Literacy Advocate 3.13.2020

Hello everyone!

Like so many others around the nation, my institution decided to move courses online for a few weeks. As a literacy teacher educator, I am particularly interested in how to move my face-to-face courses online in a few days.

I LOVE teaching online courses, but structuring an online course from the very beginning looks a bit different than taking a face-to-face online in the middle of the semester. Or does it?

I asked my students (all future teachers) to use this time to think as teachers. What would they do if they were asked to move their instruction online? I have opened up a Twitter and discussion board space in which my students can share their ideas. I’m hoping I’ll learn a lot from them!

As I consider the most important course elements to put into online spaces, I want to share some of my ideas for taking courses online. And I hope that you share some ideas with me, too! 

I love having in-class discussions. At a small institution, we are lucky that we can have seminar-like classes during most of our classes. So, how am I thinking about replicating our discussions in online spaces? 

Our institution uses Canvas as its online learning management system, so discussion boards can work. In my own online courses for my reading specialist endorsement, I have seen discussion forums where students cannot see others’ posts until they have posted. These discussions have been some of the strongest I have seen in Canvas!

I told my students we will use Twitter a bit more. Each of my courses already has a hashtag, so discussions could even be more authentic (possibly even involving experts in the field who could join in because of the public nature of Twitter chats) in this space. Slow chats (chats that occur over multiple days) could also allow students to chime in when they are able. Asking students to follow other literacy professionals (e.g., teachers, professors, experts, authors, etc.) is a good way for our students to be part of a larger discussion. Twitter chats also permit students to share resources (e.g., book titles, links to professional sites, etc.) with other professionals in the ways that I hope they do once they are practicing teachers.

I also like using Flipgrid as a discussion tool because each student can create a brief video in response to a question and then share ideas with their classmates.  Voicethread is also a helpful took that I have used before. If you want to use a backchannel, my students and I have used YoTeach! before. I’m also thinking about the possibilities of using other social media spaces (e.g., Snapchat and Pinterest) to communicate with students. Goodreads also has several possibilities for taking discussions about particular books online. They have public and private spaces. (If you’d like to join our department’s online discussion about Raina Telgemier’s Guts, please join us here.)

How am I thinking about delivering content?  I don’t lecture a tremendous amount, but I do usually share the most poignant parts of our course readings in mini-lectures. I can simply post course PowerPoints with audio to our learning management system. Like I’ve done for previous face-to-face courses, I might also record short videos on Zoom, YouTube, or Flipgrid and post these to our course sites or Twitter feeds. I also think posting assignment videos in addition to content videos are really helpful for students, who can return to the videos as they are working independently on their work. Some of these I’ve already posted within my current course space in Canvas. In some ways, my online teaching does not look that different from the way I teach traditional face-to-face courses.  

Another way to think about delivering content is to think about the resources in our field that can most help our students think about literacy practices. I am a fan of Annenberg Learner. I especially like their instructional videos because teachers can see real classrooms in action. I also have incorporated videos from Teaching Channel into my practice before. Asking preservice teachers who want to teach particular grades to watch specific videos is an example of how I differentiate in online spaces. 

Also, do not forget to think about the online companions to your textbook. Many publishers include high-quality online videos for their textbooks. Assigning podcasts from Voice of Literacy might also be a really great way to introduce students to content and provide them exposure to professional resources they can use when they begin their teaching career.

Permitting students to do a bit of their own online professional development during this time might also be a way to make their learning more authentic. Dr. Molly Ness’s End Book Deserts project includes several podcasts that may be of interest to your students. Inviting students to share what they have found related to course content on Twitter or in online discussion boards can help preservice teachers feel more confident in their abilities to drive their own professional learning.

How am I thinking about assessments? I know some of us are concerned about assessments and how to put traditional assessments online. And I certainly acknowledge that there are discipline-specific elements that make particular assessments necessary in certain situations. You could put assessments online within the course management system at the particular institution where you are.

I’m thinking of giving my students options with their upcoming presentations. I may tell them I would love to see them instead of just slides but how I see them is up to them. Because in a face-to-face setting their presentations would have been really interactive, I want them to learn the skills needed to find tools that will help them present in online spaces. I want my preservice teachers to explore new tools (perhaps some I am unfamiliar with) and to incorporate them into their work.

But I also wonder if this might be an opportunity to think about an assessment that looks more like what our future students will do as teachers. Moving instruction online might help us think about the assessments that we are giving our students. I think that because so many of my assessments are real-world assessments (e.g., creative methods presentations, handout for parents about creativity featured in children’s literature, independent passion projects, etc.), I might have an easier time with assessments during our online instruction period.

What if we had our students write their own position statements in line with NCTE’s Position Statements or ILA’s Position Statements to show their course knowledge? What if they wrote practitioner articles in line with some of our professional journals, like The Reading Teacher?

How do we keep future teachers engaged in children’s literature and reading throughout this online instruction time? If you’re looking for read-alouds to share with students, I love the site Storyline Online. The book trailers Scholastic puts out are also really great.

Helping our students think about how practicing teachers are connecting students with authors who are not able to make school visits right now could really inspire them to think about how they will do this when they have classrooms of their own. Teachers like Ginette Garrity have created a Flipgrid to connect students with authors. Many children’s, middle grades, and young adult authors are also sharing their ideas on Twitter. Of course, assigning book reviews from Kirkus Reviews, The Horn Book, or the New York Times is another way to help our students stay current on contemporary children’s literature.

In many ways, I think we’ll get to the end of our online learning period feeling that we have learned a lot. My hope is that the future teachers with whom I work will embrace this opportunity to learn and engage in ways they may have never done before. So how will this online learning period transform what it means to be a literacy teacher educator? I guess I’m about to find out!

Please share your ideas with me!

And if you’d like to listen to the podcast version of this blog post, click here.

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