Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Literacy 2.0

I’ve been reading up on visual, digital, and media literacy lately and I’ve learned some really great strategies that I plan on using with my class next year. Join me over the next few weeks as I share a series of posts outlining useful strategies to promote these literacies in elementary classrooms!

What is Literacy?

When you think of literacy you probably think of reading, writing, listening, and speaking. What I’ve come to learn lately is that this is just part of what literacy can really mean. Infact, there are many different kinds of literacy:
  • Visual literacy involves the design, creation, and interpretation of visual images.
  • Media literacy focuses on comprehending, analyzing, and creating media in popular culture.
  • Digital literacy encourages using the internet and social media responsibly.

While reading Discovering Media Literacy by Renee Hobbs and David Cooper Moore, I read that there are five essential elements of digital and media literacy. I will reference these elements in the lesson ideas I share with you here and in upcoming blog posts.

  • Access: locating materials responsibly and understanding those materials
  • Analyze: comprehending messages in a variety of formats and evaluating the credibility and quality of those messages
  • Create: using digital tools and technology to make content in a variety of formats
  • Reflect: making responsible choices and evaluating one’s own behavior and work
  • Act: taking action to solve problems and address social issues

When considering these literacies together with the skills associated with them, I realized that there are many opportunities for students to both practice higher order thinking strategies, and also develop the 21st century skills that are vital for their success. The reality is that our systems of communication are rapidly changing. Teaching our students to engage with these various literacies empowers them to be effective and creative communicators.

Do you use visuals when teaching your students? You probably incorporate various visuals as often as possible. Why? Because teachers know that visual supports help our students learn, especially our students with disabilities. In fact, when a student can visualize a concept or idea, they are more likely to remember it and make connections to prior knowledge. Teachers often use graphic organizers, picture books, videos, and diagrams to enhance their lessons.

A new-to-me idea that I read about in Teaching Visual Literacy is the concept of graphic note taking. The idea is to represent learning through visuals. See this great blog post at Teach Thought for 10 great examples. This skill needs to be modeled and supported by the teacher in order to move beyond pictures to actual graphic representation of complex ideas.

Using Collages to Promote Visual Literacy

I think the idea of a picture collage has a lot of possibilities in my fourth grade classroom. I really like the idea of students graphically representing their learning throughout a grading period. Each week, students could have the opportunity to make a symbol or visual example of something they learned in math, Language Arts, science, or social studies (create). During this time, I would also teach lessons about images being used as symbols as well as lessons about graphic note taking and mind mapping as tools students could use as they learn new concepts. By the end of the grading period, students would have a nice visual to show their parents during student-led parent-teacher conferences. This collage project would serve many purposes including students learning and demonstrating principles of visual literacy and allowing for better communication between parents and students regarding classroom learning (act).

This first collage example shows an end-of-the-year project we tried just a few days ago. I challenged my students to graphically represent one or two concepts they learned this year in fourth grade (create). This was our first try at graphic representation beyond simple pictures. I modeled the process for students and showed the difference between a picture and a model or symbol before students gave it a try. As you can see, our collage includes a lot different concepts, and I think it’s pretty great for our first try. I used PhotoCollage, a free collage maker to create this arrangement.

I made this second collage using PicMonkey, a free online collage maker. I outlined a day in my classroom. This collage is much cleaner, and less visually stimulating. I was interested to see that my class was pretty evenly divided between which collage they preferred. After a short discussion about the benefits of each collage, students shared a few key observations (analyze, reflect). While some students liked being able to include many pictures of various sizes using PhotoCollage, others disliked that they could not see each visual in its entirety. Next year, as I use collages and visual images with my students, I plan to give my students choice in the program and type of collage they use to represent their learning.  

Infographics: Short but Sweet

If the goal of teaching literacy is to help students communicate in various ways, then reading and creating infographics is a fantastic way to teach and practice visual literacy skills. While many infographics do not contain much text, they do communicate clear messages, requiring the reader to think, make connections, and infer (access, analyze).

