Monthly Archives: November 2015

What’s the Point?

We all know by this point how important digital literacy and digital citizenship are for our students. Like any new initiative roll out, things will take time before the continuum that the Saskatchewan Government has created begins to gain traction in schools and school boards. Like the video we watched in class of the lone raver at the music festival, once others join, more and more will find this focus on digital citizenship irresistible (or mandatory), and will have it incorporated into their classrooms.

Creating a buy-in then, is essential for those first few converts. In this case, what can we do to pique the interests of others (teachers, educational admin) to take this SK continuum seriously? The document is at this point not going to be touched by many. While resources abound around the internet, it’s intimidating for anyone, let alone an educator that feels uncomfortable using email as a means of communication with parents, to read such a document and put together resources that are authentic.

It’s fortunate that this class exists as a means of creating those buy-ins for schools, teachers, and yes, parents to see how it really isn’t so intimidating a topic, and that it does need to be a subject that is broached in the classroom/school/home.

The website I’m currently making will hopefully serve as a stop gap between the SK Curriculum and Ribble’s 9 Elements for parents, school admin, and teachers I list parents first simply because without home support, there is not going to be the comprehensive consistency that is required to monitor and support positive behaviours online. School admin comes next because, let’s face it, without the pressure to add yet another topic into the classroom dialogue, most teachers will exclude it.

Not because it isn’t important, but because, and I’m preaching to the choir at this point, teachers are already overworked and are juggling a thousand things at once; one more initiative, and everything gets affected.

School admin will need to set up a school environment that conforms to the suggestions and requirements laid out by the SK Digital Citizenship document, and to provide teachers with a place to start that does require a buy in, but isn’t as simple as step-by-step classroom lessons. Alongside this facilitation, a literacy or technology specialist (usually shared between a number of schools) would be excellent in supporting teacher learning. Giving teachers the opportunity to take PD on this curriculum, as well as improving their digital proficiency in classroom supports like Google Drive, Classroom, and Read & Write for Google Chrome would improve confidence and would likely increase the chances that teachers would follow through with modeling and instructing students in these areas.

Creating a timeframe to roll out this initiative would also be helpful for schools. This time of the year would be a terrible time to roll out a new initiative. Everyone is coming off report cards, the holidays are fast approaching, and everyone needs a break. Making a mention of the rollout before Christmas might provide teachers the opportunity to simply mull the idea of digital citizenship around in their heads over the break. Following the holiday, admin could introduce the SK Digital Curriculum to their staff, alongside an easily understood and accessible website that offers lots of resources and tips for teachers. Teachers would then have a variety of PD opportunities to look deeper into these resources, and to brainstorm how to pull these resources into authentic learning experiences. The goal could be that all staff are to try and implement this new curriculum into their classrooms in the Fall. This sets a goal that is far enough in advance that it is manageable for staff. Getting a new initiative thrown in your lap on the first day back after summer is never welcomed warmly, so knowing ahead of time would be ideal.

This is what has been on my mind over the last couple weeks as I’ve formed a love/hate relationship with the WordPress website creator. I sincerely am hoping to create something that will be relevant, accessible, and useful to my colleagues, as well as to my school, my students, and their parents.

Star Wars is SOOO topical right now

One future idea for this class in the future would be to collaborate more to create a class-built site that answers all the issues I have spoken about in this post. That would ensure that it would be used as a resource in the future, and perhaps even purchased? by the ministry as the much-needed interactive resource part of the SK Digital Citizenship package. Thoughts?



Back Breaking Major Project

Long time no blog. Well, not this one at least. Since the last two posts, and three screencasts later I have really realized that the time I have to keep at my final project is slowly dwindling down to nothing. And there’s still so much to do!

I made the mistake of thinking that the website design would fall into place, but after a week of nights I’m finally starting to get it to look the way I originally envisioned: A static front page with little clutter, and clear images that represent the different sections I am focusing on (9 elements, teachers, parents, schools).

A sneak peek of how well it’s coming along

I really don’t want to use anyone else’s images for this project, which will mean either creating my own in illustrator, or doing something else…

I am struggling with content for some of Ribble’s 9 elements, which is helping to answer the question I had earlier on in the year which was ‘why did Ribble stick to the elements, without giving some concrete examples of how they can be integrated into the classroom?’ I totally see why now. It’s hard to differentiate the different categories (and really, should you?), as many of them overlap.

