Read the World: Rethinking Literacy for Empathy and Action in a Digital Age

by Brent Gilson

Please be sure to check out the chat archive on Wakelet here

Last week education in most of the world was disrupted like it has not been in my lifetime. Classes have come to a halt, students have been sent home and the idea of “remote teaching” has taken centre stage. I think back to so many of my friends lamenting the fact that they did not get the chance to send books home with their students. Worried about their access to texts at home while they are kept from schools and libraries amid the shutdowns. I was “lucky” enough to have a chance to see my students one more time and help get books in their hands for what is looking like a very long break. If there is anything that this crisis, and it is one, is going to force us in education to do is look at the “HOW” very differently. In that vein this week on the #G2Great chat we welcomed Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris and discussed their Book, Reading the World: Rethinking Literacy for Empathy and Action in a Digital Age.

1) What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?This book is really the synthesis of a lot of our work from the last few years.  It brings together our experiences as educators and staff developers, our new learning as professionals, and current trends in digital literacy.  Our goal in our work is to find that bridge between the tech world and the non-tech world for teachers.  We hope that teachers find it a source of affirmation of some of the great things they are already doing as well as find inspiration to try new things.  We also hope that it challenges people to rethink how they’ve always approached their practice and to take some risks.

Before we can begin to talk about  what literacy looks like in the digital age we needed to seek understanding of what it means to “read”

Reading is not what it was 20-30 years ago (sadly some still hold on to the fact that it is). In a world that is now shut down over a pandemic, we need to be willing to open our minds to what reading really is. The interpreting of text which can really include anything. As teachers and students move towards putting other forms of text to use we have to be prepared for the challenges that might pop up.

One concern that continues to pop up for me is equitable access. So many schools are going to remote teaching and learning at this time and we are all counting on access. Even just this week I have heard from parents and parents who are also teachers who are faced with the hurdle of one or two devices in a home. With 4 kids all assigned to use those devices to be successful what are they to do? We live in a rural area that at times has spotty internet. We are all going to be utilizing digital texts for students to read and responses will most likely also come in digital forms. Like we have noticed in the chat there are plenty of benefits but I think we often miss the concern of open access as not being everyone’s reality.

As we continue to look at ways to not only engage our students in reading, in whatever form that takes, we need to be mindful of not just access but also representation. I was so excited to see that Audible had opened up a library of audiobooks for students to access free to students. Sadly I am told the free catalogue is more limited to “classics” and more old white authors. Less representation. I am mindful in my own classroom to provide texts that students can see themselves in. Luckily my school division has a license to use a digital library that has many options that are both current and inclusive. Students can go into the resource from home and access both digital texts and audiobooks. This service does depend on access but students do get it for free so at least that removes one hurdle.

Students work in this new world can face a limited audience. No one will be seeing the work up on bulletin boards in school hallways and the classroom presentations are on hold. Luckily with technology on our side, we can have digital bulletin boards on services like Padlet. I intend on having class discussions and presentations with Zoom when possible. Perhaps we consider starting a blog for your students to share or a podcast series. The point is that just because we don’t have an in-person audience it does not mean we can’t share. It is just the method of sharing that changes.

2) What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices? I think one big takeaway we’ve had is that there is a path forward and it can be really positive and inspiring.  There is so much happening in the world that we can’t control, but we can create a space where every kid feels the weight of their worth and understands the power of their voice.  Tech tools amplify that!

As I reflect on all that will change in the weeks to come, away from my students and I work to figure out how best to keep providing them with quality learning opportunities and chances to grow I worry that the biggest piece they are going to miss is our look at the world. I hope that I have prepared them enough to continue to seek out voices that are different from their own, to be inquisitive and explore the world that is within their reach with the opportunities that digital media and literacy can bring them. I say all this and still, worry, I worry that not all students will have these opportunities and that I am not sure how that equity gap is overcome. I worry in a world that is becoming ever more digital that my students don’t always have the means to access these tools. I am grateful for the opportunity to chat this week over these topics.

