Sunday, January 18, 2015

Writing to Learn - Fostering Comprehension Across the Curriculum

WRITING. What pops into your mind? As a teacher? As a student? Likely the answers stem from our conception of formal writing. As the focus is generally becomes learning to write, writing to learn sometime gets tabled, is reserved for literacy classes or stands in the intimidating shadow of formal writing.
“Writing” takes on a whole new meaning with writing to learn. With short bursts of free flow writing, students can map their thinking. Whether it be in lists or sentences, the process encourages students to organize, clarify and extend their understanding. Isn’t that what we want students to do in all content areas?
In class we discussed how thinking aloud while reading to make thinking/comprehension strategies visible can be so useful, so to can writing to learn make the thinking process and comprehension process more visible. In so doing students become active in questioning and revising their thinking process in attacking and conceptual understanding of the material at hand, not solely the material.
I wholeheartedly believe writing to learn and understand is a powerful tool that should be integrated into all subject areas. Furthermore, using language to shape understanding, reasoning and critical thinking can be so illuminating for teachers and students in the learning process.  I found Steve Peha’s example in his (amazing) article “Writing Across the Curriculum” to be the perfect example of the sheer power of writing to learn.
The student gave the answer to the following problem.

Here’s how the student explained their thinking. 

Without this, the teacher would have likely gone into a lengthy explanation  that further confused the poor student even more.

Gaining an insight into how our students think with a few minutes of writing. To me this is incredible and definitely a must!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Technology & Literacy

There can be no denying that technology has profoundly impacted teaching and learning. From the plethora of resources Internet offers to apps, technology has taken learning to depths we never imagined possible before.  With just a click of the mouse, not only is valuable information is at our fingertips, but and we can create authentic learning opportunities that engage students, families and teachers around the world.
What really and impact on me today was our discussion on blogging. Before I thought, sure, blogging can be a way for students to reflect and share, but believed it to be more of an informal writing medium for students. Now I see how blogging can really be a powerful tool in strengthening the writing process. It can motivate students to fully engage in the process, take ownership of their writing, connect to their readers and give and receive feedback.
But where to begin in leveraging the power of the blog? In terms of elementary students, I thought it might be difficult process. In their article, “Blogging as a Means of Crafting Writing” Jan Lacin and Robin Griffith clearly delineate steps for bringing blogging to the elementary classroom I found particularly helpful. One teacher started by doing a paper blog first, having students rotate around the classroom. This step-by-step process has definitely encouraged me to introduce blogging into the classroom for younger years. I had a look at the site referenced in the article about creating quality comments. Great resource - wanted to share J.
But with every ying, there is the inevitable yang to be considered, and technology is no exception. I think technology does have a role learning, but with limits. Whenever we get a new technology, we give something up of ourselves. Our brains our malleable and adjust to the input give it. When the clock was invented, we no longer relied on our senses. With the click, click, click here and the newsfeed there, we are reliant on short, quick, engaging bites of information technology provides us. So what happens to thinking and reading in this process? Immediacy and quick engagement reigns, reading comprehension and deep thinking can lose out. Even though I am an avid kindle reader, I still say there is something to be said for getting lost in the world of a paper back book. Though I believe in integrating technology in literacy instruction, I will continue to integrate paper books to foster comprehension for longer texts, minimize distraction and encourage deeper connections.

Technology is the lifeblood of our students. The ever alluring, immediate dopamine feeder and distraction inducer becomes more and more tantalizing everyday. I think overall modeling establishing a balance, or a “digital diet” is an important skill, so students can use technology responsibly and harness its potential without it taking hold  completely.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Vocabulary Development

After reflecting on our discussion on vocabulary and literacy and other discussions this week, two important themes have stood out in particular – the importance of building on previous knowledge and giving students independence.
In thinking about my own experience now as a student, building on previous vocabulary knowledge has been key. I remember one of the first readings I did for before my first class at TCNJ. I felt like a giant question mark was etched in my mind as a flurry of educational mishmash flooded my brain. Since July, I’ve been studying rather intensively – eating, drinking, breathing, dreaming, writing, reading and living elementary education ripe with nuanced vocabulary. As I’ve encountered new vocabulary this week, I see how I’ve been able to activate this schema of new words to consolidate existing knowledge and form a stronger conceptual understanding of terms that were foreign to me just a short time ago. Drawing on this and making connections with what I already learned through the lens of this class has led me to more “a ha! moments” of clarity where I feel I better understand how to apply my learning about literacy to how I’ve taught in the past and how I’ll teach in the future.
As I write now, thinking about my own learning, organizing my thoughts to draw conclusions, I see I am consolidating and building new schemas automatically. But how do I even know how to do that? How am I making meaning and sense of what I am learning? The answer is that great teachers in the past have given me the tools to do so.
I strongly believe reflecting on how we learn ourselves can give us tremendous insight into how to teach. Vocabulary plays a critical role in literacy, but simply introducing new vocabulary isn’t enough. As my own experiences illustrate, connecting words to existing knowledge in context and giving students strategies to activate the language they have with new vocabulary is crucial.

