Q&A: How technology boosts literacy
May 6, 2019
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This blog post is sponsored by Participate

Literacy, long considered the cornerstone to all other academic success, has been less popular of a topic in recent years with the rise in focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects. Those topics, and the technology that often drives them, do not need to be separate from literacy initiatives though, according to Dr. Jennifer Williams, a senior education strategist at Participate. Supporting educators in professional learning around STEM and literacy can open the door of how to approach literacy instruction for students. SmartBrief was able to ask Williams more about her insight into literacy and technology and these are her answers to our questions.

Question: With big pushes in areas like STEM, is literacy being overlooked in classrooms?

Answer: As a literacy specialist, it has been remarkable to see emphasis placed on science, technology, engineering and math in classrooms in the past 10 years. I think the great part, too, is that acceleration on STEM efforts in teaching and learning doesn’t appear to be slowing down anytime soon!

In terms of literacy, STEM has been quite an amplifier! Instead of as a competing force, I have seen the push for STEM shine a big, bright light right back on reading and writing. Innovative teachers today are able to contextualize concepts and apply literacy directly into STEM lessons -- computational and critical thinking, communication of ideas and disciplinary vocabulary all part of the process.

We are also seeing new and exciting work around digital literacy, media literacy and technical literacies. Teaching is supercharged and students, now more than ever, are able to see the importance of reading, writing, listening and speaking as they experience learning through real-world projects -- in the literacy classroom and across the STEM curricula.

Q: Are there specific literacy skill sets that teachers need continual training to master?

A: The technology of the time, be it 50 years ago or 50 years from now, opens new opportunities to help students make connections with concepts and ideas. As students today are working toward becoming better communicators, collaborators and critical consumers of information, teachers are also working on developing these skills themselves. Similar to teachers within any content area, literacy practitioners will always find that lifelong learning is essential as new technologies and instructional design strategies come.

Teachers who we talk to are increasingly requesting trainings centered on the role of literacy within initiatives such as project-based learning, social-emotional learning and global collaboration. They are seeing value in bringing ideas to life by pulling learning out of textbooks and exploring in hands-on and minds-on processes of design and discovery. And, as they work to find ways to personalize instruction for students, teachers are also seeking out learning for themselves that is customized, relevant, and fun!

Q: What advantages do micro-credentials offer districts/organizations? Teachers?

A: Schools and districts committed to supporting teachers as life-long learners understand the importance of creating high-quality learning experiences and development of skills. By building out customized micro-credential pathways for teachers, they are able to provide the infrastructure for competency-based professional development programs. With micro-credential pathways in place, teachers can then dive into new learning around initiatives, including STEM, literacy, innovative assessment practice, support of English Learners, and so on, with learning as a constant journey.

Micro-credentials help tell that story of the teacher’s learning journey. With digital badges providing means to package, share, and track professional growth, schools and districts gain visibility into their teachers’ experiences and levels of expertise. Districts and schools better understanding the talent within the walls of the classrooms can celebrate successes by recognizing accomplishments and scale out new learning by empowering teachers to become the valued experts in the community.

Q: In your experience, what are some of the most important “soft skills” that classroom teachers need?

A: Teachers, by design, are natural connectors. They find ways to connect students to new ideas and support them in developing a love of learning. To do that, they must be masterful communicators: teachers as brilliant storytellers, teachers as empathetic listeners, teachers as models of perspective taking, kindness, problem-solving and cooperation.

Q: If you were starting over as an educator today, what areas of specialty or skill sets would you make sure you obtained?

A: This is a fun question! My own path into education as a profession was rather untraditional. As a speech-language pathologist, my training and academic research were in the sciences. As I moved into education and into working as a literacy specialist, I quickly began to understand teaching and learning collectively as more of an artform.

Now, after many years of teaching at all levels, I have also come to realize the importance of artfully crafting and delivering stories in a way where students feel we are speaking right to them, their interests and their needs.

If I were starting over as an educator today? This is great to think on. I would love to see marketing and instructional design courses prioritized in preservice teacher training and in new teacher training programs. In my role at Participate, I continue to learn so much from our amazing marketing and instructional design teams! It is the type of learning I think so many teachers could apply into the classroom right away!

Q: How can educators support teachers in obtaining and recognizing those skill sets?

A: A well-developed micro-credential infrastructure supports a transparent culture of learning at every level within a learning organization. Through needs assessment to learning experience identification then through demonstration of new learning and recognition of learning, teachers, coaches, school administrators and district leaders all can join into the conversation of learning.

As a community with a shared purpose and shared language, areas for growth and development can be determined and then opportunities for learning and coaching can be shared. Micro-credentials are viewable, downloadable, shareable and printable, and they display the earner’s name, date of issue, number of professional learning hours and specific competencies. Micro-credentials, therefore, become power-packed portfolios of learning showcasing mastery of skills and demonstration of deepened learning.

Are you ready to start a micro-credentialing system? Click here to collaborate with Participate.

Dr. Jennifer Williams is a senior education strategist at Participate. She is a professor at Saint Leo University in the College of Education and Graduate Education, and she serves on the Board of Directors for the International Literacy Association. Jennifer is the co-founder of Edcamp Tampa Bay, Edcamp Literacy, and TeachSDGs in coordination with the United Nations. She is a contributing author for Edutopia and Education Week and is currently authoring a book for educators with ISTE. You can connect with Jennifer on Twitter at @JenWilliamsEdu.