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Dedicated to Teachers

On the Podcast: Read the World with Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris


Today on the podcast we’re joined by Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris, co-authors of Read The World: Rethinking Literacy for Empathy and Action in the Digital Age. Opinions that highlight the negatives of our increasingly digital world are easy to find, but Kristin and Katie believe that emerging technologies present an untapped potential-- opportunities to deepen learning and ignite wonder in the classroom. By building upon what students already know about reading and interacting with print, their work provides new strategies for comprehending digital media that teach students to build bridges, eliminate barriers, and thrive in the world.

Download a sample chapter of Read the World

We started our conversation with what the title of the book, Read the World, means to Kristin and Katie…

Below is a full transcript of this episode.

Kristin: I think for us, we recognize that we've come to a place where it's not just reading and decoding print anymore. Whether it be in your everyday life or in an online context, we're now applying the same comprehension strategies that we used for print reading in many ways to how we interpret images, videos, graphics, AR, VR, all kinds of stories. So we look at the need for kids to transfer some of those skills into how they're interacting in online contexts.

Lauren: If you've become the one or among the few good tech teachers in your school, how can you go about spreading that?

Katie: I think the one thing teachers can do is simply just open their door. When they open their door and invite people in to see what's going on and to have a thoughtful conversation about that, that's when we see those practices spread to other classrooms. I know frequently sometimes teachers feel like, "Well, I'm not sure if what I'm doing is good enough to share." And I promise them that it is. It's just getting that door open and being open to having people in the classroom with you to have those conversations and to have that collaborative planning and teaching.

Kristin: I think another way is to have students be ambassadors for spreading the good news of what we're doing with technology. And if we can raise competency in students, then students can teach other students and teach other teachers. So in the subsequent year a teacher could be like, "Show me how you did that." And it could be like, "Oh, here's how we do it." So we grow our learning together. But I think that also sends the important signal of we can learn from kids. Our kids are smart enough to be teaching our staff as well as the world.

I think one of the greatest gifts of technology for us as educators is that we can be true learners alongside our students. It really levels the playing field and lowers the hierarchy. I remember previously modeling lessons and going through it and acting like I was learning something new so that my kids could see that inquiry process or follow upon my curiosity. But now today, I'm not faking it. I'm actually really learning right alongside kids and saying, "I don't know. What do you guys think? How will we approach this problem? Who has ideas for how to solve this piece?"

Katie: I think that really speaks to if you feel like you're one of the teachers in this school who isn't techie, sometimes we organize people in the category like, "Oh that teacher is good at tech and I'm not as confident." But it's okay. It's okay to learn along with the kids and to learn from them and ask them to take the lead on things and just get started with it in small ways.

Kristin: I think that's an easy way to bring authenticity into our classrooms. We talk about needing to be more authentic with our learning and with students and with kids questions. But when we learn together, that's true. On any given day, there are 34 teachers in the room and 34 students in the room.

Lauren: You talk about having a yes and approach to merging tech and what you know works to teach kids. What does that look like?

Katie: I think that when we think about yes and what we're really saying is that in education the pendulum swings a lot. It's really not a matter of replacing everything we do with technology tools or feeling like, "Oh, I'm not going to use tech. I'm just going to do things the way I've always done them." There are authentic purposes and uses for both things. When we walk into a reader's workshop classroom, we should see kids engaging with print materials and kids engaging with digital materials as well. There's just so many opportunities for us to have thoughtful, collaborative conversations around which tools serve the best purposes at that moment or for that learning.

Kristin: I think it's, of course, just not an either or scenario, right? We're thinking about now we have even more opportunities for kids to access in a way that makes sense for them, for them to engage in multi-modal learning, to lower the bar of entry to that learning experience. Instead, we believe that you should be celebrating that, "Yay, there's more tools than ever before and now I can personalize without even having to really think about it. And I can differentiate based on inviting kids to access information in a way that works best for them."

Lauren: How can we learn to use technology in our classrooms strategically and teach children to do the same?

Kristin: I think the big piece of using tech strategically is really looking at the why. Like, "Okay, why are we using technology in this moment? How does technology change the experience potentially for kids? Or how can we be using tech and more traditional tools at the same time?" My favorite way to use tech with kids is just to have it be a seamless back and forth between, now we're writing on sticky notes on a clipboard and now we're researching on a device, or we're recording audio on a device and then going back to our print materials for research.

