Sunday, September 25, 2016

CommonLit-Free Informational And Literary Texts For Any Classroom

Recently, I was talking with my friend and literacy expert Shaelynn Farnsworth about the shifting definition of literacy and how we are all teachers of literacy. We had a great discussion on how today literacy is more than just reading, that it’s this complex set of skills that all of us need to find the best information, decode it, determine its validity and usefulness along with understanding where that information comes from and how to apply that information to a new task or skill.

When I was teaching middle school science one of the most challenging tasks I faced was finding grade-appropriate texts for students to see how the concepts we were discussing in class worked in the real world. In talking with other educators this seems to be a challenge as well. Often, these passages available online or in reproducible products, however these are generally expensive and don’t offer the support or data I need to ensure I am giving students something that they will understand but also challenge them.

I learned about CommonLit and after a few days of looking around and trying it out I am excited for the possibilities this could bring to any classroom.

Best part? It’s free!

CommonLit is a growing library of over 500 literary and informational texts for students in grades 5-12. The site also includes lesson plans for the texts and some brand new features like the ability to create classes, data dashboards to track students progress, and more!



To get started sign up for a free account and create a class. Once you have your class created, students can use your unique code to join that class. Or even better, they can just click the unique sign up link! No email addresses required which is a huge bonus.

Then you can start browsing the library. Search by key terms or use any of the filters like theme or genre, even literary device (juxtaposition, tempo, meter, ethos, etc) or Common Core Literacy Standard. You can also search by lexile range it you have that information for your students as well. And remember students have accounts too so they can use the same filters to find pieces of interest to them.


The pieces they have are diverse and cover a wide range of topics. From speeches like the Gettysburg Address or Conservation as a National Duty from Theodore Roosevelt to interviews, and other informational texts there is something of interest here to every student.

The texts themselves contain just more than the actual text. Take Malala Yousafzai's NPR interview. The text introduces the context of the interview and provides footnotes, definitions and all throughout, discussion points to get students thinking about the impact certain statements have had on history or to put themselves there to think about the implications of what Malala wants for girls everywhere. Each text in the library has these discussion questions which go beyond basic recall and get kids to think about the greater context of what they read.


Teachers have the ability to search for texts and assign them to students. Assignments go to all the students in the class (although I wish I could hand select individual students) and you can track their progress on the assessment on your dashboard. Assessments are 5 questions and including a writing prompt to get kids thinking about what they read and use the text as a source for their answer. Teachers can grade using a rubric and submit feedback to students. Students can then track their progress on their own dashboard in their account.


CommonLit can be a great edition to any classroom to provide supplemental texts that are both informational and fun to read. Even it you don’t use the assignment features you can still find value in the hundreds of texts that are there. Head over and check it out!


Download The Graphic. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Let's Make Professional Learning Meaningful Again!

I remember it as it if it were yesterday...

The worst professional development session I have ever delivered.

It had already been a long week. And this was the last session I was delivering. The participants could tell that this was the last place I wanted to be and really it was the last place they wanted to be too. I trudged through the scripted content with little passion. They asked questions because they thought they had to in order to move things along and I answered with one word or two.

It was a disaster. 

As everyone was getting up to leave I noticed one person didn’t get up. In fact he wasn’t moving at all. Great, my PD was so boring I’ve killed someone. Fortunately he was just asleep. But still. He was so disengaged that sleeping was a better alternative.

I know this is an extreme example but this type of PD happens all the time. Just ask the teachers in Chicago Public Schools. The fact is, educators have to sit in terrible professional development all the time. Either because there is a true lack of understanding of what goes into the needs of educators when it comes to their learning or like my example, it’s just plain boring.

Many, if not all educators, are familiar with pedagogy, or the theories related to learning and teaching children. Andragogy are the theories related to teaching adult learners. These are two totally different concepts and the ways that kids learn differ from adults. Yet if we look at the way PD is designed it often neglects the needs of adult learners.

