Cultures and Literacies
The concept of literacy has been significantly changing during the last several decades due to the digital revolution and invention of new information storage media. The common types of literacies during my study in high school were books relevant to the subject (if one could find them) and the online databases such as Wikipedia and other educational websites. It was evident back then, and it is even more evident now that new literacies are in many ways more effective than their previous forms because they can provide information much faster than any books or print media. Therefore, teachers should not avoid using new literacies and new media as tools for teaching and learning; instead, they should be encouraged because modern students will have a hard time learning without them.
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However, the issue of new literacies is their potential to distract and interfere with learning, as well as discourage it by providing instant answers and reflections. When used unwisely and without extent, new literacies can disrupt one’s ability to learn, although, as it appears, not critically. Thus, new literacies should be used in the classroom as complimentary tools that are allowed to enhance the learning process but prohibited as soon as they start interfering with it.
The next problem linked to the new literacies is students’ access to them. Most of the new classrooms have Internet access, but there are students who are more proficient in using online resources than others. This can lead to difficulties and challenges for those students who have trouble using computers and browsing the Internet. Moreover, students with disabilities can also face barriers when working with online resources. As a teacher, I can present the necessary information in different forms, provide print texts with their digital copies and vice versa. It should also be taken into consideration that students who do not have Internet access at home or who have limited access to online sources need to be supported by the teacher or the school (e.g. if the teacher decides to provide a YouTube link as homework, she or he also needs to provide the video to those students who cannot access it). Schools can help such students learn by allowing them to visit the computer classes to complete their homework.
The diversity of cultures is another theme that should be addressed by all teachers to ensure that all students take part in the learning process. None of the students wants to feel left out, especially if they represent another culture compared to the majority of students in the classroom. Therefore, I believe it is crucial to teach children about cultural differences and similarities, to explore beliefs, traditions, and holidays in a creative way, to address the history of cultures. Such classes are needed to ensure that all students have the ability to discuss and represent their culture, as well as the culture of others. Moreover, the deep understanding of one’s culture also leads to the increased awareness of possible privileges or discriminations linked to it. These issues should not be neglected; instead, teachers should show how students can investigate the impact of cultures on their daily life and the life of others.
Another way to address cultures is to present texts that discuss students’ cultures for analysis; this way, students will learn about dialects and languages that they might have never encountered before even if their classmates are representatives of this culture. Careful and thoughtful approach to cultures encourages respect and curiosity towards them.
One of the steps often implemented by teachers is increasing awareness by physically presenting words in the classroom. For example, students are introduced to one or several texts during the week. When the week is ending, the teacher can suggest voting for the “words of the week”, i.e. those words that students regard as the most challenging or the most curious or the most misspelled ones. Using this approach, the teacher can increase students’ awareness of new words; furthermore, the teacher can also ask students to use this word at home and in their writing (but only if relevant) to see if the word is understood correctly.
The word or words of the week can also be the ones that were used more frequently during the week. When talking about the word, the teacher can ask students to quickly think about sentences that can include this word and make sense at the same time. Thus, the teacher can evaluate students who will provide examples to see if the word is used in the right context. Each week students will be able to learn a new word or comprehend its meaning better and be more aware of it next time when it is used in a text.
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The next step can be comparing and discussing one’s favorite words during the discussion session. “New” words introduced to students and “old” words that everybody is aware of can be presented as favorite ones; if a student shows their favorite word, they also need to explain what exactly this word means or in what contexts (i.e. sentence) it can be used. This type of exercise is frequently used when teaching English as a second language; however, teachers often do not realize the potential of this activity for students who are native English speakers. Discussing and explaining one’s favorite words will make them more comprehensible; next time when students will face one of these words during the reading, it is most likely that they will recall its meaning. Furthermore, this exercise also implies students are “conscious that words have specific meanings and… [students can] reflect on their meanings” (Otto, 2015, p. 175).
To encourage independent work on words in the content area, students can make a word collection journal where they will write down all the words they found interesting, confusing, or fun during their reading. Thus, students will be encouraged to pay attention to words in class readings but, at the same time, they will work on this journal independently. As soon as the reading of a particular material is over, students can introduce their collection journals to each other to compare what words each of them decided to add. It is possible that some of the words will repeat in different journals; next time when reading or writing the word, students will have less trouble remembering how the word is written or spelled.
