Literacy Lenses

Focusing on The Literacy Work that Matters

Spark Change: Making Your Mark in a Digital World

By Guest Blogger Carol Varsalona

In a new normal world, marked by remote learning and social distancing, student agency and the rise of student voice are essential. Children of 21st Century need access to tech tools to problem solve, collaborate, create, and connect with others. Championing these thoughts and bearing the banner, #KidsCanTeachUs, a young voice has emerged.  Ever since I met Liv VanLedtje several years ago, I knew she was destined to spark change in a global sense. Her enthusiasm for lifelong learning and the inquiry process has led her to make her mark at national and local conferences and on the world of education. With her mother, Cynthia Merrill, guiding her and helping her navigate the landscape of social media, sparks have been ignited to impact “kids” digital future.   

When the #G2Great community approached me to create one of their Literacy Lenses for the April 16, 2020 convo, I enthusiastically agreed. I knew that the book Spark Change was soon to be published, so when Dr. Mary Howard sent me her copy, I dug deep into it. I was struck immediately by the two-voice format, the attention to a digital mindset, connection to the ISTE standards, and the emphasis on student voice and agency. Liv’s quotes sprinkled throughout the book and her lists presented her global-minded approach to connecting learning and impacting the world in a positive way from a student perspective.

In an interview prior to the April chat, the #G2Great team asked Liv and Cynthia the following question about their book, Spark Change. What motivated you to write this book? What impact did you hope that it would have in the professional world? In their two-voice format, they responded. 

(Liv) For the past 4 years, I have been working on a project called LivBits. Each week, I make short videos for kids and teachers called LivBits. I call the videos this because they are a little bit of me, Liv, and a little bit of my thinking, bits. Put that altogether and you have LivBits! In my work, my mum and I noticed how incredible kids were with using tech to share their thinking. We knew putting together tech tools and kid passions created incredible thinking, and we wanted to write a book that would encourage more of this.

(Cynthia) Yes! Liv’s got it right. We really hope to move the needle on the technology conversation with our book and each chapter is framed as such. Given our current experience with COVID-19, we really believe the Spark Change message will resonate even more deeply. We also hope the conversation around equity, activism, and student voice continues when we get on the other side of this pandemic.

Knowing Liv and Cynthia, I have had the pleasure of watching them make national presentations with and without our Wonderopolis team. Liv’s enthusiastic approach to adding sparkle to every encounter has led me to value her message of allowing children to inquire, explore, and discover pathways to learning. Liv is a big believer in the power of wonder and Cynthia is a strong supporter so sparking change has been a developing call to action for them. Their collaborative effort in writing Spark Change is a culmination of their work in the field.

On April 16, 2020, the #G2Great conversation started with Jenn Hayhurst sending out Words of Wisdom images, such as:

Cynthia Merrill’s greetings noted: “No better time than the present to be talking about kids, tech, and change!” Liv shared one of her delightful LivBit videos that spoke about their book, Spark Change. 

In the Spark Change Book Trailer video,  Liv and Cynthia’s spoke of their call to action. This can be accessed at Vimeo here.

Question 1 asked tweeters to “Share some ways you’ve thought about tech access as a digital right for all students?” In her usual positive stance, Liv responded through a global lens.

Kathleen Sokowlski, Long Island educator, responded from her teacher point-of-view.

Dr. Mary Howard replied through a questioning framework.

Liv and I had an exchange online.

Each chat question that followed dealt with a different aspect of Spark Change, making the prompts suitable for a professional book talk, especially now during our COVID19 remote learning time. Topics other than Digital Rights that were explored in the chat were Digital Purpose, Digital Authenticity, Digital Exploration, Digital Creation, Digital Activism, and Digitial Future.

Toward the end of the #G2Great Twitter conversation, Sierra Gilbertson tweeted a thought echoed by Liv and Cynthia in their work.

The chat was filled with many heartbeeps, special moments. 

Prior to the chat the #G2Great team asked Liv and Cynthia two more questions. 

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

  • Access to technology isn’t a choice; it’s a right.
  • Students can lead the understanding around tech tools and schooling
  • Technology can globalize learning in ways that grow empathy and compassion for the world.

