Blog Purpose Statement

Although this is not my first blog post – it’s my ninth – below is a description of who I am and what this blog is about.

I am a high school teacher in Bakersfield, California.  I teach both English and biology, and I’m going into my eighth year as a teacher.  I’m passionate about education, and I take my job seriously – after all, the future of kids’ lives and society as a whole depends upon our schools.  I’m also a doctoral candidate in educational leadership at Fresno State University.  I’m currently in the middle of my dissertation work on the topic of school poverty and teacher grading practices.

The focus of this blog is also my greatest interest in education – school reform.  I envision this blog to include posts that fall under the broad category of education reform, and this will include a wide array of topics such as social justice, technology (e.g., Twitter, Chromebooks, Google Classroom), critical pedagogy, grading and assessment, best practices and lessons, learning team work, restorative justice, and more. I also have a Twitter account (@JoshKunnath), where I Tweet on similar topics.

Ultimately my goal of this blog is do what I believe all educators must continually do: teach and learn.

Twitteracy 1.1: Analysis of Example Lesson – Part 2

This post is part two of an analysis of an example lesson using Twitter to teach literacy (see Twitteracy 1.0: An Example Lesson for the full lesson). In this second part, I aim to succinctly analyze the four remaining steps of the lesson to show their significance.

**To see analysis of steps 1-4 of the example Twitteracy lesson, see the previous post.

5) Students pair-share their Tweets.  Students then review classmate Tweets and share interesting Tweets as a class.

As mentioned previously, pair-sharing Tweets allows students to think deeply about their own writing and the original reading. Reviewing classmate Tweets facilitates further reading, allows students to learn from their peers, and also allows students to informally assess their own ideas compared to peers.  Sharing interesting Tweets allows further discussion on the topic and provides further feedback.

6) Students are told “screens down,” which means their devices won’t be used during the next part of class, and devices (mostly cell phones) should be placed with their screens down on top of their desks.

Putting their screens down on their desks allows students to focus on the reading without being distracted by anything on their screens.  Keeping their devices out instead of putting them away keeps devices in plain sight and can actually reduce student use of phones when students are supposed to be working.  Also, allowing students to leave their phones on their desks destigmatizes the use of phones in class and fosters a more positive classroom environment.  Finally, allowing students to keep phones on their desks to be used at appropriate times facilitates learning and practice of a very real-world workplace scenario.

7) Traditional part of lesson: For the second read, the text is chunked into four sections.  The class reads each chunk aloud (teacher, volunteers, and/or teacher-selected students read each chunk).  Discussion occurs along with the reading, and after each chunk, students independently answer an analysis question.  Also after each chunk, students pair-share their answers and then share as a class.

It is my opinion that when using technology in the classroom, teachers must integrate the technology purposefully.  Therefore, every part of the lesson does not require technology.  In fact, we must be careful not to simply use the technology purely for student (or teacher) engagement or as a newly developed form of habit.  Doubtlessly, there are times when traditional pedagogical methods are best.  With this said, I find it helpful to ask the question, “How is this technology better helping students to learn?” If the answer is hard to come by, it is likely better to leave the technology out.

8) During the last 5-8 minutes of class, students are asked to reapply their reading lens to a final Tweet.  Students are to Tweet to show their general understanding of the text AND at least one way the learning target(s) was used in the text.  Before the end of class, the teacher should share some student example Tweets that display understanding of the text and the learning targets.

Students complete a final Tweet as a final formative assessment before leaving class.  The teacher is able to quickly and informally assess students’ understanding of the reading and learning targets for the day.  The teacher should make every possible effort to provide feedback before the end of the period for maximum effectiveness.  This formative assessment data should also be used to make decisions about the next day’s lesson.  Finally, sharing student Tweets provides feedback to the class about what exemplary Tweets look like and helps to instill a positive, supportive class environment.

Twitteracy 1.1: Analysis of Example Lesson – Part 1

If you had a chance to look at the example lesson in my previous post, I hope that it was helpful.  If you didn’t have a chance, feel free to take a minute to skim it over.  More than anything, I hope that the steps listed in the lesson seemed fairly simple and very doable.  There is nothing fancy in the lesson, as Twitter is only used as one tool of many to promote learning in the classroom, not as the central component of the classroom (as some educators unfamiliar with Twitter may mistakenly believe).  If the lesson did not seem fairly easy and/or doable, please leave a comment for feedback.  I’m looking to learn and improve as much as anyone else.