Students can have a hard time understanding or determining the meaning of an unknown word, and the steps presented above can reduce the anxiety or stress related to these activities. The problem of confusing or boring texts, as students define them, often roots in new, unfamiliar words that students cannot recognize and use in a conversation; therefore, word awareness is crucial for students’ motivation to read a text. After discussing their favorite words or collecting them in a neat journal, students will see that discovering new words can be fun and entertaining. This, in return, can motivate students to try reading independently or with parents’ assistance at home. Teaching students to become aware of specific domains of words can result in better productivity during the reading.
Knowledge of the Reading Process
If a teacher is aware of how the reading process flows, this awareness will suit them as a supporting tool in making teaching and studying more efficient. Reading comprehension is “the construction of meaning of a written or spoken communication through a reciprocal, holistic interchange of ideas between the interpreter and the message” (McLaughlin, 2012, p. 432). In the article, the author points out that the social constructive nature of reading and comprehension is based on the assumption that readers enhance their understanding when they communicate with others about the meaning of a text or any other type of information media (McLaughlin, 2012). Therefore, students need to be involved in discussions about subjects and themes to construct the meaning(s) of the text.
Some of the readers can engage different strategies when reading a text; using them, readers use the knowledge they have to process the text strategically (McLaughlin, 2012). They also generate and ask questions when encountering different parts of the text; these questions help them discover new information, “hidden” in the text (McLaughlin, 2012). Students can also use context clues and re-reading strategies to understand more complicated sections of the text (McLaughlin, 2012). The teacher can utilize the same strategies when working with students on a complicated text; some of them will try using these strategies independently, while others might ask for assistance. Nevertheless, the reading process will be more efficient for both types of the readers if they will try to follow at least one of the strategies provided by the teacher. The reading process often demands to ask questions, especially when the meaning or the message of the text are too complicated to define. As McLaughlin (2012) points out, good readers can also differentiate when they construct a meaning and when not. For elementary and middle school students it might be a difficult task, but high school students are capable of distinguishing between the idea they generated and the one that is present in the text. Thus, this approach can be engaged when working with high school students who are struggling to understand the idea of a text. Although generating ideas about a text is not a bad ability per se, it can negatively influence the comprehension and perception of the text.
The teacher can also try introducing this knowledge to students to help them develop individual reading strategies. For example, the teacher can discuss previewing and self-questioning as essential parts of reading, and ask students engage these strategies not only when they are reading but also when they are writing. This will make students’ reading easier due to the previewing that will evoke their background knowledge of the material. During writing, students will be more aware of what and how they are discussing a problem by asking themselves questions related to the issue.
Another important part of every reading process is the reader’s interest in text. Complex texts can be challenging, but if students are interested in this text, the reading process will not be burdened by students’ lack of motivation. Those students who are not interested in reading at all might have had a negative experience with complex and not suitable texts, which eventually made students think that reading is generally boring and complicated. That is why it is crucial for the teacher to understand how the complexity of the text influences students’ perception of it. Too complex texts should be avoided. Furthermore, students should also have the opportunity to choose between different texts. It is reasonable to suggest that the teacher can provide several texts on various topics with the same level of complexity and let students choose which of the texts will be analyzed during the reading session.
One of the efficient strategies to incorporate writing in the teaching process is to ask students to create and fill reading journals that will be related to the course material. On the one hand, reading journals stimulate students to use their imagination and creativity in describing and approaching the studied texts. On the other hand, students can reflect upon the expressed ideas using their writing, which can improve their writing skills and help them notice what kinds of mistakes they often make. I also find it reasonable to ask students to provide their reading journals to the teacher so that the teacher can take part in their reflections as well. Moreover, such strategy will help the teacher evaluate whether or not writing is integrated successfully and how students use their writing in text analysis. Writing out ideas can help students develop a better understanding of complex texts in the course material.
