Rethinking Literacy Week

At Central Park in Durham, tradition dictates that the week before Halloween is dedicated to what is called “Literacy Week.”  Every year, each class takes on different literacy-related activities across subject areas and celebrate reading, writing, and expression. While I’ve only been at Central Park for 1.25 years, an example of activities might include:

-Graphing non-fiction in math

-Guest authors visiting during social studies

-Poetry creation in ELA

-Reading in the park in science

By Thursday, the Regulator Bookshop on Ninth Street will have warmly thrown open its doors to our school, allowing students to peruse the shelves and search for fascinating literature alongside Duke students.  Finally, on Friday (usually the last school day before Halloween) students are given an opportunity to dress up as their favorite characters from literature. It’s all great fun!

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…that is, until that magical age when it suddenly isn’t. Middle school – the time when the tradition loses its luster, social pressures creep in, and individuality is breaking out. There will always be a core group of students who are all in on dressing up as Hagrid and “dropping everything to read!”, but if Literacy Week is going to keep its magic, we are going to have to reimagine what magic looks like for middle schoolers.

This is where I brainstorm some ideas for reigniting the spark of Literacy Week for our 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th graders – and where I call in for backup (no more lurking on this blog!) Our middle school students are more connected, native to the digital world, stimulated, and arguably curious than any generation before them – and yet students are already beginning to groan or cringe at the simple mention of “literacy.” At the same time, while students are messaging, Snapchatting, Instagramming, hunting for Pokemon, and Vining a significant portion of their day (check out this (slightly dated) article from CNN), they are feeling more stress and social pressures at younger and younger ages. So with connections to the digital world that will only increase as time passes, and interest in literacy that is seemingly only decreasing as they grow up, how do we bring together the two in a balance that connects students to digital literacy?

My first idea for my sphere of influence (science class) is to shake off the notion that reading in nature is the only way to engage students in Literacy Week. I’m thinking it’s time students took their many talents, be it drawing, acting, video editing, writing, calculating, etc., and put them to use creating, rather than just consuming. We recently tried out this crazy cool app called Goosechase that coordinates student groups as they compete in scavenger hunts using digital tools like phones and tablets.  Why not have students jump on Goosechase and construct pieces to a non-fiction piece on our subject matter? Students won’t just read about ecosystems under a tree (though I still love reading under trees!) – they will collaborate, discuss, debate, create, and present their findings in new, exciting ways!

What would you do if you had two hours of to make Literacy Week a little more digital?

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9 thoughts on “Rethinking Literacy Week

  1. leighahall October 22, 2016 / 11:27 am

    Taylor, have you read this: https://www.wired.com/2014/10/video-game-literacy/? Here’s the quote I connect with you:
    “Minecraft is surrounded by a culture of literacy. The game comes with minimal instructions or tutorials, so new players immediately set about hunting for info on how it works.”

    So this isn’t to say you should have your students playing video games, but rather it’s the idea that if you can find something that hooks them you could consider giving them minimal instructions that then force them to go out and locate information.

    Like

  2. ckllit17 October 22, 2016 / 1:02 pm

    You bring up a really good point about traditions, our students are different to the students many years ago. They are more connected to one another through technology, can utilize technology with more ease than most teachers and are dynamic learners looking for engaging activities.

    Have you heard about Genius Hour (genius hour.com) for your students. It is a great model to engage students in self selected projects. You could start this during your literacy week and continue during the year. Genius Hour gives your students an opportunity to engage in their own projects with peers or individually.

    Students have the most curious questions and will engage in literacy throughout the project.

    Let me know if you have any questions.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. kccogswell October 22, 2016 / 2:19 pm

    Literacy is about so much more than just reading. You were right, Taylor, to point out that this generation of kids is much more digitally connected, and that means they interact with each other and the world in very different ways than what we experienced growing up.
    I love the idea of using a digital platform such as GooseChase to engage your students.