I have had an easier time with resources for the teachers/parents/and schools sections, which is really the main focus: Getting reluctant teachers, parents, and schools a lifeline to start thinking about these issues, and how to easily implement them in their schools/homes. That said, I still plan on making several videos that will condense the information I will be sharing into an easy to digest format. I have realized through reading too many papers and articles this semester, that often it’s much easier to watch a video to help all the concepts gel much better. Plus, it’s easier to access for those busy people who don’t have time to read a bunch of stuff on the blurry screen of computerland.

Anyone else tired?

Using Read & Write for Google Chrome to Support Literacy Growth in the Classroom

Texthelp’s excellent chrome add on Read & Write for Google Chrome is a great way for teachers to allow students of all abilities to increase their knowledge and use of meta-cognitive strategies that will allow them to become better at comprehension and decoding when reading, as well as better writers.

In the past, any student with a technology support request written in their personalized learning plan (IIP) was given the opportunity to use Kurzweil, a program that allowed students to listen to written digital texts, as well as provide answers through voice and/or through predictive text. It also featured a dictionary, the ability to segment words into syllables, the ability to listen to any given word, etc. The biggest drawback with this software was that it was licensed, expensive to buy, slow, had poor design that wasn’t intuitive to workflow needs, and always crashed.

As you might imagine, both the teacher and the student using the program quickly felt that it was unreliable, and this was a big wrench in terms of teaching said students to gradually use the software independently with success. The negatives outweighed the positives, and therefore teachers balked at using the tech, because it was such a headache.

This year a ray of sunshine has come to our classrooms in the form of Read & Write for Google Chrome. This app is everything Kurzweil should have been. The trick now is to try and convince other educators to not be wary, and to try using this in their classrooms. I have a large number of students in my classroom reading at least two grade levels below their grade. I have found that after training them in how to use the tools in R&W through direct instruction, students have all been able to quickly begin to use the program, and as a result are able to read grade level texts, and share their answers in a way they wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

Even students who are reading at grade level are benefitting because the tools are teaching them to be more self-aware of the strategies they are using already, and to understand that building a ‘tool-kit’ of these strategies will make them a better reader/writer.

*I should mention that I am in no way affiliated with Read&Write for Google Chrome, and this outpouring of love is genuine. Thanks for making my students have the ability to work at their true ability, unimpeded by any learning issue that may otherwise be affecting their ability.

Anyways, check out the video I made for my coworkers on how to install, and how to use R&W.

Encouraging Teachers to Open the Door to Digital Literacies in their Classrooms

Last week I had written about the need for teachers to adopt strategies into their classrooms that would allow for students to have the opportunity to build a proficiency in ‘new’ literacies that will undoubtedly be an asset in their future education, as well as in a workplace environment. (See: Four Strategies Every Teacher Needs…)

The best part I felt about Kist’s list was that all the strategies he recommends do not require any teacher to jump blindfolded off a cliff in the hopes something will catch them from plummeting into a techno-distopian pit of stress and uncertainty, because, as you all know (you’re all teachers reading this right??) teachers have reservations towards everything. And rightfully so.

That pit is deeeep….

I think teachers like to question 1) any new initiative being brought in as to whether how successful the new strategy is in terms of students actually benefiting, and; 2) “How much extra work is this going to add to my plate?”  The second reason sounds so selfish compared to the first, but honestly, this happens. And it’s not so selfish when you think about how much work every teacher is putting into their lessons, classrooms, students, extra-curr., etc. I can’t think of a single teacher, except for Harry Wong, who doesn’t stay before or after school to finish work, and still brings things home to work on later that evening.

Rant aside, teachers have been burned in the past with board initiatives that don’t mesh with their own teaching style, or are a passing fad that doesn’t have the same positive effect as a different approach.

I recently attended a screencast presentation where, due to technical glitches, much of the presentation was unintelligible. During the presentation, the screencaster had mentioned that the following day he would have an updated version and a step by step pdf available on his website that anyone has access to. This experience had me wondering, is this something that those attending mandatory tech PD are likely to experience? Woudn’t it have been better to make a more polished version the first time around, offer the pdf, and not hold a specific time, often outside of school hours?

