Technology Paves the Way for Wider Audience

By Guest Blogger Meenoo Rami, 2015 Literacy for All Keynote Speaker, Author, and Teacher

In late February, Pew Internet and American Life Project published the How Teachers Are Using Technology at Home and Their Classrooms report. The results aren’t surprising:

  • 92% of teacher respondents say the Internet has a “major impact” on their ability to access content, resources, and materials for their teaching;
  • 69% say the Internet has a “major impact” on their ability to share ideas with other teachers; and
  • 67% say the Internet has a “major impact” on their ability to interact with parents and 57% say it has had such an impact on enabling their interaction with students.

It’s commendable that a majority of teachers are finding ways to bring digital tools into the learning process and help students “access content.” But now we need to work with students to create content as well.

Douglass Rushkoff, a prolific writer on the topic of technology and society, asks: “The real question is, do we direct technology, or do we let ourselves be directed by it and those who have mastered it?”

Yes, our students need information literacy skills. But they also need the ability to code, curate, and create content to share with a wider audience. When students can reach an audience of more than one (their teacher), they can get feedback from variety of sources, become more invested in their work, and gain valuable skills in the process.

So what does taking students’ work public look like? Check out some examples:

Mrs. Paluch’s Room

Mrs. Paluch, a third grade teacher in a charter school in Philadelphia, is making her students’ work public as they uncover the country of Brazil, complete a unit on fairy tales, and help out their kindergarten buddies. Parents, grandparents, and colleagues can catch a glimpse of the teaching and learning that is happening in this third grade classroom. Knowing that others will “see their work” motivates students and helps teachers like Mrs. Paluch reflect on their practice.

Monmouth County Vocational School District Student Showcase

Sarah Mulhern Gross offers a glimpse into an entire school community, pausing to highlight excellent student work. On this blog, you will find examples of student writing, artwork, presentations and much more. Carving out a space to give student work a digital spotlight emphasizes the point that students are writers and creators and not just consumers of content.

Stash Photo

During the second quarter, my students at the Science Leadership Academy produced a teen magazine called Stash. After examining articles after which they could model their own work, they created their own teen magazine, covering topics such as music, art, time management, and Philadelphia’s food scene. My students learned about everything from research to writing to design and layout. So far, more than 2,000 people have clicked on our magazine and examined the students’ work.

What are some examples you’ve seen lately that make students’ work public in compelling ways, motivating learners and letting community members know what actually happens in the classroom?

Meenoo Rami is the keynote speaker on Monday, November 16 at the 2015 Literacy for All conference in Providence, RI. Her keynote is entitled Teacher Practice in a Connected World (Grades K–8). She is also speaking on Monday from 10:30 am-12:00 pm and again from 1:30 pm–3:00 pm. The title of both of those sessions is Empowering Your Students (Grades K–8).

Rethinking Expertise in a Digital Writing Workshop

Kristen-Turnerby guest blogger and Literacy for All Featured Speaker Kristen Hawley Turner

Kristen is an associate professor of English education and contemporary literacies at Fordham University in New York City. Her research focuses on the intersections between technology and literacy, and she works with teachers across content areas to implement effective literacy instruction and to incorporate technology in meaningful ways. She is a Teacher Consultant for the National Writing Project and the director of the Fordham Digital Literacies Collaborative.

“Was anyone able to get a video into Corkulous?”

Maryrose scanned her third grade classroom, her eyes coming to rest on Ricky, who had his hand in the air.

“Ricky, you know how to insert a video?” she clarified. The boy nodded. “Okay, everyone.  Ricky is the video man.” With this comment, Maryrose identified Ricky as an expert in that day’s writing workshop, and during the next half hour, I saw several of his classmates approach him for a tutorial.

In their unit on research, the students were creating biographical timelines of famous individuals; they used iPads for both web-based research and creating their projects, yet they also moved easily between the device and their traditional writing notebooks, where they took notes by hand that they then typed into the Corkulous app. It was the first time Maryrose had incorporated iPads into her classroom, and she was excited to see how her students might use them.

