Technology meets literacy at District 47's first Transliteracy Conference

  • Presenter Jennie Magiera meets with District 47 Transliteracy conference co-organizers Dave Jenkins and Kristin Thorsen.

    Presenter Jennie Magiera meets with District 47 Transliteracy conference co-organizers Dave Jenkins and Kristin Thorsen. Courtesy of District 47

Denise Barr
Posted8/22/2014 10:34 AM

More than 300 teachers and administrators from Crystal Lake Elementary District 47 and surrounding schools turned out for the district's first Transliteracy conference last week. The two-day conference, held Aug. 13-14, was aimed at arming teachers, staff and administrators with knowledge on how to integrate technology and literacy in the classroom, an increasingly popular concept known as "transliteracy" in education.

Transliteracy may be defined as the ability to read, write and communicate across a range of platforms, tools and media. While it can be thought of as the intersection between technology and literacy, it involves strategies that improve any classroom setting and applies to all content areas. According to District 47's technology "iCoach" and event co-organizer Corey Holmer, "Technology is an instructional tool and should be taught in conjunction with content. That's why we linked it with the literacy conference … to model using educational technologies to deliver content and increase student achievement through solid literacy instruction."


Last year and in previous years, District 47 hosted both literacy and technology conferences, but this year it decided to combine the two to provide a truly integrated professional development experience. Another reason for combining the conferences was to allow those interested to attend both events in just two days. The first day of the conference consisted of two half-day sessions, while the second day featured a multitude of one-hour breakout sessions. Topics, which were presented by District 47 technology experts and a host of outside presenters, ranged from Google Apps, iPads and Twitter to the Common Core Standards, literacy and blended learning. Sessions were ranked according to "novice," "intermediate" and "expert," so participants could attend the sessions that interested them most at their targeted skill level.

Attendee and first-grade South Elementary teacher Suzanne Evenson said she was "jazzed" about starting the new year off with so many useful and practical teaching tools. "My first-graders are going to learn and experience many new iPad apps this year!," she exclaimed.

District 47 iCoach and event co-organizer Kristin Thorsen said, "Teachers left the conference motivated to implement new ideas presented in their classrooms this fall. There has been an exciting buzz traveling through the district about the event from those who attended."

The district pulled in several well-known thought leaders in the area of technology and education to speak at the conference, including Chad Kafka, a technology integration specialist for Franklin Public Schools, and Jennie Magiera, a White House Champion of Change and Chicago Public School's 2012 Tech Innovator of the Year. Magiera taught several sessions highlighting free online tips and tricks for the classroom, including "Twitter Tuesdays" and Plicker, a classroom polling system. Kafka taught a class on Google basics for administrators. According to Kafka, "It was great to meet so many educators that were 'hungry' for learning how using technology like this can make an impact in their classrooms."

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Another outside conference presenter, Laura Beltchenko (former associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction for Wauconda District 118) echoed Kafka's comment, saying what stood out to her was the dedication to learning on the part of the District 47 faculty and administration.

"It was extremely impressive to see hundreds of teachers attend this conference before the onset of the school year," she said. "It shows their commitment to student achievement. It is my hope that other districts will model the worthiness of this unique opportunity for professional development of their teachers and staff."

Holmer and Thorsen say District 47 will use feedback from this year to put together an even better event next year and may open it up to other districts. "District 47 has outstanding educators who are willing to put forth the effort to learn new tools and strategies that will better prepare our students for the future and beyond," says Holmer. "I am proud of District 47 and honored to be part of such a strong team."

An interview with Jennie Magiera:

• In your opinion, what were the highlights of District 47's Transliteracy conference?

"It was awesome to see so much enthusiasm and excitement about what can be done with technology in the classroom. People were hungry for the knowledge and wanted the how and the why. This conference was rich in content with its combined focus on literacy and technology. It is a great example of how conferences like these can push us to grow and learn. My hope is that people will come out of a training like this viewing technology not as a separate, extra thing you have to do but as part of a foundation upon which to build great pedagogy."


• Of all the technology tips and tricks you've introduced to teachers of late, which ones are making the biggest impact and why?

"If I had to pick one, it would be Google Apps for Education. Google Apps is a giant, free ecosystem, where one tool builds on another and everything is interconnected, from add-ons to Google sites to YouTube. And it's all free! This is huge. Technology used to be kind of siloed, but now with resources like Google Apps, many of our tools work in tandem. There is not a one-size-fits-all approach to technology. I think this is important because it allows students to gain exposure to many different applications and devices and become adept at learning how to select the best one for their needs."

• What kind of role do you think technology will play in the roll out of the Common Core Standards?

"Common Core Standards are part of the world in which we live and we have to get our kids ready for it. Technology can shape how we teach and deliver the knowledge. The Common Core Standards have urged some school districts to rethink their practices and many have opted to adopt new technology along the way. If the Common Core is the catalyst that creates change and paves the way for great things to happen, like connecting students here to another classroom across the globe, then I'm all for it."

• What is your overarching goal in doing professional development workshops?

"I like doing these workshops for several reasons. First, I get lots of good questions, which make me think harder. People question me on my best practices and why I do things a certain way. This keeps me honest. I also do this because I like hearing about the challenges and goals in different districts. This broadens my perspective and brings a greater level of clarity for me on current issues. Finally, there is something special about watching the excitement on people's faces as they first discover tools like Plicker. It brings me back to when I first discovered it and it reinvigorates my passion. It's like taking kids to Disney for the first time and seeing their faces light up as they experience the 'magic'."

• What do you think the average classroom will look like in the future and how will it function?

"I don't know and I don't want to know. If we could predict where we'll be in 5 or 10 years, what would be the motivation to break down barriers, think outside the box and dream big? I am excited not to know. I believe we should set goals for the future but focus on how can we make tomorrow better than today. Live and teach one day at a time."

Jennie Magiera is the digital learning coordinator for the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a network of 32 neighborhood Chicago Public Schools, and has received numerous prestigious awards and recognitions, including White House Champion of Change as a Connected Educator, Chicago Public School's 2012 Tech Innovator of the Year, an Apple Distinguished Educator and Google Certified Teacher.

Besides her work for Chicago Public Schools, Magiera has been leading professional development seminars for teachers all over the country since 2011 on how to strategically integrate and optimize technology in the classroom.