    I do not have suggestions for any specific platforms for you to use. However, I do like this blog article about how one teacher worked to re-engage his English 101 class. He identifies 10 strategies that he felt were necessary to address for himself, and his students, when taking on the challenge of re-structuring the class environment and expectations.

    Hopefully this will give you some ideas for “shaking up” literacy week!

    https://www.edutopia.org/blog/reengaging-students-andrew-marcinek

    Liked by 1 person

  4. jackieb38 October 22, 2016 / 7:20 pm

    I really like that you brought this up, because I have thought about this a lot in my literacy instruction. I feel like it is a hard balance between incorporating technology into literacy instruction while keeping the authenticity of text. What I have done is trying to incorporate technology when responding to literacy through digital portfolios like @SeeSaw.

    I think that motivation in literacy is a whole different case, but it also can be fostered by incorporating technology. I think something that is really important with students is to find their interests and try to allow them to explore that through text. To do this, something that I have done is having “book tastings.” In this activity I had students skim through books and find what they are interested in. I also incorporated technology into the activity this year, where students could watch book trailers to get a sneak peak of what the story is about. Students love thinking about these books as movies by watching the trailers. Then students responded to what they liked about each book and I could understand what was important to them in a story.

    It’s great you are being thoughtful about this topic!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. cheriedh October 22, 2016 / 9:31 pm

    I think I might try Twiducate. It is free and an alternative to Twitter for students. They can network in a safe setting that is private. Twiducate can be used to to have discussions around a particular novel. Students who read the same book can be set up in a “class” and can create questions for each other. Middle School students might enjoy using Twiducate.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. mereadair87 October 22, 2016 / 9:50 pm

    Great ideas for literacy week Taylor! Since I teach younger elementary students, they would love to dress up as their favorite character. However, I know this can be a stretch for older elementary students. If your school has younger elementary grades (or have access to a school with younger students), your students might enjoy presenting their favorite book/author to that audience. They could answer questions from the younger students about the book/author they are representing. I also think this would be a win-win for both groups of students.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. thomasunc October 22, 2016 / 10:36 pm

    This sounds like a job for transmediation! Transmediation is the process of moving a work from one medium to another. For example: poetry to dance, story to painting.

    Since you only have two hours, what about transforming a topic you have already studied and turning it into something else? Because it is Halloween season my mind is jumping at the chance to be gross. Teaching kids about bugs through movies. Posters about blood. Paintings about scabs. Vines about vomit… I can still find my middle school voice.

    Here is a link about using apps with middle schoolers from ILA.
    https://www.literacyworldwide.org/blog/literacy-daily/2016/01/14/apps-to-inspire-transmediation

    And a link about digital story telling.
    http://transmediatedart.blogspot.com/

    have fun

    Like

  8. ateach17 October 23, 2016 / 1:22 am

    Traditions are so hard to stray from in schools! However, the few times that I have, despite the initial pushback I have received, the administration and other teachers have liked the change. I encourage you to break the mold! I know that the older students at my school like going on webquests during language arts to learn more about a topic they’re studying or a topic of their choice. One of the language arts teachers at my school has made several of these based on the interest of her students. She’s put together a website for each topic that includes safe links with a plethora of information, and they have some choice as to how they complete it. She does make them fill out a note sheet while they’re working, but I think there could be alternate ways for this–tweeting what they’re learning, blogging about what they’re reading, etc. Best of luck, and bravo for seeing to break the mold!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Jordan Davis October 23, 2016 / 2:01 am

    Taylor,

    I understand during 6th grade seeing how students begin to take on this “social” influence or pressure from their peers. I’m currently a middle school special education inclusion teacher working with reading and math. I wonder if these could be some resources that could aid in your selection of online reading material for your students during your literacy week. Currently, I have used Tumble Books, Tumble Books Cloud, and NEWSELA with my students to listen, read, and text.

    Another resource that I’m hoping to use more with my students is Padlet. Padlet could be used for students to type (write) anonymous posts about activating prior knowledge or respond to their reading. As the teacher, you are the only one who has access to view their names and responses. The students can view and post these responses during class.

    Like

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