This shift in writing workshop pedagogy — adding technology to traditional methods — helps children to develop knowledge and skills that are critical to writing in a digital age. George Hillocks has suggested that writers need knowledge of “discourse” and “substance” in order to create effective written products. Hillocks has argued that each genre of writing consists of underlying structures (e.g., argument, narration, lists) and adheres to particular conventions that help to define the genre. Writers need to know these structures and conventional elements — called discourse, or more simply, form.

Furthermore, writers need to know what they are writing about, and they need to know how to find the substance of their writing. Adding appropriate details in an essay, for instance, may mean incorporating statistics or a quote from an expert. In a story, however, details may come in the form of an elaborate description of the setting or characters. This substance — the “stuff” that makes good writing good — is the content.

In short, Hillocks says that writers need knowledge of content in addition to knowledge of form. Writing workshop approaches have provided young writers the opportunities to learn about form, often via mini-lessons, and to generate content through revision in both writer’s notebooks and in written drafts.

However, writing in a digital age is different than traditional writing. Technologies have made new genres possible, even as they transform the forms of traditional genres like research papers. For example, embedded videos, images, and links can be used to enhance more traditional arguments or narratives in creative, thoughtful ways. On the other hand, digital genres, like digital stories or blog posts, represent new types of writing that open up possibilities for collaboration among readers and writers. These possibilities are exciting, but they place increased demands on writers.

Troy Hicks and I have argued that digital writing requires knowledge of various technologies — such as blogs, wikis, or video editing tools — and how those particular technologies can help writers to compose a product. In other words, in addition to knowing the structures and conventions of a digital genre, as well as the content of the desired writing, writers also need to understand how technology can help them to generate the substance or to create the product. In Hillocks’ terms, both the form and the content can change, based on the influence of digital writing technologies.

For Maryrose’s third graders to create effective timelines, they needed to use their devices to locate facts, dates, and appropriate visuals (e.g., images, videos), all to support their purposes of creating biographies. They also needed to know how to create a timeline using the appropriate app. Though they had practiced creating timelines using paper and pencil earlier in the year, this task asked more of them. It required them to learn how the device might support them in their writing — and how to troubleshoot problems in writing that would not occur in traditional forms.

As they worked, the students considered a variety of options as digital writers. Along with learning about the lives of their chosen person, students selected appropriate videos, images, and facts to include in their timelines.

At one point during the lesson, I saw Zeke ask his buddy, “Edward, do you know how to put in a picture?” Their tablemate, Dex, watched over Zeke’s shoulder while Edward demonstrated on Zeke’s iPad. When the three of them could not figure out how to shrink the image to fit where Zeke wanted it, Matt joined to show them how to do it. In less than a minute, Zeke had accomplished his goal of inserting the image into his timeline — and Maryrose was never called to the table. Instead, she was conferencing with another group, coaching them on the content of their timelines.

All four boys returned immediately to their own projects, each one likely having gained some knowledge of technology that would aid him in his own writing, contributing to both form and content. A few minutes later, Edward picked up his iPad and crossed the room to Ricky, saying to no one in particular, “I need to ask Ricky how to do a video.” The students knew what they needed to accomplish, they relied on their peers to help them learn, and ultimately, they developed their technological knowledge that would support their digital writing.

Incorporating technology can be intimidating to teachers who do not feel like experts in using devices, but Maryrose knew that she didn’t need to be the only expert in the classroom. She called on her students, empowered them to coach others, and learned alongside them. She took a risk in her classroom because she knew that students need to learn how technology might help or inhibit their writing in various genres.

This goal is important for all teachers of writing to consider. Technology affords writers many opportunities. For example, Maryrose’s students were able to create timelines with embedded videos and links to additional information. These types of data contributed to products that were much different than the paper and pencil timelines they produced earlier in the year. However, technology alone will not make writing better. Skills of research, including selection of evidence, are even more important as writers consider the content of their pieces. They should not be distracted by digital “bells and whistles” that can drown out their messages.

