Scaffolded Digital Reading Environments

A post by Bernadette

Ebooks and online learning environments introduce a number of possibilities for learner control to support literacy development. “Scaffolded digital reading (SDR) ”   (Dalton & Proctor, 2008) environments, provide embedded supports to both enhance access to texts and enable the construction of meaning for a range of diverse learners, such as struggling readers or English Language Learner (ELL) students. Embedded supports introduce physicality to the interaction between text and readers. Text-to-speech supports enable students to bypass the decoding bottleneck and so enhance listening comprehension, develop automaticity in reading fluency and word recognition. Studies have shown variance in the effectiveness of such supports where in terms of self-regulation students over or under utilise them (see for example, Dalton & Strangman, 2006; Mc Kenna, 1998).
As I discussed in my April blog, the Centre for Applied Special Technology (CAST) (  has developed a number of free digital software tools based on the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) (Rose & Meyer, 2002). UDL principles are underpinned by the concept that text should in the first instance be accessible to all readers rather than compensated or fixed at a later stage for the struggling reader or ELL student. This is achieved through the provision of a myriad of learning supports, such as hyperlinked glossaries, multiple means of representation in audio and visual modes, and ways to build engagement and expression. Avatar coaches are embedded in texts to provide prompts for students to activate comprehension skills and strategies such as, activating prior knowledge sources, making predictions, asking questions, and encouraging affective responses.
A recent study published in the Journal of Literacy Research (Dalton, Proctor, Uccelli, Mo, & Snow, 2011) explored the contributions made by vocabulary, comprehension strategy support and a combination of both vocabulary and comprehension support. The Improving Comprehension Online (ICON) study was conducted with 5th grade bilingual and monolingual students and provides evidence of the support offered by SDR. Students were assigned to one of three conditions: vocabulary support; reading comprehension strategies support and a combination of reading comprehension strategies and vocabulary support. The students read eight multimedia and informational texts (CAST Folktales).
Listen to a podcast of Dr. Bridget Dalton discussing this study with Dr. Elizabeth Baker in the voice of literacy podcast at this link
Significant variation was reported for standardised measures and researcher designed measures for students in the vocabulary and combination groups. Interestingly, the effects were non-significant for the reading comprehension strategies support group.

This study raises many interesting questions. For example, were the findings due to the needs of ELL learners where vocabulary support is of upmost importance? Or do these learners need vocabulary support in tandem with comprehension strategy support for optimum literacy development? Are comprehension strategy prompts only useful as strategies-in-use and not as an end in-and-of themselves? What is the optimum level of support for elearning environments? Could too many supports lead to a cognitive overload? Perhaps, as the authors speculate, the current level of interactivity and dialogic conversation between the reader and text (programmed coach avatars) is too limited. Interaction between reader and text (or avatars) needs to be dynamic and truly bi-directional to enable a dialogic response. What is the role of social learning and peer-to-peer collaborations in elearning environments? So many interesting questions are raised by this study!

Future research needs to focus on teasing out the nuanced interactions between reader, text, activity and context and thus provide software developers with options for designing customised elearning and literacy environments to accommodate and support the unique individual needs of a diverse student population of readers.
Baker, E. A. & Dalton, B. (2011, April 18). Designing technology to support comprehension among monolingual and bilingual students. Voice of Literacy. Podcast retrieved from
Dalton, B., Proctor, C. P., Uccelli, P., Mo. E., & Snow, C. E.(2011).Designing for diversity: The role of reading strategies and interactive vocabulary in a digital reading environment for fifth-grade monolingual English and bilingual students. Journal of Literacy Research , 43(1) 68-100.

Dalton, B., & Strangman, N. (2006). Improving struggling readers’ comprehension through scaffolded hypertexts and other computer-based literacy programs. In M. C. McKenna, L. D. Labbo, R. D. Kieffer, & D. Reinking (Eds.), International handbook of literacy and technology. Volume II (pp.75-93 ). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Mc Kenna,M.C. (1998). Electronic texts and the transformation of beginning reading. In D. Reinking, M. C. McKenna, L. D. Labbo, & R. D. Kieffer (Eds.), Handbook of literacy and technology: Transformations in a post-typographic world (pp. 45-59 ). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Reflections from the International Reading Association Conference in Orlando May 8-May11

Jill, Bridget, and Bernadette @ the Peabody Hotel Duck Fountain (Dana is present in spirit!)