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

(Liv) I hope teachers read our book and feel heartbeeps for their work with students. I hope they will be the kind of grown up who will stand up for kids and technology. And, most of all, I hope they remember that kids can do important things for the world when we are given a chance. Please help us.

(Cynthia) I really couldn’t have said it better. I am so grateful to our readers for holding both of us in their hearts as they read Spark Change–Liv, as an example of a student or child they love, and me as a parent educator, who is working hard to elevate the narrative around kids, tech, platforms for sharing work, and learning. Thank you so much for taking this journey with us!

Liv and Cynthia have ignited sparks in the educational world. It is up to us educators to create a culture of inquiry and wonder, to build havens of joyful learning. We can be the difference makers in each classroom. We can be the guides offering choice options that lead students to narrate their stories and amplify their voices as digital citizens in a new normal educational environment. All it takes is positivity and determination to explore the world with different lenses, like Liv has done.

Carol Varsalona blogs at “Beyond Literacy Link” and is an ELA consultant, Wonder lead ambassador for Wonderopolis, and moderator of #NYEdChat. Further information is available on her blog here.

Maximizing Our Potential: Independent Application (4/5)

By Fran McVeigh

The curtain rose on our fourth chat in our “Maximizing Our Potential Focusing on the Literacy Work that Matters” with new friends from #LitBankStreet as well as other first time “chatters”, on October 4, 2018. It was quickly apparent that our topic was of great interest.  And yet, as I reviewed the Wakelet I wondered about how the topic of “Independent Application” fit into the context of the entire series.

As I began looking for patterns and themes in the tweets,  it dawned on me that all of these topics have some dependence on each other.  The way teachers and students “spend their time” depends upon what they value in terms of student-centered learning and independent work. Classroom design is dependent on the amount of access students have to the resources within the classroom as well as the amount of time allocated for learning and the priorities for learning. Student-Centered Learning also shapes the classroom design and the flexibility of Independent Application.  None really operate “in isolation” and that is both a blessing and a curse in education.  The research “says” so many variables are influencers but has a hard time pin-pointing with laser-like precision whether it’s “this” or “that” factor because instruction, curriculum and assessment have variables as do the teacher and the many students bodies facing the teacher. So let’s begin with a bit of a review.

Part 1 began with Val Kimmel’s post:Part 2 continued with Mary Howard’s post: Part 3 continued with Jenn Hayhurst’s post: And that brought me to this chat and part 4:  Independent Application

Quality Independent Application has many definite attributes. Quality implies that it is “worthy.”  Independent suggests that the goal is for the task to be done by the student without assistance. Application adds a layer of “work” to further instruction and practice. But what does that really look like?  Many teachers have had much practice using a gradual release of responsibility model that appears to place Independent Work in the final phase of the instructional cycle as the “You do it alone” work. But it could just as easily be that check or reflection at the beginning of the class period on yesterday’s learning.

Source Link

If we truly believe our goal as teachers is to provide a safe and nurturing classroom designed for optimal learning, filled with a community of self-directed learners we have to do less. The adults in the room have to establish the conditions that will increase agency and leadership in the students.  Kym summed this up in this tweet:So how do we get there? What does Quality Independent Application look like?

Includes Choice

Quality Instructional Application does NOT produce cookie cutter pages to fill a bulletin board in stencil fashion. It involves real choices that allow students to showcase their learning in different ways. This is not homework as we used to know it because students have the opportunity to make decisions about their learning products. Students could choose their final product: a song, a poem, artwork, a TedTalk or even an essay to provide evidence of their learning. We hear about this type of learning from students who say, “let us show you the different ways we know this.” Student passion for a topic can then drive their learning so fewer incentives are needed.

Is Authentic and Meaningful

Quality Instructional Application is NOT a worksheet or busy work. Instead it includes authentic and meaningful tasks that students will find in the real world. Real work and real world.  Not school work and the school world. Students are not asking “Why do we need to know this?” because that purpose has already been established within the classroom’s culture of learning.

Feedback Fuels the Work

Quality Instructional Application is NOT about a grade in the grade book or points earned for a completed task. It may be a conference with a peer or the teacher about the learning process and the product. It may be using checklists or rubrics to check understanding as well as plan next steps. Feedback is also about comparing student work to mentor texts or student examples to deepen understanding about the task criteria. Feedback may be an excited utterance in the hall or a whispered reflection from the student that names the student learning. During the learning process approximations are valued and students know where they are because the learning targets are clear and concise. Self awareness, reflection and processing are valued as students continue to progress through learning cycles.