Another approach towards the integration of writing can have the following form: students will be asked to write a short essay about the key concepts and words they learned during the class. Complicated essays linked to the reading material in each of the content areas will be an unnecessary burden for students; that is why it is reasonable to provide students with easy, but routine writing tasks that have the potential to foster students’ writing skills. Moreover, the teacher should also ensure that the texts she or he provides are various, and do not only include excerpts from textbooks. This needs to be done because students’ exposure to different texts will help them to learn how to describe texts of various genres (essays, articles, poems, chapters from books, etc.). It is evident that different genres and pieces of information require the engagement of different writing techniques and methods.
The method used in the words awareness section can also be used to integrate writing. Students are to be asked to write down all words they find interesting in a text; students can also try finding synonyms or antonyms to these words and writing them down as well (if appropriate). Students can be asked to check one’s journals with words, revise and correct them if possible. Using this assignment, the teacher will have the opportunity to evaluate whether students are ready to develop their editing skills and if they are capable of detecting mistakes in the work of other students and their own.
When the previous activities are implemented, the teacher can ask his or her students to write a review or another material linked to the book (an essay, a detailed opinion, etc.). When the task is completed, students’ work can be displayed in the classroom or shared among them. One can expect that students will engage the background knowledge they gathered and the skills they developed to write the assignment because it will be seen as a competition. However, it is unadvisable to determine “a winner”, because this might negatively influence self-esteem of other students.
Generating ideas about a book in the written form is also a good opportunity to engage students’ writing skills. The teacher should also encourage students to take notes during reading so that students can use them when generating an idea or completing their journals. It is important to make lessons connected so that students are clear about the aims of these lessons and the goals that the teacher sets. If lessons’ materials are isolated from each other, students will have more difficulties in engaging their writing skills when completing an assignment that requires a variety of them: for example, students might forget about prewriting when composing their first essay.
“Increasing young children’s contact with print during shared reading” by Piasta et al.
In the reviewed article, the authors tested their hypothesis about the influence of an early contact with print on the children’s reading, comprehension, and spelling. The enhanced contact with print sources (newspapers, letters, magazines, etc.) resulted in “higher word reading, spelling, and comprehension outcomes” (Piasta, Justice, McGinty, & Kaderavek, 2012). Using the STAR program as a base, teachers in the assigned groups made references to print by asking questions such as “do you know this letter?” and tracking a sentence with their finger (Piasta et al., 2012, p. 813). Each print reference needed to be referenced at least twice (Piasta et al., 2012). The teachers in the control group had the same training and visited the same workshops as the teachers from groups with other conditions. However, teachers from the control group were not asked to make any explicit references to print sources; they engaged other high-quality reading practices (Piasta et al., 2012). “Phonological awareness and alphabet knowledge” were assessed as emergent literacy skills because they are capable of predicting the later reading success (Piasta et al., 2012, p. 815). To analyze the data, the authors used hierarchical linear models (Piasta et al., 2012).
One-year and two-year post intervention analyses showed that children who learned in the high-dose STAR condition had “higher word reading, spelling, and comprehension outcomes than children in the regular reading comparison condition” (Piasta et al., 2012, p. 816). Two-year post intervention showed that children who learned in the high-dose STAR condition had better results compared to children from the low-dose STAR condition group. Post hoc analysis supported the findings that children from the high-dose and low-dose STAR condition groups “demonstrated longitudinal advantages in language as compared with children in the comparison condition” (Piasta et al., 2012, p. 816). Therefore, as it can be seen, references to a print text during the reading sessions are related to the improved reading comprehension in early learners. As the authors point out, it is crucial to implement such reading strategies that will positively influence later reading comprehension, especially in those children “from disadvantaged backgrounds” (Piasta et al., 2012, p. 818). According to the authors, approximately 30 references to print are seen as beneficial, compared to 8.5 references that teachers normally make. Thus, it is possible to assume that increasing child’s access to print and encouraging contact with it can result in an enhancement of their reading skills.
