My Journey to Literacy

As I head back to the classroom for the first time in while I know I will definitely go back as a different, more literate teacher. No, not just a literate teacher, a transliterate teacher. A teacher who uses the multiple literacies she possesses in a way that not only supports children’s learning but when used in conjunction with each other provide more to her students than would be possible using the literacies in isolation. My goal is to provide a transliterate education to my students because as Ipri (2010) states, “transliteracy is concerned with what it means to be literate in the 21st century.” (p. 532)

That is not to say I wasn’t literate in the first place, only that my literacies were not defined and labeled as such.

My journey to understanding and refining my literacies began with the introduction of Koehler and Mishra’s work on Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPACK). While I had been advocating the program of studies be a teacher’s first frame of reference, I occasionally succumbed to the hype of new technologies ‘about to revolutionize education’. I admit at times I jumped on the bandwagon to use new technologies I became aware of, trying to make the curriculum fit to it rather than the other way around. Being exposed to the TPACK model refocused my thinking on how to best go about planning lessons for students and made me realize that “[t]he key to successful teaching is not simply achieving competence in the individual areas, but teaching at the intersection of each part of the framework” (Wetzel & Marshall, 2011, p. 74).

Our work around visible thinking and how important it is for teachers to “[foster] thinking and [make] it visible in multiple ways” (Ritchhart & Perkins, 2008, p. 60), caused me to further, investigate thinking routines and critical thinking on my own. Sharing these ideas with other teachers has enabled me to see how engaged children can be when using these routines to demonstrate their understanding.

Examining educational technology has made me realize the necessity of being “[willing] and [able] to critically examine new tools in terms of their implications for standards-based teaching and learning in the classroom.” (Mishra & Koehler, in print, p. 5) I also realize that professional development “approaches must address how to help teachers develop a “deep understanding” of the concepts and skills that are not limited to specific instances of technology. For example, training teachers to use specific software packages not only makes their knowledge too specific to be applied broadly, but it also becomes quickly outdated.” (ibid, p.4) While keeping abreast of what is happening with technology and web based tools is part of our professional growth, it is important to know what outcomes you are trying to achieve as this will help you imagine the possibilities through a practical filter.

Another valuable filter I discovered to guide the work of teachers and students was the lens of digital citizenship. The title alone of Jason Ohler’s 2011 article Digital Citizenship Means Character Education for the Digital Age really struck me. Somehow our students (and often ourselves) haven’t come to the conclusion that if it matters in real life it matters online as well. Becoming familiar with Ribble et al’s (2004) nine elements of digital citizenship has already had a significant effect on my work with teachers and students of all ages.

I am now more mindful of how all literacies play an important role in the education and development of our students. My refined understanding of teaching and learning in a digital age, my own growth in tool literacy as well as my in-depth study of data literacy has enabled me to see how I can foster deeper understanding of content through the purposeful inclusion of multiple literacies. I am really looking forward to implementing all of the learning from this year and know that I will provide a richer, student-centered learning experience that allows for and encourages the use of all literacies.


Ipri, T. (2010). Introducing transliteracy. College & Research Libraries News, 71(10), 532-567. Retrieved from:

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (in press). Not “what” but “how”: Becoming design-wise about educational technology. To appear in Zhao, Y. (Ed.). What do teachers need to know. Educational Technology Publications.

Ohler, J. (2011). Digital Citizenship Means Character Education for the Digital Age. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 48(1), 25­27. Retrieved from: / b=eric&AN=EJ966494&site=ehost-­live

Ribble, M., Bailey, G., & Ross, T. (2004). Digital citizenship: Addressing appropriate technology behavior. Learning & Leading with Technology,32(1), 6.

Ritchhart, R. & Perkins, D. (2008). Making thinking visible. Educational Leadership, 65(5), 57-61.

Wetzel, K. & Marshall, S. (2011). TPACK goes to sixth grade: lessons from a middle school teacher in a high-technology-access classroom. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education 28(2), 73-81.


Digital Storytelling – Possibilities and Potential

The effectiveness of story in our culture is evident in the numerous ways it is used in communication. We are told stories to encourage us to buy products, we listen and connect with stories in song and we watch the news for stories that provide an understanding of the myriad of human experiences. With the possibilities and potential that digital storytelling brings, it appears that the ways we can impact students and their learning are limited only by our own imaginations.