Includes Practice for Transfer

Quality Instructional Application is NOT about a race for mastery of standards and learning objectives in lock step fashion.  It is about providing the time and practice necessary for deep learning so that students can and do independently use the learning across the day, in additional content areas, and in unique situations in the real world. Time for the practice that is needed means allowing for differences in student learning with a focus on helping students discover the ways that they best learn. How many times does Joey need to do the work before it all makes sense?

Promote Student Ownership

Quality Instructional Application is NOT sticker charts for every successful learning activity.  It is about learning tasks that are hard work and include productive struggle. Students will embrace challenges and learn that real work does come before success. FAIL equals “First Attempt in Learning.” If the student always “gets the learning” on the first practice, maybe it’s not challenging enough or maybe the expectations are too low. Or maybe students need to be more involved in the design and delivery of the learning experiences (that pesky student-centered learning). The confident smile on the face as evidence of learning means more than a grade and provides additional reasons to set students free on their own learning paths.

These five areas are characteristics that you might use when reflecting on Independent Application.  Where do you see them?  Where might you see more of them?  Which ones are most important to you and your students?

Additional Resources

Wakelet Link

Previous Posts

Part 1 Allocating Instructional Time

Part 2 Classroom Design

Part 3 Student-Centered Learning

Teaching With Heart: Unlocking Growth Through Mindsets and Moves

by Jenn Hayhurst

Picture for Gravity

Springtime makes promises: Yes more light will fill your days. Yes new life will color your landscapes. Yes your world has begun a shift to something new. Teachers are always on the lookout for signs of change. Our work is to learn how to cultivate growth, to understand its process, and to help it thrive no matter the context. We rest our hopes on a small but powerful word – yet.  When teachers use a mindset that embraces the power of yet, they make promises: Yes I believe in you. Yes I will help you. Yes together, we will find the next step in the journey.

So it seems like perfect timing that Gravity Goldberg hosted #G2Great Thursday, March 24, 2016. In her book, Mindsets and Moves, Gravity challenges teachers to honor growth in all its forms. Her work reminds us to make choices that value individual learners and the unique process that each will experience. Learning something new is seldom easy so if we are going to live and breathe a growth mindset our instruction needs to deal with struggle in strategic ways:Q1 Answers


Admiration: Gravity’s work celebrates an admiring lens. All students are worthy of  study, and we should regard them with a sense of wonder and curiosity. This beautiful stance embraces where they are and place trust in their potential for growth:

Answers to Question 2The Gradual Release: We offer the support students need and then work to move them toward independence. Students shape the path for learning so that our teaching has relevance. The message was clear that the more we bring students into the process the more meaningful learning becomes:

Answers to Q3Student Centered: Gravity’s work inspired reflection for the intellectual worlds we create for students. Let’s co-construct spaces for wonderment, choice, and demonstration. When teachers are expert learners rather than holders of knowledge, we reach a higher standard of rigor:Answers to Q4

Ownership: The chat began to converge on this topic and our message is ownership is the antidote to learned complacency. Thoughtful planning that supports collaborative work and independence is a sign that teachers are being responsive to students’ needs:

Answers to Q5 ...

Being Strategic:  This is different than teaching strategies. Being strategic demands an authentic  context. Whether it is: selecting a text, discovering new reading territories, or building libraries that promote connectedness. The strategy has to fill a genuine need:

Answers Q6

Problem Solving: Students are meant to be active participants who can articulate what they need next.  We name the challenge and put the learning in their hands.  When we give them time to work it out we are amplifying their learning process:


Feedback: is essential! Chatters agreed that when we take risks and push ourselves to learn more our students get the benefit of an authentic model.  When we provide clear and concise feedback, we help students to think through the process so that they can outgrow themselves:  

Answers to Question 8We invite you take the #G2Great Challenge

#G2Great ChallengeJust as springtime makes promises, we also make promises to our students. Yes, we will help our students find the next step in their growth journey. We are in this together, take Gravity’s advice back to the classroom.

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