Supporting English Learners’ Literacy Development in a Digital Age

A new post by Jill Castek

Lit Beat is back in action!  It’s wonderful to have had a bit of the summer to relax, refresh, and explore new ideas.  Wishing you an upcoming school year filled with promise.  I hope this post sparks your thinking.  Please post a comment to share additional connections or implementation ideas.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Supporting English Learners’ Literacy Development in a Digital Age

The diversity present in our classrooms requires us to think differently about the literacy instruction we offer our students. We need to offer new opportunities for students learning English to enhance and extend their language, literacy, and content learning.  This new post suggest ways to (1) use digital videos and animations to promote students’ vocabulary development and content knowledge, (2) use bilingual texts to encourage language and content learning across the curriculum, and (3) involve students in sharing ideas with the aid of digital tools.

Using Digital Videos and Animations to Promote Vocabulary Development and Content Knowledge

ELLs benefit from a multi-faceted approach to learning that makes use of interactive visuals.  The Internet offers easy access to a great many of these visuals across a range of topic areas. Providing students opportunities to view media that presents ideas both textually and visually creates a meaningful learning context that supports the acquisition of academic vocabulary in writing and speaking (Dalton & Grisham, 2011).  Using digital resources brings concepts to life for students. Pairing them with opportunities to read, write, and share ideas helps support and enhance ELL’s content understanding.

Sea Otter Interactive

Children of all ages and backgrounds seek to better understand the fascinating animal species found in our world.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium, home of several sea otters and other marine creatures, makes reading about animals an adventure.  The Sea Otter Interactive http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/media/all_about_otters/whatsanotter01.html  is one of many resources that will spark students’ curiosity about the natural world.  The visual support offered by the animated otter, along with the illustrative diagrams and animations, provides visual support that aids students in making connections across languages.

Sea Otter Interactive developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Providing opportunities for students to discuss the interactive in their native language before participating in whole-class discussion can reinforce these connections.  The native language discussion serves as a form of language rehearsal where students can organize their thinking, plan, test their ideas, and make appropriate revisions before sharing their thoughts with the whole class. Discussion techniques such as Turn and Talk or Think-Pair-Share are some examples of ways to provide opportunities for language rehearsal.

When introducing a new interactive to your class, set up a digital projector and talk through one part of the resource as a demonstration while generating guiding questions together as a class. Then, offer students time to explore the digital resource in small groups during literacy center time.  This second self-guided viewing will provide a means to read for a purpose, investigate the questions posed, and deepen students’ interest.

Below is a brief list of videos and animations that connect to common content topics covered in elementary and middle grades:

BBC Schools Science Clips

Carbon Cycle

Discovery Dino Viewer

Endangered Animals 

Habits of the Heart

NASA eClips

PBS Play Amazon Explorer (Rainforest) 

Water Cycle Interactive from Discovery Education

To locate additional resources in curriculum areas you teach, search Google by typing in your topic area + interactive (e.g. solar system + interactive).

Using Bilingual Texts to Encourage Language and Content Learning

Effective literacy instruction makes connections to students’ linguistic, literacy, and cultural resources. These resources can be used to support learning in their second language. Utilizing educational resources in both languages builds students’ cognitive flexibility and increases meta-linguistic awareness (Gort, 2008). Bilingual websites such as Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Pup’s Supper/La Cena del Cachorro http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/lc/activities/book_pups_supper.asp encourage home school connections and encourage learning across the curriculum.

Bilingual English/Spanish e-book about Sea Otters developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium

NASA’s Sun-Earth Day Multimedia Children’s Books http://sunearthday.nasa.gov/2006/multimedia/books.php are free animated multimedia books that present concepts both visually and textually.  Because these resources make it possible to see and experience phenomena such as aurora, they support the development of language, literacy, and content simultaneously. Accessible in both English and Spanish, each book poses essential questions and presents concepts that help students address them. Related resources such as an image gallery and dictionary, extend ideas presented in the text.