I have the opportunity to take part in, observe and deliver hundreds of hours of professional development a year, either through conferences, meetings or during the work I do. Sometimes I am lucky and I get to sit in with someone who has a passion for what they do and it shows during our time together. Other times I see PD delivered to teachers that is much like the kind in the video from Chicago Public Schools, boring, scripted and participants that are disengaged.

We would never stand for teaching kids this way. Why do we not take a stand when it comes to our own professional learning? 

Professional development comes in all forms and can be delivered in a multitude of ways. But I believe there are 3 things for us to remember when it comes to any type of professional development or professional learning.

3 Essentials for Professional Learning 

Keep It Simple: Professional development that is overly complex and over-planned tends to lead to disengaged learners. Limit the focus of professional learning to one or just a few concepts at a time. I am an advocate of depth over breadth in the professional learning rather than the “one and done” or “6000 Tools in 60 Minutes” type sessions. With a concentrated focus, learning can include application, collaboration, and evaluation. Adult learning theory tells us adults need to have their voice as part of the conversation within the first six minutes of the learning to promote engagement. When we keep things simple, more time is available to hear those voices, provide choice in learning path and better understand the needs of all learners to cultivate a more meaningful professional learning experience. Keep things simple and build in time for exploration, conversation and tangents.

Reflect, Reflect, Reflect: As a PD leader what I do is never perfect. There is always room for improvement. One of the tenets of instructional design theory is taking time to reflect on what works and what does not. By keeping it simple, and having that concentrated focus we get the opportunity to take a step back to determine what is going well or what changes to the instruction are needed. What is working? What isn't? What do we need to cover again? What would I do differently the next time? Is there someone who needs some extra help?

Educators need time to think about how a new tool or learned skill fits into their classroom and with their kids. Even if we believe what we are presenting is an easy concept to master there has to be some time for reflection. Adult learning theory tell us that educators want that tie back at the end of a learning session to goals and objectives laid out in the beginning. They also need direction in their thinking for afterwards. We want to have them leave thinking about what we want them to be thinking about. Giving opportunities during and after PD for reflection can help solidify the learning we ultimately want them to walk away with.

For leaders, time absolutely needs to be taken to look at the session as a whole. During the session temperature checks and informal formative assessments (simple feedback questions or times set aside to see where learning is) are critical to ensuring that the learning is on the right track. And afterwards take a look at what went well, and what could have been better? Solicit feedback from individuals and use those comments as opportunities to build even PD the next time.

Play: Look back at those teachers taking part in the PD from Chicago Public Schools. I have a hard time believing that providing an opportunity to play entered in at any part of their day. For professional development to be truly effective individuals need to be invested in their learning. And it’s hard to deny that when one is having fun they are engaged. Build in time for exploration and play, especially when it comes to Edtech or technology PD. Educators need time to digest and experiment (guided practice) with the tools they are learning. Look at BreakoutEDU and how they are redefining how PD is done. Learning is fun again!

Professional development is an important part of the learning process for all educators. More time and attention needs to be given on crafting PD that is simply designed, utilizes reflection as part of the growth process and lets everyone play a little more. As we head into another school year let us all, educators and professional development leaders alike, resolve to make professional learning meaningful again.

Download the graphic: https://spark.adobe.com/post/cjbmH9Nhwdl0f/ 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Innovative Ways To Improve School:Home Communications

My oldest daughter, Reaghan, is getting ready to be a 2nd grader. Heading back to school with her is one of the busiest times of year. There are lots of meetings, papers to read and fill out, and new things to learn about her school. As a parent, I rely heavily upon the communication efforts of the district and her school. Classes haven’t even started yet and she’s getting many phone calls, letters from her school and the district and lots of other information.

We still have 2 weeks to go!

This is a great time of year for any school or district to look at how they are communicating; evaluate methods used, analyze effectiveness and longevity of communications, and assess audience reached. The ultimate purpose of these communications is to not only share information but to promote engagement within the school, the district, and the community.

