Connecting the Dots: Literacy-Technology-PA Core Standards-Bloom’s Taxonomy


Be willing to adapt and grow.  The more I thought about this month’s topic of ‘Best and Next Practices’, the more it hit me how many ‘best practices’ sometimes disappear, and how some, with the right modifications, can become next practices; as I was listing out different strategies and lessons that I thought may fit, the common thread that ran throughout, and that really can help any current ‘best practice’ possibly become a next practice, is how much the educator is willing to be learn, be flexible, and adapt whatever strategy he/she is using or lesson he/she is teaching to best fit his/her students, resources, and the ‘times.’

This practice of ‘adapting and growing’ has, for me at least, become incredibly relevant with the emergence of more and more technology in my teaching.  I thought I could best exemplify this through describing the anatomy and growth of an ELA project that has, over the course of the past 6 or so years, come to a point where it does reflect a high level of student thought, student creativity, and student work.  As each year progressed and each adaptation was implemented, it has become much clearer as to how this project, when prepared and implemented correctly, can explicitly represent how Web 2.0 tools can enhance student literacy skills and their progression throughout Bloom’s Taxonomy, as well as support and tie directly to the PA Common Core Standards. Even as the journey almost matters more than the destination, everything has to start somewhere.

About 5 or 6 years ago, a colleague and I were looking to put together a group project for a 12th grade unit that would not only match the content and purpose of the unit, but be student centered and, we hoped, would engage our classes.  The unit revolved around Revolution and Challenging the Status Quo, and our students were studying the life of Che Guevara; they were reading The Motorcycle Diaries, watching a ‘post The Motorcycle Diaries’ documentary called El Che: Investigating a Legend, and, through primary and secondary sources, taking in a variety of different perspectives (from his own daughter to Fidel Castro to Glenn Beck to pop culture to the U.S. Government) on Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.

Initially, we decided to use a ‘Multi-genre Writing’ format and to build the base of the project around the R.A.F.T. (Role-Audience-Format-Topic) literacy strategy, as we thought this would be an effective way for the students to continue to address the different perspectives they had been working with throughout the unit.  The students were to take on a multitude of roles or perspectives on Ernesto, and they were to create different writing pieces, letters, postcards, notes, to do lists, fables, essays, speeches, report cards, etc…, that could represent some view or aspect of Ernesto/Che’s life, friends, family, etc.  All of these pieces were to then be put together into a journal or scrapbook of sorts.  Initially, the project was to be done individually, but in the spirit of social learning we decided to allow the students to work in pairs or small groups.

Not a bad concept right? The students were allowed to be creative, eg- take on the role of the motorcycle and write a diagnostic report (to be written for and given to Ernesto) of your different machine parts and how they are handling the rigors of the varied terrains you are encountering etc. etc., show understanding of the differing views out there on this Icon, etc.  During the first go around or two we were relatively pleased.  We had some solid, creative projects.   Below are a few multi-genre examples from a scrapbook as well as a bulletin board (both, obviously possibly belonging to Che):

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As I mentioned, not a bad job for the first time through. We had students exploring the different perspectives on and sides to Ernesto through a variety of creative and interesting artifacts and writing pieces.  While reflecting on the project after its second year, my colleague and I felt something was missing…there was nothing tying it all together, no central thread.  Along with this, our district had just been saturated with technology. We had Macbooks for both teachers and students, as well as a ‘Technology Coach’ helping us become comfortable with the latest and greatest Web 2.0 tools for supporting instruction.  Following Wiggins and McTighe’s Understanding by Design concept, we took the 12th grade Essential Question, Who do I want to become and what impact do I want to have on the world around me, and turned it into Who did Ernest “Che” Guevara want to become and what impact did he have on the world around him; we found our common thread.  The students had to develop a thesis statement to answer these last two questions around Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and explore/support this through the multi-genre pieces they developed.

Along with this came the technology piece.  Rather than scrapping the entire project, we adapted by just allowing the students to create their writing pieces digitally, collaboratively.  Keeping the core of the project, the multi-genre writing, intact made sure they stayed focused on the skills and content of the unit; allowing for the use of technology led to much more collaboration out of class (and less ‘group work time’ in class), allowed the students to use tools they were familiar and comfortable with, and led to a much more dynamic and multifaceted product. Students were not just writing a variety of pieces, but they were creating pictographs, info graphics, producing videos, and  using other web 2.0 tools (like a collaborative timeline software) to address the assignment.  They were using the top level, Creating, of Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy.

Here is an example of this:

Looking at the project for this year, we thought…what next? Enter the Common Core Standards.  While we have not worked out the specifics yet, just looking at the overarching writing standard 1.4-Students write for different purposes and audiences. Students write clear and focused text to convey a well-defined perspective and appropriate content, we think we’re in a pretty good starting place to make some changes and refine not only the project, but our teaching and prep work leading up to it as well.

As educators we are faced with a rapidly changing landscape.  Answering a question like, how do we help students learn to use technology to support literacy and critical thinking so that they are meeting the rigor of the Common Core Standards, as well as operating at the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy, carries no easy answers.  It would be easy to get overwhelmed by all of the teaching/literacy strategies that exist (which is best?), by all of the technology that seems to change almost daily (can there even be a next to grab onto before it becomes obsolete?), and by the intense focus on student achievement data to drive instruction (the new PA Common Core Standards, Anchors and Eligible Content all seem to streamline this process and make it much more manageable than before). So how do we survive? How do we make sure we’re riding the wave of what’s next? What’s best? My though: be willing to adapt and grow.

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