This simple infographic shows data I collected from my current students. I was interested in learning about how they prefer to learn and represent their understanding. Many of my students prefer to see examples of what they are learning and create projects to demonstrate their understanding. Reading and creating infographics would be a great fit for this group of learners.

The Edutopia article, Inventing Infographics: Visual LIteracy Meets Written Content  by Brett Vogelsinger, gives some really great tips for teaching visual literacy through infographics. It also gives some questions to use with your class to help students analyze various infographics. I realized shortly after having my students attempt to create infographics this year, that they tend to simply draw pictures. Direct instruction and exploring various examples of quality work is a necessary step that I skipped this year because I expected making infographics to be easy.

Next year, I plan to use a lot of the ideas from this article to teach my students visual literacy concepts through reading infographics (access). Next, I would like to have my students use data they collect for various science and math lessons to create infographics using Venngage (create). This would allow students to both practice the visual literacy skills of the use of color, text and graphic alignment, and the balance between text and images and also explore the various ways they can display information.

My first lesson idea related to creating infographics is to have different student groups represent the same information in an infographic. Then, student groups can evaluate each project based on the visual literacy skills we learned (analyze, reflect). We can see how the use of the visual elements affects the overall product we create.

As a more advanced lesson, students could again use the same data, but have a different purpose for making an infographic. Some groups could inform their audience, while others entertain or persuade. Students could then compare and contrast the infographics and discover how authors can use the visual skills we learned in different ways to depict the same information in various ways (create, analyze, reflect). Students will then have the opportunity to update their work based on their collaboration with their peers (act).

If you’re interested the reading more on the topic of various literacies, I suggest Discovering Media Literacy by Renee Hobbs and David Cooper Moore and Teaching Visual Literacy by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher. Both texts share great ideas for incorporating visual literacy in daily teaching practices.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Student Success with Media Creation

Can I brag about my students for just a few minutes? I’m so proud of their work over these last few weeks as they engaged in project based learning. They were amazed by our virtual field trip to the Borneo rainforest, inspired to take a stand, awed by my colleague’s lesson on writing hip hop and freestyle rap, and challenged to create persuasive media to make a change in the world. They have been motivated by a cause and encouraged to creatively solve real problems.

Mr. Porter brainstorms a word list to use while rapping.
Photo by Rachel Lamb

Hip hop in action!
Photo by Rachel Lamb

If you’re interested in the reading more about the project based learning my students participated in, see the last section of my post titled Personalization and Universal Design for Learning or visit the webpage I created to house all the materials we used.

A Sample of Student Work 

These students chose to persuade their peers to donate money to help solve the clean water crisis. Did you hear those lyrics? They used their research to paint a picture of the problem and help their peers relate to the tragic hardships that others face on a daily basis. Wow!!

This group researched both deforestation and forest fires and wrote a song to persuade people to use trees responsibly and put out campfires completely.

These two student groups originally chose to make an infographic to persuade the community to donate money to solve the clean water crisis. Unfortunately, we had to change our infographics to posters because I stretched myself too thin and was unable to provide all the background knowledge these groups needed to complete their original project while also supporting the many needs of the other groups.

Stretched too Thin: Incorporating Blended Learning

My students were given many options during their learning. They chose the natural resource they planned to research, how they learned about today’s issues, and the type of media project they would create. Somehow, I didn’t anticipate that this would require more support than I could possibly give face-to-face. Looking back, it’s obvious that I either needed fewer choices for my students or more teachers to meet the needs of my students.

I’d hate to restrict my students, especially seeing how engaged and motivated they were to create their projects. At the same time, I let my students down a bit because I wasn’t able to fully support each group. So, that leaves needing more teachers. I’m remembering back to my biggest ah-ha moment while using blended learning: blended learning essentially allows you to make your own digital co-teacher. It can increase the productivity of your face-to-face time with students because you are basically cloning yourself by providing quality instruction online while also supporting that instruction when you meet with students.

