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.
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.
In my role as a Collaborative Lead Teacher (CLT), I take my work in education quite seriously. Lately, math has been in the news as some parents and certain stakeholders have raised concerns with the “new math” that is not “real math” in their opinion. My role this school year is split between teaching 0.5 FTE in a colony K-9 school as well as 0.5 FTE in my CLT role. I teach mathematics for all grades, K-9 and have for the last four years (inclusive). This has allowed me to work with the same students year after year, continuing to develop ideas and strategies to gain more depth with my students. I often hear other teachers tell stories that in June about how they often inform the next grade level teacher, “Good luck with these students next year! You’re going to need it!” I have the privilege of looking in the mirror every June to say to myself, “Good luck with these students next year!” Then I spend most of September telling my wife about what a lousy job last year’s math teacher must have done with these students. All joking aside, it is a unique teaching situation that I am in and I have been working through the “new math” with a keen interest to see how it develops the students’ learning over the years.
Every year, I try these “new” strategies with my grade 2 and 3 students. It takes time and effort to work with open number lines, personal strategies, and true mathematical understanding. I have also shown some traditional methods that parents seem to long for, and will admit that these strategies seem to work rather quickly. However, many of the older methods do not teach math. They teach procedures. I have students (who, remember, I get to know very well over several years) who I know don’t really understand how bigger numbers work, yet they can perform traditional algorithms with perfection. It is an interesting and frustrating process to ask a student what one hundred more than 326 would be, and they look at you like with confusion and stumble and fail to explain any of their thought process. Yet, ten years ago this student would have passed grade 3 with an incredibly high math grade on his or her report card.
My thoughts and ideas have recently been reinforced over the last few weeks through a conversation with an Alberta Education math representative, my work in a math 10-3 classroom (where students believe they are stupid in math but some are actually brilliant), and a session I attended at last week’s teachers convention. The session at convention had a story of a grade 6 student who spouted off “56!” when asked what 7x8 was, but did not have a clue how to explain what 7x8 actually meant. What good is it to teach rote facts that involve very little thinking (plus we all have a calculator on our smart phone) when the students cannot even comprehend the meaning behind their answer? This is shallow, useless information that will not actually help the students in the real world. I hope those of us who appreciate and understand the thinking and rationale behind this “new math” curriculum are able to carry on some of this work and develop stronger mathematicians for our future.
I really feel that it is with the “new math” that we get to really see what students do and do not understand in their math. If we continue to work through the process and find new ways to represent the math and strategies that work for each child, we can really develop a solid foundation for their mathematical future rather than pretend everything is ok and let the Jr. High teacher deal with it.
The other day, I overheard someone say, "Here is another new thing they want us to try." This is not something new, I have heard this comment made many a time during staff meetings and PD days. It made me think is Universal Design for Learning (UDL) just another new thing that we are making people do? Will our practice really change?
Last week my grandfather passed away. While my aunt and mother were going through to clean out his room, they came across a book on my grandfather's bookshelf titled, "Learning to Speak and Write". It was published in 1924. When I opened it and read the foreword to teachers, I was shocked and disgusted.
"The above-average mind is the most valuable single asset of the race"
This statement made me realize that, although it seems that we go back and forth or seemingly in cycles in education, we are making progress. In 1924, it was acceptable to value the above-average mind as our single most valuable asset and I have no doubt that this above-average mind was judged based on their reading, writing and math skills.
Currently, we are focused on building community and respecting diversity in our division. We are teaching our students that people learn differently and that we all have different smarts or intelligence. No longer do we believe that those, who are strong readers, writers, and are good with numbers are the smartest people in the room. People are smart in many different ways. We talk about word smart and how it can be applied in various ways: number smart, picture smart, body smart, nature smart, music smart, people smart and myself smart, all equally valuable.
This is a relief to me, as growing up, I never felt like I was "smart". I was the kid that was pulled from class to go to the reading resource room. I have never been a strong writer, in fact this is my first blog post. I have been building up the courage to write for the past 5 months. Number smart would also not describe me. Strange that I wanted to be a teacher, even though I was never a strong student.
Through UDL, we are headed towards true inclusion. Jennifer Katz explained it well at a session she did at the Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium. She discussed how that in many schools we are still in the parallel play phase. We have many students, who in the past were excluded by being taught in separate schools or classrooms are now in our classrooms being taught parallel to most students. However, they are being taken out of their class into small groups or working on other things even in the same room with their Educational Assistant. That is not inclusion! Inclusion means every student at the table. It means all students get the same task but could have different goals. While, we are not there yet, we are moving in that direction.
Education has come a long way since 1924. It is important to think about our practice and consider why and how we are doing things. Focusing on UDL has made me question the way I have done things in my class. Do my students feel safe, cared about, and loved? Are ALL my students at the table? What barriers are there for my students? How can they best show what they know?
Does this take time? Yes it does, but it is important work that we are doing. UDL is not a fad, it is just a part of our journey to true inclusion!
On August 20th and 21st, a handful of us from PHRD went to an ERLC session called "Using Technologies to Support Literacy for All Students". The conference focused on five tools: text to speech, speech recognition, word prediction, visual mapping, and symbol writing. I was impressed with the way the tools could help students and easily become such a regular part of any classroom for any student who would want to use the tools. I then thought of students that I have taught in the past who struggled in school, no matter how hard they worked, and found the required assignments extremely frustrating and emotionally draining. At the conference, we saw videos of real students from real public schools using these tools and exemplars showing the improvement in their work. The results for me were indisputable. These tools are a great way to help those students who are capable of learning the content, skills, and other fun stuff that we want them to learn, yet their ‘invisible disabilities’ have prevented them in the past. I love how reading and writing do not have to interfere with a student’s understanding of math, science, social, or any other subject any more with these assistive technologies.
In my excitement and enthusiasm, I was discussing what I learned at the conference with another teacher. This teacher listened to me, although I could tell there was plenty of skepticism. After I told stories of the videos we saw of real students using text to speech and speech recognition, the teacher I was talking to asked me, “Okay, fine. But will these students ever actually learn to read and write?!?”
My answer, after a brief pause: “Nope. They won’t ever learn how to read. Of course not. That’s why they need these technologies.”
I think we can’t get caught up on making sure these types of students learn how to read and write. We have to realize something simple – some of our students are not going to learn how to read or write the way that we've been teaching them and this can have disastrous consequences on their schooling performance and emotional experiences. I don’t mean to say that these students cannot read or write at all. They are simply not going to be able to read and write the traditional way, at grade level or at a place where we wish they could be. Through the use of these technologies, we can begin to eliminate barriers and overcome the ‘invisible disabilities’ that are holding these students back and help level the playing field for all students.
I should note that through more conversation, the teacher I was talking with now understands the use of these technologies and appreciates their use in our classrooms.
Pembina Hills has purchased Word Q and Speak Q, which have the tools of text-to-speech, speech recognition, and word prediction. We look forward to rolling out these assistive technologies throughout the upcoming school year!
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.