Despite all of this craziness, the chaos that we seem to have been thrust into one thing remains the same. We are here for kids.

3) What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind? We’re here for the kids.  Each and every one of them.  The ones that look like us and the ones that don’t, the ones we adore and the ones that challenge us.  We have to be our best selves for them, that takes work.  It’s okay to be vulnerable, it’s okay to shift our thinking and be more open, it’s okay to step back and be a learner.

We have a challenge ahead but I think the more tools we have in our toolbox to face these challenges the better prepared we will be to meet them. Our students will be better prepared and we will hopefully come out on the other side more prepared for an ever-changing world of education.

I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on this weeks chat especially in our current reality. As a classroom teacher, I am worried, we can’t know with certainty what is coming next but we do have a choice. We can learn to adapt to the new reality or we can continue to hold to what we have done in the past. The thing is the world is not waiting for us and now more than ever that is true.

Links to learn further

Link to the book   https://www.heinemann.com/products/e10891.aspx

https://www.kristinziemke.com/

tinyurl.com/KatieMuhtaris 

Blog Postshttps://blog.heinemann.com/plc-read-the-world-digital-age-literacy-action

https://blog.heinemann.com/helping-students-move-beyond-binary-thinking-in-our-digital-age

https://blog.heinemann.com/making-a-commitment-to-collaboration

Read the World Rethinking Literacy for Empathy and Action in a Digital Age by Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris (Heinemann)

Schools Full of Readers: Tools for Teachers, Coaches, and Leaders to Support Students

by Mary Howard

On 3/12/20, #G2Great was delighted to welcome authors and friends Evan Robb and Laura Robb into our guest host seat to discuss their wonderful new book, Schools Full of Readers: Tools for Teachers, Coaches, and Leaders to Support Students (2020Benchmark PD Essentials) I feel honored to write this post since Evan and Laura are long-time treasured friends and we have had many spirited conversations about this shared personal passion topic that was the highlight of our chat.

Understanding the inspiration behind a book is a good beginning, so we asked Laura and Evan to respond to this question:

What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world?

Evan and I recognized that for schools to use and invest in wonderful books for independent and instructional reading, teachers have to collaborate with the principal, media specialist, literacy coach, and reading specialist. By working and learning together, we believe schools can fund classroom libraries and books for instructional reading. We want students to have choices, read widely, and find pleasure and enjoyment in reading. Research shows volume in reading enlarges students’ vocabulary and background knowledge and improves comprehension. 

In the opening words of their book, Evan and Laura cut to the chase with a call to action in the form of a promise to their readers: 

Our goal is to provide the information and inspiration you need to bring about a joyous, school-wide culture of reading. (page 3)

Bringing this promise to life requires us to notice roadblocks that may be blurring our view. A joyous, school-wide culture of reading is not the reality for too many children as we see choice reading swept aside as an irrelevant afterthought or in some cases, principals denouncing it as wasted time. For those children, the vision of schools full of readers is relegated to the luck of the proverbial draw as prescribed TO DO lists far removed from our heart quest robs us of precious minutes to bring kids and books together.

Since we must first address roadblocks thwarting our efforts to achieve joyous, school-wide culture of reading in the name of our kids, I’d like to begin by highlighting five major roadblocks standing in our path forward: 

Breaking down our Schools Full of Readers Roadblocks

As we contemplate next steps, Laura and Evan responded to our second question:

What are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices?

We want school leaders to foster ongoing professional learning and conversations and develop skilled teachers who can use books to meet the diverse learning needs of their students. We created detailed checklists for teachers, so they can assess where they are with reading, support one another, and self-evaluate as they use the finest books. 

