As the site Literacy Facilitator at my New Tech school, I’ve been faced this year with just a bit more than anyone else making the transition to a PBL or 1:1 classroom. After the New Tech Annual Conference last August, I had some of my foundations shaken by how much student empowerment was going to be expected as part of the New Tech program I was joining. I walked on during one of the organization’s, and subsequently my school’s, biggest conversations over how to better incorporate reading and writing skills into the vision we all shared for the 21st century student.
At my school, I began providing some professional development on reading skills and strategies that were familiar to me (skills and strategies that I had used as a reading interventionist for my last school. Little did I know that some great work was happening behind the scenes at New Tech Network to develop very useful tools and resources that would really change the process through which I would develop reading and writing tasks…) I struggled providing professional development using some of the methods I was accustomed to as a traditional teacher. It’s not to say that they weren’t relevant anymore, but it’s more that they were entirely different ways of scaffolding tasks that were hard to translate into a 1:1 environment. In PBL, we still use graphics organizers; we still scaffold reading; but perhaps we don’t isolate the reading/content from the writing as much, which is a realization I had only too late in the year. What I know now from reflection on this practical experience is what good theory and research has told us for years. When it comes to authentic literacy, there is a great “role for writing: as an effective tool for improving students’ reading.”
Since the initial professional development I provided, I’ve spent a lot of time going back to what’s been provided by our parent organization, New Tech Network. It’s the first year of a great literacy initiative, and one that has resulting in a plethora of resources. However, I just got buried. I’m not one to set five minutes away each day to learn something. If I get a window, I barrel through and single-task until I teach myself new. So, one day after school, I started taking notes on the process of how New Tech was expecting teacher/facilitators to use a new module called the Literacy Task. With so much text flying around and so many Chrome tabs open, I had my own troubles ‘reading and comprehending’ (so to speak) the resources.
So, I did what I’ve done for years when I get into a processing slump… I mapped out what was going on in my head. I started making sense of why the steps and resources were put where they were. And then our school-wide Common Core curriculum meetings started sneaking back into my head, and wham! Lightbulb moment…all of which was too precious to document in scribbled pencil on the blank side of an abandoned printout from earlier in the day. So, I made a Gliffy, which turned into a resource I’ve had great success with in better focusing my writing tasks and getting students to interact with content. The process of narrowing the purpose and targeting only specific skills at a time has really made the tasks richer. My writing task prompts from the first three quarters of the year always resulted in questions from students, but I, so far (fingers crossed), have had fewer questions and much better writing as a result of this new approach to writing a Literacy Task. What’s great is that it does make the Common Core cross-curricular literacy expectations easy to plan for and execute.
Below are just a sampling of some of the tasks that I’ve seen student growth in so far: