Amplify!: A wonderful guide to effective digital literacy in our classrooms

Like many teachers, I have a complicated view of technology in the classroom: I acknowledge and appreciate the sense of adventure and excitement it inspires in my students, as well as the way in which it allows them to access information and find their own methods of expressing what they’ve learned and creating something new.  But, as a teacher heavily invested in the philosophy and methodologies of reading and writing workshop, I struggle with how to incorporate technology in a meaningful way, and worry about what my students may be losing in terms of their reading and writing lives as we go online to read, research, and create.  Enter, this book:


I’ve been following Amplify‘s authors Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Ziemke for some time now, through Twitter, their blog and their work with Stephanie Harvey in Connecting Comprehension and Technologyso I had a feeling that their new book would offer just the guidance I would need to feel comfortable and confident in moving forward with digital teaching and learning in my sixth grade classroom.  

Early in the book, Katie and Kristin write:

All children can learn. We have countless opportunities each day to invite kids to do the work and build understanding.  Leveraging technology is one way to make that happen.  Technology gives kids access and amplifies opportunities for interaction.  In a digital conversation, every student participates; no one is left out.

And they remind us that:

The technology is as transformational as we make it.  It’s not the tool that counts; it’s what we do with it.

Amplify is a step by step guide to figuring out the why and how of digital reading and writing in our classrooms:

*Incorporating a mindset for technology within a workshop framework of best practices.

*Exploring ways in which we can connect students (and ourselves, their teachers) to powerful learning opportunities outside the four walls of our classrooms and school libraries.

*Being explicit in how we introduce and teach our students new digital formats and ways of interacting with digital texts.

*Specific lessons to foster independence, i.e. ” developing a mindset for becoming a digital citizen and establishing basic care and management procedures”.

*Forming authentic tools with which to assess our students’ learning and build reflective practices into  digital learning.

*Foster inquiry across the curriculum and a global stance towards learning – what can we both learn from and teach to other students?

Amplify was just the book I needed to read at this stage of my teaching life; it gives me just the types of scaffolds I need to move both my students and myself forward in digital literacy.

I loved the charts, links to videos, and especially the “Three Things To Try Tomorrow” which ended each chapter (it’s always nice to have a way to put something you’ve just learned about into guided practice right away!).  I loved the beautifully described lessons which I can easily adapt to the needs of my sixth graders.  And I loved this quote, which sums up (for me) the purpose of technology in our classrooms today and every day:

Every classroom discussion, every digital interaction, is an opportunity to help children take their first steps into the global community, to see and define how, why, and when technology can be a vehicle for change.  This increased interconnectivity sets the stage for students to develop deep compassion for one another and be upstanders in their community and the world.  This is empowerment at its very core.  Kids can own their learning, and technology is just one tool to get is there.









Digital Reading: What’s Essential Chapters 6&7 #cyberPD

#CyberPD is an online professional development learning community where teachers read and discuss a common professional development text. Visit Reflect & Refine for more details and links to connect with the group. This year’s book isDigital Reading: What’s Essential in Grades 3-8 by Franki Sibberson and Bill Bass.

digital reading

Chapter 6:

I had two takeaways for this chapter.  First, I need to reformat my first week of school reading survey questions to incorporate digital reading questions as well.  The questions Franki shared on page 87 were comprehensive, and I would only add a question that tries to ascertain what a student’s habits are when it comes to searching digital media for information: it is hit or miss? or has the student already figured out a way to do this and can the student then share his or her techniques with the class (and with me!).  I loved the idea of doing this on Google Forms, so that it can become part of the student’s portfolio for the year.

Second, I need to enlarge my assessment toolbox to include a variety of digital tools.  At the moment, my toolbox is pretty old school – conferring notes, rubrics, xeroxed copies of notebook work, etc.  It would be so much more authentic if I was to create Google Folders for each student which included photographs, video and audio files, as well as student annotations – the ideas presented on page 95.  Our school does not conduct student led conferences, sadly, but I imagine that the idea of creating a Google Presentation to showcase growth at the end of each quarter would give each student an opportunity to evaluate his or growth and progress, as well as set new goals. That would shift the entire assessment dynamic, placing the student in an empowered position and requiring a greater sense of involvement and assessment. The student is not a passive receiver of “this is where you need to go”, but an active participant in shaping “this is where I want to go.”

Chapter 7:

We began having access to Google Classroom and Google Drive half way through the year, so I did not have a chance to present exactly how it was all going to work to my students’ parents on back to school night.  The truth is, I didn’t know how it was all going to work, either – and many lessons were learned from January to June!

I so agree with this:

…technology has opened up the ways in which we not only communicate with parents but actually make them a part of their child’s learning experience.  Digital tools have made the connection between school and home so much more effective because we are no longer confined to the space of the classroom or the time constraints of the school day. Parents can engage in their child’s learning on a daily basis and in a variety of ways. (page 100)

This is exactly what I began to see happening in our classroom last year – the goings on in our classroom were much more visible to parents because everything was accessible online, via our Google Classroom pages, or our work on Google Docs for a variety of purposes.  It is a well-known and well-worn truth that our children rarely communicate about school work beyond: “nothing much”, “I don’t know”, and “I can’t remember”.  It was incredibly helpful for parents to know that they could access resources to see for themselves what and how learning is taking place in their child’s day.  I love the idea of weaving in Google Calendar, too, so parents can be part of the process of teaching kids how to manage their time and prioritize their work.  As a middle school teacher, this is a critical goal – and I know that it is important to have my students’ parents on my team.

I’ve come away from reading this book with concrete goals and ideas for next year; I keep coming back to the word intentional – I think I’ve learned that intentionality in digital literacy comes from practicing it ourselves, learning from the experience, and figuring out how to embed it in all we already do.  We want our kids to have that holistic goal: “we want our students to be active communicators in the complex world they live in.” (page 110).

I’m looking forward to the Twitter chat!