Using digital tools “[s]tories now are open-ended, branching, hyperlinked, cross-media, participatory, exploratory, and unpredictable.” (Alexander & Levine, 2008). With the increasingly user-friendly Web 2.0 platforms and the ability to work as a writing community, students have opportunities to express themselves like never before. Yet to effectively use these tools, and “[n]o matter how sophisticated our technology becomes, the future of digital storytelling will involve writing and conventional forms of literacy.” (Ohler, 2009)

Place-based story telling is an exciting new concept for me. I love how it can be used to bring understanding across all curricular areas and takes advantage of a natural skill for young children – using story to make sense of their world.

Adding the dimension of story mapping also fills in a gap that I think is missing for many students when writing. Often students have a loosely formed story that becomes real as they are creating their storyboard. However, I have found that the gist of the story gets lost as the bulk of their energy is put into the beginning and the rest of the story unfolds in a matter of a few sentences. Having a concrete step like completing a story map to define the “essential elements of a story, like conflict-resolution, character transformation, realization, and so on” (Ohler, 2009) seems like a great way to help students stay on track.

I have spent the last couple of years honing my skills around teaching writing. I was pleased with the progress that students were making, although I found that they still had difficulty fleshing out their pieces. Will digital storytelling help develop better young writers? I believe so. The added dimension of digital storytelling including curriculum and personal place-based stories, tools like Google Lit Trips and use of story maps will further enrich their work, provide opportunities for more active engagement and enable children to better bring their ideas to life.


Alexander, B. & Levine, A. (2008) Storytelling: Emergence of a new genre. Retrieved from

Ohler, J. ( 2009) Storytelling and new media narrative. Retrieved from

Literacies – A New look at an Old Idea?

What strikes me as I read and learn about the various literacies (digital and non-digital) is that this is not new information. Teachers have long tried to incorporate a variety of activities into their lessons to help students acquire and demonstrate their understanding. What is new is that these activities or literacies are now being acknowledged and valued as important skill sets in there own right. “New studies in the 1980s and 1990s were new because literacy had not been analyzed in the same way and this radical social and semiotic turn offered a new language of description for literacy, viewing literacy as nested within social context (Street, 1994) and redressing an over-emphasis on language and the written word (Halliday, 1984).” Rowsell and Walsh (2011, p. 55) Teachers are becoming explicitly aware that the activities they have been using as supplemental to the traditional literacies deserve and require the same purposeful instruction and development and that these ‘new’ overlapping literacies actually enhance or deepen the learning of the more traditional ones.

The other day as we were discussing the game Minecraft my son said to me, “I’m not that literate in video game development.” I was startled by his choice of words. I didn’t realize that the understanding and acceptance of the idea that many literacies exist beyond the traditional ones had already migrated out to the general public. As Rowsell and Walsh (2011) state, “[t]he word ‘literacies’ in new literacies signal[s] a shift in thinking about the ways that people make meaning with language.” (p. 55) As a result it seems that every area of specialized understanding or competency is now viewed as a literacy.

One positive side of this ‘new’ understanding of literacy among teachers is the richness that can be achieved in student tasks. Where once assignments often favored independent students highly literate in the traditional sense, now tasks can promote a collaborative approach that requires a variety of competences where all students have an opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way. Also with this public shift in understanding perhaps school districts and educational legislators will focus less on the traditional literacies as a benchmark for success.

I’m excited to see where this new look at an old topic will take us. It seems that literacy will never be looked at the same way again…and I think that will only serve to broaden and enrich the schooling experience of all our students.


Rowsell, J. & Walsh, M. (2011). Rethinking literacy education in new times: Multimodality, multiliteracies, & new literacies. Retrieved from

Planning for Technology – Begin with the End in Mind

Embedding technology in a classroom requires a carefully considered, purposeful action plan to be successful. It requires a paradigm shift in thinking. “You think of technology as a tool…[w]e think of it as a foundation, it underlies everything we do.” (student quote as cited by Prensky, 2013, p.23) “In fact, in the 21st century, technology is the key to thinking about and knowing about the world” (ibid, p. 23) Teachers need to be prepared to do things differently not simply do the same old things with new devices.

Start with the Program of Studies. Thoughtfully designing cross-curricular, open-ended tasks that are intellectually engaging, meaningful, relevant and effortful is the first step necessary. Through that lens the technologies that best support the learning outcomes can be selected. These tools may not be the same for each student nor used in the same way. Activities should be designed so that “everyone will have the opportunity to become expert learners, and the means to get there, be it tech or non-tech, should be flexible. “ (CAST, 2012) “Students should do more than just survive in this digital society. They should create, innovate, and thrive.” (Hollandsworth, Dowdy & Donovan, 2011, p. 41)

Create an environment where technology and choice is the norm. To be effective, students should have a selection of tools readily available and be able to choose a computer, camera or livescribe smartpen as naturally as they choose paper, a pencil or crayons to complete a task. Students should be supported to develop the digital literacy knowledge and skills to use each device and the applications and Web 2.0 tools that will enable them to research, record and share their work. Allowing students to bring their own devices “invites [them] to bring their digital lives into our schools.” (Ohler, 2011, p.26) This opens up opportunities to bridge the uses of their devices from outside of school to inside.

