Thursday, June 15, 2017

Blogging and Website Creation

I started this blog about three months ago. I spent a considerable amount of time designing the visual aspects you see here as well as planning content, and with each new idea I had, I always considered my reader and how I might best communicate with you. At first, I was extremely nervous about publishing my ideas and work for anyone to find on the web. Now I look forward to hearing your comments and receiving emails from various readers. My sphere of influence has grown exponentially and I am able to collaborate with teachers who I haven’t met face to face.

When I consider my experiences blogging thus far, I realize that there are wonderful possibilities for my own students in website creation and blogging. Outside of social media, I think blogs and vlogs are the primary way people digitally share interests, experiences, and knowledge today. Empowering students in this way teaches critical 21st century digital literacy skills such as using technology tools, recognizing evidence of quality resources, composing messages in a variety of formats for various purposes, participating in a creative community, and sharing ideas with others.  

Before having students create their own websites and blogs, I would encourage students to explore a variety of example sites. Students can observe and identify key components of an effective website or blog that they can later incorporate into their own work. This step in the learning process allows students access to skills they will need as well as practice critically analyzing quality websites. Once students have a foundation knowledge of how websites and blogs work, they will be ready to begin creating their own sites, practicing various digital literacy skills.

Graphic Design

When students begin to create their own websites, they can practice basic graphic design principles such as the use of color, font, and white space. Students also practice balancing text with visual content to create clear messages. I found these Blog Design Tips for Non-designers very helpful when creating my own blog. It includes visuals of each tip that would be helpful to show students

To aid the reader, website creators and bloggers should keep their work simple and clean by limiting themselves to two fonts and no more than three colors. I found Coolors, a color scheme generator, very helpful when designing my blog. In general, the bulk of the written text should be black, allowing readers to focus on the content. Students should also avoid overfilling their space, deliberately using white space to increase legibility.

In general, less is more. Too many fonts, colors, and extras only distract the reader from the message the author is trying to send. Teaching students the need to avoid “clicky clicky bling bling,” a tendency to dress up boring or inadequate content by adding visual or audio effects, is critical in ensuring quality digital products. For more tips about graphic design, see my blog post titled, Creating Online Content: Advice from a Pro.

Authorship and Audience

While students used to simply consume content in a passive role, today’s learners need to be active participants in their learning. One way for them to achieve this is by creating and publishing their own content online. Instead of simply completing assignments for a grade, students have an authentic purpose for creating content and publishing their work.

If we are teaching our students to be critical consumers of media, then they can use those same skills to critique and reflect on their own work. Rather than considering media with a critical eye for what the author is attempting to communicate, students become the author and use their digital literacy skills to present a message for their target audience. What a great opportunity for students to apply the skills they are learning including audience, message, purpose, and point of view.

Creating their own work and having the power to publish it for others to see gives students a new purpose for their learning. Students in my class were so excited to see their work or picture featured on my blog this year. They find a sense of motivation and meaning in work that is shared with others. After all, who doesn’t like feeling proud of their work?

Allowing students to publish their work on a website or blog also allows them to participate in a global community. In the past, students were able to display their projects and learning for their classmates, parents, and other individuals face-to-face. Today, however, web 2.0 applications have make social production accessible to virtually all Internet users. Student authors are no longer constrained by their location in sharing their work.  

Communication Skills

Clearly communicating ideas and information in a variety of formats is essential for our 21st century learners. Student websites and blogs promote a variety of skills associated with communication. Students would also be able to incorporate original and existing visual content to communicate ideas to their audience. Infographics are a great way to communicate information in an interesting way for readers, and students could easily incorporate these into their work. For more information on infographics, see my blog post titled Literacy 2.0.

Students naturally apply the writing process when planning, creating, and revising content to publish. Organization of content is another skill students would have the opportunity to apply when writing posts and organizing their sites. Finally, students can reflect and analyze their work, improving critical reasoning skills and make conscious decision about how to improve their future work.

Practical Application

So what would it look like for students to publish work online through a website or blog? I’ve been brainstorming for next school year and looking into some resources. If you have ideas to share, please comment below. I’d love to hear from you! Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Online Portfolios

What a great way to collect a student’s best work. From subject-specific portfolios for art projects to collaborative classroom portfolios, there are numerous online resources for digital portfolios. Students are able to demonstrate their learning using a variety of tools and formats while storing their work in one central place. While paper portfolios are put away or recycled at the end of a school year, a digital portfolio can be easily accessed for years to come.