It was a fun and fulfilling IRA conference – a great opportunity to gather inspiration from some of the most innovative thinkers in the literacy field! We’re so glad to have had the chance to catch up with friends, meet new colleagues, and attend several amazing sessions. The Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-Sig)  session (see was well attended and sparked many new ideas for using digital tools to support literacy learning.  As last year’s recipient of the Outstanding Research Award, David O’Brien (University of Minnesota) gave the keynote entitled Bridging Traditional and Digital Literacies: From Apprehension to Affordances which he skillfully presented from his iPad.  His talk sparked thoughtful reflection about the break-neck speed of change in the range of digital media and its potential to support and enhance learning. The keynote was followed by six round-table sessions that were both engaging and interactive.  Tons of new teaching ideas for using digital tools in the classroom were shared.  Many of the resources featured, as well as the best list we can find of the latest new online resources, can be found on the cool tools page  On the same TILE-Sig wikispace, check out the slides and resources shared from the Pre-conference Technology Institute 

We each attended Literacy & Science: Exploring Connections that Promote Engaged Learning and met many new colleagues who focus on connections between science and literacy (and technology, too!)

The pre-conference institute entitled Science and Literacy:  Exploring Connections that Promote Engaged Learning (see was chalked full of new ideas for addressing content learning.  Bridget’s delivered an outstanding presentation that addressed Reading and Learning Science with Digital Text and Media. The talk bridged research and practice and challenged participants to explore what it means to be a reader in the 21st century. Using a Universal Design for Learning framework, she shared several tangible examples that illustrated the power of digital tools to support literacy and content learning.   Laurie A. Henry and her colleagues from University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville connected 21st Century Literacy and Science in the Middle School Using the 5e Learning Model and showcased a range of effective teaching techniques.  Bridget’s and Laurie’s slide, as well as other resources, can be downloaded from the institute website! Videos of all the sessions will be added soon.

Bernadette was a finalist for the IRA Dissertation of the Year award!

We love that IRA brings us in touch with international perspectives that expand our literacy viewpoint.  Bernadette’s  poster summarized her dissertation study entitled Scaffolding Internet Reading:  A Study of a Disadvantaged School Community in Ireland and drew attention from numerous interested participants.  Bernadette skillfully described her development of an integrated inquiry-based curriculum which included cross curricular units that linked literacy, science, and the Internet in an authentic classroom-based study. She monitored in-depth the progress of three triad groups within each class cohort during Internet workshops and also conducted a series of Internet Inquiry Progress Tasks across the study. We congratulate Ber on her groundbreaking study.  Her findings have helped the literacy community worldwide better understand the nature of collaboration in Internet-inquiry and online learning.

If you’re looking for a high quality professional development experience that links literacy and technology, the New Literacies Teacher Leader Institute is holding an event that can be attended virtually or in person on July 25 – 29, 2011. To register for this exciting professional development experience go to:

VocabVid Stories: Developing vocabulary depth and breadth through live action video

A post from Bridget

Language is hard to express in words. Voltaire

Last week, Jill blogged about a chapter we wrote on developing vocabulary through multimodal expression (Castek, Dalton & Grisham, in press). I wanted to expand on the Vocab Vid strategy (Dalton & Grisham, 2011) and share some examples created by students in my graduate course on adolescent literacy. Their videos “show not tell” the potential of this multimodal word learning strategy. I have also included a handout at the end of the post that you can adapt for use with your students. I’ve learned that some structuring of the process results in more creative and effective videos.

The way that I‘ve been thinking about VocabVids is in the form of a short, live action story (30-45 seconds). Language learning is social – we learn with and about vocabulary as we experience it in specific contexts (Gee, 2004). We also know that many students benefit from multimedia learning, especially in relation to vocabulary (Mayer, 2005; Dalton, Proctor, Uccelli, Mo & Snow, 2011).

To create VocabVids, students work in small groups to develop a scenario for use of the word, discussing the nuances of word meaning and relationships between words. The planning process involves getting to know the word through initial research with tools such as an online thesaurus and an image search of the term. Students brainstorm a context for the word, asking who, what, where, when and why would this word be used? Skits are improvised, filmed, reviewed, and reshot if necessary. I deliberately have kept the process short – the video is planned and filmed in about 15 minutes – and the product is a live action video that does not involve editing. The final products are presented in class for discussion of the words and digital video skills, with an option to publish to a larger audience on the school website, YouTube, Teacher tube, etc.

But what about word choice? I would choose words for different purposes. To begin, you might ask students to select from a list of words that meet Beck and McKeowan’s notion of tier 2 words – words that are important to know and which aren’t part of everyday word knowledge. Or, you might want to open it wide and let students choose their own words, which could be quite specific to their interests, linked to a novel they are reading, or to a unit they are studying in science and social studies. Encourage them to choose a word that lends itself to being acted out (don’t avoid abstract words – they can be excellent candidates).

Student-designed Vocab Vids
The following 6 videos are posted with permission of the authors who are graduate students in my class, EnEd 3400, Reading and Learning with Print and New Media. I’ve highlighted the targeted word and story context for your information. However, I recommend that you and your students try watching the video without knowing the targeted word to see how quickly you can generate a range of guesses. Use the related words and storyline as clues to engage your students in active word learning.

