Digital Tools and Literacy: better together than apart

Promoting the love of literacy in your classroom can be hard enough contending with new curriculum, reluctant readers and not enough time. Luckily, effectively integrating digital tools can be a big help. In a technology-rich classroom environment, we often forget about how devices and online tools can support our work as literacy-focused educators. Below are some ideas on how to quickly and meaningfully integrate technology into your classroom.

Feel the Impact of Student Voice
Some of the best digital tools are right at our fingertips and we don’t even realize it. Take the camera on an iPad or Chromebook, for example: it is a seriously powerful tool. Coupled with an app, or even just on it’s own using the native camera app on the device, the camera allows for kids to share their reading from their perspective.

Teach K-2? Check out Seesaw. It’s an easy to use tool that allows kids to share their voice in fun ways: text, pictures, drawings, audio and video. There’s even an easy way to set up a class blog (where you, the teacher, control what is published for each child) that can be shared with parents and community members. Seesaw is supported on iPads and Chromebooks and is super easy to set up and use. During independent reading, students could have access to a device to record their thoughts and reflections on the class Seesaw stream.

This past summer, FlipGrid overwent a massive upgrade that, most importantly, made it free to all teachers. FlipGrid is a phenomenal, web-based tool that allows teachers and students to build communities centered around video clips. For kids and teachers, FlipGrid is easy and an absolute blast, and has a remarkable community from all around the world ready to offer tips and tricks as you roll it out.

Want to get started promoting your students’ voices? Set up a “recording booth” near your classroom library where students can review books or make recommendations for their classmates. Or, next time you confer with a students about what they are reading, bring an iPad or Chromebook along and record the conversation. Both Seesaw and FlipGrid make it easy to build libraries of videos that you can reuse throughout the year. You could even share videos between classes to help build a culture of readers in your grade level. Right at your fingertips, you have the ability to easily build and curate student-driven portfolios chock full of products of learning to share with other teachers, administrators and parents.

Share the great reading that’s happening in your classroom
If you are successful in building a culture of vociferous readers in your classroom, share it! Digital tools make it so easy for you to share the amazing things happening in your room. Don’t get me wrong– you don’t need to jump on Twitter tomorrow and start tweeting everything that happens during independent reading. Start small and in a way that works for you. Here are some suggestions:

Create a Google Slides deck and share it with your class on Google Classroom. Over the course of a day or two, invite your students to create a one-slide review of a recent read. When the slide deck is completed (don’t forget to add your own review!), invite your students to read each other’s slides and encourage them to comment on each other’s work. Next steps could include sharing the Slides deck with another class, families or with a “pen pal class” at another school. This is an easy way to encourage kids to start a dialogue about what they are reading using a medium they are comfortable with. Perhaps the Slides could then be projected at lunch in the cafeteria, or at an all school meeting. Or, during a guided read-aloud, some students could be designated as “note takers” and record thoughts and questions that are brought up by the class, and record them onto a shared Google Slide deck.

Ready for the next step? Twitter is brimming with amazing teachers and learning communities from all around the world that want to share their love of literacy. With the appropriate permissions in place from your students’ families and your administration, start connecting your learning community with others from around the world. Start exploring hashtags such as #elemchat, #edchat or #literacy to find like-minded educators. Don’t be afraid to reach out and connect with someone! Unfortunately, right now in our society, Twitter gives many a bad taste in their mouth. It’s up to us in the field of teaching and learning to claim it back and share how powerful of a tool it can be!

Instagram is growing in popularity as the go-to tool for teachers to share the learning happening inside their classrooms. Because so many parents are active on the image-sharing platform, it’s a great way to connect your classroom with the world.

Before diving into any social media tool, be sure to confirm permissions with your administration. Partner with your principal or digital learning coach to make sure you are using social media responsibly, safely and in compliance with your district’s policies.

Create new ways for your students to interact with your classroom library
I am blown away by the amount of care and effort teachers put into curating classroom libraries. One of my favorite things to witness at my school is a child weaving their way through well-stocked bookshelves, searching for the next great read. There are some really useful ways that technology can help us organize and promote our libraries, starting within our own classroom.

QR codes are a surprisingly easy way to organize and share information in our classrooms. A QR code is a square, unique image that acts as a shortcut. By scanning a QR code using a device, users are quickly directed to a website chosen by the creator of the QR code. Perhaps QR codes could be pasted on the back cover of a book, and when scanned, students are brought to a website containing a book review written or recorded by a peer. Or, maybe a QR code posted on a bookshelf leads a student to a blog post or website that describes that section of the library. The best part? Students can easily create content that can be shared with QR codes. You can create QR codes easily on a website or with an app, depending on your device.

For older (and more organized), try using Google Sheets to create a record of books in your library. Some of your “type a” students might really enjoy the task of organizing and entering data about your library into a spreadsheet, and then, might even enjoy creating charts and graphs that show how often the book is read, how many titles in each genre, etc. It’s never too early for kids to get their hands on a spreadsheet and to start exploring the powerful data-focused tools that they contain.

Most importantly, get the conversation started about reading
In 2018, our students are better equipped to tackle the challenges of the world in which they live if they have experience writing for an audience online. When scaled appropriately based on grade level, blogging gives students the opportunity to develop and craft their voices as writers and contributors to a community. Whether the blog is designed and maintained within your classroom walls or shared with the world, online writing provides students with a real-world experience.

All great literacy curriculums encourage students to “write to text” regularly in order to strengthen and flex their reading muscles. By drawing conclusions and making connections, students who write about their reading are actively flexing their “reading superpowers”. When we write about what we read, we give students the opportunity to develop their voice as a critical thinker and evaluator of text. Most importantly, students are encouraged to actively share their voice with their learning community and beyond.

Literacy and digital tools, when partnered together in meaningful ways, are more powerful together than apart. As we embark on the new school year, keep these strategies in mind as you couple your literacy-rich classroom with the powerful, digital learning tools available to you at your fingertips.

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