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.
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.
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.
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
It 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?
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It’s amazing to see the shift. I am so impressed that you can do all of this in Grade 1. It just goes to show you that learning with technology can be incorporated at any age level.
That is so true, Denise. If first graders can do it, so can anyone!
I am also so impressed that you’ve managed to incorporate all of these things into your classroom as early as grade 1. I teach middle school and much of my challenge still is to integrate the reality of the students lives into the practice of the classroom. Kudos to you- your kids are very lucky ones
Thanks, Cate! Like my students, I am learning every day.
Yeah this is definitely true. Education is changing — this is shown especially by the little kid using an iPad to learn! Great article and illustration!
As ever, you have absolutely nailed it. To the point that I may print this out, and take it to share with my father-in-law. I think it may help him understand why my kids choose to both learn from him (outside, with their hands), and in ways that are different from the ways he learned. He struggles with their fluency with technology, and isn’t sure why it’s so important for me to teach it. thanks for your words and wisdom. You make really momentous changes seem not quite so “scary” for people.
Thanks, Lisa. I think that YOU have hit the nail on the head in talking about different kinds of learning as well. How great that your father-in-law is able to show that kind of learning to your children.
Great post- curious how you do spelling- I am looking to change from giving traditional lists- would love to know how you do your spellings if different.
Tama, I try to give my students words that they will need most often. At the beginning of the year, those are the names of their friends. (Usually only one per day.) Then we move to common words such as the, and, in etc. I choose five or six words a week and the students practice those words however works best for them while I work with small differentiated groups. They might chose to write the words with a marker on paper, use letter blocks, write on their iPad…you get the idea. After that week, I put the words onto our word wall and expect them to be spelled correctly in their writing.
So great to see the kids’ explanations! Love this – thanks for sharing – there’s no better demonstration that ‘technology’ is only that which is developed once you’re an adult – if you grow up with it, it’s just “the way things work”…
Exactly, Paige! To my parents, a Polaroid camera that instantly developed pictures was a big deal. To my students, digital creations are just part of life.
As a first grade teacher, I am inspired with stretching myself to continue with adjusting my teaching to include purposeful tech components during lessons. Thank you for the insight and motivation!
Also, your comments re the shifts in literacy, I also see. Another shift perhaps could be “point of reference”. When I teach “A-B-C Order” I no longer explain how dictionaries have words listed that way when giving the reason as to why we need to learn it. Rather, I explain that my document files are saved in that manner on my computer!
That is great! I hadn’t even considered that one! Thanks for sharing it.
I am so glad I read your blog entry — I continue to learn from generous teachers like you who share what you know. The video of the students explaining terms, many of which did not exist in 2003 (my last year teaching middle school), was eye-opening — and also– wonderfully motivating!
Early next year I will again be working with middle level students when I offer one-to-one enrichment and tutoring, and I am eager to continue learning how to use digital resources along with print. Your focus on providing a wide, authentic audience really hit home, especially when working with young adolescents, who need positive feedback from peers — along with many vehicles to connect with one another.
Thank you for sharing your learning and your students! I hope to read more of your blog posts and articles on this new journey.
P. S. I am currently reading Troy Hicks’ new book, Crafting Digital Writing: Composing Texts Across Media and Genres, which offers additional support.
Mary Anna Kruch
I want to be your student teacher!!!!
Wow! That’s very kind, Diana. I don’t know where you live, but the logistics might be a challenge. 🙂 Perhaps you’ll be able to help your own cooperating teacher to see the literacy shift.
Wow! I couldn’t have said it better. We are having the same discussions with our students at Burch Elementary in West Virginia.