Katie: I think what added benefit will the tech bring? Is this tech enabling kids to connect with an authentic audience for their work? Is it enabling them to collaborate with students around the world? How is it enriching this experience for them? Then as a teacher, really looking strategically at what are my learning outcomes and how am I going to use that tech tool to get every kid there? It might be access. It might be heightened engagement because we're doing something that's new and innovative. It might be giving kids a new way to frame up an area or think about it to share their learning.

Kristin: I think one of the biggest ways to use tech is to document process over time. If a child can hear themselves reading in October and then put that alongside a sample of them reading in January, it makes the growth very concrete. We talk a lot about student self-assessment and reflection and knowing where you are in order to grow. That's a very real way to do it.

Lauren: Then you touched on this a little bit earlier, but I was curious if you had more to say. Are the strategies we're teaching students for reading a digital text the same as those for an odd digital text?

Kristin: I think the answer to that is sometimes. There are many print reading strategies that we can bring into the digital context. And for Katie and I, a lot of what we're doing is going back to our mentors, Steph Harvey and Anne Goudvis's work on strategic comprehension and looking at those big ideas of asking questions, monitoring, determining importance, summarizing and synthesizing. We're taking those big ideas into the digital literacy context. I think where we see some changes is in the strategies that we teach. How do you approach a piece of e-text versus a piece of print text? Sometimes it's similar, lots of times there's differences though.

Katie: A lot of differences. The research is so new in this area. We're constantly keeping our ear to the ground on new and updated research so that we can make sure that we're understanding how our kids' brains interacting with these different digital mediums, and really understanding the variants in digital mediums. Because reading a digital book varies from a website, varies from something that's more interactive. So there's a lot of nuances there to pay attention to.

Kristin: What the research is now finding too is the complexity of being digitally literate, because now you are reading images and making determinations about what to read next based on an image. If you think about any website that opens, it leads with an image or a video and there's a caption below it. So we're going back to some classic nonfiction features. But then you have to click that caption in order to read the heart of the text, right? So kids are making assumptions based on the images and videos they're watching. Are we teaching them to read those pieces strategically?

Many times with an informational text, we take multiple readings. We need to do the same with video and watch a video multiple times in order to understand it. But I think the most important thing we can do as this research evolves is first, be aware of what's out there. I think that's a leap sometimes for schools because it is all so new. Then I think the other best thing we can do is watch our kids. We've gone in those cycles of education where we're back to some classic Yetta Goodman kid watching. But what are our kids showing us they need in terms of strategy for accessing the information?

Early on, Katie used to always tell a story about how she gave her students something to read. Then in two minutes they're like, "We're done." And she was like, "How did you get done with that?" But they hadn't been clicking the arrows. Right?

Katie: They didn't click to next.

Kristin: Yeah, they weren't clicking next. So they thought only the first screen of the text was what they're supposed to read. So we're just watching kids. We're asking them. We're getting a lot of feedback and then planning based on that.

Lauren: What are some ways you're assessing new tools for the classroom?

Katie: I think that I am constantly assessing, and almost more importantly, reassessing the tools that are being used because the nature of technology is that it gets updated, which can be wonderful or absolutely maddening, depending on the update. We have to constantly reassess the tools that are already in practice in the classroom and ask ourselves, what's the workflow here? What are kids getting out of using this? How is that interactive piece? How am I really getting to spy on them as learners and see what's going on?

Sometimes updates, there's a tool that I use, and I logged in and I realized that they added this whole map component. I was like, "Yes, this is lovely. I'm so excited." Then other times you get an update and you're thinking, "Well, there goes that tool. I can't use that anymore." Because it gets too crowded. There's a something that really be said about simplicity when it comes to tech tools, that they help to amplify communication, collaboration, making thinking visible. But they don't have to be overly complicated and jam packed with content and lessons made by other people because you're the one who, who best knows your kids.

So I think really re-evaluating what we're using in the classroom and then taking that lens out and when paying attention to see, what's new? What's coming out? How is that different or better than what I'm already using? Is it worth that time investment?

Kristin: I do a lot of evaluating tools by asking students, just like we do a book talk or a book review on video. I ask them to do a tool review, like pick your favorite tool. Tell me why. How does it help you as a learner and what you think other kids could do with it? Even out of the mouths of first graders, you get these very professional, "Let me tell you why like this and here's how it helps my learning."