Next year, I plan to create a series of online lessons to meet some of the most frequent needs of my students during this project. First, a solid review of persuasive techniques would be helpful. Next, I would also design a variety of lessons covering the various elements and design principles of various media options that students chose including song writing, infographics, and public service announcements. These online lessons would give students a foundation to build from and allow me to be much more intentional in my face-to-face time with my students.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Fast Finishers and Purposeful Slowpokes of Blended Learning

I was very purposeful in my planning to make blended learning implementation as smooth as possible. See my post, Planning for Success, for details. I used some of our strengths to our advantage while proactively addressing predicted areas of concern. My planning definitely helped us transition to blended learning successfully, but we have had a few bumps in the road lately. Here are a few issues I’ve run into, some solutions I’m considering, and a major success we have experienced.

Fast Finishers 

There are two types of fast finishers in my class. Both finish their work quickly and eagerly await for me to release the next lesson to them. For this reason, I purposefully wait to release the next lesson to students until I am sure they have completed their work to the best of their ability and have received extended learning time with me on the same topic.

I’m finding that some of my fast finishers have neglected to truly think deeply about the online content. In fact, they often completely miss the requirements and directions for online discussions and fail to answer extended response questions adequately, even when models are provided. When I meet with these students and review the directions I get the typical, “Ohhhhh, ok,” and off they go. These students seem to need constant monitoring in order to produce thoughtful, quality work.

If we are being honest, I just can’t keep up with their need to be redirected continually. I’ve thought of three possible solutions to this problem. First, I can pair these students with partner who is working successfully online to provide extra support and explanations of directions. Another possibility is providing an incentive for completing activities according to the directions. Finally, I can provide audio clips explaining directions for the extended response and discussion boards. If you have other suggestions, please comment below!  

The fast finishers who have truly mastered the content are another matter. I recently read a blog post by the Gifted Guru about early finishers that I absolutely agree with. My goal is to create meaningful learning for every student in my class. If the same students are consistently finishing early and mastering content quickly, then I should be planning for them differently rather than simply providing busy work activities. In the context of blended learning, I believe the solution to this problem lies in personalizing lesson content. This allows each individual student to own their learning and interact with content in challenging ways. I’ve explained that idea in my post titled Personalization and Universal Design for Learning. I plan to explore this more this summer and create online content following these principles.     

Purposeful Slowpokes

I’ve noticed a slowly growing number of students who are taking a surprising amount of time to complete their online learning. These students do not typically need extra time in class to complete other assignments, so I monitored their work very closely for a few days without them knowing in order to see what was going on. They were avoiding parts of the lesson that required answering questions or completing discussions by replaying online videos and learning games to excess. The surprising part is that these students are not normally task avoiders. In fact, they are high readers who usually excel in their work.

I’ve encouraged my students to review completed parts of lessons as needed, but these three students were pretty much camped out on videos, songs, and games. My best solution so far is to create a checklist for these students and require them to update me of their progress at the end of our stations each day. I’ll be starting this on Monday for my three purposeful slowpokes.

Winning with Student Tech Support 

The biggest issue I anticipated before implementing blended learning was the fact that students would not have direct teacher support while learning online because I teach guided reading groups at that time. To address this issue, I assigned 3 students the role of “tech support.” These students displayed the ability to problem solve and use good judgement when working online. Our class technology troubleshooting steps are posted every day during blended learning:
  1. Think, “Do I really need help with this?”
  2. Try to solve the problem on your own
  3. Check with a Tech Support student
  4. If you are still stuck, raise your hand for help

At first I had to interrupt my group to help a few students with tricky issues a few times per day. Now more students are fixing their own problems, and tech support students are being used less and less. Allowing three students to provide tech support has completely freed me up to teach- that’s winning!