My goal in this post is to provide a bit of analysis of the previous lesson to show the reasoning behind each component and perhaps provide some inspiration to take an idea or two and make it even better.

This mini analysis will be viewed through the lens of Twitteracy – the use of Twitter to teach literacy.  Please note that in each step the lesson components (from the previous post) are listed first in italics and the analysis is listed below.  Also, because this post has ended up going a bit longer than anticipated, I will be breaking this into two parts.  Part 1, which is below, consists of steps 1-4 of the example lesson.  Analysis of steps 5-8 will be provided in the following post.

1) Five-minute warm-up: Students use Twitter to find something relevant on self-reliance.  This may be about the essay or the general concept.  Students create a Tweet on their findings.

Twitter is a great tool for students to find quick information, and this type of reading for a purpose provides a small amount of reading and research practice in a format that many students are very used to.  Because the warm-up topic is fairly open-ended (they do not have to look up something on the essay), students are free to be somewhat creative in their findings.  Their Tweet, which is only 140 characters, requires them to display their understanding of the reading in a very concise way.  Because they only have five minutes to complete the task, students must be efficient with their time.  It’s likely that students will have trouble at first finding information and Tweeting within the time limit, but practice and continual monitoring from the teacher should push students to be able to complete an activity like this within the time limit within a couple of weeks of at least somewhat-consistent practice.

2) After the five minutes are up, students pair-share their findings and their post.  Students should do this face-to-face and without using their devices at all.  After, share findings and Tweets as a class.  Finally, students go back to their devices, and in about two minutes, students independently review class Tweets and respond to at least one Tweet in a way that adds to the topic/conversation (no comments of “cool,” ” I agree,” “true,” or the like).  While students are completing the final step, the teacher is reviewing student Tweets.

Discussing findings and Tweets is crucial to ensuring the development of verbal communication that is potentially hindered through excessive technology use, but so important to teaching literacy.  Having students set aside their devices while pair-sharing helps to ensure they aren’t distracted by their devices.  This may be difficult at first, as students will want to remember their Tweet or look for any reason to have their devices in their hands, but setting the device aside during pair-sharing and class-sharing emphasizes the importance of students remembering what they write and read.  This extra emphasis seems to pay dividends in teaching literacy, as I often have students reference Tweets from memory from earlier in the week or previous weeks.  The last part of this step – reading over Tweets and responding – is used to ensure that students use Twitter in class for one of its best functions: allowing one to quickly read the ideas of large number of people AND interact with them in a timely manner.  Without Twitter or a similar technology, it is almost impossible for a student to read the thoughts of every student in the class and quickly respond to at least one in a short period of time.  Also, all of the reviewing of Tweets increases students’ literacy practice without them even really realizing it.  An optional step is to have students write a particularly interesting Tweet in their journal an explain why they liked it.

3) The teacher reviews the learning target(s) for the day.

Learning targets, or standards, are just as important when using Twitter or other forms of technology as when teaching class in a traditional manner.  Some mistakenly believe that when using Twitter in the classroom, all of the tried-and-true components of an effective lesson are thrown out the window.  This couldn’t be further from the truth!  Twitter is just another tool in the tool box of the educator.  I may be preaching to the choir here, but I think it’s important to remind those who aren’t so sure about Twitter of this point.

4) Students complete a first-read of the text independently.  Students apply a reading lens to gain a general understanding of the meaning of the text and an initial understanding of the use of the learning target(s) in the text.  Upon completion, students Tweet a response to what they’ve discovered after applying their reading lens in the first read.

