The Power of Non-Traditional Text

Celebrating this week is all about literacy outside the box and building literacy skills in digital and non-traditional ways.  This was a lot of great professional learning that I cherish and it edges into digital learning so I’m linking up with two communities: Ruth Ayres Celebrate This Week and Margaret Simon’s DigiLit Sunday.

celebrate link upslide11

Consider this –

Can literacy teachers dig into subject areas and non-traditional texts to build literacy and content inquiry skills?

With this in mind, I sat with Katie Clements our superb staff developer from TCRWP,  and my 4th- and 5th-grade colleagues to explore the possibilities of teaching literacy with non-traditional text.

We started out by trying to define non-traditional text.

What is it?

  • pictures/paintings
  • videos
  • advertisements
  • songs
  • objects
  • maps
  • technical texts
  • infographics

The list is never ending. It’s everything. Exciting, but at the same time overwhelming, a potential rabbit hole. We need to be mindful and purposeful in our use of it.

Why should we need use this type of text to reach literacy goals?

  • Engagement is a big part of why we need non-traditional media to teach literacy. Abstract concepts of literature are difficult to grasp, and participation will wane as we reach for difficult skills such as symbolism, tone, and metaphor.
  • It needs to be relevant to kids’ lives. It should matter. We are more likely to keep students engaged if we consider our kids’ interests.
  • Information is everywhere. Students need to know how to use knowledge. Processing and consuming the immense amount of information available is necessary for literacy. Blending the traditional with the non-traditional is relevant and appropriate.

How could we use this type of text effectively in reading?

Read Aloud is a natural place. We considered how we could develop understanding of traditional texts that may be beyond readers grasp even when read aloud.

  • landscapes – geography – setting
  • historical – now vs. then
  • objects
  • ideas – concepts
  • lifestyles
  • emotions
  • dialects
  • political situations
  • weather

For example, reading A Long Walk to Water the characters are building boats out of “papyrus grass.” For my Los Angeles city kids, this seems stra7563472-Papyrus-grass-Stock-Photonge. How is it possible to make a boat out of
grass? With this in mind, we looked up an image that allowed us to develop not only knowledge of what it looks like, but build on how to envision a text and why it is necessary for understanding.

We inquire and discover. That is an essential literacy and content area skill.

Other things to consider in reading instruction:

When planning out a unit of study consider augmenting the trickiest, the most complex parts of the unit; the least engaging parts, and the parts that are difficult in terms of reading ability with non-traditional text. High-level concepts such as metaphor and symbolism could be seen more readily in a film clip. Pictures and video are equal access, they allow all students regardless of reading level to do hard thinking work.

When choosing text remember what students like.  We connect more readily to what we know well. A quick survey of students’ favorite musicians, athletes, movies, tv shows, video games taps into engagement possibilities.

To increase transference, treat digital texts like traditional text:  interrupt and reflect. Use the same text over for multiple views and purposes. Use lenses to discover and closely read.  Use digital as practice and move to print text.

Consider using non-traditional texts in all parts of the instructional day, from mini-lesson to one on one conferring with the purpose of engagement, access and always with an eye towards transfer to traditional print text.


14 thoughts on “The Power of Non-Traditional Text

  1. I love this post! I’ve been pondering how different teaching looks lately and struggling with my best practices and wondering if they are best, etc…Things are changing SO fast!! I love the idea of literacy outside the box! It’s so true that it helps with engagement and relevant. Your thoughts always make me look at things differently! Thanks Julieanne!

  2. We have to play catch up with the digital world. Our students read digital texts more and more. We need to teach them to read critically with any text. I’ll have the link ready in the morning. Will tweet it.

  3. More and more my students are using YouTube for basic research in some topics. I have students watching online lectures for their inquiry into Game Theory. There are multiple possibilities, and they all fit, sometimes. Love that you are looking into reading/literacy with varied lens, Julieanne. There is that wide world available now, for sure. Thanks for such a thoughtful post.

  4. I am reminded of a session from the summer at #tcrwp with David Booth who blew up my understanding of what text IS. One thing I remember him saying was that kids are going to be reading “texts” we can’t even imagine yet. With this post you’ve gone a ways into imagining and defining and playing with these new texts.

  5. When I think about how teaching reading has changed for me in just eight short years – I am amazed. Thinking about nontraditional texts is something I need to do. Thanks for jumpstarting this thinking.

  6. So much to think about here. It’s great how you’ve given us a window into your thinking about nontraditional text. Love that you reminded us to tap into student interests to increase engagement. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Inquiry and discovery are my favorite key words in learning – literacy and everything else. Your post includes so many useful and thought inspiring ideas.

  8. Julieanne, your lead question, “Can literacy teachers dig into subject areas and non-traditional texts to build literacy and content inquiry skills?”, was the entrance into a topical post about 21st century learnings and what we need to provide for them. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and providing a path for the intermix of non-traditional text into literacy learinng.

  9. Great post around an essential question. I definitely think we can expand students’ ideas and thinking by using nontraditional text. Our world is full of changing media and messages, and kids need to learn to extract useful information from all that. I love the photo you showed to help students visualize and understand A Long Walk to Water. I use several images to help support the cultural references when reading that book aloud.

  10. Oh, Julieanne!

    Love this “Consider this – Can literacy teachers dig into subject areas and non-traditional texts to build literacy and content inquiry skills?

    Your conversations prove not only can literacy teachers dig in BUT they MUST dig in!

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