching not just literacy, but multimedia literacy in schools.
Beyond Traditional Paper & Pencil Literacy
Traditional forms of literacy have long held a privileged status in elementary classrooms. According to The New London Group (1996), Literacy pedagogy has traditionally meant teaching and learning to read and write in page-bound, official, standard forms of the national language. Literacy pedagogy, in other words, has been a monocultural, and rule-governed forms of language (p.61). In the context of our current globalized society, educators need to engage their students in the culturally and linguistically diverse multimedia literacies that they encounter. Barriers continue to be created when educators continue to favour more traditional forms of literacy. Such as barriers of access to differing perspectives when other forms of literacy are not being shared with students or barriers of accessibility for students that are better able to express themselves with non traditional forms of literacy. For example, some students are better able to communicate their thoughts using speech to text software or audio recording. According to Jenkins (2013), while traditional reading and writing skills are still important, print-literacy ways of reading, writing, and interacting with text are not sufficient to satisfy the needs of an increasingly participatory culture.
Aligns with Universal Design for Learning Principles
As education moves to more inclusive curriculum and environments, educators have been exploring frameworks such as Universal Design for Learning (UDL). According to CAST (2015), UDL is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. Principle I, of the UDL framework, suggests teachers present information and content in different ways to reach all learners (CAST, 2015). Our classrooms are made up of all kinds of learners. Whether they are strong learners auditorily, visually, tactilely, sensorily, etc., by knowing our students and how they learn, we can choose various representations of work that suit the learners. If you have students that are auditory learners, you can choose to read books aloud, share an audiobook, or play a soundtrack. For visual learners, you could use films, YouTube parodies, fanfic artwork, costumes, toys or video games. Principle II of CAST’s UDL Framework, suggests teachers also provide multiple means of action and expression to their learners (CAST, 2015). Different learners have different strengths and challenges. In order to allow all students to show what they know to their fullestcapabilities, students need to be able to choose how they represent their learning. Encourage your students to interact with the text and show what they know in a way that play to their strengths or challenge them to work outside of their comfort zone. Often times students are asked to respond to stories they read or films they watch by writing about it. Offering only a written response as a choice limits how many learners you are engaging and how many will be successful.
Multimedia Literacy in Action
For the past few years, I have been working with Mr. Wiess and his grade 3 classes to help them create a green screen movie to capture their learning from their social studies research on Tunisia, Ukraine and India. Each year they research the traditions and celebrations and compare them with their own traditions and celebrations here in Canada. As a class they write and create scenes, that they then film and put together into one presentation.
This year, Mr. Wiess wanted to try something different from green screening so I suggested offering up more choice this time. Instead of requiring them all to do film a green screen we also gave them the option of using using Tellagami, Book Creator, or Toontastic to show what they know. Students were grouped and given a choice of what country they chose to research and report on. After groups conducted their research they were introduced to the apps and the formats they could choose to represent their learning.
Tellagami allowed students to customise an avatar of a character and voice record a message or type in a message. Backgrounds could be ones the students took, drew, found online or got from the gallery within the app.
Book Creator lets students represent their learning through the writing or telling of a story. Mr. Weiss showed them the new comic book layout in the app and the groups that chose Book Creator made a comic book. Students could use pictures they took, drew or found online. They could write with their fingers, type in text or voice record.
Toontastic is amazing as it has a huge bank of backgrounds, characters and props students can use. They can also import their own photos as backgrounds and they can even take a photo of their own face to impose on a character from the gallery. There is no option to add text to Toontastic so students tell the story through voice recordings.
Green Screen by Do Ink was used by students that wished to act out their scene and film it. Backgrounds imported could again be ones that students drew, took or downloaded online.
What I liked about these apps is that they all gave students lots of options in terms of how they added text and images to the stories. These multimedia formats gave them opportunities to create beyond traditional paper and pencil formats of text. Their text was found in their research notes, storyboards, scripts, acting, voice recordings, animations, illustrations and their culminating video.