Traditionally, schools and districts have used things like the notes home, weekly packets, phone calls and/or emails to communicate throughout the year. While many of these still are valuable and have their place there are new and not-so-new mediums like social media that could be used to deepen the engagement with the community or do something entirely different. These mediums can be a quick and easy way to not only share timely information but moreover tell the wonderful stories that exist in your buildings.

Here are some new and new ways of thinking when it comes to improving School:Home Communications.

Twitter: You might not think that 140 characters provides adequate space to convey one’s message but Twitter can be a powerful medium to engage with parents and the community. In 140 characters one can share a powerful idea, reminders of upcoming events, and notes of encouragement. Twitter is continuing to grow as a popular place for parents and community members. Hashtags can also be powerful to increase a district’s or school’s reach. Today, many schools and districts are creating and using hashtags on Twitter as a means to unify conversations. Those hashtags can be used by parents, students and the community to share as well.

Ideas for Twitter:

  • Share a daily quote or message of encouragement. 
  • Post links to resources or sites for parent engagement or curriculum resources. 
  • Promote the use of the school or district hashtag to encourage parents, students and the community to share stories, pictures and video from their point of view. 
  • Share links to any of the other ideas below. 

Instagram: Pictures can better help us tell a story or capture what’s happening in your building. Parents and the community like to see their students in the classroom or athletes on the field. Instagram has made it easy for anyone to become a professional photographer and the sharing of those images simple. Using Instagram in schools or to tell the district’s story can be another way to get parents and the community involved providing a window into the school and showcasing the learning and accomplishments that take place.

Ideas for Instagram:

  • Share a student of the day or images of what’s happening in the classroom. 
  • Images from athletic events, clubs, or concerts highlight the student involvement in the district.
  • Images or short videos to help parents better understand curriculum, standards, or where to go for help. 
  • Give students a voice and let them take over the account once a week or month and let them decide on the story they want to tell through images. 

Snapchat/Instagram Stories: You might not think that Snapchat or Instagram Stories have a place in the classroom or school but they can be very exciting and an easy way to broaden your audience. The premise for both is the same. You add images and short videos to your story. They stay a part of your story for 24 hours and after that they are gone. (On Snapchat you can explore Stories there to get an idea of how it’s used for events or holidays or  other celebrations.)

Ideas For Using Stories:

  • A Day In The Life of A Student or Staff Member
  • A Day In The Class. What are different classes in your building like on a typical day?
  • Share images and video from a specific event like a Career Fair or assembly. 
  • Create a story around the big game, concert or arts event. 

Periscope/Facebook Live: Video can be a great way to engage the community when the community can’t get to the school. In the past, broadcasting videos and events from within the school was a difficult process that used expensive equipment and needed a high level of expertise. No longer! The phone you carry or the tablet you’re using to read this post can all be used to help you broadcast video in real-time. Periscope and Facebook Live are two easy ways to do this, no special equipment needed. With Periscope, videos are archived  and can be  shared via a link, posted to your Twitter account or published to platforms like YouTube. Facebook Live requires the use of a Facebook account but the video is instantly archived and shared in your News Feed. Both services include ways for commenting and sharing as the video as it’s being broadcast live.

Ideas For Using Live Video:

  • Broadcast Back-To-School Meetings or other meetings throughout the school year for parents and community members who can’t attend. 
  • Weekly message from the Supt. or other leadership team members about what’s happening in the district. 
  • Broadcast sporting events or have students provide commentary from events. 
  • Doing a science fair, geography fair or other student celebration of work? Broadcast it and have students provide the commentary. 

Finally Use Your Website: I know this post is supposed to be about innovative ways to improve School:Home Communications but let’s be real. The school website is still a vital and valuable tool to communicate to your parents and the community. Many still visit your school website to find information, contact numbers, and resources for helping their student at home. Increase the duration of a viewer’s stay by blending educational news with posts that share a story. Posting pictures, video and news stories that capture what it’s like to be a student or a staff member in your school or district can be a great way to let the community to know what’s happening there. Your website becomes less about the static information that’s posted there and more about the stories. And remember, many of the tools we’ve listed here can be embedded on your site. So you can put your Twitter feed or Instagram feed right there where everyone can see.

