Reframe Podcast: Episode 7

Refining (and Redefining) Literacy for a New Era of Teaching and Learning

High school classroom

In this episode . . .

We explore a unique partnership between high school and college students that is uses technology to build the digital and traditional literacy that are quickly becoming essential in new era of 21st century teaching and learning.

Read the transcript

James Loy:

This is Reframe, The podcast from the College of Education, Health and Society on the campus of Miami university.

In this episode . . .

We explore a unique partnership between high school and college students that is uses technology to build the digital and traditional literacy that are quickly becoming essential in 

new era of 21st century teaching and learning, 

Before they introduced themselves online, neither Paige nor Katie had ever met before. But soon, the students quickly bonded, established a rapport, developed trust, and cultivated a reciprocal relationship that unfolded in a unique digital space. They shared writing samples, replies, revisions, critiques, and conversations. Through these dynamic virtual interactions, both students were able to build many of the skills now essential for 21st century teaching and learning.

And so the Mentored Multigenre Project began. 

It is clear that education, as a whole, is changing. And as emerging digital, social, and global forces sweep across the entire landscape, most schools are faced with the challenge of preparing both educators and students for achievement in a rapidly evolving environment. 

Today, students today live in a world that is constantly mediated by technology. So using technology as a means of engaging students with learning is aligned with the ways in which students today access information and communication in their daily lives.

For effective educators, this will inevitably require leveraging the tools and resources needed to navigate complex and dynamic environments. It will also require developing and teaching a high degree of literacy to help students thrive.

But today, literacy is about more than just reading and writing. In fact, according to the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), “the 21st century demands that a literate person possess a wide range of abilities and competencies.” That is, many literacies, which demand digital technological proficiency, collaborative problem solving capabilities, and an ability to synthesize multiple information streams, as well as to critically analyze and create multimedia texts, and more. 

So Progress, in many ways, will be about rethinking not only what is taught, but how it is taught. And the quid pro quo, of course, is that this also necessitates an evolution of how future educators themselves are trained to teach, and thrive, in contemporary classroom climates.

Dr. Paula Saine:

As we continue to prepare our teacher candidates we, as professors and instructors, must keeping mind, or we need to ask ourselves, are we really preparing our teachers to the best of their ability? Will they be willing to deliver the content in any type of setting and when I say that I mean like brick and mortar as well as virtual setting or whatever. And I think a project like this, because the teacher candidates are working one-on-one with students, this would be like a first step into that virtual space. 

James Loy:

The Mentored Multigenre Project, therefore, was a way to address some of these questions. 

It began as a collaboration between Saine and Dr. Jessica West, a Miami University alumna and current supervisor of curriculum and instruction at West Clermont Local School District in Cincinnati, Ohio. They recognized an opportunity to use a virtual setting to simultaneously provide a relevant literacy-based teaching and learning experience between high school students and teacher candidates. The idea was to leverage technology to build literacy, digital fluency, and critical teaching skills through authentic writing and experiential interactions.

Together, Paula Saine and Jessica West have since produced research around the project including a case study appearing in the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy and an article for the Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education titled,Content Area Teacher Candidates' Self-Efficacy Beliefs of Teaching Writing Online.” 

Both works demonstrate the project’s effectiveness in boosting teacher candidate self-confidence, content area literacy, virtual teaching proficiency, and more.

Paige and Katie are not the actual names of the students previously mentioned. But they do represent two real students who actually took part in the Mentored Multigenre Project.

The experiences of “Paige,” a Miami University teacher candidate studying to become a professional educator, and “Katie,” a local high school student in an English class, served as a representative case study that appeared in the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. For Saine and West, their story was indicative of project’s larger role in providing innovative learning opportunities for two separate classes of mentors and mentees.

Dr. Jessica West:

“The idea was that the college students would gain experience responding to student writing, giving feedback to student writers electronically.”

James Loy:

Throughout the project, she occupied a pivotal role that gave her unique access to each student group. Alongside teaching an English course at a local Ohio high school, she also simultaneously taught an EHS content area literacy course at Miami.

Her university course was called Integrating Literacy Across the Content Areas. It was designed to teach college students who were studying to become social studies teachers. But it lacked a field experience component, and West wanted to broaden the scope. She wanted to address the growing need to introduce teacher candidates to various literacy-based concepts. Something they normally wouldn’t get if they were just studying to become social studies teachers. Basically, she felt that writing instruction should no longer be left to only English teachers alone.

Dr. Jessica West:

I was very interested to see how the teaching of writing was incorporated into this literacy course for social studies teachers, knowing that they don’t teach writing content. But all teachers are teachers of literacy. And so I wanted to support them in being able to support their future students as writers in their social studies classroom.