The Rainforest Alliance Virtual Story Books http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/kids/stories offer engaging and colorful fiction and non-fiction books in three languages English, Spanish, and Portuguese.  These texts engage young readers by introducing them to children who live in areas that surround rainforests.  The imagery and first hand accounts captured in these unique texts make students more aware of these diverse environments and the wildlife that inhabit them. Exploring these engaging texts extends emergent bilingual students’ comprehension and vocabulary while helping them make connections between languages.

The International Digital Children’s Library http://en.childrenslibrary.org/ is a portal site that makes children’s books from around the world available in a variety of languages. Over 2,800 books are available in 48 languages, free of charge. The simple search feature makes it easy to find books that match the age range and interest level of all students. Each text includes a feature that allows the reader to switch the language for instant translation. Because the books on this website do not require a trip to the library, students can access them at school and at home.

Sharing Ideas with the Aid of Digital Tools

The Internet has made it possible to write in a variety of forms and reach a wide audience almost instantaneously. By introducing new outlets for sharing ideas, ELLs can make important connections between reading and writing.

Wordle http://www.wordle.net/  is a resource that makes it possible for students to generate word pictures using an assortment of words that they chose (in any language).   How frequently the inputted terms appear determines the size, placement, and prominence in the final product. The interface eliminates common words such as “the” or “and” so that key words take on greater emphasis. The selection of layout schemes can be used to highlight ideas and relationships among terms.

This easy-to-use resource provides students a powerful tool for expressing their developing understanding of words, concepts, or ideas in a motivating and engaging way.  For example, Wordle can be used to extend quick write activities.  For example, after reflecting, students can be paired up in small groups to input their writing into the interface. Printing out students’ Wordles and creating a gallery walk can be a useful review and reflection activity to summarize what they have learned about a topic they’ve studied. Repetition of similar learning statements in this case would be beneficial since key concepts would pop visually and aid students in recalling important ideas. These alternatives for formal writing activities would also provide teachers a way to formatively assess students’ understanding of content studied.

ELL students can create Wordles in their home language.  Below is one that Iliana created to reflect the concepts she had learned about the sun and its importance the solar system.  She placed a tilde ~ between words that she wanted displayed together, such as sistema~solar so that these terms would appear side by side.

Iliana’s Spanish wordle about the sun and its importance the solar system

RealeWriter (“Really Writer”) http://www.realewriter.com/ is a free Web site that invites users to upload images or drawings, write their own text, and publish professional looking books that can be printed or posted online. Educators have used RealeWriter to author books collaboratively as a class project and also as a tool for individual student authors. Innovative educators all over the world have used these resources to help students express ideas.  The ease of the software enriches the writing experience and helps English learners find their voice as writers.  RealeWriter  turns writing into an experience that is enjoyable, authentic, and social.

To get started with RealeWriter, explore the wide selection of student published books.  Topically focused texts can be found by typing key words into the site-specific search engine at the top of the page. Clicking on the featured or popular books tab to view examples that will appeal to all ages and interest levels. El Mercado  is a delightful Spanish/English bilingual book that takes readers on a trip through a market place in Mexico City in search of a birthday present for six-year-old Sean.

Reflecting on Implementation

As new technologies continually emerge, new skills and strategies will be required by students to effectively make use of them. Though many teachers have yet to possess these skills themselves, it is nonetheless our responsibility as educators to provide an educational context in which all students can acquire them.  Extending these digital learning opportunities is central to students becoming participatory citizens and achieving success in school, higher education, and the workplace.

References

Dalton, B. & Grisham, D. (2011). eVoc strategies: A dozen ways to use technology to build vocabulary.  The Reading Teacher, 64, 306–317.

Gort, M. (2008). “You give me idea!”: Collaborative strides toward bilingualism and biliteracy in a two-way partial immersion program. Multicultural Perspectives, 10(4), 192-200.

The 4 R’s of Collaborative Writing: Reading, Rating, Remixing, and Revising

A new post by Jill Castek

For the past several months I’ve been working with fifth and sixth graders in two urban schools in Berkeley and Oakland, CA. The project is designed to enhance integrated literacy and science learning and to explore how iPads can be used to support student engagement, self expression, and learning.  Although I’ve been involved in using laptops extensively with students in classrooms, shifting to explore science learning through iPads has been a true learning experience.

