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.

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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.


Dig Lit Sunday: QR Codes

One of my goals this year has been to increase the amount of digital writing in the classroom, so posting my digital learning on Sundays will push me a bit. Thank you Margaret for inviting me and I look forward to reading all of the thinking offered here. I am a beginner in this world, but what I do know is you must do to really learn!  I heard Katharine Hale and Troy Hicks’s podcast this morning. It is well worth a listen. That is exactly how I want my classroom to be. It is so great to have mentors out there blazing trails for the rest of us to follow on.

Last week I posted a little item about finally using QR codes in the classroom and Margaret asked me to write a little about it here.

my classroom blog

In a nutshell a QR (quick response) code can provide easy access to anything that is alpha numeric with a scan of the code. Typically it’s a URL. In an upper grade classroom where students have access to iPhones and iPads, this this a perfect way to give them quick access to information for research. I have used this to get them to websites quickly, no time is lost on typing in the URL. It seems silly, but I have seen students spend up to ten minutes trying to type in a URL. It takes away from their learning and usually another child’s learning as they help them. For sites we are going to use for a unit of study I have taken the time to load them on to the iPads, but that takes prep. With a QR code, all I need to do is print it out and students scan it. To create a QR code I like It allows for color which helps students get to the correct code to scan. Imagine today’s links for the debate are in red, for social studies in blue. A QR reader app need to be loaded on to iPads, but that is a one time thing.

There are amazing ways teachers have been using QR codes in the classroom. Check this google doc for many examples. I particularly like #52 on this list where students create their own scavenger hunt. Pretty cool stuff.