Ideas For Your Website:

  • Post the morning announcements via a video or if you’re using Google Hangouts On Air you can embed the video archive. 
  • Recognize a Student/Staff/Volunteer Of The Week. Give them a short questionnaire that you can post the responses to. 
  • Have a contest where you post baby pictures of students/staff have in the comments have folks guess who they are building school culture and community.
  • For high schools, run stories in the Fall of where staff members went to college to get Juniors and Seniors thinking about where to apply.

The key takeaway with any of these is that communications are ever changing. There is this dynamic ebb and flow of communication with stakeholders that needs to always be considered. What works for one may not work for another. Therefore it is vital to keep evaluating the methods and tools used and measure their effectiveness. Analyzing metrics and surveying parents and the community can give you valuable insight into how effective you are engaging and perhaps also, provide a new path to take when it comes to improving your School:Home Communications.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Embracing Formative Assessments This School Year

For me, the beginning of the school year was the best time of year. I always enjoyed getting back into my classroom, setting things up and getting pumped for the journey ahead with my students. The beginning of the year was a good reset. I could reflect back on the previous year, examine what I had learned over the summer and plan for a better year coming up.

One area of improvement still to this day I wish I could go back and improve even more was assessment. Mainly, embracing formative assessment.

In my first year of teaching I taught the way I was taught to teach. Delivering content to my students, assess at the end, remediate if necessary. With that cycle, I always had kids who were behind, who never seemed like they could catch up.

I was talking with a teacher friend the summer after my first year and she suggested something simple. Put a large piece of paper next to the door. Give every student a pack of sticky notes. On the way out the door they could put their thoughts about what they didn't quite get or what they were still having trouble with. They could leave their name or not. Either way it gave valuable insight to how the students were learning but also could help shape the lesson for the next day.

What a difference that made.

The following school years that board became an important place for myself and my students. It provided them a way to tell me what they needed and a place for me to reflect on my teaching and give my students what they needed.

Now, as 1:1 and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) are taking over our schools, it's becoming even easier to formatively assess what our students know and for our students to leave feedback as to what they need because of this ready access to technology. However, look at my former classroom. I was able to embrace formative assessment without the need for any devices. The technology certainly helps but isn't always necessary.

Here are a few of my favorite sites and apps that can help you more easily fit formative assessment into your classroom this school year.

Online Sticky Notes- Just like the physical space in my classroom there are lots of virtual sticky note sites out there. Two of my favorites are Padlet and Lino. These provide a virtual corkboard for students to leave notes or questions or comments on their learning. Both sites are easy to set up and free. Best part, kids don't have to have an account to leave a note and they can do it any time, anywhere. All they need is the address. (So you don't even have to be a 1:1 classroom or BYOD. The kids could do them from home.)

Backchannels- Hugely popular at conferences and other educational gatherings the backchannel provides a way for participants to share in conversation while participating in learning. In the classroom they can be a way for kids to collaborate without shouting across the room. In terms of formative assessments, questions at various points through the lesson could be posted there and kids could respond. My favorite backchannel service is TodaysMeet. Again, simple to set up (all you need is a room name and to decide how long you want the room to be open). Free as well, it's available any time, anywhere.

Plickers- A tech tool for the non-tech classroom students merely need to hold up a card with a QR code on it. Using the free Plickers app, teachers then scan the room. The app reads the QR codes. The way the student is holding the card corresponds to an answer choice or letter or whatever you want that end to represent. Once the teacher scans the room you can see instantly who answered what and respond accordingly. It's a quick and easy way to use the power of technology to formatively assess without all students needing the technology.