But I'm also just a big fan of less is more in general. I think it's very important to have a few good tools that kids can use in repetition, in math, in reading, in science, in social studies because then they get to use that same tool over and over and know it at depth as opposed to having 54 tools that they may be only use one time throughout the year.

I also think less is more is a huge management piece. If students only have 12 tools, they've used them all. So it's not like, "What's behind door number 27?" A lot of times kids are curious, so they're going where they're not supposed to be when they have too many options. And as kids get to know tools really well, then they think about how to layer them. "Okay, I can make a drawing here. Then drop that into a movie project that I can then post to my blog." And so that's where they're being really mindful about audience, process, product and what they want to create.

Katie: If you're going to become an expert in the kitchen, you don't hop from soups to breads. You pick something. So if I want to get good at making bread, I have to make a lot of bread and I have to make a lot of different kinds of bread and experiment. Then maybe I can go get good at soups for a while. Then I app smash it and I make a bread bowl with soup in it. I don't know, I just felt like that metaphor was really appropriate there.

Lauren: As we know, some schools are heavily resourced when it comes to technology, and some are not. What are some ways that this book can help teachers no matter what resources they have access to?

Kristin: Katie and I have often been those classrooms that are not well-resourced. We have an entire belief system based on you can do a lot of great technology teaching with one device and a projector where you're modeling a think aloud digitally, or searching, or sharing video content with kids that they're then annotating on paper. But I think we go back to just some of those best practice strategies, like how do we create small group work that might include devices.

More often than not, when students are on devices that I work with, they're in collaboration partners because it's true. Two heads are better than one. Then that's a way to balance and incorporate the need to collaborate. Because in so many places that are over resourced, you often see the screen goes up and collaboration goes down. But if kids are working in partnership, then you maintain that important piece of collaborating.

Katie: I would also say that in this book, there is a lot of technology for sure. But there are also a lot of components that are not based in technology and that get back to, I would say, some of our roots of inquiry and collaboration and critical literacy. So I think that even if a teacher only has a few devices in their classroom right now, or they only have that teacher device, there are still pieces of this book that are very worthwhile work to do with kids.

Kristin: I think that's where this differs a little bit from some of our previous work. There are a number of ideas and lesson suggestions that are incorporating the tech. But there are so many pieces where you won't need a device at all. It's just really focused on that collaboration and communication piece. Collaboration is a theme throughout the entire book. So I'm curious, what are some ways that you found to effectively that culture in your classroom?

Katie: I think to build a culture of collaboration, you have to really start with relationships, and building relationships with students as well as building relationships among students. That comes from listening and teaching kids to listen to one another, honoring who they are as individuals in the classroom. I think that, frequently, when people hear collaboration, they think of whatever horrible group project you were part of in grade school or high school, and all the work you had to do. Then so and so still got a good grade. That's not really what we're talking about. We're talking about kids coming together with a common purpose to do something amazing because we believe that what we can do together is better than what we can do individually.

So there's a lot of explicit teaching and support that goes with that. There's a lot of support around language. I think from the teacher's side, there's a lot of, again, kid watching and really listening to where the sticky spots are. Because not every child will jump into a collaborative group easily, right? So we have to know when to support that child, or when to step back and pull back a little bit because there might be extenuating circumstances. Really have to be keen observers of the micro society that goes on in the classroom.

Kristin: Also like recognizing that it doesn't always have to be collaboration, right? Like we're making intentional decisions about when and who and why and all of those little elements that go into it. And I think so much of building that culture is coming from us asking students to tell their story first. I think, then we move into helping them listen to the stories of others. And then I think after we do that, we move into the space where we start merging stories and thinking about what we can do together as a next step along the way.

Katie: Yeah. And as educators being really keyed in to the broader understanding that traditionally some students' stories have been told more frequently or more honored than others. And thinking about how are we intentionally making space and being an advocate for those kids whose stories may have traditionally been marginalized.

Lauren: So then how and why are stories important?

Kristin: I think story is the piece that endures, you know, from the time we were telling stories on the walls of caves to now telling stories in a phone movie format, there will always be story and the world will continue to change. But there's this innate need to represent humanity through the experiences that we've had, the experiences that we've shared and what we've learned from those experiences along the way. And I think what we're excited about right now is that there are so many ways to tell a story. And that's at a point in time that we haven't seen before in history.

Katie: Story endures. And not only are there so many ways to tell the story, but there are so many ways to connect with a wider audience for your story. And so when we empower students to tell their own story, they can connect with the entire world. And that's something magical.

Kristin: And I think like that world piece is big too because previously you only heard the stories of those in your geographic region or there were always like adult stories and kids' stories. And there probably are to some degree still today, but now we surpass some of those regional pieces and can easier than ever before hear someone else's story and that's why I think that intentionality behind teaching to listen and much of that comes from us modeling it as the educator in the room, but listening to the stories of others and I think that then dips into the civics piece of how we build understanding of ourselves and the world as well as the social-emotional learning piece of taking perspective, and building empathy and compassion by knowing and by knowing the stories. That's how we get there.

Katie: I've seen in the last several years, I think since Common Core came out that there was such a focus on argument, right? Arguments shifted, and constructing a debate, and we forgot the part about listening first and that's a piece that elementary students really need some time and space for, because if we're just arguing, if we're looking at something and making a decision that this is what we believe and now we're going to argue it to the core without listening. We've been gravely misinformed in our own thinking and I think that if we can teach students to acknowledge that you may think one thing about a topic or an issue, but you should always be open to taking in new information and continually adjusting your thinking and approach to the world. I think then that's when we're really creating some active engaged citizens.

Lauren: When it comes to technology, you advocate for balance between creation and consumption. Tell me about why you think this balance is important.

Katie: You know, when we first started writing, we were also huge advocates of creation and that was a response to a lot of the poor models of technology used in classrooms that we saw. There was quite a push and unfortunately there still is in many places for kids to take in, answer questions, have a graph spit out at the end. And you know we said, "But the creative potential for these tools, kids can blog, kids can make videos, they can make movies, they can make book trailers like, look, let's make some stuff." But as time goes on, we still believe that and we're seeing the importance of critical consumption, because in order to create something meaningful, you have to really develop true understanding of what it is that you're trying to put out there. And that comes through critical consumption.

Kristin: And I think it comes from multi-source study too, right? So like we definitely want to teach kids to know both sides of a story or all three sides of the story. And so you have to read widely, which is something we've all been advocating for for decades. But now we're continuing to do that in order to understand the concepts, but also to provide that time to marinate the thinking. You know, your gut reaction isn't often what you understand and believe a little bit more down the road with that. And so we're looking to give kids even more opportunities to think and to see models of what they could possibly create moving forward in order to really build some great thinking pieces.

And I also think that the piece of consuming, we're looking for that critical piece that Katie mentioned and high quality consumption. We do not believe that instruction happens when a teacher is just looking at a dashboard, you know like the critical consumption is looking at things that live in the real world and knowing how to access them and use them in order to build a more robust view about something.

Katie: I think with that too, we've sort of gone back to the idea of curation. When kids first started using the internet. And I mean I love our librarians, like librarians are such partners in this work with us, because they've been talking about these things in librarian circles for a long time. But there was such a huge focus on teaching kids like keyword searches and how to find the right information. And that's still important. But there's also this component of teachers doing a little bit of legwork and curating some really high quality, accessible resources, intentionally representing perspectives that kids might not find on their own.

And we know with search engines there's so much behind the results that you get and a lot of it is being driven by what else is there, money? Maybe power. When I curate print books for a classroom, if I'm putting together inquiry bins and not just grabbing any book that looks like it, I'm reading those books, I'm looking at them. I'm trying to figure out can my kids access these texts? Can they read them? What will they find when they read? What strategies will they encounter? And now we can curate that. We can still have that bin of print texts or magazines and large blown up images and things like that, artifacts.

But we also add this digital piece to it where we're curating video and websites, images, street view experiences, AR and VR where kids can take a virtual field trip and see the world from standing inside of it and we're teaching them how to read that. Like how do you go and visit the Eiffel Tower virtually and how do you read that experience and synthesize that with the videos that you watched and the books that you've read and the stories that you've heard.

Kristin: And I think like this is new but it's not new too, you know, just like Katie said, we've been creating tech sets of different stories and titles to read for kids. Now we're just creating tech sets, where it's all in one place and they can then form their opinions by looking at a wide variety of resources.

