McClatchy second-grade teacher awarded by national magazine for innovative literacy circles

Written by Ashley Ford Ashley Ford
Created: 20 December 2017 20 December 2017

Midlothian, TX - District Administration magazine recognized Lauren Benner, a second-grade teacher at McClatchy Elementary, for her innovative skills of incorporating electronics with reading and writing in the classroom.

Midlothian ISD was also one of 30 districts in the nation awarded in the “Schools of TechXcellence” — and the only school in Texas.

Benner has worked as an educator for nine years with Midlothian ISD and recently graduated with her master’s degree in reading instruction from the University of Texas at Arlington. While researching during her coursework, she came across the concept of literature circles.

With the district integrating the M*Powered one-to-one program that affords each student an electronic device, incorporating the digital literature circle was ideal for Benner.

Before using digital literature circles, Benner would read books to her students and hold a question-and-answer session after. Now she finds when she takes a step back from the learning process, it allows the students to take control of their learning development.teacher

“I feel that the students are empowered because they are working with their peers, so it’s student-led, not teacher-led. Students are now in charge of their own learning,” Benner explained.

At first, she was afraid the students would get off track and get distracted. But, by shrinking the literature circles to four to five kids, she found the students hold each other accountable, often staying engaged and encouraging each other. Benner said the method has been extremely beneficial for students who previously struggled.

“A group of kiddos get together and choose a book at their reading level, and they read it all together, and then they discuss the book together. And what I did, I made it digital, so they choose digital books as a group, so they are able to read the same book using their iPads.” Benner added, “They are also able to use some digital collaboration tools like Google slides and things like that, where they can write each other questions in real time on each other’s devices.”

Benner said that even though her students are second graders, it’s essential for them to be accustomed to reading both platforms — digital and print — to become true 21st-century learners.

“There’s a learning curve I think anytime you use a device, it just takes time and you have to work it through slowly,” Benner said. “It’s really important to me as a reading teacher to balance it, so we don’t just do digital books, but we balance with traditional printed books as well. That way they get the experience both.”

Having the option of using digital devices has allowed students to choose from a wider range of book on their iPads rather than reading what’s available on the bookshelf or library.

“The one-to-one program really personalizes the learning for our students because it allows them to work on their level and collaborate with each other and have access to a lot more resources that they wouldn’t have without the devices,” Benner said.

Having access to the technology in the classroom is valuable to Benner, and even an honor. She’s noticed that her students have more of an interest in reading and discussion.

“I think a lot of teachers are apprehensive about using the technology in the classroom and to take a risk and try something new and innovative and do what’s best for kids. To see the kiddos engaged was winning to me,” she said.

Benner has shared her strategy with other second grade teachers in professional development seminars, who are starting to implement literacy circles into their classrooms across the district. She also continues to improve her methods of using technology in the classroom with monthly seminars.

The next step for Benner is to build on the students’ skills in the literary circles to more critical thinking and reading more challenging books. For her, the ultimate goal is for the students to think independently.

Benner also said this is the first time she’s won an award in her career field, adding that this award serves as validation to keep pushing the limits of innovation. The recognition serves as an encouragement to keep adapting how students learn as the world changes, as well.

Midlothian ISD Superintendent Dr. Lane Ledbetter applauded Benner’s work.

“Lauren Benner has a passion for our students and literacy. She empowers her learners by making literacy fun and relevant for our students,” Ledbetter added. “With the technology resources made available to our students, Lauren strives to find ways to amplify and personalize learning in language arts and reading. She is incredibly deserving of this prestigious honor.”

Source: Midlothian Mirror