Reading, Writing, & Thinking: Cross-Curricular Literacy Initiatives

By Smith, Tara | Technology & Learning, December 2017 | Go to article overview

Reading, Writing, & Thinking: Cross-Curricular Literacy Initiatives


Smith, Tara, Technology & Learning


Innovative educators know that students preparing for the challenges of work and further study in our ever-changing world need to achieve fluency and comprehension--but they also need to develop higher-level thinking skills and build deep knowledge. The following schools and districts are using edtech tools to integrate literacy skills across the curricula.

LESSONS OUTSIDE THE BOX

Students returned to St. Martin East Elementary in the Jackson (MS) County School District after Thanksgiving break to discover a winter wonderland. With lessons from i-Ready ("Penguin Chick") and Ready ("Frozen Desserts"), teachers incorporated this magical transformation into multisensory instruction to teach reading skills.

As a result of the school's new PURE classroom initiative, which encourages teachers to teach with passion, urgency, rigor, and high expectations, teachers are including more such "outside the box" lessons in their weekly plans. Classrooms are coming alive and "multisensory lessons and high expectations that integrate math, science, social studies, and language arts are common in every classroom," says Assistant Principal Jillian Vallo.

Multiple resources, including live video streaming, interactive games (Kahoots), and virtual field trips all contribute to creating these cross-curricular learning opportunities. Using the Ready program, for example, teachers can bring literacy lessons using scientific- and geography-based passages alive by showing videos from around the world.

The increased engagement among students is palpable. "We have seen low performing students who were apathetic about coming to school evolve into higher-performing students excited about learning," says Vallo.

COLLABORATION AND PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT ARE KEY

"The cross-curricular initiative at St. Martin East sometimes leaves teachers struggling to know whether they are teaching standards to mastery level," says Vallo. Encouraging teachers to plan with the end in mind, she says, in addition to providing time for teacher collaboration and increased teacher capacity in all areas of technology through PLCs, are essential. "Teacher ownership, exposure, and consistency are critical for success."

WORKING HARD AT THINKING HARD

Thanks to Common Core, "students can't just regurgitate what they read anymore," says educational specialist Lisa Tanner. Even struggling students in Tanner's special ed ELA classes at Walnut High School in Los Angeles County are learning to analyze, infer, reflect, extrapolate, discuss, and cite supporting text.

Tanner's students benefit from two-class block periods, one of which is dedicated to individualized instruction using LANGUAGE! Live, an intensive intervention program for grades 5-12, and the other to direct instruction. It's a comprehensive, research-based program, Tanner says, that teaches all the components of being a reader, writer, and thinker so that students have a deeper foundation for transitioning successfully into general education classes. With these gaps closed, many students are also able to access other cross-curricular classes like history and science.

BEYOND EXPECTATIONS

The literacy tools and strategies these students learn also give them the confidence necessary to achieve what they never thought possible. Because they've always found reading and writing such a struggle, many freshmen in Tanner's classes have never thought of college as a realistic option. But when they take these key literacy skills into general education classes and realize they can be successful, many of them go on to complete two- and even four-year degrees.

BUILDING CONFIDENCE AND REASONING SKILLS

How can teachers make writing more "hands on" and engaging for students while also teaching them close reading strategies in all content areas? At Corona Arts & Sciences Academy (CASA) in New York City, where "literacy is the life blood of education," Principal Beth Hert, Assistant Principal Amanda Gardener, teacher April Taitt, and team are in their third year of using ThinkCERCA with their Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) classes. …

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