Lauren: Where are you starting to find some of those, to curate those collections that aren't physical books but another thing that librarians are helping you with or?

Katie: So I think we have some solid resources that we sort of revisit continually and we've actually curated them on a pretty sizable document for teachers as a starting point. But we definitely recommend working with your school librarian or your local librarian to see what additional databases that they subscribe to and what else they have to offer. And from my experience, they love doing that work with us. You know, that's part of why they got into being a librarian. So it's a real opportunity for collaboration.

Kristin: Absolutely. And I always say start with your TL, see what they know, because they're often informed differently than classroom educators about what resources the school or the district may have access to. I also think this is where technology helps educators in that we do have active social media lives right now and there are many great resources that you don't have to pay for or you can just tweet out like, "Hey, I'm looking for a collection of video archives or images for extreme weather, where can I go?" And within a matter of minutes or a few hours, you have dozens of resources from people who are educators just like you, that are trying these same practices. And so it's a curated resource list that's coming from your connections in the world. I also think that you don't have to know every resource. I have like three places I start and 90% of the time that gets me what I need to start crafting.

Lauren: In your new book, you share seven structures for what you've seen work in strong classrooms. Why are those structures important for classrooms and how do they show up in the book?

Kristin: I think the seven structures for strong classrooms is fundamental for us because we didn't just pop up in the world as educators who figured out how to use technology. But we really started from this core of best practice instruction and recognizing what students in the room needed and how our classroom environment field or fostered collaboration or how student agency could be at the core of why we're doing everything else. And I think along the way, as we've been on this tech adventure, we've seen that without some of those fundamental roots, the high level thinking and learning that happens when you use devices in the classroom is not as effective if students don't know how to talk to each other, or how to interact and share and curate or even move around the room.

Like something as simple as moving around to the room with devices take some practice. And so we look at these pieces being start here and then add another thing. Try this, watch your kids, then go back to this piece.

Katie: And I think those structures really, they're interwoven throughout the try-its in the book because when we try and do something in the classroom and it doesn't go quite right, frequently we can trace it back to a breakdown in one of those structures, right? It might be the pedagogy, it might be not paying close enough attention to what our students are telling us about what they know or what they're ready for. It can be something as simple as physical layout sometimes, because if we're trying to do innovative work in a constricted environment, it becomes very difficult. So I think that if we continually keep those structures in mind as we move forward and we look at how is each of these structures working or maybe needing a tweak, that gives us a framework for helping ourselves grow.

Kristin: And it allows us to sustain this work. You know, I think we always talk about when we were beginning teachers, we used to think about like, "Oh, you teach collaboration in September and then the next thing," but this is as you said like infused in daily work and daily practice. And so many of the try-its in the book are based on how do we maintain or upgrade those simple structures without the use of technology. But like how do we really help kids take another perspective or listen to each other or have a disagreement?

Katie: Something you just said made me think too about the interwoven nature of these things that you can't just teach collaboration one week out of the year or have a boxed curriculum for collaboration because it's in everything we do. And I think it's very similar with technologies. You know, in the early years, technology lived in one room or it lived at the edge of a classroom and now we see that it's everywhere all the time. It's just another tool like pencils and markers. And that speaks to the social-emotional component too, that there is a huge social-emotional component to everything we do in elementary school. And so there are times when we have, you know, an explicit focus, a class meeting or a discussion. But truly it is woven in every time we're interacting with kids. Every time we're having kids interact with one another and every time we're having kids interact with a resource and learn and then respond to that.

Lauren: You've mentioned the try-its for your book a couple of times. Can you tell me about what those are and how they appear in the book?

Katie: So when we dug into this project, we like to think of ourselves as teachers' teachers. We both have been in the classroom a long time and work with a lot of teachers. And so we get that there needs to be a practical aspect to anything that you pick up. If you're going to spend money on a resource, there needs to be something that you can take to your classroom and do tomorrow. Right? So we found it was really important to build in these try-its, ideas for instruction that you can take right to your classroom and try with your kids immediately so that you have that sense of feeling supported while you're doing this work.