James Loy:

Once underway, the Mentored Multigenre Project began by paring high school students with their virtual college mentors, with whom they would collaborate and share information with throughout the semester. First, they each posted introductory letters and exchanged initial responses through an Internet-based learning management system (LMS). In this case, the project used Edmodo, a popular educational technology that facilitates communication and collaboration across schools and curriculums. 

On the high school side, students were then tasked to engage in multigenre writing, which uses multiple subgenres of smaller writings to form a larger cohesive narrative. These smaller subgenre pieces could be letters, poems, short articles, speeches, lyrics, and more. Each was an individual self-contained piece of content. But eventually, they were to be unified by a common theme or line of thought that provided an overarching continuity. Mini lessons were first used to provide examples from literature and various media texts, and after the high school students decided on a topic, they uploaded drafts to Edmodo for review, feedback, and subsequent revisions. 

On the college side, teacher candidates reviewed the drafts of each piece, posted corresponding suggestions, critiqued subsequent revisions, and eventually provided summative feedback on the final multigenre paper as a whole. They learned first-hand how to provide effective writing instruction and to digitally interact with students across time and space. Furthermore, the teacher candidates also served as an authentic audience, which, from the high school students’ point of view, significantly increased the perceived value of the writing process.

Dr. Jessica West:

The thing they got out of it was having an authentic audience. So they weren’t just writing for me as their teacher. They were writing for a reader who felt more socially relevant to them, so they were HS students writing for a college student and they got to develop this online relationship where they wrote letters back and forth just to get to know each other, so it felt like more than just a school assignment them.

James Loy:

For her topic, Katie chose child abuse, which was something Paige coincidentally had personally experienced herself. This not only created a strong emotional bond between the two, it also contributed to the project’s efficacy and authenticity. Because of Paige’s personal history with the effects and ramifications of child abuse, Katie quickly learned to become a far more deliberate and conscious writer.   

Other students, too, shared similar connections with their mentors. And while these connections were not as personal or emotional as the link between Paige and Katie, every mentor-mentee relationship still resonated with mutual reciprocity, on each side, and between which stood West, who guided and advised both groups of students as needed.

Dr. Paula Saine:

Jessica having the dual roles, being the high school and college teacher, this project also gave her students an opportunity to receive feedback virtually from outside of the classroom walls. They had a different audience now that they were writing for and writing with. And then, on the other hand, it also gave our teacher candidates, who she was also teaching, an opportunity not only to teach writing, because they are social studies teachers, and they don’t teach writing, right? So, it also gave them a chance to practice that skill in a virtual space.

Here, Saine speaks directly to another aspect of the Mentored Multigenre Project’s larger significance. That is, the literacy skills it facilitated moved well beyond the boundaries of just reading and writing alone. 

Because technology only continues to advance, more and more schools are beginning to incorporate online learning systems into curriculums and as part of an array of day-to-day processes. As educational tools, many LMS systems, such as Edmodo, are used to access student assignments, generate reports, analyze performance, keep attendance, and more.

Dr. Jessica West:

Many districts are using some sort of learning management system, whether it’s Schoology or Edmodo or Blackboard or something. Most districts have a learning management system, and a lot of the writing that students do is done electronically through Google Docs and then teachers are responding to student writing using technology. So even for teachers who see their students every day, most of the ways they give feedback is electronic in nature, which is what our teacher candidates were doing in this project.

James Loy:

As teacher candidates transition between being students themselves, and into their roles as professional educators, they will be expected to stay in step with the changing nature of education and society.

When compared to traditions past, students are now learning and interacting in very different ways. Classrooms are becoming more diverse, and many students have many different educational and social needs. These changes mean that educators, too, must learn how to become effective and engaging, and in ways that are culturally relevant to a new era of teaching and learning.

But this has been largely overlooked by most teacher preparations programs.

Today, most college students will have had at least some experience taking online courses. However, that is not the same as actively teaching one. And furthermore, actually leading whole virtual classrooms -- which will likely only increase in frequency and priority going forward -- is yet an entirely different matter still.   

So even though many teacher preparation programs have excelled at preparing candidates for success within the realm of their particular content areas, and within the realm of physical brick and mortar classrooms, that is not a complete representation of contemporary reality. Not anymore.

Dr. Paula Saine:

Because teaching in a virtual space is different. It is different from teaching in a classroom face-to-face. There are techniques you need to learn, so they need to begin to start learning how to use that. I mean, we do an excellent job in preparing them with the content, but what about this other part?

James Loy:

Indeed, what is to be done about the new range of skills that are already being required of 21st century students and teachers?

So far, the Mentored Multigenre Project has been one way to respond to this mounting question.

As a virtual resource, and as a pedagogical tool to increase digital and traditional literacy, it has helped high school students become more engaged in the writing process. It has taught college teacher candidates how to teach essential skills that often exist outside their specific content areas. And it has allowed everyone involved to use technology to interact and engage in creative new ways.

And that, Dr. Saine says, is powerful.