Stay tuned for Pt.2 of this post! For more information see my site:
Multimedia Literacy in the Elementary Language Arts Classroom: A RESOURCE FOR EDUCATORS
CAST, Inc. (2015, January 22). UDL guidelines [Digital image]. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/take_a_tour_udl
Jenkins, H. (2013). Reading in a Participatory Culture: Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom [Kindle DX version]. Retrieved
The New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92.
I heard of the Global Read Aloud a few years ago and thought that would be a great tool to connect my class with others around the world. The idea was simple choose one of the books to read aloud to your class and connect with others around the world who chose to read the same book. Pernille Ripp the creator of the Global Read Aloud picks new books each year. She sets a start date and schedule of readings to keep everyone together but if you fall behind that's ok too.
Since I have been out of the classroom the last few years, I have not have the opportunity to do the Global Read Aloud with a class of my own. This year, I sent out some information on the project to see if anyone was interested. Noreen Holt at RF Staples responded and shortly after she reached out to Mary Kaliel at Pembina North Community School and she joined in as well. Noreen decided to jump in and participate with her grade 8 and 9 classes, 3 classes in total. Mary decided to join in with her one grade 8 class. The grade 8’s read Fish by L.S. Matthews, and the grade 9’s read Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick your Ass by Meg Medina. It was a huge learning curve for both teachers as not only was the Global Read Aloud new to them, there were several technology tools they decided to use that were new to them too. They used Edublogs, Twitter and Skype to connect with each other, as well as other classes, teachers, students and even the authors.
Noreen used Edmodo and email to find some international connections for her class but in the end her best connection was the one she made with Mary’s grade 8 class. We used Skype to do Mystery Skypes between classes as an icebreaker activity . Mystery Skype is a game of strategic questioning to figure out where the other class is located.
Twitter was used to follow the slow chat happening each week. The slowchat was where a question or two per week were posted by a class that signed up to moderate that week’s chat. Our students followed the hashtags for the week and then tweeted out answers to the questions that were posted.
Through the project students learned:
-reading comprehension strategies and writing skills
-to give positive feedback that moves the conversation forward
-digital citizenship skills (citing images sources, creating a positive digital footprint, etc.)
-the value of making connections with classes outside of their own schools
In the end, I think Noreen, Mary and their students learned a lot through this experience but just to make sure I asked these teachers to respond to a few questions for me. Here are their responses:
What were the benefits of participating in the Global Read Aloud for you and your students?
The students were forced to think “outside their box” when they read comments and blogs from other schools. They also were very aware of their audience and always made sure that their writing said what they had intended. ~Mary
The biggest benefit was the larger audience for their thinking. In all of my classes, the author of the book visited their blogs, read a few, and commented. Additionally, they had partner classes in the United States, and the grade eights also partnered with the grade eights in Pembina North. They Skyped with their partner classes and also read their blog posts and responded. I think the authentic audience was one of the reasons my students were so engaged.
The books are about issues relevant to the students right now. It was easy to connect to both books.
For me the biggest benefit was my learning. Blogging will be a part of my class forevermore. I enjoyed learning how to Skype class to class, and I will definitely do that again as well. ~Noreen
Were there any drawbacks to participating in the Global Read Aloud?
It wasn’t always easy to stick to the schedule. We had to be very aware of the schedule and had to fit the reading in when we had many other things happening. Your time is not your own. You don’t want to read too far ahead, but you also don’t want your kids to read any spoilers in the other blogs. ~Mary
The only drawback for me was the timing. Because I hadn’t known about the GRA in September, I had started class novels already. It was tough to keep to the GRA schedule while finishing the class novels. ~Noreen
Any advice for those thinking about participating in the Global Read Aloud next year?