Kristin: And I think that's one of our views about purposeful technology in the classroom. If it takes two weeks for your students to access, acclimate to understand how to use a tool, then that's probably feedback that it might not be the perfect tool for your students. And we know the limit in every classroom is time. So when we think about things we use in the classroom, we need to have tools that work, you know, and work simply and are very purposeful. The try-its in this book are a little bit of a carry over from Amplify because every chapter did end in try it tomorrow. And so we believe that if you use it right away, you remember what the tool is, you are looking for that feedback from kids about validating it.

And then from one tool you spend some time with it. You know, it's not about like trying everything across a day to day sequence, but really saying, "Okay, how does this work? What can I get from it? What can my students get from this? What are they telling me? How am I learning more about them?" And so we just felt like that was a really practical piece where people could sort of dip in to areas that met their needs. You know, it doesn't have to be in succession, but it's okay. Oh yeah, that's what my kids need right now. That aligns with what we're doing in reading or writing workshop. This is a good piece for our upcoming social studies unit.

Lauren: How do you make sure the use of different or new technologies in the classroom are rooted in thinking?

Kristin: When we look at tech tools, we are constantly going back to what are children doing as they interact with these tools. And I'm always asking, "Are they summarizing information? Are they determining what's important? Are they asking questions?" And so we go back to a lot of that work from David Pearson as well as Harvey and Goudvis on what does thinking look like and sound like? And we want evidence of that from kids when they make something it's the best evidence of where they are in learning journey on this day. And that's where we've really want to focus because chances are the medium will change. But the thinking endures. And so if we can grow thinkers, we believe that they'll be prepared to handle whatever curriculum they encounter.

Katie: And whatever technology they encounter.

Kristin: Absolutely. Because we know it's not going to stay the same.

Lauren: What makes you excited about technology right now?

Katie: There is so much possibility when I think about technology right now, and there's a lot of differing opinions on the impact of technology on society, and I think that we can either choose to look at what's negative or we can choose to see all of the positive impacts on humanity that come from people being able to transmit their story to the world, from people being able to connect with others halfway around the globe. So there's so much potential there.

The peace that comes with that, though, is harnessing that potential and weaving that into schools where our youngest learners are developing that early understanding of technology can be a force for good in the world and in your own life, but you have to be mindful of that, and you have to use it for that purpose. You have to be able to understand some of the negative impacts that it can have and mitigate those and learn. Whether it is personal device usage, we've all been guilty of getting that notification on our phone where it's like, "You used your phone for four and a half hours yesterday." And I'm like, "Really? Four and a half hours? That seems a little excessive." Or you know, just being mindful of what we're doing with it and how we're engaging with others in a positive, constructive way.

Kristin: And I think so much about, "Is technology a benefit or is it detrimental?" Comes back to the question for me of, "Have we taught them how to use it effectively?" You know, I think maybe we're seeing some negative trends in technology because it was just placed into the world without reflection, instruction, practice, feedback. And I think that's where we see a huge opportunity, because we can raise a generation of kids that analyze critically, connected appropriately, and all of those things, but it does come into what we're modeling in class and how we're helping kids understand and use these tools. And where as Katie said, the benefit of publication, Jenkins' work shows that anyone with a device can share their message with the world, but I think then that brings about a need to engage in deep media literacy, and, "Who crafted the story? What was their purpose? What are they trying to share with the world?" And giving kids the background knowledge to think critically.

Lauren: You talk to a lot of people about the use of technology in the classroom. Are there any concerns about what you're hearing or seeing?

Kristin: The biggest concern I probably have right now is in the conversation and marketing around technology. I often question, "Where are the students in this conversation?" Because so frequently it seems like there's ideas and products and movement without reflection on, "Do students need this? What will it help them do? Are teachers asking for this? What role does this play in the education community, or does this have a role in the global economy that is being rooted in the education community?" So I'm very cautious that there needs to be voices out there asking about the kids and putting the kids before the product piece.

Katie: Yeah. I would agree with that, and I think that looking at the motivating factors, so if the people designing the tools are thinking about assessment as an end goal, then whatever they create doesn't hold a lot of value because it is simply replicating that assessment. And when we talk about these standardized assessments that are constantly changing and constantly shifting and how they're being used is constantly changing and shifting, that can't be the driving factor in what we do in the classroom.

