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Modern literacy in Eagle County

Matt Terrell
Vail, CO Colorado
Kristin Anderson/Vail DailyJune Creek Elementary School fourth-grader Morgan Huttrer, center, raises her hand to add to a list of mascot animals the fourth and first-graders were deciding Monday at school in Edwards.
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EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” The successful 21st century reader is a connoisseur of information ” a deep thinking and creative skeptic ready to shake up the world.

The trick is teaching all that in a classroom. The Internet is expanding our traditional definition of literacy, and reading teachers are having to modernize to keep up, says John Kuglin, technology director for the school district.

Students have more information than ever at their finger tips through Google, Wikipedia, news blogs and colorful cell phones. It’s no longer enough to be able to read ” students must learn how to sift through these piles of glowing text, make sense of it all and do something creative with it.

Literacy is now more than reading and writing ” it requires deep thought and creativity.

“Now you have to be a discriminating reader ” you have to determine what information is good and what information is bogus,” Kuglin said.

Eagle County School District has been reworking its reading and language arts curriculums to better teach these modern students, who will have to make sense of the Macintosh world while still learning the finer points of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Non-fiction is taking a more prominent role in classrooms, whereas the reading lesson has traditionally been dominated by children’s stories and classic literature.

Classics will still play a big role in the modern classroom, but the fact is that as students leave high school and eventually college, the ability to understand plots and symbolism in a book like “Huckleberry Finn” drops in importance as they become enveloped by the scientific journals, business reviews and political blogs that feed and nurture their professions.

Twenty years ago, encyclopedias were the king of information filters ” unbiased, well-researched and permanent. Now, encyclopedias can’t keep up with the speed and up-to-date information provided by the Internet, and students are being taught how to research those modern sources, document them and somehow validate whether or not they’re valid, Kuglin said.

“Adults now are being asked to sift through the political ads and the slants, so you can see how important that skill is,” Kuglin said.

The first big project for the students at June Creek Elementary, the new school in Edwards, is picking a school mascot.

This will take some research, and it has to be smart research. They’ll have to learn about all the animals that live in Eagle County, sort out the candidates, throw out animals already chosen by other schools, and come to a decision as a school.

It’s a collaborative project ” one that forces students to read, look for specific information and pull together as a team to solve a problem.

“What we really want to do is produce learners who can aid in our global community” kids who are collaborating and talking with each other kids,” said principal Tracy Barber

This kind of learning is the future of the school district. June Creek Elementary is actually piloting a program in its first year called “21st Century Learning.”

Like all schools in the district, June Creek has lots of computers, high speed Internet, LCD monitors in the classrooms and a “smart board” in the computer lab. At June Creek though, many of the computers that would normally be placed in large computer labs will be in the classrooms.

The idea is to have technology used by the children in all facets of learning, so students can immediately apply what they learn in class to “real life” applications, Kuglin said.

“We want them to draw conclusions, make informed decisions and apply their knowledge to new situations,” Kuglin said. “We also want them to share knowledge and participate ethically as members of society … we want them to be not just be consumers of information, but also producers of knowledge.”

Teachers across the district see the importance of expanding a students mind beyond fact recitation. Mo Beck, a reading teacher at Minturn Middle School, says when her students read a book, she’s not as interested in them listing off main characters, settings and plot points. She wants them asking the big questions about life.

“I want to see higher level thinking ” I want them thinking about what they’re reading,” Beck said.

Staff Writer Matt Terrell can be reached at 970-748-2955 or mterrell@vaildaily.com.


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