Next year, I would have the books read much further in advance. I would definitely do this again. ~Mary
Do it! I learned so much about Skyping and blogging. ~Noreen
The Fort Assiniboine 7-9 LA class with Charlene Assenheimer is hooking up with the 7/8 LA class with Janelle Peister in Swan Hills to share small group novel studies. We are using close reading strategies based on the jr/sr high English collaborative group read last year, Notice and Note by Kathlene Beers. Janelle and I are alternating the teaching of specific lessons and students will be looking for signposts such as memory moments and words of the wiser to lead their discussions. Using sticky notes and annotating as they read allow students to read closely and think deeply as they are reading so they have something to discuss with their group. All of the novels have a common supernatural theme and the groups are made up of students from each school. Communication will be through texting and video conferencing with vc units and google hangout. Summaries of their discussions will be on our jr high blog post. Have a look, make a comment and follow along if you like. We look forward to hearing from you!
Last year Janelle Peister planned a grade 8 unit (The Spanish & the Aztecs) with the PHRD AISI team. This year she teamed up with Charlene Assenhiemer and they decided to take unit and roll it out at the same time but make some adjustments. At the beginning of the school year, they took a half day to plan with the Lead Collaborative Teachers. They decided to connect their classrooms and students that were 30 minutes away from each other in rural Alberta. Charlene is in Fort Assinaboine and Janelle in Swan Hills. A plan was made to adjust their schedules so they would be teaching the unit, at the same time so they could use VC and Google+ to connect their classrooms. One week, Charlene would do some direct teaching to both classes using the Polycom VC unit. The next week, all students worked on centers with their partner from the other school. Students collaborated using Google Hangout, Google chat and Google Drive. The following week, Janelle took over and did some pre-teaching of both classes through the VC followed by another week of centers. This rotation of direct teaching and centers continued for the remainder of the unit. For more information on this unit and resources, click here.
The following is a reflection by Janelle and Charlene after they finished this project the second time:
If someone time-travelled back to your classroom a couple of years ago, and then bounced back to your class today, what would they see, hear or notice that is different about the way your instruction and assessment has changed?
Janelle: At the beginning of my teaching career, I was very much of the mind-set that kids learned best when I showed a PowerPoint, they took notes and completed an assignment. After a review class, they wrote a quiz and that concluded our unit. This worked; kids produced work and they did well on their quizzes and I was able to have them sit and listen to the lesson, but they weren’t excited.
Now, having worked with teams that are trained in getting kids excited about learning, my classroom is chaotic, noisy but full of students who enjoy learning. Often, I give very minimal instruction- just enough to set them running- and they take the projects and create fantastic results. I have become a facilitator rather than a teacher. There are days where more instruction is required, and the students have to sit and listen, but they know that they have the opportunity when the instruction is done to demonstrate their knowledge in a way of their choice. Also, generally, the kids teach themselves or teach each other. Before the students will ask me what they should do, they ask their peers.
Charlene: I always knew that I wanted to be more of a facilitator of a learning than the sage on the stage type teacher. Kids in my class had no skills and no previous knowledge to critically work through the inquiry process. I became the read the text, take the notes, and do the project at the end kind of teacher. I am learning that project based learning can be more than the culminating assignment. I have come to learn that kids still require clear goals and some background knowledge but they become engaged when they can apply what they are learning, as they are learning, all through the unit instead of just showing what they know at the end. I am excited about the day when traditional testing is a thing of the past, for now I see that we teach a variety of ways to show what you know that still includes traditional testing.
What’s most important in your mind now as you plan and deliver instruction and
Janelle: There are two most important things in my mind when I plan: 1. What are the key concepts that I need the students to grasp and 2. How can I let them demonstrate this understanding in a way that is appealing to them? It is important for me to always have a wide range of assessments for the students to pick from; this way, they can always find something to their liking. However, each assessment choice will center on one key concept. This way, every student demonstrates their knowledge of the key concept; they just don’t always do it in the same way.
For example, I need the students to demonstrate that they understand the theme of the novel. As a class, we will discuss what potential themes, might exist, how we can phrase it best, and find specific examples from the novel to support this idea. From there, the students can create a PowerPoint, a poster, a board game, a song, a movie, or write an essay that focuses on the theme of the novel.