Intentional instruction around the importance of the nine elements of digital citizenship (Ribble et al, 2004) is imperative. While this is of most value in the context of the work, at times it may be necessary to instruct as a stand-alone. We don’t want our children to have to “fend for themselves as they come to grips with issues of digital citizenship, cyber safety, and the responsible use of technology.” (Ohler, 2011, p. 26)

Teach critical thinking and other 21st century skills like collaboration and problem-solving as well as new literacies like media literacy. “Critical thinking skills must be implemented in an effort to examine and assess various media environments in terms of the reliability and validity of information.” (Pacino & Noftle, 2011, p. 478) “21st century skills can breathe new life into academic content, leveraging technology in ways that powerfully advance learning by strengthening student engagement in challenging, authentic, and intellectual work.” (Metiri, 2003, p. 11)

Consider increased opportunities for assessment and feedback with technology. Since students can demonstrate their learning in multiple formats using an iPad for example, teachers can look at photographs of work completed, listen to a student read or explain their understanding even if the student is not there. It also allows for others such as parents to have authentic examples of their child’s work in class. Commenting on work in progress on a class blog, wiki or discussion board enables teachers to monitor the work students are doing and identify when a child or group of children may need a mini-lesson to address a gap in understanding or move children ahead.

Technology is a powerful motivator and necessary tool to achieve success in the 21st century. It is essential however that it is considered just that – a tool. Teachers are the pedagogical experts and need to ensure that content and learning outcomes are what drives the choices of appropriate tools, whether high tech or low tech and not visa versa.

CAST. (2012). Retrieved from:

Hollandsworth, R., Dowdy, L., & Donovan, J. (2011). Digital Citizenship in K-­12: It Takes a Village. Techtrends: Linking Research And Practice To Improve Learning, 55(4), 37-­47. Retrieved from:

Metiri Group (2003). enGauge 21st century skills: literacy in the digital age. 1-88. Retrieved from:

Ohler, J. (2011). Digital citizenship means character education for the digital age. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 48(1), 25-27. Retrieved from:

Pacino, M. A., & Noftle, J. T. (2011). New Literacies for Global, Digital Learners. International Journal Of Learning, 18(1), 477-­485. / b=ehh&AN=73027901&site=ehost-­live

Prensky, M. (2013). Our brains extended. Educational Leadership, 70(6), 22-27.

Ribble, M. S., Bailey, G. D., & Ross, T. W. (2004). Digital citizenship: addressing appropriate technology behavior. Learning & Leading with Technology, 32(1), 6.

The Future Through The Eyes of Our Children

“Only natural catastrophes can make people act towards lowering the pollution levels.” (Glavic, 2010 as cited by Klemes, 2010). Are the litanies of environmental problems happening around us on a daily basis so commonplace that to really “see” them something tragic has to occur?

Even when “seen”, do natural disasters cause people to act differently long-term when it comes to dealing with environmental concerns? I’m not sure. Despite years of scientific research demonstrating that our planet is being compromised as a result of human activity and although we are seeing some of the consequences of the resulting environmental, health and economic issues large scale action has been slow to unfold. Change of habits, the “need” for the latest technological products and even the debates over why these natural catastrophes are occurring are some of the reasons noted as barriers to change.

So how do we best enable people to “see” the problems and act in a way that will bring a sustained and permanent change to the way we interact with the environment? At a local level governments are implementing recycling programs and providing HOV and bicycle lanes and at a national level the “Canada’s Action on Climate Change” providing programs and support to adapt to climate changes when building or development in particular areas. All levels of government participate in providing public education.

Maybe our biggest hope will be the children. “A ChildFund survey, released [in 2012], of more than 6,200 children across the world, reveals that children globally are deeply concerned about pollution and the risk of natural disasters.” (ChildFund, 2012). Perhaps “seeing” through the eyes of our children will provide us the impetus to make the lasting and long term changes we need.


Canada’s Action on Climate Change. (2012). Retrieved from:

ChildFund Australia. (2012). ChildFund survey reveals pollution and natural disasters are the top two environmental concerns of children across the world. Retrieved from:

Klemeš, J. (2010). Environmental policy decision-making support tools and pollution reduction technologies: a summary. Clean Technologies & Environmental Policy, 12(6), 587-589.