Kahoot- Kids love friendly competition. And Kahoot is a formative assessment tool cleverly disguised as a game. Simply enter questions into an easy to use template and then students, either as individuals or as teams can see who can gather the most points by answering the questions as fast as they can. For the teacher there are dashboards that show who answered what and that, along with the instant feedback when the questioned is answered can be a great way to introduce and use formative assessment.

Poll Everywhere- This is another one of my favorites, simply because of the variety of uses and methods of submitting responses. Similar to the others, the teacher can create a simple feedback poll or leave the question open ended. The students can respond via text message, website or even Twitter. Again, the point here is we can capture the feedback from the students using a variety of methods, almost instantly. Another great feature of Poll Everywhere is the data analysis you get. You can export results to create more ways of analyzing data. (Like if the questions are open ended, you could export the results to put them into a Wordle to see what terms are showing up the most.)

Socrative- This one is quickly become a go-to app for formative assessments for educators everywhere. The teacher creates an account and a room (for, you guessed it, free). Then the students go to the site (either through the app or through a browser), enter the room number and they see a question or a open response question to answer. I like this one a lot because of the variety of choices for questions to answer. One is even called Exit Ticket where kids can quickly summarize what they learned and tell you what they need for tomorrow.

Quick and easy, six tools you can use this school year in your classroom to help improve formative assessment.

These certainly aren't all. What are some of your favorite sites or apps to help with formative assessment in your classroom? Do you have a suggestion about formative assessments? Leave some feedback below.

photo credit: GettyImages-Examen via photopin (license)

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Setting The Stage For A Great School Year

Back when I was in the classroom this was the most exciting time of the year for me. I always enjoyed heading back to school more than any other time. Getting back in my classroom and getting things set back up, buying new supplies and planning for all the great things I learned over the summer were just some of things that excited me. I couldn’t wait for kids to get back in school and for learning to start again.

While back to school can be a fun time it can also be a challenge. It should be a time where we set the stage for a great year. However, there is always so much going on and so many things to do it’s easy to get bogged down in the weeds of endless meetings, paperwork and lesson planning.

There are many things you can do to help yourself and your kids at the start of school to have a great year. Here are just a few.

Get Connected
-One of the most important ways an educator can grow and learn is to get connected. Reading blogs, contributing to an online community or checking out a Twitter Chat are all ways that you can hear about the good things that are happening in other classrooms/schools and learn from others. These places can also serve as a virtual sounding board when you run into a problem or need a solution. Coming up in October is Connected Educator Month so there are many opportunities to learn how to be a connected educator including book studies and free webinars. And speaking of books (shameless plug) you can check out my book, The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning that can help guide your connected learning.

Create A Virtual Classroom-My school website was the way that I let the world know what we were learning in our classroom. I could post notes from class, any files students needed, use the calendar to post homework and curate a list of resources for students to use outside of class. It’s important today to create a virtual space for your classroom. Some districts provide a website for educators to do this, while others allow them to create their own. There are a wide variety of products out there (like Edmodo or Schoology) to do this so spend some time finding one that suits your needs. You’ll also want to examine how you can extend conversations from your classroom to the virtual spaces as well. Taking your classroom into the cloud allows you to create a private space to post questions, comments, blogs and more. These online spaces allow learning to happen not just in the schoolhouse but after hours as well.

Set Goals And Reflect Often-As an educator it’s important to reflect on the previous years, the high points and the low points. Use those reflections to build personal and professional goals for the new year. Maybe you want to learn a new technology skill or challenge yourself to grade differently. Whatever your goals, make them actionable and reachable. Students can do the same. Set aside time to have students create learning and personal goals they want to accomplish throughout the year. Develop a plan to check in regularly and report back. Using something like Google Docs or Forms makes collecting and sharing those goals easy. Or if you want to take it to the next level, using Recap, students can record those goals through video as part of a larger portfolio to keep track of their learning all year.

