I was particularly struck by the words of Mr. Schmoker about "higher order literacy demands" (which are in fact the words of literacy expert Richard Allington of the International Reading Association): the information age,
"places higher-order literacy demands on all of us ... these demands include synthesizing and evaluating information from multiple sources. American schools need to enhance the ability of children to search and sort through information, to synthesize and analyze the information they encounter. (2001, p.7)"
Wow! That sounds exactly like what I am doing with my students in class for a wiki project. I talk specifically about the synthesis of information. I let the students decide exactly what they think is important. I encourage them to fill their page with whatever they deem useful information about their physicist. They enjoy having the control over their assignment. It seems to give them ownership.
Students in today's age are given so much information they have to sift through and pick out the parts that are important/useful to them. "Multiple Sources" indeed! Students must learn and understand what a "good source" is. They have to learn to discern useful information and sift out the chaff (see last week's post).
The major problem in today's society, especially where technology is concerned (how can you contribute to a wiki if you don't have access to the internet or even, in some cases a computer?) are the haves and the have-nots. I run into this in my classroom. Solution? Use the district supplied laptop labs or the wired desktop labs. We have begun to open our library up to students in the evening (one night a week) for students who need to work on this type of project. Also, I can't walk into the Warr Acres Public Library without seeing a student of mine in there on a computer. These are the "have-nots" mentioned above. Notice, though, they are finding ways to get access so they can finish the assignments, likely because they feel it is relevant to their lives. They feel they are beginning to have a voice and they are beginning to speak to an audience outside of the classroom.
I haven't even begun to address the fact that we are writing in an applied math/science class. Writing? That's the last thing students think they are going to do in my class. In many students, I have seen an improvement in their writing skills from the beginning of a semester to the end. Is that entirely due to my class? I seriously doubt it. But, hopefully I am contributing to their success, their "discovery of voice", the development of their higher-order writing skills.
The author talks about "Authentic Literacy". I love the quote:
"Writing is the litmus paper of thought ... the very center of schooling." - Ted Sizer
As I stated before, this is why all teachers must have students write. If students are writing, they are thinking. Strengthening that link between verbal and written communication is vital to having students actually write at the "higher level", as mentioned above.
Honestly, in my classroom, I don't get too wound up about where students are in their writing skills. I don't see that in my job description. I'm not prepared to teach a student to write. What I can do, however, is try to assign thought provoking writing which is relevant to the topic which we are discussing. This will help to increase their skill. That is part of my job. All teachers bear a responsibility to students to help further their writing skills.
Personally, I use writing as a way to learn. When I did my summer research, I wrote almost every day about what I was learning. It helped to get that information into my mind. It increased my academic vocabulary in physics. I now have a way to go back and see what I did. I now a wealth of information which I can use as a reference since everyday I had some lecture and some practical application or analysis of that knowledge. If I learned one thing this summer, it was the benefit of writing, just for personal gratification.