The Vocabulary Self-Collection is a new strategy that stood out for me from the readings as it encompasses prior knowledge, context, motivation, and gives students the autonomy to take ownership of their learning. Students bring to class words they don’t understand and want to learn. They then discuss where they saw it and agree upon words for a class collection of vocabulary. By letting students take charge as “word detectives” they become motivated to learn new words. I can see this collaboration as being so beneficial. Vocabulary learning suddenly becomes a social class activity they can contribute to. Furthermore, actively explaining their rationale for choosing the words and what they thought the words meant requires students to make their thinking visible and activate their previous knowledge.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Motivation & Literacy Learning

Motivation lies the heart of creating meaningful learning. I think all educators would agree class of motivated, engaged students is the dream.
 R-E-A-D is certainly a dreaded four letter word for some students that swiftly
deflates motivation. But reading and strong literacy skills are vital lynchpins for academic success across all content areas. What are we to do? How can we motivate students? By creating scintillating lessons with all the bells and whistles all day every day? By dangling other “carrots” and rewards and the ever popular “stick” of grades?  The belief that these are the keys to motivating students is a common misconception.

Today we discussed sources of motivation and how to foster it in general, and more specifically, with respect to literacy. Don’t get me wrong, sure, a jazzy lesson that wows and engages all students is fantastic and can motivate and engage students. And some students are indeed driven to get that grade. But what happens when the student is at home? Are they motivated willing to go that extra mile? Maybe. However, such extrinsic factors are less likely to motivate students. The key is to ignite internal, self-motivation in students.
For me, at the end of the day, creating relationships and connecting with your students is at the heart of the matter. When we get to know our students and foster an environment where they feel valued, accepted and connected to, they begin to want to contribute to the group and go the extra mile. Content and being well-versed on the subject matter is of course important, but connection and knowing your students trumps all else in creating motivated students that want to contribute to the class as a whole. Furthermore, I think when students understand “the why” behind what they are doing and are given independence it further encourages them.
Giving students books that are relevant and interesting to them and giving them a choice in materials is a great first step in motivating them to read. When you know your students, you can better help them tap into what they are interested in. The question, "what do you like to read?" can be a difficult one for students to answer. Telling a student choose what you want to read can also be overwhelming, especially for students who generally don't like reading. A great approach that we discussed that struck a chord with me was scaffolding book choice. For example, you know Johnny likes snakes, so you give him a book on snakes. This then maybe leads him to explore books on reptiles or a broader subject like where snakes live. From there you can widen the net of interest.
Another strategy that stuck with me from our discussions was the a
answer to the question, “how do I get my kids to read?” Talk to your children about the books they are reading. By talking to your children about books, you connect with them and make reading something fun, social and you are showing that reading is something important and worth discussing. What a great, simple suggestion! I will definitely use that recommendation in the future.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

RDLG 579: Content Area Literacy Assignment #1

 Personal Literacy History
I definitely grew up in a print rich environment. I wasn't allowed to watch a lot of TV and was encouraged to read instead.  My mother and father read to me all the time, and without fail every evening before bed. It actually became sort of a ritual between my mom and I even until I left for college.  As a result, I remember early on seeing that I could read and comprehend and later finding literary analysis easy and fun!
Strange as it may seem, my mother never really spoke to me in “baby talk.” She talked to me like an adult for as long as I can remember. There’s a particularly humorous video of me as a two year old in which if you only read the transcript, you might think a mini adult was speaking.
When I talk about my own literacy, it is certain I cannot go without mentioning my junior and senior year English teacher, Mrs. Freedman. She spoke with such passion and she certainly infused a desire to delve deeper into literature. She made every passage seem like a precious morsel to be savored. Showing students how words and how literature can be treasures are gifts beyond value. 

Stepping Back – Analysis
The inextricable link between developing literacy skills with oral language and exposure to print, especially in the critical period, is exemplified in my literacy autobiography. I grew up with a plethora of resources, strong readers and attended schools where reading and writing was the lotus of the curriculum. I believe my background undoubtedly fostered a love for reading, writing and language and helped me flourish as a student.
Until I went to college, I didn’t realize the academic support and resources I enjoyed were anything out of the ordinary; nor could I even begin to appreciate the extent to which it’d contributed to who I was as a student. When I began volunteer teaching in a high needs school in Washington, DC I received a shock to say the least. Most of the children lived below the poverty line with limited resources, generally with parents who put little, if any emphasis on education. The stark contrast between their background and my own highlighted the fundamental role of adult engagement/role models in literacy development, especially in the early years.
My subsequent experiences teaching English as a Second Language have further colored the lens I view literacy. I have seen how struggling readers, especially those who already put at a disadvantage, are in desperate need of our support. Lacking strong literacy skills is like a loose thread. If not attended to, it threatens to unravel a student’s experience in school into a frayed spool of frustration.
As teachers and role models for students, I believe by building relationships instilling confidence and inspiring students to become avid readers it helps create the fabric for lifelong learners. With our literacy skills the possibilities to learn, shape who we are or even be transported to another world for a brief moment in time are endless. Truly, reading is a powerful art!