Bridging the gap between traditional literacy skills and those of the 21st century.

This has been the topic of discussion here the past few weeks.

In Part 2 of this series (you can check out Part 1 here), I concluded by providing a couple examples of a unit’s end product.  As a refresher, here they are again:

Example 1:

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Example 2:

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The reading/writing unit was on digital literacy, and for the writing side of the coin, students were to create a video lesson.

Here are some key takeaways I learned in the process of bridging  A (traditional literacy) with B (21st century literacy):

1. Find a good mentor video:  Good writing instruction often consists of the use of mentor texts.  These texts serve as models that can be repeatedly referenced and analyzed.  They are a source of various teaching points, and they set the tone and direction of the writing unit.  As such, for a 21st century literacy project like the creation of a video lesson, it is paramount to find a good “mentor video.”  Finding a good fit may be time-consuming, but you can’t get to your destination if you don’t know exactly where it is you’re going, right?

I used the following video lesson on how sugar affects the brain (*note – if you watch the video, I did not show my fifth graders the brief sentence that references sex!):

This video matched the cause and effect structure I was looking for, as the purpose of the students’ video lessons was to teach how a Native American tribe’s regional geography affected the development of their culture (tied into the enduring understanding of a social studies unit).

2. Use graphic organizers: Students needed them then, and they still need them now.  The only difference is the means by which they’re distributed and completed. All of my fifth graders have their own Chromebooks, so I was easily able to share the graphic organizers (created as a Google Doc) with them.  One student in the group then made a copy and shared it with the peers in their group, giving them editing privileges.  Hence, collaborative writing began!

Graphic Organizer 1 (the research):

Note: You’ll see the use of “Color Fill,” which I use all the times with Google Docs (and Sheets) to help highlight relationships and big ideas.  In this case, the goal was for students to see how yellow (regional geography) affects blue (culture).  Also, you’ll see some inserted info about the Inuits.  This was a tribe we had previously learned about, which I used for the purpose of modeling.

Native Americans Digital Presentation

Graphic Organizer 2 (the transcript):

Note: This doc was several pages long, breaking down the video lesson transcript into various sections.  We methodically worked through each section, using the mentor video, direct instruction, and shared writing along the way.  Students also created hyperlinks to the graphics they wished to include in their video lessons.

Below you’ll see that in the screenshot of Section 3, I carried over the “Color Fill” from the first graphic organizer, reinforcing a. the central focus of this transcript/video lesson b. the cause and effect relationship

graphic organizer Part B

Students saw this again and again and again and again as we worked through each part, Part A (How regional geography affected the cultural aspect of food, Part B (How regional geography affected the cultural aspect of clothing), all the way to Part E below:

graphic organizer part C

As students finished each section or were waiting for me to meet with their group, they worked on creating a collaborative Google Slides presentation, aligning their graphics to coincide with the content in each section of their transcript.

At this point in the process of the project, I showed the students some basics of Screencastify, as this is how they were to do the “video part” of their video lessons.  After merely demonstrating how to get started, I gave them a good chunk of time to just play and discover.  When students learned something, they’d show others in their group, as well as other groups.

It was a great display of the power of social learning.

To date, the students have surpassed me in their Screencastify knowledge, in addition to several extensions.

3.  Give feedback (and give it frequently!)

Whether traditional literacy instruction or 21st century literacy instruction, students need feedback…and lots of it!

A well-oiled machine.  It may appear that everything in this unit went smoothly, but I’d be disingenuous if I spun it this way.

As I circulated and met with groups, I heard a lot of the following:

“I just thought I’d put it in.” (meaning inserting inaccurate information)
“Oops, I forgot to record the source.”
“Wait, I don’t know where the writing went.”
“Oh, we just thought we’d do it this way.”
“To show how life was hard for the Native Americans.” (what many believed to be the central focus as I read over and discussed their writing with them)
“But this picture’s funny.”
“We did all the work, and he/she barely did anything.”
“I didn’t write that.  Wait, who wrote over my stuff!”  (often a casualty of elementary students working on a collaborative file)

Yes, teacher clarity is vital to minimizing misunderstanding.  But, if you’re a teacher in the trenches of the classroom, you know how it goes.  Direct, whole-class instruction.  You stress certain things.  You give examples. You give non-examples.  You have students articulate back the key points, sometimes to each other, sometimes in unison as a class.  You check for understanding (“Thumbs up if you understand…”).

Yet, students can easily still lose sight of purpose.

They did it in the 20th century.  They do it in the 21st.

However, in the 21st, my own personal observations tell me that technology, despite presenting unique opportunities, also present unique challenges.  Distractibility being numero uno.  Perhaps things will change, but for now, I’ll end with this thought:

When bridging the gap between traditional literacy and 21st century literacy, best practices in literacy instruction haven’t changed.

A.  Use mentor texts (be it hardcopy or digital – or video!)

B. Utilize graphic organizers (be it on paper or on a Chromebook)

C. But especially…give feedback as you meet with students individually and in small groups.

This importance of individual and small group feedback, in my opinion, increases more than ever in the 21st century.

And this is also why, in my opinion, the importance of teachers increases more than ever in the 21st century.