New Paths to Literacy

Children from one classroom engage with another via Skype in a mystery-Skype contest  — one of the ways modern technology is enhancing learning, according to Stephanie Affinito.   

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 15, 2018) — More and more, Stephanie Affinito of Literacy Teaching & Learning finds that she is connecting and collaborating with other educators she has yet to meet in person.

While she expresses some amazement at that fact, she no longer is surprised by how social media and the growth of other recent technologies have opened new pathways for teachers of literacy and the schoolchildren that benefit from them.

“Social media has been influential to my growth as an educator,” she has written on her blog. “By connecting with other educators online, I further my own learning, engage in collaborative projects to better support teachers and students and fuel new ideas and inspiration.”

A School of Education staff associate in a teaching-intensive position who teaches both online and on-campus courses, Affinito notes that Twitter has been a particularly fertile tool for building her personal learning network (PLN). “The virtual support, camaraderie and inspiration fuels my heart and mind,” she said. “I reach out to my PLN for my next book to read, for advice on an upcoming presentation, to request resources or simply gain inspiration.”

Stephanie Affinito of Literacy Teaching & Learning at UAlbany
Stephanie Affinito of Literacy Teaching & Learning.

Affinito not only gathers inspiration. She gives it. Her work with Twitter, and social media and technology in general, has allowed her to become a presenter at many national and statewide literacy conferences, including this year’s meeting of the International Literacy Association, the NYACTE conference on Oct. 11-12 and the annual professional development meeting of Literacy for All on Oct. 28-29 in Providence, R.I.

Schools have sought after her as a speaker as well, fascinated by the findings from her book, released this year, Literacy Coaching: Transforming Teaching and Learning with Digital Tools and Technology. And, of course, her own use of Twitter and other digital tools in her UAlbany classrooms is motivating a new generation of literacy educators.

Affinito, who has a master’s, certificate of advanced study and a Ph.D. (2011) in reading from UAlbany, said it was when watching a movie with her son —  a film whose plot involved a hero who saved the world — that she realized this heroic figure would have been incapable of such actions without teachers who long before had believed in his abilities and imparted to him critically important skills. Before he made a difference, she thought, his teachers had to.

And they had to, she reasoned, by bringing the world into the classroom. “I began reaching outside of my classroom walls and stretched my comfort zone,” she wrote in her blog. “I focused on the bigger reasons we teach students to read and write: to hear their voices and leave a mark on the world.”

She began sharing learning with other local reading educators. They arranged to have a Capital District area classroom of students mystery-skype with a class in Canada. Teachers in both classrooms eagerly engaged with their students, who asked questions in order to discover the location of the other “mystery” class.

This learning experience, said Affinito, was powerful, achieving “connection, learning, social skills, character building and more.”

She now informs teachers and preservice students on the many sites and software products that will get students and classroom engaging with others around the world on sharing the books they are reading, enhancing each other’s literacy skills, building character and empathy and more.

And she applies the same formula for educators to enhance their skills, using tools that connect with educators around the globe. “Start by expanding your own PLN and learn from other educators already engaged in this kind of instruction. Then let your students reap the same benefits as they build their own PLN by interacting with other books, ideas, students, schools and even countries through technology.”

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