Twitter is a great way for students to respond to their reading for several reasons.  First, it is an easy, fast way for them to show their comprehension of a text.  If the text is even somewhat complicated, the teacher will not expect students to gain an in-depth understanding after the first read, so extensive writing following the initial reading can be overly time consuming and counterproductive.  However, accountability is important, and Twitter provides that in a simple, fast way.  Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the teacher is able to know who gets it and who doesn’t (relatively speaking – being a first read) almost instantaneously!  As students finish their reading and create their Tweets, I read through their Tweets on my own device, and I’m sure to both verbally and digitally respond to at least a handful of their Tweets in the moment.  It is sometimes obvious that many students have no idea what the text was about from their Tweets, and that may indicate that instead of two total reads, three may be needed.  The point is that Twitter is an excellent tool for formative assessment.  Additionally, I have found that when some students don’t fully understand the reading, but others do, the students not understanding can quickly and easily piece together an understanding by reading the Tweets of their peers.  In other words, Tweeting in the classroom also provides great potential for peer-to-peer teaching and learning.

I hope this analysis has helped to clarify the first half of the example Twitteracy lesson.  The second half of the analysis will come in the next post.

Twitteracy 1.0: An Example Lesson

There is a lot of talk in the education world of using Twitter and other types of social media in the classroom.  In fact, I’ve had several educators ask me over the previous few weeks of the summer, “Can Twitter really be used to teach literacy in the classroom?” and “What does it look like in use?”

The answer to the first question is easy – it’s always, “Yes, of course!” But the answer to the second is a little harder to explain. For that reason, I decided to create a series of blog posts on the topic of using Twitter in the classroom to teach literacy.  So after a few minutes of figuring out my WordPress password (it’s been awhile since I’ve made a post), looks like we’re ready to go.

To begin, what exactly is Twitteracy, and who came up with the term?  Twitteracy is a term that is used in multiple ways, but in this case, I’m using the term to mean the use of Twitter to teach literacy.  Although I once thought that I created the term when trying to come up with a class hashtag (I’ll explain this later) almost a year ago, that self-satisfaction only lasted about two minutes before I realized that I was at least two years too late.  Well, better late than never.  Regardless, the term is now used by a handful of educators, and I’m proud to be an educator who applies Twitteracy in my classroom.

Now, let’s get to something constructive.  If you are new to using Twitter in the classroom, I don’t suggest that you begin  planning a lesson right away – I will talk in a subsequent post about initial steps.  However, I thought it might be good to start with an example lesson for a few reasons:

1) I want to answer that question of “What does it look like in use?” right away for those who have asked.

2) It may be helpful to see an example of a final product before deciding whether or not to invest the time and energy into Twitteracy.

3) This example should provide a good foundation for future analysis of each part of the lesson.

So, with no further adieu, here is an example Twitteracy lesson that happens to use a one-page excerpt from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance”.  Truly, this lesson may act as a template to be applied to any text in any subject.

Please note: before starting this lesson, kids have been taught and have practiced Twitter procedures.  Additionally, students have been introduced to Emerson and Transcendentalism.

1) Five-minute warm-up: Students use Twitter to find something relevant on self-reliance.  This may be about the essay or the general concept.  Students create a Tweet on their findings.

2) After the five minutes are up, students pair-share their findings and their post.  Students should do this face-to-face and without using their devices at all.  After, share findings and Tweets as a class.  Finally, students go back to their devices, and in about two minutes, students independently review class Tweets and respond to at least one Tweet in a way that adds to the topic/conversation (no comments of “cool,” ” I agree,” “true,” or the like).  While students are completing the final step, the teacher is reviewing student Tweets.

3) The teacher reviews the learning target(s) for the day.

4) Students complete a first-read of the text independently.  Students apply a reading lens to gain a general understanding of the meaning of the text and an initial understanding of the use of the learning target(s) in the text.  Upon completion, students Tweet a response to what they’ve discovered after applying their reading lens in the first read.

5) Students pair-share their Tweets.  Students then review classmate Tweets and share interesting Tweets as a class.

6) Students are told “screens down,” which means their devices won’t be used during the next part of class, and devices (mostly cell phones) should be placed with their screens down on top of their desks.

7) Traditional part of lesson: For the second read, the text is chunked into four sections.  The class reads each chunk aloud (teacher, volunteers, and/or teacher-selected students read each chunk).  Discussion occurs along with the reading, and after each chunk, students independently answer an analysis question.  Also after each chunk, students pair-share their answers and then share as a class.

