Digital Writing for English Language Learners

sketch-2016-10-19-23_28_38
Book Cover by Rebeca Zuniga.

The best part about publishing a book is knowing how it’ll impact students and teachers to make writing and learning a bit easier for everyone. In 2015, I was approached by Rowman and Littlefield editor, Sarah Jubar, to write about English Language Learners. She had read some of my Edutopia, Education Week, and personal blogs and envisioned one book to help students in ELL classrooms.

I had a baby and a toddler at the time, and I didn’t think I could do it. It meant that I would need to write during evening hours. With a lot of support from family, I decided to go for it. I felt that if there was ever a right time for me to write a book, it was now, and I shouldn’t miss out on the opportunity.

Late evenings had me believe otherwise at times. Like many difficult things in life, I pushed through this one, because the final product sounded like such a great reward and well worth sleepless nights.

I am excited it’s finally here! My book is currently out on pre-order on Amazon, and will be out this coming Spring, sometime in April. This book has many amazing contributions from so many great people, and I can’t thank them enough for supporting my work and always championing my cause.

Here’s a summary of my book, if you’re interested in using it in your English Language classroom:

Digital Writing for English Language learners looks at practical ways educators can implement the use of technology in their English and Language Arts classroom for English Language Learners. The book provides a variety of classroom activities and assignments that can be completed with English Language Learners using social media and other digital writing tools. The book also looks at creating a culture that fosters the necessary conditions for student voice to thrive in an English Language Learners’ classroom.

The book is available to be pre-ordered on Amazon here, in hardcopy and paperback. It’s also available to pre-order on the publishers’ site.

Social Media & Digital Citizenship 

A recent article on The New York Times discussed the “Unspoken Rules Kids Create for Instagram“. The article focused on how kids (middle school, and some high school) had unwritten rules on ways they engage on social media. For example, what types of images to post, how often, etc.

screenshot-2017-01-07-23-29-13
Common Sense Consus, 2016.

The one thing that stood out to me was how these rules were known amongst kids themselves, and actually had to be explained to the adults. We as adults, sometimes have the perception that kids don’t understand what it means to engage in a responsible way online. The rise of digital awareness and even being cognizant of cyberbullying issues in today’s youth could be as a result of the education that kids are receiving about digital literacy.

 

Screenshot 2017-01-07 23.05.05.png
Common Sense Media Census: Plugged in parents of tweens and teens. 2016.

However, I do think it’s also as a result of technology serving to be a great communication tool that allows kids to have access to social media, where they can see issues like bullying, prejudice, racism, sexism etc, being heavily covered.

Of course parents play a huge part in helping to raise the kids’ awareness of positive digital engagement and self-representation online. A recent study by Common Sense Census found that parents overwhelmingly have a positive attitude towards the use of technology and social media as tools to improve kids’ education and their development of important social skills.

Parents agreed that technology positively supports their children with schoolwork and education (94 percent). Parents also felt that technology can support their children by supporting them in learning new skills (88 percent) and preparing them for 21st-century jobs (89 percent). Parents agreed that technology increases their children’s exposure to other cultures (77 percent), allows for the expression of their children’s personal opinions and beliefs (75 percent), supports their children’s creativity (79 percent), and allows their children to find and interact with others who have similar interests (69 percent). Only 54 percent of parents felt that technology supports their children’s social skills.

This is interesting, because it suggests that parents *do* see the importance of technology and the impact it can have on teaching and learning.

However, the study also found that those parents who are concerned about their kids’ social media/technology use were less aware of their kids’ activities on devices/online.

What does this all mean?

It means several things:

  • The more parents/guardians talk and discuss the use of devices and social media with their kids, the more their kids use the “rules of engagement” on social media.
  • Discussing digital literacy and social media use in the classroom and schools helps students.
  • We have to trust kids once they’re given all our own “rules of engagement” on social media. They ultimately will make the right decision.
  • Talk to kids more. Ask them questions about what they do on social media, why do they do it…Questions should be judgement free…and kids will only open up if they do feel it’s safe to open up.
  • Do not underestimate the power of modelling! The study found that parents on average spend up to 9 hours of screen time everyday! Holy cow. If we want our kids to detach from their devices for a bit, it has to start with us.