Current Event Reflections

This would be a great opportunity for students to first learn about current events and then share their reflections. They could pose solutions to common problems, persuade their audience to take action, or make connections to other social issues.

Comic Strips

Challenge students to demonstrate their understanding of various topics and lessons by creating comics. Comics require the author to convey information visually since there is so little space for text. Authors must make purposeful decisions about what information is included or left out to make a clear message. See my blog post titled Using Comics to Teach Literacy for more information about the benefits of incorporating comics and graphic novels in your teaching.

A Fourth Grader's Guide to Everything

As students master various concepts and skills, they can create a series of how-to resources as teaching tools for other students. Students can choose the format of their information based on the content they wish to explain. A variety of resources can be chosen from including teaching charts, infographics, written explanations, and simple videos.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Student Video Creation

Students are naturally motivated to produce interesting content that they can publish for others. Visual learners also have the opportunity to produce work using their processing strengths in order to communicate their ideas. Students are engaged in active learning requiring critical and creative thinking skills while collaborating with their peers. Like other posts in my multiliteracies series, I will share some teaching ideas and reference the five critical elements of of digital and media literacy discussed by Hobbs and Moore in their book Discovering Media Literacy.
  • 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

Public Service Announcements

I use video creation as one option for assessment for a project based learning activity with my students. They are tasked with researching a current event related to natural resources (access) and then creating a public service announcement to persuade an audience to take action to protect our natural resources (create, act). The videos student produce are used to assess content knowledge, writing techniques, and use of digital media. Students can learn the digital literacy concept of sequencing images, language, and sound to accomplish the task of persuading a specific audience through the various stages of the video creation process.

When working through the five step process of identifying your goals, preproduction, production, postproduction, and distribution and promotion outlined by Hobbs and Moore, I used a workshop model with my students in order to provide adequate support for each student group. Each day we met, we started with a mini-lesson addressing the step in the process that the student groups were working on. The lessons included direct modeling, viewing or creating examples, and setting a goal for the day’s work time. Following the mini-lessons, student groups would begin working on their outlined task for the day while I conferenced with groups and provided necessary feedback and support. This type of daily feedback and support was necessary for my fourth graders to stay on track with their projects and remain focused on our goals of communicating a clear message and using expression and tone when speaking. The workshop model worked nicely because I could address each group’s needs and provide scaffolding through feedback, just-in-time instruction, and clarification.

This year I shot the scenes for the public service announcements using my iPhone and edited with Windows Media Maker. Next year I will look for a better recording option as my sound was inconsistent. Unfortunately, we ran short on time as this was our last big project of the year. That means my students missed out on the postproduction part of creating videos, and I did all the editing at home to finish before school was out for the summer. My students loved viewing their work and hearing feedback from their peers about their messages (analyze). Each group also took time to reflect on their work and make comments about how they could improve their work in the future and how I could better support groups next year (reflect).

The students in this public service announcement want to persuade their audience to consider alternatives to gas-powered cars.

This is a public service announcement I created for my students as a model.

Digital Storytelling

Producing digital stories is a meaningful task for students as they both learn from digital content and also produce it. Using digital stories is a great way to connect technology and content in the classroom. Students can practice the digital skills of sequencing images, creating images with meaning, and reading with expression.

I plan to use digital storytelling in my classroom next year as a tool for students to express their ideas creatively while writing stories and demonstrating their visual literacy skills. One literacy skill my students struggle with is understanding how characters interact with and impact the plot of a story. To practice and teach this skill, I will have students rewrite, or remix, a story of their choice by changing a main character’s traits and showing how that affects the plot (create).

My lesson closely follows the four steps outlined by Hobbs and Moore in their book that I mentioned above. The steps are: develop the characters, write the script, frame and film the scene, and perform and receive feedback.

First, students would brainstorm with a partner about various character traits for a main character and how that trait might cause the character to behave differently. While they write their stories, students would create a storyboard to visualize each scene they want to portray.  When students have their planning finished, they can create digital slides or draw scenes and scan them to digital format. Finally, students can use the skills they already learned through screencasting to record their stories. Once students publish their work, their peers can explore various stories, provide feedback, and explain how the plot was affected by a character’s traits (analyze, reflect, act).