Once we know the roadblocks that deter our efforts to create schools full of readers, we need to turn our thoughts to building a bridge that can lead us to the reader centered schools we desire. Two quotes in the book seem like a good segue to our bridge:

Be creative about transforming your classroom into an oasis of books and the joy they bring. Laura Robb

Growth comes from taking a risk–trying something new, failing, reflecting, and refining instruction. Playing it safe maintains the status quo. Evan Robb

Spurred by our creative efforts to transform our learning spaces into an oasis of joyful reading using our determination to take risks, we can now turn our thoughts to the next step in our journey by exploring five new considerations for building our bridge: 

Building a Bridge of Schools Full of Readers Possibilities

As we come to the close of this post, here is our third question we asked Laura and Evan: 

What is a message from the heart you would like for every teacher to keep in mind

Volume in reading matters! Research shows that the more students read, the more skill and expertise they develop.  We want to see independent reading of self-selected books at school and books in all subjects that represent the instructional range of learners. All students should have materials they can read and learn from throughout the day.

Final Thoughts From Mary

As I perused our #G2Great chat to prepare for this post, I was energized by the steadfast commitment our educators brought to the schools full of readers spirit Laura and Evan write about so eloquently in their book. The enthusiasm rising from inspired tweets is a reminder that teachers everywhere are honoring this spirit in their respective learning spaces. We know that this celebratory view of reading is not about window dressings with a ‘Look at me” mentality but creating classrooms where our readers can blossom in the company of others.

In closing, I am drawn back to Laura’s words along with three other tweets reflecting that our dedication is not to some readers but to all readers. We know that we will never have a school full of readers until every child has the same promise of leading readerly lives in our classrooms and beyond regardless of what they bring to the learning table. 

… and that gives me great hope that we can truly have Schools Full of Readers! 

Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk

By Jenn Hayhurst

Click here to access the Wakelet

Chances are good that if you become a teacher, you love to talk. Teachers know it in their bones that talk is important. It’s important for so many reasons: building strong relationships, the transference of learning, articulating one’s values and point of view within a pluralistic society, We are so grateful that authors, Shana Frazin & Katy Wischow joined our #G2Great community for a powerful conversation. Their new book, Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk published by Heinemann belongs in your stack! Reading this book, and viewing its resources is like having master coaches in your corner helping you along the way.

Joyful Teaching

We asked Shana and Katy, what are your BIG takeaways from your book that you hope teachers will embrace in their teaching practices? 

Talk is a powerful vehicle for learning AND a great way to bring joy into every subject.  There are predictable cycles and purposes in conversation that, if we learn them and keep them in mind, will help us be more powerful thinkers.

Shana Frazin & Katy Wischow

Joyful teaching experiences begin with strong relationships built on talk. Once students truly believe that we honor their talk, we can teach them how to honor each other’s talk. This foundation of intentional talk forms a caring learning community. One where deep thinking will flourish.

Engaged Learning

Making the choice to author a book is a huge commitment. We asked, What impact did you hope that your book would have in the professional world?  Shana and Katy shared their WHY:

We wanted to help answer the questions we get from teachers all the time about how to make classroom conversations more engaging and meaningful. We wanted to keep talk front and center as we all wrestle with how to help all kids find purpose and passion in their schoolwork and lives. 

Shana Frazin & Katy Wischow

There is a lot of pressure to keep instruction moving along at a high level of productivity. Sometimes it may be tempting to limit students’ talk. Don’t do it – talk is the very thing that will ignite their learning process. They need to find the words.

Creating Identity Through Talk

Shana and Katy’s message from the heart for every teacher to keep in mind… 

We want teachers to remember that the heart of being a good teacher is knowing your students well. When talk is centered across the curriculum, students have abundant opportunities to reveal themselves as readers and writers, researchers and activists.

Shana Frazin & Katy Wischow

A student-centered approach to teaching rests on knowing who they are and being fully present when you are with them.


Thank you, Shana Frazin & Katy Wischow for authoring this beautiful book, Unlocking the Power of Classroom Talk.