IDE Corp
Professional Development for Innovative Schools

Posts tagged writing

#LATICinsights: Social Learning Environments Accelerate Literacy Development

fotolia_kids-collab_xs_croppedIf you want to build literacy skills, leverage the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom as a social learning environment. Consider that students engage in problem-solving as part of a learning community in which they engage with teachers, outside experts, and one another. They spend their day speaking, listening, reading, and writing! It’s a veritable literacy playground, if you set it up well.

Problems and Solutions word on wooden table

Through the solution-finding process, students discuss what they know, what they need to learn, how they will learn, what they’ve found out, possible solutions, and how they will present the solution to others. In addition, the structures of the classroom provide myriad opportunities for teachers to build literacy skills outside of deliberate literacy instruction.

When I ask students what they like about the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, they invariably mention the ability to choose what they do when. That freedom is enhanced through literacy. Given students are motivated to control their own time and learning activities, teachers can use that motivation to deliberately build literacy skills. post-it-tenacity

  • Use your notes in the two-pocket folder to build vocabulary by using a word and then defining it.
  • Model strong language use on your activity list. Instead of saying, “Read article on water cycle and draw your own,” say, “Peruse (read thoughtfully) the article on the water cycle and illustrate a depiction of your own.” Instead of “Write down your ideas from reading the story and meet with a group member to share ideas and agree on one main take-away,” say, “Generate and capture in writing your insights upon reading the story; meet with a colleague to collaborate on determining one, key insight to glean from the story.” If you want students to build language skills, you need to model them. Create a culture of literacy!
  • Have students use a design process to work through a problem, keeping a design notebook in which they write their findings and ideas. (The problem itself will promote reading.)
  • When you facilitate, ask students to tell you about what they’re doing and why. Engage in conversation! Introduce vocabulary words there as well.

Below is a grid on just some of the structures of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom through which teachers can build literacy skills.


Deliberate and purposeful use of language in the classroom paired with maximizing opportunities for students to speak, listen, read, and write are foundational to building a culture of literacy. Add to that direct instruction in literacy through learning activities; small-group, mini-lessons; and concept-based benchmark lessons, and you have the formula for accelerating literacy development. And with strong literacy skills, you can … change the world!








Are You Teaching Three-Dimensional Reading and Writing?

If we do not teach three-dimensional reading and writing in schools, we are cheating our students out of learning critical twenty-first century skills.

Throughout much of history, written language has been two-dimensional: across and writing historydown a page. Fundamentally, that has been due to the physical nature of putting thoughts onto cave walls, clay tablets, papyrus scrolls, and modern-day paper. The mind, alternatively, thinks by association: one idea links to another idea in a complex, interconnected web of thoughts. Humans have had to tame those thoughts in their writing.

Realizing the incongruence of thought and writing, In 1945, Vannevar Bush wrote the article, As We May Think, in which he proposes a future device, a Memex, that would store information and link it together based on associations. In 1963, Ted Nelson, coined the term “hypertext” and introduced it in a 1965 college lecture, explaining the potential ability of computers to represent information by association rather than linearly.

When the Internet first provided people with global access to information, the format tended to be that of articles or collections of texts. Soon, lists of links appeared in a column to the left or right, or at the top or bottom, which allowed the reader to follow a line of spontaneous thought related to the content. Next, the links migrated into the text itself, as in the case in this blog post.

Think about how you are reading this post. Do you read all the way through first, and then return to click on links? Do you click on the links that interest you as you read? Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 5.34.49 PMOnce in a linked text, do you follow other links in that text before returning to the original text? Do you ever fail to read the original text through to the end because you’ve become lost in links?

Given that students might become lost in an endless search for Web-based information on topics, webquests emerged as a way to engage students in inquiry while preselecting web-based resources for them to use. However, three-dimensional reading is a twenty-first century skill. We owe it to students to teach them how to follow a line of web-based inquiry in which they follow appropriate links, gather information, and find their way back, always keeping in mind their original purpose.

We build reading skills through writing. A great way to begin is to have students use a word processor to write “hyperlinking narratives:”

  1. Start by writing a composition on a topic and include an ending signal, such as “End of Composition.”
  2. Read the composition through the lens of the reader, asking yourself, “What words or phrases might raise questions for my reader and prompt the need for more information?” Highlight those words and pages.
  3. Add pages as needed after the composition ending signal for each of the words or phrases, and add more information, images, and links out to the Web for each (expansion section.)
  4. For each word or phrase expanded upon in the expansion section, create a “bookmark” to be able to link to the section, and then return to the composition to create links from the words or phrases to the corresponding bookmarks.

Students will begin to learn the web-like structure of 21st century writing, hyperlinking narratives. I first published the use of that phrase in a 2001 article on Temple University’s website called, Hyperlinking Narrative: An Idea Whose Time Has Come. The article has since been retired, and it seems this idea still has not come of age.

It’s time to build three-dimensional reading and writing into the curriculum and into ELA standards.