Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Time for some little ideas!

By little, I mean narrowly focused, not unimportant!

I've been frustrated lately by reading assignments that are way too difficult for students. I bet they have been even more frustrated than I have! This is particularly difficult when content area teachers are doing their best to bring in authentic reading material such as current news in the field. The problem is that such material is written at a level that precludes independent reading. Instead, students end up needing a great deal of support.

When teachers assign reading material, sometimes it is difficult to know until after students have done the reading whether the material is too easy or too advanced. Here are two tools that can make evaluating the reading level of text a little easier.

For a rough estimate, Microsoft Word has the option to evaluate readability statistics as part of the grammar and spelling check. You turn this feature on by clicking on the MS Office button in the upper left hand corner, clicking on Word Options, choosing "proofing", and checking the box that says "show readability statistics."

Copy and paste or type about 100 words of the text into MS Word and save. Then, when you are in a document, go to the reviewing toolbar and run the spelling and grammar check. At the very end of the check, you get a window with a Flesch-Kinkaid reading level. It's not perfect, and I personally think it skews a little low, particularly if the text has a lot of dialogue. However, it is a great quick and easy check that a reading selection isn't way off base.

The second tool is a program that you can download called Reading Rater that is free. It's nice to sometimes do a cross check between the two, but I have found them to be consistent.

Hope these are useful for you!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Are they or aren't they?

New literacies? Is 21st Century Literacy about something new? Or are they the same literacies that educators have always valued. I'm going to work some of the skills I hear about most throughout this entry, the terms will be in italics.

I like some of the work presented on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, particularly the social studies curriculum they've presented. But I also agree with Jay Matthews at the Washington Post (I'm sure he'll be thrilled to know of my support) when he says that "young Plato and his classmates did the same thing in ancient Greece." Communicating effectively is hardly a new skill.

So what's changed? Maybe it's the urgency? Some might think so, but the developing the ability to innovate has always been urgent for a child seeking to rise out of poverty. Same for problem solving.

So what is new? Developing media (or information) literacy means that students need to learn to analyze media for bias, artifice, motive. . . that's not so new, is it? However, given the ability of technology to simulate reality like never before, I think there's something to calling this a new literacy.

Creating knowledge used to be for the elite. For those who struggled through the "system" and made it to the pinnacle of higher learned and moved into the ivory towers or the glass towers of business. Now it's for everybody, a la Clay Shirky. I think this is where we start to see the promise of the conjunction of technology and knowledge in the 21st century. The fall of the gatekeepers. This era started when college dropouts built multi-billion dollar empires based on intellectual capital. I have a teacher friend who argues that saving money for a four-year old to go to college is pointless (I'm pretty sure she's doing it anyway). She says "no one is going to need to go to college to succeed in 14 years." Is she right? Is the time frame right?

Literacy in the old fashioned sense, the ability to read, still reigns as the most powerful 21st century skill in my mind. Reading is part of so many learning paths. Technology does not make reading unnecessary, technology makes reading even more essential. Knowledge is still stored and retrieved primarily in text form.

A few thoughts about why text still rules: Reading is faster than listening. Faster than watching video. A movie starts with a script (or it should). A good reader can skim or extract partial information. The reader has control and determines the pace with text--fast forwarding doesn't have the same effect. None of this means non-text media aren't also valuable, important, and fascinating.

So, back to the beginning--are these new literacies or not? Does it matter?

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Here Comes Everybody, my version

Happy New Year! You'll have to visit someone else's blog to get a top 10 list, resolutions, or anything particularly introspective. While on break, I like to have little ideas!

Over the holiday, we visited with my family in Florida. I'm not from there, but my parents moved there after they retired. While I was there, I was reading Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirky. I'm a big fan of his book and his talks, which are available on blip and YouTube. It's a great book and you should read it, but it's not what this post is about.

My mom commented on the cover, and I told her the story from the first chapter, about a woman who lost her cell phone in a taxi, the teen who found it, and the friend who made it his mission to use social networking to get the phone back. It's a good story, and you can read a brief version here.

Part of the story involves texting, which I knew my mom had heard of, but assumed she wasn't a user. I soon learned that my assumption was completely wrong. My mom and her friends have indeed been texting. They started as a way to quickly let each other know that surgeries had gone well/poorly from hospital waiting rooms. Texting got the word out quickly and allowed for more privacy than a call did. From there, texting has become part of this group's communication strategy just as it has for so many others.

I think of all the grousing teachers can do about technology and learning new tools. This group of retirees would put them to shame!

Who knew? I certainly didn't. Goes to show the truth of what they say about assumptions. . .