Charlene: I agree with Janelle that we must focus on the big rocks, or enduring understanding and skills we want students to learn and how we are going to keep them motivated and engaged in the learning. The outcomes are often abundant and I am getting better at sifting through and picking and choosing those that are most important. I have learned that collaborating with others to plan keeps things new and engaging not only for the kids but for me as well. I think that thinking outside the four walls of my classroom when I plan a lesson and thinking about how I can connect with others is a key part of that engagement. This type of connecting and collaborating is a big part of the global world we are preparing our students for. We have long known that kids learn best from and with their peers so when I plan I remember that I am always thinking of the relationships and connections that can enhance the learning experience for all of us.
What’s your most pressing challenges at this time? Future… (Advice, decisional… based on values…)
Janelle: I find it difficult to assign a grade to a student. I would almost prefer the class to be pass/fail. However, students, parent, administrators, and teachers are very grade oriented and it is a necessity to score each student.
Charlene: You bet Janelle. Grading is tough and again comes to well chosen and clear outcomes. The difficulty comes when kids begin to demonstrate excellence with unexpected outcomes. Because students are individuals, I tend to want to celebrate the individual, incidental learning that occurs in abundance with collaborative, project based learning. When students are engaged they are all learning but this leads to some questions. How do we direct them to the outcomes we’ve chosen when they are self directed and engaged in what they want to know? If they are learning, who are we to decide what is important? Can we assess the learning process instead of the product to get around content based outcomes? I could go on but assessment is definitely a challenging problem that only more frequent professional conversations can help to solve.
I would say another pressing challenge is finding teachers who are willing to collaborate outside of their four walls. I think teachers fail to realize how great they are and think it is a lot of work to change, but in reality all teaching is work. The stress that often accompanies change can be alleviated by thinking positively and being willing to take a risk. I know that some of our ideas succeed and some fail but how we handle our successes and failures is part of the inquiry process that we want to model for our students. I think teachers are becoming naturally risk takers and understand that success and failure is happening in their classrooms every day; however, as a culture we don’t like to share our failures and this is what prevents teachers from leaving the safety of their classrooms. We need to celebrate all the teachers that taking the leap to reduce this stigma by collaborating and sharing their successes and failures outside of their four walled classrooms.
What do you need in order to confront this challenge?
Janelle: Rubrics have been a lifesaver. Attending a PD session on creating really great, but vague rubrics would be incredibly helpful.
Charlene: I think I ranted a solution above.
What do you need to effectively apply differentiation strategies in your environment?
Janelle: You need the training. There are so many facets to teaching a differentiated classroom and it is a challenge to keep up with the different strategies that exist. However, if you have the willingness to try and the enthusiasm to engage the students, that provides a really great start.
Charlene: I think you need to know your students. Relationships are key to differentiation. Everyone must respect and accept individual differences in order to provide a supportive learning environment for everyone. If you don’t have a climate of inclusion than the focus will be on external motivators like fitting in instead of internal motivators like learning in a way that works for each student. This climate needs to be established first in your own classroom and then when students come together time needs to be spent creating a supportive, positive learning environment.
If you sent a time-traveler ahead a couple of years… What do you hope they
would describe about your instruction and assessment then?
Janelle: I hope that a time traveler would see a fun, relaxed and self-motivated classroom. I hope they would describe my instruction as foundational yet, intriguing. I hope they would describe my assessment as diverse.
Charlene: I hope that they could ask any student at any time and get a unique, inspiring and reflective answer that might include; I am learning…...by exploring…….because…… and found…………. I hope kids would be eager to share their learning not only with strangers but with others around them. I hope they see a teacher who is experimenting, learning and sharing alongside students. I hope there is evidence of self and peer assessment as well as teacher assessment using the same tools and outcomes.