8) During the last 5-8 minutes of class, students are asked to reapply their reading lens to a final Tweet.  Students are to Tweet to show their general understanding of the text AND at least one way the learning target(s) was used in the text.  Before the end of class, the teacher should share some student example Tweets that display understanding of the text and the learning targets.

I hope this has been helpful.  I will provide further details, analysis, and explanations in subsequent posts, but this is an example of a Twitteracy lesson that is fairly easy to implement.

Utilizing Twitter as an Instructional Tool in the Classroom

Twitter is a microblogging and information network system with over 500 million users worldwide that allows users to send and receive messages up to 140 characters in length (Kwak, Lee, Park, & Moon, 2010).  The service has become increasingly popular for recreational use since its incorporation in 2007, and recently it has become used as an instructional tool by educators in classrooms of all grade levels.  In a Google document for the KSRA entitled “Twitteracy: The What, Why, and How,” Randy Ziegenfuss (2014) presented a digital workshop that explains what Twitter is, why it could/should be used by educators, and how it can be implemented in the classroom (explore the page at ).

Change is often difficult for educators, and like any other new technology, Twitter represents change in schools.  Thus, to overcome the stigma often associated with change and new technologies, educational leaders must fully inform educators about the reasoning for using any new strategy and the opportunities that it affords.  Many teachers, like the students they instruct, know of Twitter simply as a social networking site.  As mentioned above, Twitter has many social functions, but it can also be used for much more.  Ziegenfuss (2014) does a great job to help teachers to “learn about Twitter as a new literacy and how its use can enhance your work with learners” in his workshop.  He accomplished this task by providing numerous links and external resources to address individual needs of each educator.  Unlike many online workshops, this particular document seems to be very approachable for the novice, but it also presents learning opportunities for the advanced user.  One particular aspect of the page, the presentation of the “TWEET method”, seems to have immediate potential for classroom use.  With TWEET, which stands for target, write, engage, explore, and track, Ziegenfuss (2014) uses the acronym to explain the uses of Twitter for both teachers and students.  He goes on to detail aspects of the method further in a way that could be easily taught and applied in the classroom.  Ziegenfuss (2014) then demonstrates and explains specific ways in which educators may utilize Twitter in the classroom, including promoting literacy, communicating with students and parents, tweeting about learning, and researching.  These various uses are likely surprising to many educators who largely know Twitter as a social site, and considering its ubiquity in the lives of many teens, its potential in the classroom is hard to deny.

As educational leaders, we must continually strive to discover new methods of promoting learning in this ever-changing world.  Change is often difficult for educators, but it is a reality in the field.  Twitter is an emerging instructional tool that may used to teach students in new ways that may better connect to their individual learning styles and needs.

References

Kwak, H., Lee, C., Park, H., & Moon, S. (2010). What is Twitter, a social network or a news media? Proceedings of the 19th international conference on the World Wide Web, April 26-30, Raleigh, North Carolina.

Ziegenfuss, R. (2014). Twitteracy: The what, why, and how.  Retrieved from 

Addressing Critical Literacy Action Steps in the Classroom

The roots of critical literacy extend back to the 1970s with Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  McLaughlin and DeVoogd (2004) cite Freire (1970) when they stated that critical literacy “views readers as active participants in the reading process and invites them to move beyond passively accepting the text’s message to question, examine, or dispute the power relations that exist between readers and authors. It focuses on issues of power and promotes reflection, transformation, and action” (p.14).  In “Critical Literacy: Bringing Theory to Praxis,” Bishop (2014) discussed the the difficulty that educators often experience in applying critical literacy theory into action in the classroom and in the real world.

Bishop (2014) explains that critical literacy has been primarily applied in the classroom to identify biases, consider alternative perspectives, and better understand the power dynamic at play within a text.  These practices are both important and worthwhile, but they fall somewhat short of taking action.  Bishop (2014) explains that for authentic action to be be made, participants should take steps to address social and political inequities.  When one considers the limitations of the high school classroom, for example, it is not difficult to understand teachers’ difficulties in guiding students to take action on the subject.  To begin, assuming that there are multiple ways of addressing social and political inequities within the classroom (which I do), the concept itself is somewhat controversial.  It would not take much for an upset parent to contact a site administrator and put an end to both the theory and action in any classroom.  For this reason, a teacher must tread carefully in her use of critical literacy in the classroom.  Secondly, a teacher often has limited resources at her disposal to facilitate any type of action within the classroom.  With limited resources, the burden of action often shifts from the teacher to the student.  A heavy burden on the student for action on any subject in education is bound limit effectiveness.  However, despite all of these difficulties and limitations, new technologies have opened the door for a greater potential for action steps within the classroom.