The great thing about our current tech is that we have the ability to offer PD on anyone’s own time, without the restriction of place. This keeps teachers in the classroom, but opens up the debate as to whether this new freedom also places further pressure on teachers to use more time outside of school hours to commit to learning new strategies; time which is likely already allocated into PLC times, or PD time during school PD days.

True dat…

Here’s the viable option I came up with. Thanks to the flexibility of webinars and screencasts, instead of locking teachers into a specific time that doesn’t fit into an already busy work schedule (which undoubtably breeds contempt towards the new pd being introduced), why not instead offer pre-made tutorials that teachers can access and interact with during times that are set aside for them? As my major project I have taken on the responsibility of rolling out the digital citizenship curriculum for my school. As part of this, I have started creating a series of screencasts that will allow for the different PLC pods in my school to learn how to set up tools like Google Drive and Google Classroom in their own classrooms. I have started at this point because, going back to Kist’s article, integrating digital literacy into the classroom needn’t necessarily rely on technologically savvy individuals; rather it should be something that is easy to implement, while at the same time supporting the more ‘traditional’ literacies that are already the focus of classrooms everywhere.

Giving teachers the opportunity to try out these new classroom tools, in a straightforward way, in a way that fits with their schedule will hopefully provide a stress free way for teachers to try and see that the tech isn’t as intimidating as possible.

The first tutorial I made was on Google Drive. This has recently become very easy to access, thanks in part to RBE synching up our work webmail accounts with Google. Suddenly, getting students (and teachers) to memorize TWO user names and passwords isn’t a problem; anyone logging into Drive only needs to remember the one password that gets you into the RBE network. In the past this has been the biggest hesitancy with teachers, as it used to be a huge pain to try and get every student logged into their accounts. I made the screencast as streamlined as possible, and purposely tried to keep it brief, only showing the basics, along with some editing options. Since sharing it with my staff, I have had some positive feedback from teachers who haven’t tried using it in their classroom, and said that the tutorial made it a lot easier to understand, and that they will try using it as well.

The second tutorial was around Google Classroom, and again was short, streamlined, and catered to teachers. I focused on how to set up your Classroom, and how to set up assignments, along with some of the benefits I have found since using this tech in my classroom.

The next tutorials I will be making will be a screencast on Read & Write for Google, as well as a easy to understand video for teachers about the SK Digital Citizenship Curriculum.

Through the making of the screencasts, initially I felt very uncomfortable, but slowly have come around to it’s use. I think that, going back to getting teachers to buy into incorporating these tools, and the curriculum, videos are going to be the best bang for my buck. Throwing on a video seems to offer more interest, and it’s condensed nature will allow for more teachers to give it a try, even if while they watch it while marking, or multitasking in the ways teachers are best at.

Would you prefer this over a set meeting? Would you still buy in and do the PD? Let me know what you think!

Four Strategies Every Teacher Needs to Meet Necessary Future Literacies for Students

In the past week, my understanding of digital literacy has changed dramatically, due in part to the excellent readings by the NCTE and the IFTF on new and emerging digital literacies that all students need to have in order to be relevant with future workplace needs. I’ve realized that a much more meaningful focus, using the focus of Essential Skills for the 21st Century, as beautifully laid out by collaborators Jen Stewart-Mitchell and Genna Rodruigez, may provide a better start for instructors to understand how to authentically incorporate meaningful instruction in new ways to meet these needs, while at the same time not feeling like they’ve jumped overboard the ship traditional teaching practices.  

In William Kist‘s 2013 article New Literacies and the Common Core, he provides four strategies for assisting in integrating new media literacies in the classroom. This was a great eye opener as it offers excellent suggestions that will help transition teachers not comfortable using digital technology, as well as to encourage teachers to branch out and to embrace all forms of media in their instruction. So without further ado, here they are:

Give Students Practice Reading Screen-Based Texts
“Some of the new media classroom activities that I’ve observed focus on helping students gain practice in a key skill advocated by the Common Core standards: the ability to read texts closely—to be text detectives. As students enter a world in which they will do much of their reading and writing on a screen, it makes sense to start by looking at non-print texts, such as in the genres of video, music, and visual art.”