What was your experience have the opportunity to roll this unit plan out a second time. What did you do differently this time? What advice would you give to other teachers that are thinking about collaborating on a project like this?
Janelle: I learned the value of instruction! AISI and I, with my class of grade eights in the 2012-2013 school year, tried to implement differentiation in the classroom in its purest form. This became uncontrollable chaos. Without instruction, the students were stressed and scared and became defiant and unwilling to work.
Though differentiation is a great idea, there is still a place for formal instruction. PowerPoint presentations still work; showing film clips on class content still works, having students answer basic comprehension questions still works. Differentiation does not mean letting the students run free, with little to no basic knowledge. Telling a student they can represent their knowledge in any way does not generate an inherent sense of motivation to learn. The students need to be taught the materials in a variety of ways (auditory, visually, and through discovery) and they need to be able to demonstrate their ability in a multiple of ways. However, it is still the teacher's job to ensure the students are properly set up for success, by providing students with a foundation of knowledge.
Charlene: I agree with Janelle, there are times when teachers still need to direct teach. Students do not yet have the skills or confidence to run with pure activity based learning. Self motivated learning is hard work. Being given a context and practicing the skills needed will help to ensure the success of all students. Direct instruction and practice still need to be engaging and multimodal to meet the needs of each student.
Blame it on the two feet of snow on the ground and the fact that it is May the 5th, but I have gardening on my brain. Seeds are strewn across my table, potting soil is piling up in my garage, and my hands itch to dig in the dirt. I want to get messy, scatter seeds, and watch, impatiently waiting for something new to grow. I really want to tend my garden. Sometimes people ask, why would I bother with a garden? My backyard is the size of a postage stamp and there is barely enough space to kick a soccer ball around, let alone grow potatoes. Gardening takes time, and hard work, and aren’t we busy enough? Do we actually grow enough food to make it worth our efforts? Those of us who garden know the answer is more than yes. The work is challenging and the results are often unpredictable. As we plant our seeds it is hard to determine if this variety and that soil will yield the best crop. We read up to date science and apply our current best practice of gardening. We bring this combination of knowledge and skill to our garden and hope and pray for the best. When things fail, we adjust and redo. When they thrive we record the winning combination to use again on future gardens. It is more than worth the effort, as through the process we learn and grow ourselves. Gardening is not defined by the sum of it’s parts, it is defined by the iterate process. It is through this process that we the gardener grow…not just our seeds.
This is the same hope and aspiration we have for our curriculum development prototyping work. We are often asked questions like: Why bother to contribute to this process? What if anything in schools will really change? Will the effort you put in produce? When asked over and over why we would take up such challenging, unpredictable work the answer is because we grow through the work. That is the intention. It is the same hope we have our students in our schools. We develop curriculum prototypes just as we would garden. Through an iterate process that is as important if not more than the finished product. We plant seeds of thought, seeds of hope, seeds of inspiration and pray that our future students will reap the rewards. When we notice students are no longer thriving, we will analyze, evaluate and once again begin the iterate planning process with an essential question:
Jim Parsons and Larry Beauchamp envisioned for Alberta Education a Curriculum Development Process that would allow for iteration to be applied to curriculum that is flexible, responsive, relevant, inclusive and engaging for all students. It is a process that at its heart is about learning and growing. Not just for students but for all of us in our community (garden) of learners (growers).
When envision what a curriculum prototype could look like, my colleague Alison Van Rosendaal posed the question, “If the metaphor for our old curriculum was the industrial model or more specifically the conveyor belt, what is our new metaphor for curriculum?” In our conversation, she shared the following video. We found this to hold a lot of potential for creating a new metaphor.
Keep planting, keep sowing and never ever stop growing.
This blog and resources website has been developed through the work of various AISI coaches in PHRD. The lead collaborative teachers for the 2015/2016 school year, Cheryl Frose, Christine Quong and Tammy Tkachuk will continue to update this site. If you have resources you would like to share or would like to contribute to the blog, please contact us.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Canada License.