Literacy is changing. It really is. Even in my grade one classroom as the students begin to learn their letters and sounds, as they start to put those letters and sounds together into words, and as they take their first hesitant steps to read and write.

The change in our classroom was subtle at first. When my students began writing the word we with two i’s, I smiled and talked about the more traditional spelling of the word. When students came to school with a clear understanding of what it meant to get to the next level or to have several lives, I took notice of the new vocabulary they had.

And when I had to explain why iPod didn’t start with an upper case letter the way proper nouns usually did, well, I decided all of the rules were up for grabs. The changes I have mentioned are rather superficial, but they are indicators of a large shift that has been taking place in the way that I teach literacy.

New Vocabulary

The examples above are just some of the new words that my students take for granted that did not even exist 20 years ago. It used to be that new vocabulary meant words like glossary, table of contents, title page and indent. It still does, but added to that are new words such as re-tweet, avatar and pingback.

New Tools

It used to be that we read text in books or on charts (the later usually handwritten by me). Now, we read on iPads, on computers and on an interactive whiteboard. The students see their parents reading on their handheld devices daily and understand that as a viable form of reading as well.

New Ways to Learn

It used to be that my class was isolated. Our learning community was just my 20 or so students and I, working together, with occasional forays into the other classrooms in the school. Now, we routinely practice and learn with other classes around the world.  When we use Twitter as a backchannel while we look for characteristics of fairy tales or use Skype to do Reader’s Theatre with classes in Florida and Pennsylvania, or to practice phonics rules with students in South Carolina, we are learning in new ways. Ways that allow us to grow in knowledge and skills from our contacts with other learners.

kc-skype-chat

New Audiences

It used to be that my students learned to write by writing on paper. Sometimes they wrote in notebooks and sometimes they wrote on single sheets, but no matter how they wrote, I was the intended audience. In most cases, I was the only person who ever saw that writing.

Sometimes their parents would take the time to read through their notebooks and papers as they came home or at the end of the school year. Sometimes they would read their writing aloud to the class. But in most cases, unless I posted their writing on a bulletin board in the hallway, a very limited number of people had access to that writing.

Wow! Has that changed!

Now, my students regularly write on their blogs, not just for me, but also for their parents, grandparents, other relatives, friends and potentially the whole world to see. When they write a tweet, they have the potential of all of our Twitter followers seeing what they write, and since many of our followers are classroom groups, that number is potentially far higher. Not exactly the same as writing in a notebook. Their audience now exists in places they have never been and may never visit.

New Communication Forms

kc-ipad-chat-300It used to be that my students wrote personal narratives, imaginary stories, riddles and information text. They still write all of those, but often use a blog format to publish them. They also learn to compose comments for their friends in our classroom and in other classrooms whose blogs we follow. We talk about and practice what makes good comments and learn how to appropriately participate in online conversations. They also compose tweets, thinking about how to clearly articulate their thoughts in 140 characters or less.

Twenty years ago, my students used writing and drawing to share their thoughts and ideas. There were no other choices for young children. Now, my students are able to communicate through a variety of media, including photos, videos, podcasts, interactive books and screencasts.

No Going Back

The days of students reading only books, writing only on paper and becoming literate in an isolated classroom have passed. That classroom is outdated. Is yours?

About the author
Kathy Cassidy is an award-winning first grade teacher who incorporates technology into her classroom to give her students an authentic audience and a portal to the world. She blogs at Primary Preoccupation and with her students at Ms. Cassidy's Classroom Blog. Follow her on Twitter @kathycassidy. Her first book, from Powerful Learning Press, is Connected from the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades.