Beyond K-12…

What happens to those people who leave high school without having learned traditional literacy skills?  Although my focus in education is K-12, I can’t help but ask myself this question.  Having had extensive experience working in the service industry, I have known several adult versions of those students who fall through the cracks.  That isn’t to say that they cannot be successful as adults – a lack of literacy skills does not equal a lack of any valuable skills.  But struggling with reading and writing can certainly be a source of anxiety, embarrassment, and problems both in one’s personal and professional life.

According to the Literacy Foundation, some key implications of inadequate literacy skills are having a limited ability to obtain important information, employment problems (such as lower paying jobs and a higher unemployment rate), and, most relevant to educators, less access to continued learning and not seeing education and reading as important.  All of these things will also affect their children – our students.  Employment problems can lead to instability at home and other issues that come from reduced economic status.  A limited ability to obtain information makes it more difficult for a parent to help with homework or even understand important materials we may send home with our students, such as letters about upcoming events or problems the school is dealing with.  And, to compound these problems even further, a parent who doesn’t value education is less likely to make their child’s education a priority while influencing their child to also not value literacy and education.

Although I’m sure that some adults who struggle with reading and writing may have been students who lacked motivation and just “didn’t think reading was important” for life beyond school, I suspect that this is not the case for most who continue to have significant problems beyond things like spelling and grammar.  Most of these adults – all of the ones with whom I have had opportunities to have conversations about literacy, in fact – struggled with some sort of learning disability while in school which they received services for.  This leaves me wondering – were the interventions simply not enough?  What could have been done differently?  Or is there just a need for additional services and educational programs for adults who still struggle with literacy and don’t know how to improve those skills independently?

I don’t think there are any easy answers to any of these questions, and I don’t think it is the responsibility of K-12 educators to intervene on behalf of these individuals.  What I do think is that we could well have the skills and knowledge to help support the ones that we come into contact with – friends, neighbors, and especially parents of students.  We could use our knowledge to guide them to helpful resources or provide an understanding of strategies that could help.  We could provide reassurance when they feel like giving up.  When it comes to a parent who struggles with literacy, we can help not only the adult but also our student because increased literacy will allow them to better support their child’s learning outside of school.  The first step is simply to make ourselves open enough and approachable enough to become a resource for our extended communities.


I reading always good?

We view reading and literacy as a good thing, but is it always a good thing? Do not misunderstand me, learning, reading and literacy have historically been a good thing but something has changed in our society recently. Regardless of political affiliation, throughout this election cycle a very good point was raised in that fake news is running rampant in our society. As educators, we always advocate for things like learning and reading about the world around you, but what do we do when much of the information out there ranges from misleading to blatantly false? Of course books are generally exempt from this, but with the internet being the amazingly accessible resource that it is, this cannot be ignored. The effects can already be seen. A survey of news stories put out during this election cycle revealed that about 20 percent of the stories run by liberal leaning Facebook news outlets were either false or misleading and 38 percent of stories run by conservative Facebook news outlets were either false or misleading. You can see it in the ways that people justify the way that they voted as well, where they often use false news stories as a reason that they voted the way that they did. Heck, even last week there was a shooting (thankfully nobody was hurt) where the shooters motive was based around a conspiracy theory that was candidly false. These false source of information are real, and they have an effect, so can we really say that reading and literacy is always good now?  As educators, what do we do about this?


It is important to note that his is not a problem that is confined to the sphere of politics, though the motives for false sources of information can likely be linked to politics. As a scientist and future science educator, an issue that is dear to me, and should be dear to all of us is climate change, and more specifically the immediate threat it poses and the action we should take to combat it. With that being said, I cannot tell you the amount of false information I have heard put forward to dismiss this very real concern; which begs the question, where are they getting this overtly false information from? Clearly people are reading this somewhere, so is all reading good? This is a clear case of reading providing false information that is fueling a harmful narrative that climate change is not real. Before moving on to my final point, I would like to request that all of us do our part as educators to defeat this false narrative, and you don’t need to be a science teacher to do it. I haven’t thought about it too much, but I firmly believe that climate change can be implemented, at least in part, in all subjects. In history for example, you can talk about the industrial revolution and how it effected the world, and the increased carbon emission that resulted from it.


I’m sure that false information has always been out there, but now it is becoming mainstream. Another study has shown that 44 percent of people get their news from Facebook. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating that we stop advocating for learning, literacy, and reading; I would never say that, but we cannot simply ignore this very real problem. Which is why I turn to you all, what do we do next? How do we fight against this very real threat to literacy? What can we do? On a personal level I think we can all do more to support good journalism. Journalism is not free. Those who work in the industry have a very difficult job, they need to travel to get “the scoop”, and I think as a society we have lessened the value of the truth in favor of clickbait articles “You won’t believe what happens next”, “Ten things you didn’t know about…”  and cat videos. I recently reached out to an old friend and teammate who now works as a journalist. He told gave me a list of good, reliable publications such as, The New York Times, and USA Today, but ultimately he said that we should support local papers. In the end, I do not believe that there is any simple solution to this, in fact it seems impossible to eliminate false information entirely, but I think that as educators we can have a significant impact promoting things like good research practices, fact checking, and teaching about confirmation bias. Please let me know what you all think.

Vocabulary Instruction in Music Classrooms: It’s Not Just ‘Music Words’!

As I’ve been contemplating vocabulary in my future music classroom, all my ideas (and my peers’ ideas, when I ask them about it) are creative ways to teach music words. There is so much tier-3 music vocabulary that students must learn; many call it a language of its own. I doubt it would be hard for any music teacher to come up with 50 tier-3 music words, and only feel like they are scratching the surface. Because of this, music teachers tend to forget that teaching tier-2 words is also an important part of any classroom.*

There are a lot of ways that music teachers can help students start to think in new ways by teaching tier-2 vocabulary throughout the rehearsal instruction. One effective way I found to do this is getting students to find ways to describe the music using specific adjectives, emotion words, as well as personifying the music in order to describe it in creative ways. Here are a few lesson ideas I had to get started:

1. Simply ask the students how they would describe the music. Prompt them to give creative answers and not repeat the same word twice. This can be anything from “dramatic” to “bouncy” to “melancholy”. This is a good way to get students initially thinking about how to talk about music in new ways.

2. Give a simple synonym assignment. Have the students brainstorm words that describe the music (either emotion words or style words would work!) and make a list on the board, split up the words (perhaps give each section a word or a few words), and have each student bring in a list of five adjectives that still fit the music the next day.

3. Write a short story that personifies the music. An idea for a prompt in a band/orchestra classroom could simply be, “If this music was a day in the life of a person, what would their day look like? On a separate sheet of paper, cite specific reasons for each part of your story (For example, they would wake up frantically because of the tempo and fast woodwind runs at the beginning of the piece).” This could be a simple in-class, writing-to-learn assignment, or it could turn into something that is peer-edited and reviewed for presentation to the whole class. It just depends on your learning outcomes!

These are just a few ideas of how to incorporate literacy, and specifically vocabulary learning, into a music classroom. Through these outlines, many more can be created and utilized no matter what type of music classroom you have.


*Tier-3 vocabulary refers to content-specific words that can’t be readily applied to other subjects, such as concerto or allegro in music. Tier-2 vocabulary refers to words that aren’t considered basic words, but can be used across the disciplines and have several meanings, such as contrast (being strikingly different from something else, or in art, the arrangement of opposite elements).

Literature Circles History

When I think of literature circles, I think of an English classroom; reading a fiction book, or even reading a nonfiction book. I had never thought about literature circles used outside of an English classroom. To start with, a literature circle is a group of students gathered to discuss a piece of literature in depth. They are guided by student’s responses to the reading. The students have different responsibilities which are guided by the assigned role sheets. Literature circles are very beneficial to students. They get students interested in reading and they grant students with autonomy. They also help students have in depth discussions for smaller parts of the text or book. Lastly, students gain more of an understanding of the text.