“Suggestions and cautions for addressing text complexity” by Wixson & Valencia
The second article focuses on the instructional goals in text complexity and points out how teachers can transform the goals and assignments related to it to ensure that students can learn effectively. The CCSS-ELA Three-Part Model, argue the authors, needs to be revisited by teachers; instead of approaching it in a linear fashion (quantitative, qualitative, and reader and task), teachers need to begin with reader and task factors to measure text complexity (Wixson & Valencia, 2014). As the authors argue, text complexity is not inherent in the text, but it is a set of factors. Therefore, the instruction goals developed for an assignment need to take these factors into consideration. Thus, it is essential to pay attention to “the nature of the tasks in which they engage students” because teachers can control these factors (Wixson & Valencia, 2014, p. 431). The mode of response, the amount of text that students need to read, and the depth of the process influence the perception of text complexity. Therefore, the authors point out, teachers can “change” the complex nature of the text by providing different tasks and taking students’ ability to comprehend the text into consideration (Wixson & Valencia, 2014). It is unadvisable to use the Three-Part Model only because a greater focus on reader and task factors will help the teacher understand what goals and objectives need to be included in the instruction (Wixson & Valencia, 2014).
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The next suggestion provided by Wixson and Valencia (2014) is to approach the text and its content carefully. It is important to understand the relations between the text content and the goals the teacher sets (e.g. what students need to learn from reading). The teacher should also take into consideration that purposes, Standards, and knowledge the teacher expects students to engage will identify the most relevant task features (Wixson & Valencia, 2014).
The authors conclude that students need to read various types of texts; these texts can be easy for some and difficult for others. Therefore, students who can read grade-level materials independently need to be introduced to other materials, more complicated ones if they are interested. Students who have difficulties with grade-level materials need “instruction and practice… at their specific instructional levels” (Wixson & Valencia, 2014, p. 434). The strategies suggested by Wixson and Valencia (2014) can be used as a supporting guide when developing instructional goals for content readers.
“Use of the outdoor classroom and nature-study to support science and literacy learning” by Eick
The next article summarizes the strategies that can be used to engage writing and reading in other content areas of the curriculum. As the author points out, the teacher examined in the case study uses the outdoor classroom to meet the science and language arts standards (Eick, 2012). The teacher used the outdoor classroom to introduce children to some of the concepts and ideas taught during the science classes; she encouraged examination of insects, plants, and trees and fostered interaction with nature during recess (Eick, 2012). During language arts classes, the teacher selected those texts that aligned with the topics in the nature class, for example, books or poems about trees. Furthermore, the writing assignments were also linked to the science classes – students described their experiences in the outdoor classroom, wrote about their butterfly garden, or “being a water droplet in the water cycle” (Eick, 2012, p. 797). However, the test scores did not always correspond with the demands expressed in the Standards, and the teacher was not sure whether this approach was always right.
As Eick (2012) points out, describing outdoor activities was especially exciting for students with lower achievements because such assignments boosted their self-esteem. In the presented case, science curriculum was used as reading content for students, and the experiences during the outdoor classes were used as the content for writing classes. The difference from other strategies was the teacher’s decision to link the experiences to reading and writing; students were provided with a meaningful context they could relate to during their reading and writing activities. As Eick (2012) points out, this relation between contents and experiences helped students develop an additional motivation to complete the tasks presented in the language arts area because they were already familiar with the topics. Furthermore, writing also helped students develop a better understanding of the facts they learned during the science class. Students were capable of reflecting their experiences and describing them, which positively influenced their literacy skills, as well as scientific knowledge.
The real-world context connected to the reading and writing areas is a framework that other teachers can also use if they wish to connect two or more content areas. As the study shows, children are more motivated to read and write about those facts they are familiar with.
Eick, C. J. (2012). Use of the outdoor classroom and nature-study to support science and literacy learning: A narrative case study of a third-grade classroom. Journal of Science Teacher Education, 23(7), 789-803.
McLaughlin, M. (2012). Reading comprehension: What every teacher needs to know. The Reading Teacher, 65(7), 432-440.
Otto, B. (2015). Literacy development in early childhood: Reflective teaching for birth to age eight. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.
Piasta, S. B., Justice, L. M., McGinty, A. S., & Kaderavek, J. N. (2012). Increasing young children’s contact with print during shared reading: Longitudinal effects on literacy achievement. Child Development, 83(3), 810-820.
Wixson, K. K., & Valencia, S. W. (2014). CCSS‐ELA. Suggestions and cautions for addressing text complexity. The Reading Teacher, 67(6), 430-434.