So when it comes to social media and rules of engagement, kids are basically figuring out ways to better communicate with each other. To them, and this should also apply to adults, there is no difference between online and real life. Their actions online should replicate their actions in real life. From an educator’s perspective, it’s important to see that many students have already come to this understanding themselves. Then it doesn’t become a conversation about “digital citizenship”, it becomes a conversation about what it means to be a “good citizen/human”.

 

 

Equity in Collaborative Spaces

screenshot-2016-12-20-22-29-51We discuss collaboration in different spaces a great deal in and outside of education. We talk about the benefits of collaboration, the importance of it, and how it can look like. But do we ever discuss the downside of collaboration?

Do we ever spend enough time to focus on how collaborative spaces can be equitable and inclusive for everyone?

A few years ago, I collaborated with a White “prominent” education leader on an initiative. I mention that he’s white, because his part played a huge role in silencing me throughout the initiative. So race here is a vital aspect, as I do identify as a Muslim woman of colour. Therefore, to have a hand in the direct oppression and silencing of women of colour, one needs to identify the systems and identities at play in the work structure.

We were aligned on the mission and vision for the project in many different ways, except one: Equity.

Like many projects I’ve led, I shouldered the workload myself. Taking initiative on starting and executing on the project tasks. I was under the impression we were clear on what all members in the group (we had other members, but him and I were the main ones working on this, since we initiated it). Apparently, I was wrong.

He emailed me the week before the event was to take place asking me to back out and cancel it, since we “weren’t aligned” on major decisions, despite my and the team’s efforts to communicate them. Long story short, I refused to cancel what was a great project. I had to carry the torch for the entire group, to not fall apart, and ensure the success of the event.

Because when things fall apart, there almost always is a person there to pick up the pieces. And that’s often the work that needs to be done.

As a result of that I learned the importance of understanding and aligning yourself with equitable practices when entering collaborative spaces.

You might be thinking: “Well, I only work with good people, who won’t do what this guy did”.

We don’t *really* know someone unless you work closely with them. Even then, you still might not fully know them.

I’ve learned that collaborative spaces first and foremost need to ensure equity before starting the work process.

Continue reading

3 Diverse Children’s Books My Kids are Reading

screenshot-2016-12-14-13-37-40

For me, as a mom, it’s so important that my kids read diverse books in school and at home. Diverse books allows children to see that there is not one variation of what it means to be human. We’re all different, and representing that really well in books helps children to develop an understanding, empathy, and kindness of other cultures, races, and ethnicities around them.

The other day, when we went to our public library, I couldn’t help but notice the amazing display of diverse books in the children’s section. My two girls are almost 5 and almost 3, and they loved listening and looking at the pictures of these three stories:

Anna Hibiscus’ Song by Atinuke & Lauren Tobia

One World Together by Catherine & Laurence Anholt

God’s Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu & Douglas Carlton Abrams

What are some of your favourite diverse books that you read with your kids?

 

A Snapshot of the Tibetan Refugee Crisis

85c7602c9cc80a8fc062cb96d2401b1a

I met a wonderful lady today. She’s Tibetan from Nepal. She told me her story.

She has two kids, a 3 year old and a 7 year old. She arrived a few years ago in Canada, without them.

I asked her why.

“It’s too expensive to bring the kids. It’s easier if I come and sponsor them.”

“How much does it cost to bring them over?” I asked.

“Around 20 to 30K. For illegal passports and papers.”

“Why Illegal?”

“We’re Tibetan, so we’re considered refugees in Nepal. They won’t give us papers.”

“I have a lawyer here (in Canada), but he said it’ll take a while.” “I left and my son was 2 he’s close to 4 years old now” She tells me as her eyes well up with tears.