Student activities do not solely focus on reading online texts. Rather, the term text can be multi sensory and non-print in nature, going from video, music, visual art, video games, etc.

William Kist’s excellent suggestion for integrating different text into a lesson ultimately focusing on print based text.

Often looking for details in a video, such as watching for the way a movie may use edits and types of alternating shots to establish a momentum or tempo, is easier than pulling out similar literary devices. As a precursor to analyzing a print based text, looking at a non-print text will both refine the student’s ability to be a text-detective in any format, with the added benefit of helping the student to recognize the differences and similarities in the creation of those different texts. The following video,  Speilburg’s expertly directed chase scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark is the de facto example of how control and precise execution of editing, shots, and soundtrack (establishing shot, close up, etc.) create tension and tempo to an already exciting scene, making it that much more engaging to watch. 

Give Students Practice in Digital Writing

“Anyone who has ever written for online publication knows that screen-based writing presents different challenges from those involved with page-based writing. For example, online writers need to understand when adding a hyperlink assists the message and when it detracts; they also need to consider graphic design and layout. The teachers I have observed spend time teaching their students to understand writing for online publication, including all the opportunities that such writing provides.”

The activity proposed by the author is a multi-genre autobiography, where students pull in a wide variety of different texts (print and non-print) into a digital powerpoint type program, such as Google Slides, Prezi, Slidecast, etc. Students then have the opportunity to analyze the similarities and differences of how each text influenced them. It also provides students the opportunity to work on digital writing, in both a print and non-print fashion.

“Going through this exercise is a kind of postmodern adventure as we demystify various kinds of texts and help students see our commonalities and differences as human beings who have grown up with a huge smorgasbord of texts.”

This sounds like an excellent activity for students to work on, especially in terms of seeing how our identity is largely informed by the external influences on our lives. Being able to understand this will allow students to be more judicial when choosing what to post online, knowing that these things may go against what they want to be associated with.

Give Students Practice in Collaborative Writing

Both the NCTE article on 21st Century Literacies and the IFTF article on Future Work Skills 2020 focus on the need to be able to work collaboratively with others across cultural and physical boundaries through the use of digital technologies. While this may seem like science fiction to many, the reality is that with many businesses being internationally based, with offices across the world, having the toolset to work in this fashion, as well as the ability to interact non-judgmentally with others will be a huge asset, or may even be the expected norm.

Giving students the opportunity to work with other classrooms around the world on projects would be of great benefit to improve student worldview, as well as to see the benefits and the ability to workaround or adapt to any possible limitations such technologies and interactions would enable.

Collaborative writing can be even done within the classroom, through use of a Google word document that all students in the classroom can edit or add to on the fly. I have found this activity to be a great motivator for students, especially when the document is also projected in front of the classroom, so periodically we can all stop to reassess the working document, and to provide praise for student work.

Give Students Practice Working with Informational Texts

The use of non-fiction texts in the classroom are becoming more and more prevalent, in part, thanks to the ability to find vast amounts of relevant information through the internet. Gone are the days of looking through the encyclopedia, or even accessing similar tools through CD-rom. With all this information available, it’s important students have the ability to sort and process this information into something relevant to their task at hand. So, what better time to teach these meta-cognitive strategies than now. Teachers need to be explicitly teaching these strategies to their students, then giving them the opportunity to practice them in a safe supportive environment.

Accessing these informational texts through online collaborative projects, as well as the aforementioned multi-genre autobiography are two excellent ways of authentically incorporating. Having students create their own wikipedia pages about informational content will also have them sourcing and compiling relevant information, citing the sources, and working on presenting it all in a aesthetically and purposeful fashion.

Having the foresight to integrate these four strategies into the way you approach your instruction meets a litany of technological and literary goals that students will need to be an active member in our future competitive workplace, as well as providing them the ability to be a much more open-minded and empathetic individual. And best of all, it’s really not too tough to integrate. Our school board actively encourages use of Google Drive and Classroom, and once these are comfortable to the instructor, they provide the opportunity for all the above listed activities.

Featured image: Otomo Katsuhiro’s Tetsuo, found in the seminal cyberpunk work Akira×1585%20wallpaper_www.wall321.com_78.jpg