Add Something New To Your Technology Toolkit-Odds are over the summer you learned about something new to try in your classroom. The beginning of the year can actually be a great time to think about new ways to integrate technology into learning. One of the tools I learned about this summer is EdTech Software. This is a textbook ebook solution for the classroom. If you use any kind of adopted textbook the EdTech Software can organize all those companion ebooks into a shelf for students so they can access them easily. But it’s much more than that. We know many textbooks aren’t all that flexible. With Shelfit you can supplement with videos, links and other resources to extend the ability of that static textbook and provide a customized learning experience for students. You can check out what it can do here and sign up for a free trial.

Establish Relationships-Getting to know my students was the first thing I did every year I taught. There was always that pressure to get started with the content but I found that if I made connections with my students, I could more easily teach them. I understood who they were, their passions, and their interests. Take the first few days to learn who your students are. The time taken will pay off in the end. And keep those relationships going. Schedule time to talk with students 1-on-1 as often as you can. Even a simple conversation in the morning or in the hall can prove to be beneficial.

Remember, this really is an exciting time of year. Take time to enjoy it!

What are your favorite ways to get ready for a new school year? Leave some thoughts below. 

photo credit: Homeschool Supplies via photopin (license)

Friday, July 22, 2016

Recap App: 3 Back-to-School Ideas for Student Videos

Last time we co-authored a blog post, Shaelynn Farnsworth and I shared Blab. It was so much fun and such an easy app to integrate into the classroom we wanted to share another favorite of ours!
Recap is a free video response app created by Swivl which allows students to reflect, respond, and demonstrate through video. Recap is easy to use as both an educator and as a student. It is also an excellent way to model and use digital literacy modes in the classroom! Simply create a class and assign a Recap to students. Questions or prompts can be teacher-created in the forms of text or video, and can be assigned to individual students, small groups, or whole class. When completed, teachers can share the whole “Review Reel”, or each individual child’s video. Share options include email or weblink!

Here are 3 Back-to-School Ideas that will have your students (and parents) Recapping through video response:

Reading Interest Inventory - At the beginning of the year, giving students a “Reading Interest Inventory” provides valuable information about each students’ reading preferences and how they view themselves as readers. It also provides a launchpad to place the “right book” into their hands that may hook a reader for a lifetime. Using Recap, students could record themselves on their computer or ipad. These video responses would provide valuable insight to climate and culture of literacy in the classroom. Here are a few of unique questions to include on a Reading Interest Inventory: What is your earliest memory of reading or books? How do you choose a book? What do you notice adults reading? When should a person leave a book? What two books or magazines do you wish we had in our classroom library?

Student Goals and Reflection - Another way Recap could be used at the beginning of the school year is to capture a student’s goals for the year. Part of educating the Whole Child is helping the student see where they are with their learning and where ultimately they want to end up. We know that learning is a continuum. So using Recap students can record where they’d like to see their learning be at the end of the school year. Maybe they want to be a better math student. Or perhaps they want to be able to read more proficiently. What ever their goal they can capture it. Then throughout the school year they can refer back to it. Use it as part of their own personal reflective practice. How are they progressing? What do they still want to do. Have they met their goal and maybe it’s time for another. These videos can become a part of a larger learning portfolio where students examine their learning throughout the year.

Parent Involvement - At the beginning of each school year, many of our youngest learners attend a back-to-school night or an open-house in which they meet their teacher, unpack their school supplies, and explore their new surroundings in the safety of their parents. It is also a time that many parents and family members come to the realization that their child is growing up and “leaving the nest”. What a perfect time to have a “message station” set up for parents or family members to leave a Recap for their student. Imagine the joy in a child’s eye after receiving a message from their parent or family member on their first day of school. Recap classes can be accessed through a pin number assigned to the class, so those parents or family members unable to attend can record their message from anywhere. It is also a great way to demonstrate to parents how you will meet the digital literacy demands in the Common Core State Standards, as well as how technology can be used in a meaningful way even with our youngest learners!