“But you know, I am here for my family. I hope to help them soon and bring them over.” “It’s hard, it’s very hard” She says with tears in her eyes.

I feel helpless listening to her story. My eyes tear up and I choke back tears as I look at my own two kids playing in front of me.

Please read here about the Tibetan people, and their refugee crisis.

 

 

How to Grow your Social Media Community

_sfjhrpzjhs-nasaA little while ago, a large publishing company consulted with me to get advice on how to engage their audience and build interest-based communities. 

Here is a snapshot of the framework I presented to them.

Your social media’s growth cycles are incremental to exponential, it embodies ripple effects to create organic growth cycles. These cycles form from your campaigns, publications, and projects.

What are these cycles?

Empower voices — Amplify voices — Engage voices.

Empower voices

Editors create opportunities for smart domain experts to create content on publications as writers. This empowers both parties’ voices as leaders.

What kind of voices do we empower? publication editors, current active writers, domain experts, thought leaders, external writers/editors/journalists, educators, students, budding writers, great ideas.

  1. Who are some of the people who would be interested in working on your platform?
  2. What kind of interest do they have?
  3. What domain do they belong to, if any?
  4. How can they help to support growth and development of communities/publications?
  5. How are they perceived in their community? Credibility/reputation/status/charisma etc…
  6. How can we leverage their support?
  7. Are there any risks involved in leveraging their support?

Continue reading

Create a Safe Space for Students to be Heard: A Workshop

brene-rbownThe week before elections, I was invited to speak to The Hun School of Princeton students in New Jersey about the concepts of Grit and Resilience. The Hun School works to read 1 or 2 common books each year and have a conference about the theme of the books. This is such a neat way to get all students to connect to each other despite their grades and subject interests. It’s also a nice way to build a school community, by focusing on one theme as a school, you can see how everyone brings in their own experiences, interests and shared stories.

This year’s books that were chosen were Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand for the upper school, and Left for Dead, by Pete Nelson, for our middle school.

Continue reading

Writing Tips

cwsl0bbw8aaxhin
Image by Rebeca Zuniga, for The Writing Project

This post was originally published on The Writing Project.

Introduce your Subject:

If you are discussing a story, textbook, article, or a person, you need to introduce and mention the name of the subject and source. For example, “In the book, ‘Of Mice and Men’ the theme of loneliness is prominent to our understanding of the characters.”

Make an Argument:

Your thesis needs to be debatable. If no one can disagree with you, it’s a fact not an opinion.

Use the Active Voice:

Instead of “it has been said” tell us who really said this “The New York Times indicates…”. This is affirmative, informative and clear.

Outline Your Main Points:

This is called signposting because it signals to your reader the points that will be covered throughout the essay.

Be Original:

A thesis statement is your point of view. No one can speak for you but yourself! Be creative, inspiring, and powerful with your thoughts and ideas.

Literacy Beyond Reading & Writing

photo-1440439307159-c3afc8a8e4ffThis post was originally published on The Writing Project.

When we hear the word “literacy” immediately some of the things that come to mind are: books, reading, writing, libraries, and maybe even magazines, newspapers. But we all know that’s not what encompasses literacy. Literacy moves beyond reading and writing. It includes the process of deciphering symbols, patterns, images to understand and come to meaningful conclusions about complex contexts, cultural understanding, and communication.

Do our students know that “literacy” moves beyond reading and writing?

Most importantly, how do we begin to break our traditional understanding of literacy to include wider meaning and contexts?

It has to start in the classroom. For many of our traditional classrooms, reading and writing are the core values that are focused on when it comes to literacy. We need to show students that “Literacy” moves beyond reading and writing and can encompass: cultural literacy, media literacy, visual literacy, digital literacy and much more.

According to Media Smarts, in 1987 Ontario was the first canadian province to mandate media education. The media strand still focuses on core strands such as oral communication, and reading and writing. However, it also adds an extra layer of including media mentor texts, media audiences, and media productions to strengthen students’ learning when it comes to reading, writing, and critical thinking.

Continue reading