Because more and more writing is digital in the real world, it is important for young students to learn skills of technology and to understand how various technologies can shape a message, both in content and form. Maryrose’s third graders are developing in these areas — and she has empowered them to do so by seeing each other as experts in the classroom.


Kristen Hawley Turner is presenting at the 2014 Literacy for All Conference in Providence, RI on Monday, November 3 and Tuesday, November 4 (



Crafting Digital Writing

Photo- Troy Hicks

by Guest Blogger Troy Hicks

Author, Associate Professor of English, Central Michigan University, and 2013 Literacy for All Conference Speaker

They text, tweet, and meet.

They skim, surf, and share.

They post, pin, and share their lives through the screen.

They are our children and students, our digital writers. Their work can go from the palm of their hand out to the entire web in just a few clicks.

But, digital writing is about more than pushing buttons. Just because our students can text, tweet, or post doesn’t mean that they are always doing it in productive, responsible, or ethical ways. We want them to find, evaluate, and synthesize information from a variety of sources.  We can help them utilize the information that they have found to develop multimedia texts. We need to teach them how to be critical and creative digital writers.

In my article published in NCTE’s Classroom Notes Plus, I describe how students can explore the concept of “copyright” by using Wikis as a tool for collaborative inquiry. By creating a shared workspace, developing authentic scenarios for students to problem solve, and making their work public, you can take advantage of the Wiki’s convenience while also documenting individual students’ contributions to the overall project.

Another possible use for Wikispaces comes in the form of crafting digital essays. Built on an idea from Jim Burke that he shared on the English Companion Ning, we can think about how to help our students create digitally enhanced essays with appropriate hyperlinks, images, and videos. But, this is about more than just inserting links or images; indeed, we want students to think purposefully about how they are crafting their digital writing for different audiences and purposes. We need to ask critical questions about why and how they are including such media. For instance:

  • How long is the writer’s overall digital essay, and what proportion of the essay offers links to outside sources?
  • Did the writer create additional pages with original writing to support his or her ideas, or are all the links to outside sources?
  • How do the images and videos chosen enhance the overall argument of the essay rather than simply decorate it?

By using questions like these during instruction and assessment, you will help guide your writers through the process of effectively crafting a digital essay where the sum total of words, links, and images really do equal more than the individual parts.

9780325046969In his new book with Heinemann, Crafting Digital Writing: Composing Texts Across Media and Genres, Troy Hicks helps teachers understand and explore the ways that writers have traditionally used writer’s craft while exploring new opportunities for crafting web-based texts, presentations, multimedia, and social media. 

 Troy is presenting at this year’s Literacy for All Conference in Providence, R.I., sharing ideas about how to help your students to craft effective digital writing across multiple forms of media. His sessions on November 4 and 5, 2013 will include Creating a Classroom Wiki For Your Digital Writers and Raising Digital Writers. 

Making Space for Internet Inquiry in the Primary Grades Part 1/2

by Julie Coiro

2012 Literacy for All Conference Speaker

Have you ever wondered how to engage primary grade children in web-based literacy activities that are safe and appropriate, but also authentic and interesting? Children’s questions can be a powerful vehicle to literacy learning and understanding, so why not begin simply with the questions that children are bringing to your classroom on a daily basis? One promising practice that builds on children’s questions and fits nicely into a once-a-week sharing circle discussion is known as Internet Inquiry Baskets. It begins with one child’s question, continues with a think-aloud model of how to use the Internet to learn more about that question, and ends with a collaborative summary that can be compiled into a classroom book about Things We Learned On The Internet This Year.

The process begins by encouraging children to pose questions during the week as they read together in school and share experiences from their lives outside of school.  Children are asked to record their burning questions on individual slips of paper and place their questions in a special Internet Inquiry basket hanging near the bookshelves in your room.  At the end of each week, pull one question from the basket (either randomly or strategically), and announce it as next week’s focus of inquiry.