I’ve discovered that many applications and strategies for collaboration I’ve always drawn from aren’t directly transferable to working with a small touch screen.  However, because collaboration is a vitally important part of learning,  I’m dedicating this post to  approaches for facilitating collaborative writing.

One free platform I’ve used for collaborative writing is Mixed Ink www.mixedink.com.  This educator friendly tool allows small groups or the whole class to reflect on several versions of a text written on the same topic and to weave ideas  from peers’ work into a single text that credits multiple authors.  An overview of how the Mixed Ink tool works can be seen in the short video clip below entitled Mixed Ink for Educators.

Collaborative Writing with Mixed Ink:  A 5th Grade Example

Ms. Kretschmar’s students completed a waste audit to analyze the waste their school produced. Prior to beginning the collaborative writing assignment, students discussed their experiences with the waste audit and shared ideas about how to communicate the surprising results they found to the school and community at large.  The five phases  the class engaged in as they documented and shared their experiences included:  1) writing;  2) reading; 3) rating; 4) remixing; and 5) revising.  Not only is each aspect an important part of productive collaborative writing, these steps also address the Common Core State Standards that emphasize the use of digital technologies for reading and writing as support process skills such as collaboration, listening, and speaking.

Ms. Kretschmar’s students draft their waste audit letter to the school community.

With the aim of helping the school and community become more mindful about their output of trash, Ms. Kretschmar structured a five paragraph writing assignment for her students and assigned each table group to complete one paragraph.  Once she distributed Letter4School (a set of graphic organizers to support students when drafting), she encouraged table groups to discuss ideas before writing their paragraphs as individuals. Then,  students used the graphic organizers and iPads to complete a first draft.

Next, students learned about online collaborative writing using Mixed Ink and discussed the process of peer support for adding content, revising language choices, and reorganizing their presentation of ideas.

Then, students read each other’s work (staying within their original paragraph groups).  After presenting the purpose of reading and rating, Ms. Kretschmar had students rate each other’s work using a system of stars which ranged from 1/2 star (needs more development) to five stars (very well developed).   As students read their peers’ work, they looked out for ideas  and language they could incorporate into their own piece to improve it.

Using their peers’ pieces as mentor texts, students remixed new drafts  by incorporating in elements of each others’ wording and language into their own piece (creating co-written pieces with multiple authors).  The image on the left shows how the crediting process works (with each author recognized as contributing an element to the piece).

Students then rated each of the new paragraphs again.  Mixed Ink uses a specially designed algorithm that surfaces the most complete and well-written piece based on student ratings.  This featured “featured” version can then be discussed in terms of its organization, use of language, organization, or other characteristics.

With help from the students, Ms. Kretschmar compiled the top rated five paragraphs into a completed piece that incorporated all students’ voices.    The final version can be accessed by clicking on 5thLetter2Community.  It takes advantage of the collaborative writing process in the creation of a well-organized, well-structured final product.

A full set of slides documenting  Ms. Kretschmar’s collaborative writing lessons can be viewed here.

Collaborative writing in a digitally enhanced way has several benefits.  First, it is a process that draws upon the strengths of the collective. Although one student may be stronger in critical thinking skills, another may excel in organizing or adding detail to a piece. By working in groups, students learn from each other while they complete an assigned task in ways that benefit the whole group.  In addition, students working in collaborative groups can take advantage of other group members for  peer review as they complete writing projects.  More and more workplace activities involve working in these sorts of collaborative project teams. Giving students opportunities to work collaboratively can help prepare them for the advantages and pitfalls of collaborative work on the job.  I’ve seen collaborative writing activities such as the one featured here, support students’ abilities to work together and problem solve while providing the context for content-rich conversations.

We are eager to promote an exchange of ideas on this forum.  We invite you to please add a comment to share experiences you’ve had with collaborative writing.

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