Recap is an engaging and creative way for students to share their understanding through video response! Recap is a free app and is available via the web (so perfect for chromebooks), as well as an iPad app. Coming soon - a  phone app, Recap from anywhere at anytime!

Monday, July 11, 2016

We Are All Teachers Of Literacy

"If we talk about literacy we have to talk about how to enhance our children's mastery over the tools needed to live intelligent, creative, and involved lives." -Danny Glover

At ISTE 2016 I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel, sponsored by Samsung Education, with other educators and industry experts, spending an hour talking about literacy in the age of technology. It was an engaging discussion that looked at how one district in Tennessee leveraged technology to improve reading in the middle grades and also how literacy instruction is being impacted by the use of technology. My role in the discussion was that of a former District Technology Leader and what I’ve seen when implementing district technology programs centered around literacy.

For me this discussion really hit home. As a Father of a 2 daughters I see on an almost daily basis how computers, tablets and apps are impacting their literacy skills. For my 7 yr old she uses her tablet to find books she wants to read and also is able to practice her skills through read aloud and other features in the books. For my 3 year old she is able to use her manipulatives and other apps to practice her letters and letter sounds. It’s truly incredible to watch both of them using the technology and its power to learn.

As I’ve reflected on this panel a lot there are some important themes to remember when it comes to literacy and technology that we need to remember.

We Are All Teachers Of Literacy-Something that gets lost on many teachers is that, in addition to our role as content experts, we are also teachers of literacy. In the lower grades this idea is more embraced because of the single teacher model. But as students progress through the middle grades and into High School the idea of every teacher being a literacy teacher gets lost.

Each content area has it’s own special language that kids need to understand. For example in my science classroom we had our -ologies, chemistry terms and others that I needed to make sure my students understood. In addition there was reading in the content area that is also important. So regardless if we teach World History or Advanced Calculus or Biology we are all teachers of literacy.

Be A Skeptic When It Comes To Technology And Literacy-As we talked about in our panel there is a lot of technology out there that can be used to improve literacy with students. Look at my girls. They, like many other kids are using it. But we have to be careful. In my time as a District Technology Leader I saw plenty of schools waste many dollars on software that promised to improve how kids read or recalled what they read when really the technology was a babysitter.

We’ve probably all heard of someone looking for the “next big thing” when it comes to technology and literacy. We need to be careful and we need to be skeptical. Ask yourself, is what the technology trying to do really going to improve how kids read and comprehend what they read? Or will the technology just get in the way? Don’t just use technology to help kids read because it’s new or flashy. Focus on the technology that can actually help them improve.

Literacy Is More Than Just Reading-Another important theme from our panel discussion was, that while the literacy skills of reading, decoding and comprehension are all important, literacy is more than that. We’ve entered an age where the definition of what actually makes a person literate is shifting and evolving. The introduction of technology into learning is changing the ways that students communicate information. These “technoliteracy” skills that students need employ to communicate, no matter the technology. Blogging. Vlogging. Podcasting. Snapchating. As long as students have this comprehensive set of literacy skills it won’t matter the technology or app they use. They will be able to communicate their learning most effectively.

In this age of anytime access to technology and information kids need the other literacy skills too. Those of content curation, information evaluation, and the use of various, appropriate technologies to communicate information. For example my good friend Shaelynn Farnsworth teaches how students can use something simple like infographics to improve specific literacy skills and to convey a tremendous amount of information in an engaging way. In order to make literacy more whole we have to look beyond just the skills of reading and look at literacy as multimodal, especially in this age of technology.

So perhaps it’s the definition of literacy that needs updating or maybe it’s just our perception of it that needs changing. Either way we have to look at literacy differently. Literacy is an entire set of skills that enable all of us to engage with information differently. Literacy today is taking on a whole new meaning and many years from now it will mean something entirely different. Therefore, we have to look at literacy through a new lens and expand on our definition of what makes kids and all of us literate and examine how technology supports our ability to do so.

photo credit: The future of books via photopin (license)