Literacy Advocate 04.11.20

“Keeping It Authentic” 

I hope all of you are doing well this morning! On Thursday, the governor of our state said schools would be closed for the remainder of the school year. Whereas this certainly poses a multitude of challenges for all of us, this time of remote learning has made me think about one word: authentic. 

Many of us are wondering how to “do school” in this time of remote learning. I have thought a lot about this, and, yes, maybe we cannot “do school” in the same ways as we have before.  But I think what we can have our students – from kindergarteners to college students – do is engage in authentic literacy practices. 

And I think that in doing so, we can honor students’ time and make things a bit easier on their families. Quite simply, I think that if we are asking students to read and write a bit each week, we are doing what we need to do right now. 

We can still invite students to read in the ways that real people read.

People in the real world do not answer five multiple-choice questions after each passage. They do not get timed when they read. And books at the bookstore are not separated by levels. 

So what can we do to encourage students to engage in the types of reading experiences in which real readers engage? 

We can still read aloud to students (recording a Zoom chat or sharing with them sites, like Storyline Online, that let them hear fluent readers and get lost in a good story). I also just read about the read alouds from the Indianapolis Public Library.

We can still encourage families to read together – however that might look in their homes. We can ask families to think about all the ways they read together during this time of learning from home. So many real-world reading lessons can be had by encouraging families to cook together or follow the directions of a game.

We can still encourage students to read on their own during this time. Hopefully, they will have access to books, but, if not, there are many sites and public libraries that are giving readers free access to books during this time.

We can still have students share with classmates what they are reading to emphasize reading’s social aspects. Asking students to add to an ongoing Flipgrid or Padlet about the book(s) they are currently reading can keep the classroom community going in this time.

We can still invite students to write in the ways that real people write.

Pieces in the real world do not have to have five paragraphs. Writers do not write “for the teacher.” 

So what can we do to encourage students to compose real pieces for authentic audiences like real writers do? 

We can still ask students to compose pieces that are personally relevant. In a recent Facebook chat I watched, Kylene Beers and Ernest Morrell shared that certain students would be producing content during this time and certain students would be consuming content. What tools can we encourage students to use to produce content during this time? And I count pen and pencil and crayons as tools.

Some of the greatest posts I’ve seen lately are about teachers encouraging their students to write a bit each day during this time. I’ve been reading a lot about how student writing can really be firsthand accounts of this whole experience. When talking to students about purpose and audience, what could more authentic than detailing their experiences with what they are going through right now? My students are composing a podcast this semester, and I do hope that many of them will choose to create pieces that are centered around what they are experiencing.

We can still invite students to write about and for those who are most dear to them. Invite students to interview their family members and have them write family histories. Encourage students to write letters or emails to their family members who are not close. Of course, chalk writing has become a popular genre during this time of quarantine!

I am hopeful that after we return to our school buildings that we keep in mind what this remote learning period has taught us. In many ways, I think that what this time has allowed is a time to reflect about the literacy practices in which our students to engage.

Keeping our eyes on what is most authentic during this time will make not only our lives easier but also allow our students to be real readers and writers.

Sometimes I wonder if what we can do in all this, that is, having students engaging in real reading and writing, is maybe what some of our colleagues should have been doing all along.

I would love to know how you are “keeping it authentic” in your context!

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