Sunday, September 23, 2012

Calling 3rd, 6th and 10th grade teachers

If you teach 3rd, 6th or 10th grade, would you consider taking a few minutes and take the following survey.  This is for my friends and colleagues at the Institute of Learning at The University of Pittsburgh.  I know they would appreciate it.  Feel free to share the link.  Thanks!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Picture the Story

Anyone who knows me as a person or as an educator knows that I am a visual learner.  One of the things that I like about reading is making a "mental movie" in my head.  I was not taught that skill until later in life (definitely not in high school), thus I was not a fan of reading literature when I was younger.  It wasn't until I was specifically told that making a mental image is a skill that is required for reading.  I mean, yes, I made mental images, but I was always concerned with mine being wrong, or way off the mark or something like that. 

Years ago when I was teaching high school, I asked how many students make mental images when they read, and I was surprised that not many did.  Like me, when I was there age, their eyes were scanning the words, but they weren't processing a whole lot.  So I came up with an activity I like to call Picture the Story, and I'd like to share it here.

Typically Picture the Story takes place when students have finished a book, but it can actually be done at any point in time.  I break the book down into sections; one section for each student.  For example...student one is assigned pages 1-5...student 2 is assigned pages 6-10....and so on.  Then I give each of the students a blank piece of paper and some markers.  (I highly encourage markers in the matter what level of education.) I ask the students to review their assigned section, and to draw a visual depicting an event in that section.

This is where the fun part comes in...I then choose a student at random...someone who is assigned the middle of the book. I ask them to come to the front of the room and share their image.  The other classmates try to guess what the image is, what it means and when it took place.  This dialogue is very encouraging.  Once the students have figured out what part of the story is being represented...they tape the picture to the wall.  I then ask another student to come up and we repeat the process.  However, this time the students have to decide if the new event took place before or after the event currently being presented.   Once they have decided, that picture is posted on the wall, either before or after the first picture.  We continue this process until all pictures are posted in chronological order.  Then I ask the students to write a short summary of the event and a rationale on a note card, which explains their thinking and their depiction of the event.  I then have them post these under the picture.

One nice thing about the assignment is that you now have a visual and written timeline of the events of a story in your classroom for all the students to see.  And if you teach the same book in multiple classes, you can compare and contrast depictions.

I also think that this can be useful not only for review, but to discuss symbolism and other literary events.  The students will already be familiar with the plot after conducting this activity, so they will be more apt to discuss other literary elements as well.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Teaching Digital Literacy Skills earlier in education

In his blog, Ray Kelly, the CEO of Certipoint ("the world's leading provider of computer literacy skills training and credentialing program) advocates teaching digital literacy skills in middle school.  I wholeheartedly agree with Kelly, as we are a digital and global society.  As newer and newer technologies shape the way in which we function, I agree that middle school is a good place to start.  However, Kelly lists three major components for teaching these skills:  key applications, computing fundamentals, and practical use of the internet.  While he brings up important points of each, I think his blog is a bit limited.  I'm surprised to see that digital composition isn't one of these skills.  Under key applications, he describes learning about photoshop and MS office...but I feel that these are just the tip of the iceberg.

For example, what about blogging, podcasting and other digital tools that are becoming common?  Should we train students to see what these are and allow them to experiment? Also, with so much social networking (ie. facebook, linkedin, etc.) might it be a great lesson for students to learn what these tools are in context?  Rather than saying "this is facebook" show students how companies use this tool, as so many do.

I also think Kelly needs to mention media literacy education.  Because youth are some of the largest consumers of media, I think it's important to teach them the skills they need to evaluate the ads they are being bombarded with along with the other types of media that are consumed daily.  I suggest Frank Baker's  media literacy clearninghouse as an excellent point of entry because it contains so many links about media literacy...from learning what it is, to learning how to be less passive about media, to educational links.

While Kelly's blog does suggest earlier education regarding digital literacy is important, I feel he could include more than just "computer literacy" which seems to be his main point.