Global Citizenship – A Long Term Commitment

For five years my sons went to a junior high school that supported a school and community in Africa as an ongoing project. While the project was initiated by two teachers, as it grew a school-based student committee was created who later worked in conjunction with a student group in Africa to determine the next steps for the project. The work was taken up by their whole school community and several times over the year students participated in fundraising activities to support the designated need they were working on at that time. There was a bulletin board near the front door of the school that celebrated the work that was being undertaken and it was updated regularly to provide ongoing information about the project.

Part of the work each year was to communicate with the students of the school in Africa and get a first hand perspective of life there. This was done primarily through email using the local parish’s computer. The students here also studied the underlying economic, political and social issues that were affecting the students and their community to get a better understanding of why things were the way they were and in what ways they could best make a long term impact. One year the students even got to meet the local priest from the area who flew over to meet them and share stories and pictures of the children and results of the initiatives that had taken place.

This work followed similar philosophies as the CADE project. “The first is the recognition of children’s participation rights and the need to help them to develop the skills required to exercise these rights in the context of a participatory and deliberative democracy.” (Fonseca & Bujanda, 2011, p. 244) By having the students become educated to the particular causes of poverty in one village, they looked deeper into what would make a difference and past surface or quick fixes.” The second…is the conviction that at the beginning of the twenty-first century, digital technologies must be present in citizenship education proposals.” (ibid, p. 244) While this was somewhat of a challenge for the African school as they had no school technology at the time, the partnership with the local parish enabled this to occur.

The Social Media 4 Social Action video discusses the importance of children from North American or affluent areas of the world connecting with the underprivileged children from other areas of the world. (Lombardo, 2009) I know that participating in this project provided my children with a different lens in which view others, the world events that impact them and gain a better understanding about what they could do to make a difference. It also speaks to the fact that when undertaking initiatives such as these that a long term project has far greater benefits for everyone involved than a one-time only project.


Fonseca, C., & Bujanda, M. (2011). Promoting children’s capacities for active and deliberative citizenship with digital technologies: the cade project in costa rica. Annals Of The American Academy Of Political & Social Science, 633(1), 243-262.

Lombardo, C. (2009). Social Media 4 Social Action. Retrieved from:

Intellectual Engagement…A Head Start

Teachers are lucky these days. Students are intellectually engaged. They want to learn. They have many strategies to search for answers and refer to them with ease. As cited by Parsons and Taylor (2011, p. 33-34), take the story of “an elementary school classroom, during a lesson on Australia, [where] one of the children asked, “What do kangaroos eat?” The teacher, admitting that she did not know and assuring her students that she would get back to them later with an answer, was met with one student getting up from his seat and offering to find the answer online, ‘real quick’” (as cited in Barnes, et al, 2007a, p. 2).” I often see my son who is in high school reach for his cell phone to search out or access information when involved in conversations with his friends or myself.

The quest for educators is how to maintain this natural curiosity and desire to know, this intellectual engagement. Friesen (2009, p. 4) advocates five principles of effective teaching practices to achieve this goal: thoughtful and intentional design of learning that engages students intellectually and academically; work that students are asked to undertake is worthy of their time and attention; assessment practices are clearly focused on improving student learning and guiding teaching decisions and actions; fostering a variety of interdependent relationships in classrooms that promote learning; and improving their practice in the company of peers.

How will educators know if they are being successful with this work? The Canadian Education Association believes this will come from student voice. How students “feel about their experiences of learning; whether and how the work they are asked to do contributes to learning; and how classroom practices could be improved to create more effective and engaging learning environments.” (Dunleavy & Milton, 2010, p. 8) Parsons & Taylor (2011 p. 52) advocate that parent perspective needs to be included as well. “[L]earning involves what happens in learners’ entire lives – not just school, and not just home – everywhere.” (ibid, p. 52)

“Affecting a deeper transformation to school and classroom practices calls upon all of us to begin looking at school improvement as a collaborative knowledge- building activity…” (Parsons & Taylor, 2011, p. 43 citing Dunleavy & Milton, 2009, p. 18) Keeping students engaged at all levels is hard work but the benefits for students and society in general will be great.

We have a head start in this work however. Teachers are lucky. Students first come to us ready to be intellectually engaged.


Dunleavy, J. & Milton, P. (2010). Student engagement for effective teaching and deep learning. Canadian Education association, 48(5), 4-8. Retrieved from:

Friesen, S. (2009). What Did You Do In School Today? Teaching Effectiveness: A Framework and Rubric. Toronto: Canadian Education Association.

Parsons, J., & Taylor, L. (2011). Student engagement: What do we know what should we know? University of Alberta, 1-59. Retrieved from: