You ask, “How do digital portfolios promote literacy?”

Dear colleagues,

Some of you seem to be having a difficult time connecting our digital portfolio space  with the concept of literacy.  When I sit at our division literacy meetings I am inundated with techniques and terms that relate to literacy at the elementary level. There’s lots of discussion of levelled reading, and Fountas and Pinnell are household terms. I know you too, are wondering who they are; I’ve learned they are some big literacy names in the elementary world that have little relevance for high school.

As you might imagine, promoting literacy at the high school level when we are all silo-ed into our towers of coursework–this is a daunting task. Thus, the idea of a very versatile digital space where we could encourage both staff and students to write and read each other’s writing, where we could showcase and write about the exciting projects and learning that we are doing outside of the realm of paper and pencil–this seemed like an exciting possibility.  The more I researched digital portfolios and saw how they were being used for different subject areas and grade levels, the more they seemed to be a really good fit for developing literacy in a high school environment, for getting students to write write write , and for writing for an authentic audience.

However, it is evident that where the Literacy Team sees literacy building –writing and reading –at every turn, there are those of you who see no connection. Where we see development of students and of literacy skills that are cross-curricular and cross-career, there are those of you see only an infringement on your course.  Our Literacy Team has worked so hard this first year to provide opportunities to show you the possibilities,  and to work together as a staff to brainstorm possibilities, but clearly we have not been very successful.  

Alas, as I lament, here is a list of examples that I am compelled to compile. This list is a small sampling of easy and obvious ways that I see literacy being developed through tasks that we already do in some form, that can be improved upon through the digital platform, Edublogs, that we have access to. Perhaps you can come to see some of these things as promoting literacy…..

1. You know that survey that you do at the beginning of teaching Romeo and Juliet? The one where you ask if there is such thing as love at first site? Or would you date a boy/girl that your parents forbid you from dating?  And do you know how the same kids want to be heard and the same ones wish to stay invisible? Having students respond via portfolio, helps everyone to have a voice. It could be that they all could comment in the comment string of your controversial question, and then respectfully respond to the comments of their peers. Or perhaps they each pick a controversial question that they feel passionate about or could safely write about, and do a five minute quick write before the class discusses orally.  Total time needed…7 to 15 minutes.

2. You know when students are finished their unit exam, and they maybe veg on their phones until their classmates are done? What if they first had to add one of the following to their “course page”?  Total time needed….10 to 20 minutes.

  • A summary of the unit
  • What they found most difficult/confusing/challenging or easiest in the last unit
  • Something they learned that surprised them in this unit
  • A new skill that they learned or improved in this unit
  • Or, if nothing else, a point form list of the objectives for the unit

3.  You know in English or Social when you ask students to take a position or write a thesis and then support it with their best evidence? Or maybe defend or refute a controversial scientifictopic? What if they wrote that paragraph or body paragraph in a blog post, and then were grouped with 2 to 4 other students whose work they would read.  First of all, when they know they are writing for peers, not just for the teacher, quality and care often improve. Secondly, they are now exposed to 3 other ways to handle the same task, gaining valuable ideas and strategies for future writing tasks.  In addition, you can ask them to respectfully comment with a challenge, an addition, or an “I hadn’t considered that”.  The commenting process is a great place to teach and enforce tone and audience. Moreover, providing this type of appropriate business-like feedback is an important work-place writing skill that needs to be practiced –they aren’t learning it from their YouTube channels!

4. You know how most of the reading we do is on the internet, and  that internet  writing is formatted in ways to keep our attention? This will be the writing that many of our students will be expected to do in their jobs or careers.  I’m not suggesting we discontinue essay writing, or formal lab writing, but I am suggesting that students most definitely need practice with producing text that appeals to an audience in an easily readable format. They need practice with organizing their work with headings and subtitles and bullet points and short conscience summaries.  These are exactly the literacy skills  that students will develop and practice as they build their course “pages” on the portfolio side of their blog.

Our colleague, Mrs. Krause,  describes the digital portfolio building process to the parents of her Info Processing students as ‘building a web page’. Essentially, that is one of the skills our students are developing as they work in Edublogs.  While one has to learn a few technicalities of button pushing to operate the blog, the very process of having a web space is about writing!

Thus, in the creation of our digital portfolio space, this is very much a literacy focus.  Is anyone with me yet?

An new experiment at EBHS: a book club

Ever since I read Kylene Beers’ book When Kids Can’t Read What Teachers Can Do, I’ve had the idea in the back of my mind that it would be intriguing for teachers of my staff to read this book together and talk about itFeatured image… like a book study idea. One problem: we don’t do that kind of thing at my school.

But we should!

Everywhere I turn, it seems I’m reading about the power of learning together with colleagues. So earlier this month I threw the idea of a “book club” out to my colleagues. Not sure what it will look like, but we are reading the first three chapters for January 8th!  Some of the teachers that have expressed interest have not read the book before; and thankfully, some who are familiar with the book also see value in revisiting it together in community.  This seems like the right place to reflect on trying something new in high school!

Thanks to Linda M. for helping to recruit enough copies of the book.

Check out the post I was compelled to write when I first encountered this book:

“So Two Colleagues go to a PD Session…”

Best Read of the Summer: “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”

Great read: "An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth"

Great read: “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”

Confession: I love reading, but I have such poor will-power when it comes to putting a novel down, that I generally avoid reading novels. I tried reading a few novels this summer, and the spineless effect was still in place, so I made sure that I had other reading materials available. Fortunately, I quite enjoy a range of non-fiction; although engaging, I CAN put the non-fiction variety down to come back to later.

The best book I read this summer is a cross between the two worlds of novel and non-fiction. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield is such an engaging writer that his auto-biography An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, http://chrishadfield.ca/ has the story-telling characteristics of a well-crafted novel. Hadfield weaves life lessons into the pages of his quest to become an astronaut, with the climax as his time on the International Space Station as mission commander.

As a Canadian Social Studies teacher, I’d love for every Canadian student to read this book. Hadfield imperceptibly fans the flames of Canadian pride and nationalism in a way that should leave every Canadian, young and old, feeling proud of what a Canadian is able to accomplish in the American dominated domain of space. As a parent, I want my children to feel the Canadian pride thing, but to also pick up on some of the valuable life lessons that Hadfield reinforces. My favourite lesson: “Be a zero”…you’ll have to read the book to decipher that one!