This semester in my EDU 450 course, we participated in a literature circle where we used our text book. I found this to be so beneficial, it allowed us to understand in depth on how a literature circle works. When you participate in something you really gain a greater understanding of that subject. I will soon be a History or Social Studies teacher, so I began to look into ways to use literature circles in History.

I decided look at way to use a history textbook for the text. Depending on what type of textbook is used, we should be aware of the vocabulary within the text. If the textbook has difficult vocabulary, you as a teacher could decide if you wanted the students to read the text at home before the meet with their group or with their group. If the students read together as a group, they can help each other with vocabulary words. Making accommodations for each chapter and the roles sheets can be helpful for students. Chapters within a History text can cover a wide range of topics, making sure the role sheets benefit the chapter and further the students understanding. Building upon each chapter is essential to History, having the students build upon pervious chapters and building on their knowledge with connect the topics in history together.

One of my favorite role sheets is the connector. There are many ways students can connect the text to things. Having the students make connections allows them to have a greater understanding of the text and remember what they read better. Have the students connect to pervious historical events; or similar events in history. They could connect to things from their lives, other text, other classes, something they saw on the news, and much more. Having the students find a fascinating fact and having them connect. It is a fun way to have the students build upon things they find interesting. Literature circles can be useful in history classrooms and can be very beneficial for the students.

Shifting Practices(pt.2): Graphic Novels

When I found out that we would be reading graphic novels (7 of them!) for my Content Area Literacy class, I had mixed feelings.  Here were my initial thoughts on reading graphic novels for this class: First, I thought, “ok, that sounds pretty easy.  Comics are quick reads”. Second, I kind of groaned, “Ugh, I really don’t like comic books”.  Then I immediately assumed this was something that I wasn’t going to be able to use in my context of teaching pre kindergarten students.

I have to admit, I have really shifted my thinking on graphic novels.  Revisiting my initial feelings, I now feel: “Graphic novels are actually NOT easy reads. In a lot of ways they can be more challenging.  It took awhile for me to figure out HOW to read them.  There are panels, illustrations, and inserts to attend to.  I had to look back and forth to be sure I was comprehending.  Also, these graphic novels totally made learning more engaging.  Would I have picked up a text about the U.S. and Russia’s race to space ever? Um, no.  Set in a graphic novel though, this was interesting! And I learned stuff!

I realized that kids need these to help support what they are learning.  I love the idea of teaching science, history and math through graphic novels.  We want kids to learn, does it matter how? Actually, yes, in all different ways with many different modes of literacy.I am much more open-minded to graphic novels and comics.  When I use to see kids hunkered down and reading them, I tended to make judgments that they were slower or lazy readers.  Not at all now. screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-10-43-51-am

I LOVED John Lewis’ March.  I ended up checking out Book 2 and 3 from the library to read with my 11-year-old. This book’s way of depicting the injustices in the past-and prompting discussions of present day racial injustices was RIGHT ON TIME for current news and how to discuss it with my own children.

screen-shot-2016-12-09-at-10-44-30-amAfter my daughter auditioned and was cast as Miranda in her school’s production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, I found a graphic novel version of this to purchase for her class.  Her fifth grade teacher reported how using this book has resulted in the students better understanding the language in the play.

How about my earlier thought on not being able to use  graphic novels with my pre-k class? Well, I am looking at texts differently as a result of this study.  Pointing out speech and thought bubbles in the books I read to my students are preparing them for text they will encounter in their next years.  I have found some great books developmentally appropriate for my grade level that can be considered graphic novels.  A sampling of some of my favorites I have worked with this semester are:

Furthermore, our discussions of graphic novels have helped me consider the importance of other alternative texts I can use, like wordless books, books with labels, and the use of photography.

Stay tuned, I am hoping to blog about my use of photography to promote literacy in my class this spring.  Putting cameras in preschool hands!




Teaching Literacy Online

This semester I was enrolled in an online teaching practicuum. I had never really been exposed to the world of online education before, with the exception of taking a couple of university courses online. So the experience of online teaching was an entirely new world for me. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Teaching online is hard, but teaching literacy online is even harder. However, there are still some ways that teachers can overcome teaching in a non-traditional classroom and successfully teach literacy to their students. You have to be very motivated in your conquests to teach it. During my time as a pre-student teacher in my online practicuum, I have observed a lot of things and have came up with a lot of interesting ideas on how online teachers can incorporate literacy into their supplemental teachings online.

