Monday, July 11, 2016

#CyberPD - DIY Literacy - Why tools?

One of my favorite teaching quotes is “A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary” attributed to Thomas Carruthers.  In the classroom, whether it is PreK-12 or higher education, it is my goal to help students become, as Kate and Maggie state “DIY warriors of their own learning” (pg. 2). Like the authors of DIY Learning, I believe that introducing various tools to students allows them to “do more, better work on their own” (pg. 2).  This is why I’m looking forward to reading DIY Learning with the community of #CyberPD so I can learn about new tools that I haven’t used to introduce them to my own students. 

Several years ago, I took a graduate course entitled “Tools for Thought” and it focused on the use of tools for thinking. One of the first tasks we had in class was to define a tool.  This isn’t as easy as you would think.  Try using a Frayer Model to complete this task. Think of all the various tools you use in everyday life and fill in the graphic organizer (which, BTW, is a tool).
Frayer Model
               ToolsEssential Characteristics
Non-Essential Characteristics

As a class, we spent most of the semester grappling with how to define a tool.  Tools generally help people accomplish tasks, such as a ruler measuring an object more accurately than eyeballing it, or a ramp allowing a person to place a heavy object at a higher level. When thought about in this way, almost everything could be categorized as a tool.  The definition of a tool that I finally arrived at is this:

Tools are objects, ideas, beliefs, institutions and/or processes that are designed, adapted or utilized - which allows one to accomplish a task faster, easier, better, or more reliably than doing the same task without the tool.  

But we mostly tend to think of physical tools such as a hammer or paper clip.  There are also tools for thought.  These tools allow people to remember, compute, reason or create ideas. So my definition of a tool for thought is:

Tools for thought are objects, ideas, institutions and/or processes that are designed, adapted or utilized - which allows one to recall, reason, create and/or communicate in ways that are faster, easier, better, or more reliably than doing the same task without the tool.

DIY Literacy is all about teaching tools that “help kids work hard and do better” plus, “help kids meet and match our deepest hope for them” (pg. 3). In addition, the tools should help organize and bring clarity to all the various reading and writing strategies that are introduced to children.  The authors state that they feel that using tools help learning stick because the tools are 1) Visual, 2) Making the abstract more concrete, and 3) Encourage repeated practice. 

In chapter 2, the authors categorize their tools into various categories:
·         Teaching Charts
·         Demonstration Notebooks
·         Micro-progressions of Skills (I would call this a Storyboard)
·         Bookmarks

As a classroom teacher, I’ve used several of these tools with my students and found they are useful. I have posted charts of graphic organizers, how-to directions, and illustration of process. My middle school students frequently used the bookmarks to prompt their thinking when reading and reacting to their independent reading. With my undergraduate students, I use presentation software, rather than a notebook for demonstration, but the idea is the same.  I believe in the power of tools.

Have you ever checked out the professional bookcase of a teacher? I wonder if you would agree with my observations. I have found it interesting that I can estimate how long a person has been teaching based on the books in their bookcase.  A novice teacher tends to have more workbook-like books that will provide photocopy-able versions of the bookmarks, strategy lists, and graphic organizers.  A teacher in their 3rd-5th year tends to start collecting books like the ones mentioned in the Bonus Chapter – books with more narrative and DIY-style practical suggestions that are meant to be contextualized. 

One of the things that I am appreciating with DIY Literacy is that it is bridging the path from “I need a solution NOW” with the “I can mine my own work for strategies.” As a veteran teacher and teacher educator, I’m using the ideas to re-think how I’m working with pre-service teachers and how I can better illustrate my own thinking as a teacher to new teachers using some of these same tools. 


  1. I like this type of reflective post. :) I, too, love the idea that tools are in us if we are being proactive in our observations of students. I think I am better at this in my math instruction because math was not something that came easy for me as a kid. I am more aware of the process and strategies I use and marvel at the new ones I learn from students. Over time, I think I have become better at this micro-progression type of thinking in math because of this. Reading and writing, on the other hand, are so automatic for me, and always have been. It's harder for me to name the tools I am using. At a time when so many people rely on Pinterest for their teaching strategies and then replicate the charts exactly, I think this book brings an important voice to the topic. It's not about reinventing all the tools, but about being really sure that you are spending teaching time using the right tool for the job.

  2. Lisa - I would agree. As teaching professional, we need to trust our own ideas and not depend on curriculum packages to do our work for us. There are lots of great lesson plans and tools, but they were design in a particular context. We need to think about how our context, students and materials impact the use of pre-created tools and lessons.

  3. What a great idea to consider your definition of what a tool is... especially a tool for thought! I usually go with something that makes work easier, but I like your definitions much MUCH better! Tools are powerful. I consider the professional texts I read invaluable tools; and after 17 years, my professional shelf has definitely evolved from the simple hammers and screwdrivers of my early years to the table saws and nail guns I fill my shelf with now...