I created a model for my students, and next school year, I plan to have my students create their own digital stories. Watch my digital story model of the Three Little Pigs and the Lazy Wolf. I used one set of clipart that I purchased from Etsy to create multiple scenes in Google Slides, and then I read my script and recorded my story using Screencast-o-matic with voice over. Creating the visual images was surprisingly easy, and the end result will interest students.

If digital storytelling is new to you or if you are interested in incorporating it into your classroom, stop by the Creative Educator. They have lots of great examples and lesson ideas if you need some inspiration.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Digital Literacy and Screencasting

As mentioned in my recent posts, I’ve been exploring various types of literacy and their application in my fourth grade classroom including the use of visual representation and comics. There are five essential elements of digital and media literacy as outlined by Hobbs and Moore in their book, Discovering Media Literacy. I’ve outlined them here and will refer to them throughout this post.
  • 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


Screencasting is recording anything on your computer screen. It’s one of the easiest ways for students to interact with content and create videos. Most frequently, people make screencasts to demonstrate how to do something on their computers as a video tutorial. In the past, I have made screencasts showing my students how to download spelling lists from our class webpage. I’ve seen other teachers make screencasts to show the steps of long division and the process of analyzing characters. I’ve considered using screencasting to create video conferences to review student work when we can’t meet face-to-face. Screencasting is a great tool for teachers because it allows you to publish videos and students can replay them as often as they need.

For students, screencasting allows them to either create their own content or interact with already created media and become co-authors or evaluators. Here are a few ways students can use screencasting:
  • Students could watch a video while screencasting and narrate their evaluation of the author’s use of a concept being taught in class.
  • Students could listen to and analyze the author’s message of a video or song by creating a screencast.
  • Rather than giving an oral presentation in front of their class, students could narrate a presentation from their computer and publish to a much larger audience.
  • Students can become the teacher and create a tutorial about a skill they have mastered.
  • Screencasting can be used to create a guided digital portfolio tour where students show off their work.

The options are pretty endless since students can make a video from anything on their screen.

Next year I would like to have my students apply screencasting as an assessment tool for their learning about digital citizenship. Digital literacy, according to Hobbs and Moore, is using the internet and social media responsibly. Google’s Be Internet Awesome resource teaches students simple rules for safe and responsible internet use. This free teaching tool allows students to play games to learn five main principles of digital citizenship including evaluating the safety of websites, personal privacy and security, and kind online interactions. It’s also paired with a free curriculum for teachers.

To incorporate screencasting, I would first have my students complete the Be Internet Awesome course so that they have the digital citizenship knowledge they need for their project (access). Next, I would have students choose a project they would like to complete:
  • Surf the web with a friend while making a screencast. Use a script and have a conversation about a digital citizenship principle that you notice online (create, analyze).
  • Create a short presentation about one principle you learned about. Write a script and narrate your presentation (create). Explain when you would use this principle in real life (analyze).
  • Narrate over one of the games in Be Internet Awesome. Write a script and explain the principle you learned from this game (create). Explain when you would use this principle in real life (analyze).

Once students have selected their projects, I would model using the screencast tool screencast-o-matic. After students have finished their projects, they can publish them to our class website and share feedback (reflect). These projects can also be shared online to teach others about safe and responsible internet use (act).

Here is an example I made as a model for my students. I used screencast-o-matic to record. I chose the first project option. In my video, I look over an email from an unknown sender and determine the content should not be trusted based on various criteria I learned from Google’s Be Internet Awesome program. In all, this screencast took less than 15 minutes for me to plan and publish.

Extra Resources

If you’re interested in exploring the topics of visual, digital, and media literacy, see my symbaloo web mix for my favorite resources and readings on these topics and others such as classroom film festivals, color theory in marketing, free stock photos, and graphic novels for kids.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Using Comics to Teach Literacy

Not too long ago our media specialist began increasing the graphic novel section in our school library. I began seeing more and more students bringing these books back to my class and asking me where to find similar books in my own classroom library. Admittedly, I found little value in this format at the time. Afterall, my goal is to increase student reading and how can I do that when comic books hold so few words? My recent study of various literacies has show me just how wrong I was!

These ladies were reading graphic novels in the media center.
He brought this book from home and read it every chance he had!

Comics, graphic novels, and political cartoons can be used to teach students valuable components of visual literacy. Since there are so few words, the author must use images to communicate a message and readers can work to uncover the meaning behind each panel. The reader must continually think and use their mind to complete the picture and draw conclusions.