If we are teaching kids to be thinkers and problem solvers and they are reading and writing every day, and they are learning how to work hard and persevere, they're going to do good on any kind of assessment that we give them. But if we diminish their educational experiences to just practicing for the test, then I'm not sure that we are doing justice to our job. We need to take a step back and say, "What am I really doing here?" And I understand that can be challenging, because in some districts teachers' evaluations are tied to this data, but that needs to be something that we need to continue to push back on, because it is not in the best interest of kids.

Kristin: And I think that goes back to a old idea for us of balance.

Katie: Yeah.

Kristin: You know, not everything can be substituted with technology. Kids need books to read and devices. They need face to face collaboration and digital collaboration. And so sometimes I get worried that we get distracted by the shiny new things in the room and lose sight of teaching kids to think, you know? And I think we should, "Okay, let's think about thinking. What can aid us in that journey to craft better thinkers?"

Lauren: What is the role of technology in helping to develop and foster empathy and compassion in our classrooms?

Kristin: I think technology can be a significant model of where we see empathy and compassion in the world. You know, there's so many examples of videos or photos that we can study, and stories we can hear on a podcast or read on a news site that give us a window into kindness. And I think that piece of not only being compassionate to others but being compassionate to ourselves can become a very effective tool for kids once we give it a name, start building some ideas of what that looks like and sounds like, and then just like the collaboration and culture piece, embedding it as a day in, day out habit for living.

Lauren: You've put this book together with many interactive elements, from audio and podcast supplements to sections called Write With Us, to online resources for further reading. How do you hope teachers will use these features, and why was it important for you to put them in the book?

Katie: I think each feature sort of serves a different purpose. So the idea of including the podcasts or audio recordings with the book was to include teachers on the conversation. So frequently, you have these deep, amazing conversations about things, and we just wanted to bring our voice to the project a little bit and maybe unpack some of the topics that we touch on in the book in a little bit more detailed way.

Kristin: And I think we talk a lot about relationships mattering, and having a relationship-

Katie: Yeah.

Kristin: ... and we want to have that relationship with educators, and provide a window into, "Here's what we're really thinking. Here's how it evolves." Our time one ideation of something is not often our best one, but we continue the conversation to build these thinking pieces. I think we also really wanted just to bring in some of the new media that we talk so much about and use with students, because one hurdle oftentimes for teachers is that they want to be using and teaching these things with students, but they don't feel like they've had enough opportunity to practice it or to interact with it on their own, and so this is just like a gentle toe dip into, "Let's talk about audio. Let's talk about listening." You know, and, "How did that experience go for you?"

Katie: And the writing pieces are there to make space for reflection and for teachers to think about, "How are these pieces that I'm reading about, how do they apply to me? How do they apply to my classroom?" You know, in some cases we're asking teachers to think about their own experiences and memories as it relates to a topic that we're discussing, and then reflect on, "How does that impact me as an educator? How might that impact my kids?" And the resources are just, we, we like to share some, "Take it to your classroom," stuff right away so you can get started.

Kristin: Yeah. I also think the Write With Us piece is an opportunity for educators to co-author this book with us, because we know that the work doesn't happen in isolation and that their story is just as important as our story, and to help kids tell their stories, we all have to be integrated in this work together. You know, like Lucy always says, "Write in front of your students." Well, if you're going to go about this next adventure in teaching and learning, then we all have to do it together. And by no means do Katie and I think we're the only voices in the room.

Katie: No.

Kristin: We really hope that people will share their reflections and their stories and their feedback with us, because that's why we added the hashtag on every one of those Write With Us sections. We really want to hear from people and evolve our thinking together.

Lauren:  And what is the hashtag?

Kristin: The hashtag is, "#readtheworldnow." And we added the "now" bit because we expect that this literacy piece will continue to grow and change, and a year from now, six months from now, we'll know something new. We firmly believe that the education community needs to first understand the new information and research, and second, be open to adapt and adopt what we find next on this continuum. We're just at a moment in time, we're not anywhere near the end.

Lauren: In the book, how do you take us from comprehension, to empathy and broadening perspectives, and then to action?

Kristin: The book unfolds along those lines, and I think the section that we focus on first is this piece of thinking. "How do we help kids think deeper, teach them to think wider, and give them multiple opportunities to practice that." In all entry points for learning, so whether that be print text, or digital, or video, or VR, we teach thinking, and so we provide a lot of structures and language around thinking as well as a number of try its that help kids be metacognitive in how they approach the world.