Over the weekend, devote a little time to conducting an Internet search for 2-3 websites that contain helpful images, thought provoking animations, or appropriate snippets of information related to the question that can be read aloud or viewed as a group.  In addition to locating (and bookmarking) the websites using a class wiki or a social bookmarking tool like Symbaloo, make note of which search terms worked best and the steps you took to scan the search results, ignore advertisements, or navigate within certain websites to find the most relevant information.  You should also note searches that resulted, perhaps, in inappropriate results so that you can avoid modeling these processes during your group think-aloud.  Irrelevant searches, however, might be useful to model to help children understand how to refine their searches for their purpose.

When the children return to school on Monday, these ideas can then be shared in a guided discussion as you walk children through the steps you took to search and navigate online text. As you guide children to safe, appropriate websites, your real-time Internet search process can be projected onto a Smartboard while you explicitly model and think-aloud about how to search and navigate online text. Just as you would take children through a picture walk of a book to highlight the cover, the author, important characters and key vocabulary, your modeling of Internet inquiry can introduce children to concepts such as search engines, websites, navigation menus, hyperlinks, and search results as part of an authentic conversation about how you located websites and determined which parts were most useful for your needs.

To help keep track of new things learned during your discussion, the children can help you complete an activity sheet that gets added to your classroom notebook. (See a completed example at the end of this blog post.) A word processing program can be projected on the screen for the class and, if desired, children can help type the information. The first part of the activity invites children to note the original inquiry question, the keywords that worked best, the search engine that was used, and a key idea about each of the websites they visited.  Then, as a group, they decide on 1-2 sentences that answer the original question pulled from the inquiry basket and a ranking for how much the Internet helped them learn about this question. This last item introduces children to the basic elements of evaluating the relevancy of online information.

Next week this blog will continue and discuss the second part of this activity.

Julie Coiro is speaking at our upcoming Literacy for All Conference in Providence, RI on Monday, November 5, 2012.  Her sessions are, “Making Space for Online Inquiry in the Primary Grades” (10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.), and a 3-hour session for middle school educators, “Instructional Strategies for Critically Evaluating Online Information in Middle School” (Grades 5-8), 1:30 p.m. – 4:45 p.m. 

Book Recommendations for Digital Storytelling

The 22nd Annual Literacy for All Conference is just around the corner and what better way to introduce our speakers than sharing with you some of their favorite children’s books!  We asked our speakers for (1) their favorite children’s book, (2) what stands out about this book for them as an educator, and (3) how they use it in their teaching.

Keep checking in over the next couple months to see what they have to say!

The first recommendation comes from Featured Speaker Lisa Miller.  Lisa directs the Journalism Program at the University of New Hampshire.  She has worked with elementary school students and elementary and middle school teachers on digital storytelling, and is the author of multiple books including Make Me a Story: Teaching Writing through Digital Storytelling (Stenhouse, 2010).

Lisa recommends:

1) One of my favorite children’s books is “Owl Moon” by Jane Yolen, for ages 4-8; another is “The Day the Babies Crawled Away” by Peggy Rathman, for kindergarten to grade two.

2) Both books are beautifully written and illustrated. The text and illustrations in both work very well together to tell the stories.

3) I use these books in a digital storytelling class I teach for K-12 teachers, when we discuss how text and images can work together to tell a story, with the images complementing the text and telling parts of the story the text does not.

Lisa will be presenting the following sessions at the conference:

Monday, November 7, 2011
LCB-4 – Featured Session
Make Me a Story: Teaching Writing Through Digital Storytelling (Grades 1–5)

LCD-3 – Featured Session (Repeat)
Make Me a Story: Teaching Writing Through Digital Storytelling (Grades 1–5)

Discovering Cool Web 2.0 Tools to Enhance Literacy Teaching and Learning

by Cindy Downend

Now that summer vacation is here, why not spend a little time discovering some really exciting web tools that are great for engaging both students and teachers in literacy learning?   Here, in the Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative, we have been encouraging one another (and the teachers with whom we work) to integrate some web 2.0 tools into our teaching.  We have learned so much from one another, the teachers with whom we work, and notables in the field like Troy Hicks, Julie Coiro, and Nancy Anderson.