I know that my own students are motivated to read these books, so next year I am planning to incorporate this format into my instruction. Here are a few ways I plan to incorporate a graphic novel and political cartoons with my fourth graders. As with my last post, Literacy 2.0, I will reference the five essential elements of digital and media literacy as described by Hobbs and Moore in their book, Discovering Media Literacy.
  • 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

Inferencing with Mysteries

After reviewing several graphic novels for my students, I found Big Break Detectives by Alan Nolan. This graphic novel follows a group of four friends who solve mysteries during their lunch period. When using this text with my class, I will begin with a series of lessons teaching my students how comics strips and graphic novels are read. While some of my students have experience with this format, many do not, so they will need to know how to follow the panels, narration, and speech bubbles. I will also need to show them examples of the difference between the narrator’s voice and the thoughts and feelings of the characters. These skills will enable my students to better comprehend the author’s message (access). If you’re interested in a resource to learn about the various parts of a comic, this review resource gives a nice overview with visuals.

Once my students have a bit of experience reading graphic novels, we can begin using Big Break Detectives to explore the literary conventions of mysteries. I want to teach them to use the features of graphic novels to not only realize that images have meaning, but also have the skills they need to figure out the meaning (access, analyze). To do this, I need to show many of my students how to analyze a section of a comic and pause for reflection, rather than breezing through it. I predict that many of my students would look at the picture, glance at the text, and allow their minds time to perform closure, a skill where the reader takes in parts of the story draws conclusions about the text as a whole.

A major fourth grade skill is making inferences by using both the reader’s background knowledge and the clues left by the author. Big Break Detectives is a great choice for fourth grades because mysteries naturally engage the reader in looking for clues, considering suspects, drawing conclusions and making inferences in order to solve the problem. When reading graphic novels, students must realize that the author must decide what to include in the frames of a comic or graphic novel. Everything left in the gutter, or the spaces between panels, is an opportunity to make an inference.  The story continues beyond the shown frames, and what happens in the gutter should be considered as well as what is seen (analyze).

Creating Comics

In the past, I have used comics as a way for my students to retell parts of a story we have read together. I hadn’t yet used a graphic novel as a main part of my curriculum though, so students struggled to use the format to its full potential. Once students have an idea of how authors force readers to make inferences through reading Big Break Detectives, I will give my students the challenge of creating their own comics (create). They can choose to make a single panel or multiple panels, all focusing around making an inference. As authors, students will make purposeful choices about what to include in a frame and what should be left to the reader's imagination (reflect, act).

Here is an example of a comic that I made using Pixton, a free comic maker. I was really surprised at how easily and quickly I could create a comic. Pixton has numerous backgrounds, characters, and options to easily construct comic panels. I think this web tool will be a hit with my students!

Political Cartoons in Action 

Political cartoons are unique in that there is a lot of information packed into one or two frames. The reader must have some background knowledge of the topic or situation in order to understand the author’s message. If a student is missing background information, they may need to read a few articles to become up-to-date on a topic (access). Political cartoons often include irony, metaphors, caricatures, and symbols. Students must spend time considering each aspect of a cartoon beyond the literal picture (analyze). While the content of many political cartoons may be too mature for my elementary students, the skills required to read and understand them are valuable and absolutely appropriate for teaching visual literacy. Even elementary students benefit from this deep thinking.

Benjamin Franklin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I plan to use Benjamin Franklin’s political cartoon, Join, or Die while teaching a unit on the American Revolution. We will search for the main message of the cartoon and discuss how the author used a metaphor to portray his ideas (analyze). Following that lesson, students will research various other persuasive media during war times, such as Rosie the Riveter and various Uncle Sam images (access). We can discuss how authors use images and very few words to portray their message. Next, students will be given the challenge of using images to make their own war propaganda or political cartoon for the American Revolution in order to persuade colonists to join the revolution movement in some way (create). Students can offer peer feedback, revise to communicate a clear message and publish their work (reflect, act). I think this is a great way to apply content knowledge, persuasive techniques, and visual literacy skills.  

I made this example of a political cartoon for my students as a model for the project they will try. I used a premade background and added a few details to communicate my message through Pixton. The various backgrounds are a great way to make quick and effective comics without needing lots of experience with the program.