Katie: As the book continues, and it was sort of ... It's outlined in our evolution of thinking as we're working on the project, and we see that there's this need to help kids really mindfully explore perspectives other than their own. And so we've gone into that work with both digital and print resources, and as a means for helping kids build empathy and compassion through this reading and talking work that they're doing.

Kristin: And I think that was important to us, looking at the climate that we're in politically and globally, to really listen to perspectives. And I think that chapter brings in a lot of the social emotional learning that Katie and I are passionate about, a lot of the civics literacy that we know we need and that is having a major resurgence across the country right now, as well as that empathy piece, which is just the core of everything.

Katie: And then the book ends with a framework for taking action, because if we are critically reading and we're developing this complex understanding, inevitably we will see places where we want to have an impact and make a difference. And so we've sort of outlined an inquiry process that you might follow with students to guide them in taking some really meaningful action on some of the issues and topics that they're reading about.

Kristin: And in taking the action, also supporting the media literacy skills kids need.

Katie: Yeah.

Kristin: "Who's your audience? What's the intended message?"

Katie: Yeah.

Kristin: "What action do you hope others take after learning from you?" And it's just that powerful moment of telling kids no matter what age, they could be kindergarten, they could be eighth graders, but saying, "You have a voice in this world, and your voice matters. Use it."

Lauren: In your book, you talk a lot about classroom libraries. Why are classroom libraries so important to your work?

Kristin: I think the classroom library is the heart of every classroom, and it is also something that endures. Classroom libraries aren't going away. They're at the heart of all of our thinking and learning. And so just as we're updating our pedagogy with mobile devices, we really need to be updating our libraries to make sure they reflect the many stories that are living right now in the world.

Katie: You know, we are very inspired by the work of our colleagues in this area, and we've been really listening and thinking about how that can better our own practice, and for kids to see themselves, to read stories about kids like them, kids that are totally different from them, that is so important and transformative. And so having that reflective stance on the books that we're reading out loud, the books that our students are picking up and reading independently, the books that we're offering for book clubs or literature circles, the resources that we're offering for social studies units, it's extremely important that we're taking a very careful, critical look at those books, and what stories are we centering as most important? Because for a long time we've centered one experience as being more important than others, and that's something that needs to change.

Kristin: That can be hard in education. You know, education is a hotbed for the nostalgia effect, and we many times hear people say, "Oh, but I loved that book." You know? Or, "Oh, I love teaching that book." And I think we have to really take another look at that and step away from those things that we've always done in order to truly reflect the world today and to grow kids that are prepared to live in that world and prepared to experience many different lenses of that world.

Learn more about Read the World at Heinemann.com.

Download a sample chapter of Read the World

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kristinziemkeKristin Ziemke is an urban school educator and the co-author of Read the World: Rethinking Literacy for Empathy and Action in a Digital Age,  Amplify: Digital Teaching and Learning in the K-6 Classroom and Connecting Comprehension and Technology. Recognized as an international expert in literacy, inquiry, and technology, Kristin works with schools around the world to develop learning experiences that are student-centered, personalized, and authentic. She dedicates her research and writing to developing engaged and empowered students that empathize, understand, and care about the world. Currently serving as a resident teacher and innovation specialist for the Big Shoulders Fund, Kristin is an Apple Distinguished Educator, National Board Certified Teacher, and Chicago Council on Global Affairs Emerging Leader. This is her third book with Heinemann and her work has been featured by Apple, ISTE, EdWeek, Mindshift, and Scholastic. 

You can connect with her online at KristinZiemke.com or on Twitter @KristinZiemke



Katie Muhtaris has enjoyed teaching and learning with her students in the Chicago Public School system for the last eight years. She is Nationally Board Certified as a Middle Childhood Generalist and holds a Master’s Degree in Teacher Leadership. In addition to her devotion to her students, Katie also leads staff development in person around the country and digitally around the globe on Inquiry-based learning, technology integration, and reading comprehension strategies. Katie is the author of the blog Inquiry Live in the Classroom where she writes about her day-to-day teaching practices and seeks to connect with educators around the world.

Topics: Podcast, Technology, Heinemann Podcast, Katie Muhtaris, Kristin Ziemke, Read the World

Date Published: 11/14/19

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