The platform that my school uses is called Plato. This type of platform already has all of the content prepared, so the teachers don’t have to create any of the main content themselves. There have already been lectures, assignments, and etc. created and uploaded onto the platform. However, this doesn’t mean that the teachers are exempt from actually teaching material. If the students are unable to grasp a concept, then it’s the job of the teachers to guide them with supplemental instruction or material that they themselves have created.

One of my main concerns was how I was going to implement the tools and ideas that I have learned in my education and English courses into an online environment. How was I going to do a shared reading or literature circles? Then I realized that I should think of the technology as a tool, rather than a burden.

When supplying online students with supplemental material, try and incorporate certain literacy tools, like vocabulary. One of the easiest ways to teach literacy online is through vocabulary because most times you don’t have to be directly instructing your students every second while they are completing the assignment/activity. You can either give the students a list of vocabulary words to research and define, or you could do something even further with it and have them pick out their own vocabulary words from a reading. This is something they could easily do on their own without too much consistent guidance from the teacher.

I think it would also be interesting to try and implement literacy circles into online education. If a small group of students are all having trouble with a topic, then assign them a supplemental reading that you think might help them out with their understanding of the subject at hand. Then assign each of them a literacy circle role. Once they have completed their role sheets, you can have them get together on Google Hangout. Then the students can collaborate and discuss the topic with one another, while having the teacher there to provide any guidance or comments that might be needed.

Online education is becoming a very large part of our education system and I think that’s it’s very important that we are all knowledgeable about how to successfully incorporate literacy into your teachings. Use technology to your advantage and try to increase communications with and among your students.

Understanding Cultural Literacy in the Classroom

It has always been very important to me that students feel like they are understood and accepted in the classroom. They should feel like the teacher not only cares about them, but understands where they come from. It has recently become apparent to me that not many teachers take the time to discover the backgrounds of their students. They don’t know their culture or what their home life entails, and I think it’s really important to know such things, especially as en educator.

Literacy is viewed in many different ways across not only the world, but our own country as well. A student might be writing a story for their English class that goes on and on and on, and the teacher will most likely just reprimand them for it. They will say that it’s a run-on story and that it has no concrete beginning, middle, or end. However, what the teacher might not know, is that the student is Native American. And even if the teacher is aware of this, they might not necessarily understand the Native American culture. Storytelling is a very important part of the Native American culture. In some Native American cultures, they are taught from a young age that stories are supposed to last 7 nights and that they can be told in an almost non-sequential way. If the teacher had known this, things might have played out differently.

This also goes for different dialects as well. African American Vernacular English is very common and should be treated as a recognized language and part of a culture, not as improper. It’s very often that children use this language when they are at home and around their friends, so they would be apt to use it in the classroom and in their writing as well. Once again, it’s very important for teachers to recognize this and understand cultural differences in life and in literacy.

It’s important for us as teachers to acknowledge these differences, but not in a way that puts down the student or their culture. They shouldn’t be afraid to express themselves or their culture. The students should be able to understand that their language and culture is as valid as Standard English.

However, we should also help them to recognize that there is a certain time and place that their own cultural literacy should be used, as well as when Standard English should be used. Once again, we do not want this to be derogatory or have any negative connotations. We simply want to educate our students in the ways of Standard English, just as any other language, but not put down their own culture while we are doing it. We should teach them the advantages of using each type of language and the times when they can benefit them the most.

This is why it’s so essential to get to know our students. Not only will we be bridging the gap between educator and pupil, but we will be forming a special kind of relationship that will help us to better understand and help one another. It’s important for our role as a teacher to make as many connections with our students as possible, and I think that this is a great way to do that. If you’re looking for any extra resources or information on this topic, the book “Other People’s Children” by Lisa Delpit is exceptionally helpful with this area of education.