In a recent exploratory action research study, my team and I explored the affordances of Twitter in teaching critical literacy and addressing the action steps of the theory.  Students accessed Twitter through the use of their cell phones and attempted to reach out to users outside of the classroom to address components of critical literacy.  Although this was a challenging endeavor for both the students and the teacher, students were especially successful in applying critical literacy to timely news stories that they found on Twitter.  Students addressed critical literacy by questioning and answering essential critical literacy steps described by McLaughlin and DeVoogd (2004) such as determining whose viewpoint is expressed, what the author wants the reader to think, whose voices are silenced, and alternative perspectives.  Some may argue that these steps do little to truly take action on the topic and are little more than expounding on theory.  However, one might posit that by communicating social and political concerns to a greater audience, as is often done in city streets by protesters and picketers, students are in fact taking real action and potentially making an impact on the world.

References

Bishop, E. (2014). Critical literacy: Bringing theory to Praxis. Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, 30(1), 51-63.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

McLaughlin, M., & DeVoogd, G. (2004). Critical literacy: Enhancing students’ comprehension of text. New York: Scholastic.

Critical Literacy in the Classroom

In today’s information-driven world, kids are bombarded with texts from a greater number of sources than ever before.  Technology provides new mediums to target ever-specific audiences, and parents can no longer effectively filter the information that their children consume.  For this reason, children must be able to better understand the information with which they come into contact.  In “Critical Literacy as Comprehension: Expanding Reader Response,” McLaughlin and DeVoogd (2004) explained that critical literacy is a way to address these new issues.

McLaughlin and DeVoogd (2004) explained critical literacy as an act in which “we would engage in problematizing—seeking to understand the problem and its complexity. In other words, we would raise questions and seek alternative explanations” (p. 54).  These types of skills seem to be exactly what the students of this generation require to guard against any possible damaging effects of nefarious texts.  The authors went on to expand on a concept first presented by Rosenblatt (as cited in McLaughlin & DeVoogd, 2004).  According to Rosenblatt (2004), readers apply different reading stances when reading any text.  She explained that the two primary stances on the reading continuum are the efferent stance, which is a factual perspective, and the aesthetic stance, which is an emotional perspective.  Rosenblatt (as cited in McLaughlin & DeVoogd, 2004) explained that all texts require both stances, but the extent to which each stance is used depends upon both the text and the reader.  McLaughlin and DeVoogd (2004) added to this concept by stating that readers may also apply a critical stance, in which readers act as a text critic.  This is the particular stance most important for students in deciphering the purpose and credibility of each text.  Unfortunately, it seems that our kids have been trained to read mostly from an efferent stance.  As a result, kids may passively accept information that is presented to them and easily be persuaded by any information.

In addition to critical literacy being important to protect our kids from harmful rhetoric, it is also a stance that promotes higher thinking skills.  Before one can apply critical literacy to a text, the reader must first apply an efferent stance to fully understand the message of the text.  Once this is completed, the reader is free to apply the critical stance to the basic understanding of the author’s message.  In doing so, the reader may apply McLaughlin and DeVoogd’s (2004) questions to promote critical literacy:

  1. Whose viewpoint is expressed?
  2. What does the author want us to think?
  3. Whose voices are missing, silenced, or discounted?
  4. How might alternative perspectives be presented?
  5. How would that contribute to your understanding the text from a critical stance?
  6. What action might you take on the basis of what you have learned? (p. 53)

With the ability to apply the above questions and possible responses, kids will be better equipped to live in today’s information-driven world.

Reference

McLaughlin, M., & DeVoogd, G. (2004). Critical literacy as comprehension: Expanding reader response. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 48(1).