As we discover these new web tools, we have been highly intentional and purposeful in the way that we use them in our teaching.   It’s not about just using a 2.0 tool because it’s cool and flashy.  We really spend time thinking about how each particular tool may strengthen our teaching and make it easier for students to grasp the concepts we are presenting.

Listed below are just a few of the web tools that we have tried out and how they’ve been used.  I highly recommend that you visit the Edublog Teacher Challenge Blog.  This blog lists 26 different web tools, gives a definition and overview of each of their uses, provides a “teacher challenge” to get you started, and has many videos that support your experimentation.

So, happy experimenting and please share with us how you have been using web tools for your literacy teaching.

VoiceThread allows you to create an interactive slideshow using pictures, videos, documents, or even Powerpoint presentations.  You or your students can record video/audio that allows you to describe each slide in more detail.  But that’s not all…Viewers of your VoiceThreads can leave responses and comments to your VoiceThread.  This tool is excellent for supporting writing workshop.  I have seen it used for publishing a class poetry book, students created informational texts that they narrated, and one first grade class published their interactive writing about a class field trip to the zoo.   VoiceThread makes it really easy to share published works with families!

Wordle creates a “word cloud” that helps to interpret the meaning of the words by assigning font size according to how frequently the word appears in a text or is typed into the Wordle text box.  We have used Wordle for brainstorming and as a reflection tool at the end of a professional development session.  Below is a Wordle that was created during a session on reading fluency.

Glogster is a Web 2.0 tool used for creating an online interactive poster.  Glogster makes it easy to combine graphics, backgrounds, videos, pictures, sounds, text and even hyperlinks into really interesting online posters.   Glogster is a fabulous alternative to the traditional classroom poster project.


Great Literacy Beginnings: Enhancing Storytelling with Technology to Support Children’s Language Development

By Cindy Downend

In the past few weeks, I have been working with Patti, a Literacy Collaborative Coach, to explore how we can continue to expand children’s language development in pre-k and k.  Knowing that language is the foundation for all learning, we are constantly seeking ways to encourage those children who are hesitant to speak. Patti and I have been brainstorming ways that we could use to engage and support those children who are shy or who find it difficult to express their ideas orally.   We decided to try using storytelling through smart pens (more about those in a minute) to support the language development of these children.

Martha Horn and Mary Ellen Giacobbe have helped us to think a lot about the role that storytelling plays in encouraging young children to speak and express themselves.  In Talking, Drawing and Writing, they state, “Inviting children to talk about themselves and about what they know honors them for who they are.” Resnick and Snow (2008) have also helped us to understand how there are many different kinds of story structures and we must be sure to honor each child’s familial and cultural backgrounds.

So with these big ideas in mind, Patti and I set out to try our hand at using smart pens as a tool for both encouraging and recording students’ oral storytelling with their drawings.  A Livescribe smart pen allows a writer to write or draw while recording his or her own voice.  The recording can then be played back to make it accessible to students anytime, anywhere.  The written/drawn text can even be uploaded to a computer and played back as a “pencast.”

After experimenting with the pens for a period of time, Patti reports that the use of the smart pens has proved beneficial in helping students to organize their thoughts for writing and also helpful in engaging students who are reticent to speak.  For example, a teacher may confer with a student while he is drawing and telling his story, working to both encourage and expand the child’s oral language.  Patti also mentioned that students who are often very shy when speaking to their classmates often love sharing their “pencasts.”  The pencasts might also be shared with parents and families.

In their new book, Literacy Beginnings, Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell state, “Language is the most important cognitive tool for interpreting and explaining the information they [children] pick up as they explore and learn.“   We would love to hear from our blog readers about successes you have experienced in encouraging young children to speak and share their ideas.

One Child’s Livescribe Pen Story

 “That’s the battleship Kohl.  We got to go in the battleship.  We got to go inside it.  There was windows on each side.  There was a ton of staircases and there was one way over here.  Or you could go downstairs and I’ll make the submarine.  There’s an eye scope with a big eye looking through it and there were no girls in it back then.”