VocabVid 1: ‘Ritual’ by Meridith and Ashley

With a coffee cup and the words ‘routine’, ‘pattern’, and ‘customary habit’, Ashley and Meridith illustrate a morning ritual many of us enjoy – drinking coffee.

VocabVid 2: ‘Conspicuous’ by Leah and Max

Playing Hide and Seek?  As Leah chides Max, it is very important to be ‘discreet’.  Since Max is usually ‘obvious’, ‘blatant’ and ‘eye-catching’, will he be able to find a hiding spot that is not ‘conspicuous’?

VocabVid 3: ‘Diminutive’ by Katie R and Laura

Laura convinces Katie that the spot on her jeans is ‘little’, ‘tiny’, ‘petite’, even ‘Lilliputian’.  It is ‘NOT huge’, as Katie fears, but “diminutive”!  Personally, I loved the Lilliputian reference from Gulliver’s Travels.

VocabVid 4: ‘Eerie’ by Erin

Flashing lights and strange noises in the bathroom result in a ‘weird’, ‘spooky’, ‘creepy’, and ‘eerie’ experience for Erin.

VocabVid 5: ‘Lurk’ by Neil and Yumeng

When does ‘lying in wait’ and ‘peeking’ turn into ‘lurking’?!  Yumeng helps Neil understand the difference.

VocabVid 6: ‘Braggadocio’ by Russell and Simon

Technical alert – this video is sideways, but funny!

Why would Russell call his friend a ‘bombast’ and scorn him for his ‘pomposity’ and lack of ‘humility’?  Watch ‘braggadocio’ Simon to find out!

STUDENT HANDOUT: 30 Second VocabVid Stories

 Your goal:  To show, not tell, the meaning of a word in a 30-second digital VocabVid  Story

VocabVid Stories are short (about 30-45 seconds) videos that illustrate the meaning of a word through a short skit.  The goal is to situate the word within a meaningful context to help us learn and remember the word.  And, you will learn something about designing short videos along the way!


1.  Research your word to find synonyms, antonyms, and other related words that you can include in your story dialogue. Don’t forget to make note of different forms of the word. The Visual Thesaurus or other online thesaurus tools are great resources for exploring the meaning of your word.

2.  Brainstorm possible contexts for how the word might be used.  As you’re brainstorming, think about how you can act out your video skit.

  •  Where might you hear this word?
  • Who might be saying it?
  • What is happening?
  • When is the word being used?
  • Why are they saying it?
  • What kinds of feelings might be associated with this word?

3.  Do you need any simple props?

4. What is your location? Where will you film? (Since we are in school, I have made arrangements for you to use this class, the hallway, outside the door at the end of the hall, etc.)

5. Make a sign showing your word in writing (print the word large and clear so that it can be read on screen). You will show this sign at the end of the video.


6. Improvise your skit, giving each other feedback as you go along.

7. Film your skit and review (see the technical advice section on shooting your video and using a Flip camera).

8. Try filming again if needed and select the best one.

Show (and perhaps publish)

9. Share your videos in class and discuss what you learned about these words, as well as what you learned about creating VocabVid Stories.

10. Consider posting your video to a class website, blog, or YouTube (be sure to have everyone’s permission to post)

 Technical Tips for Shooting your Video

1. Don’t shoot into the light! (Avoid standing in front of windows).

2. Actors need to face the camera or each other at an angle that still allows them to be seen and heard. It is common for people to turn away from the camera, especially if they are in groups. Watch out for this.

3. Actors need to speak clearly! Be dramatic!

4. Find a quiet spot.  Test your volume at the beginning, so you know who needs to be louder or who needs to speak more clearly.

5. Show your vocabulary word on a piece of paper at the end.  I have provided markers and paper for you to use.

 Flip Camera Directions

  • How to Turn Your Camera On: Slide the gray button on the top right side of the camera down. Your camera will automatically turn on.
  • How to Begin Shooting: Hold the camera in the vertical position (otherwise, you will get sideways video!). Press the red button to begin filming.
  • How to Stop Shooting: Press the red button again.  There is no way to pause your videos, so you will have to complete them in one take. But, please film a few takes and compare so that you can choose the best one!
  • Zoom In/Out: Press the + button to zoom in and the – button to zoom out.
  • How to Play Videos Back: Press the Play button to the left side of the screen. Press it again to go to the next video.
  • How to Delete Videos: If you want to delete a video, press the trash can twice.



Castek, J., Dalton, B., & Grisham, D. (in press). Using multimedia to support students’ generative vocabulary learning. In J. Baumann and E. Kame’enui (Eds.) Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Dalton, B., Proctor, C.P., Uccelli, P., Mo, E. & Snow, C.E. (2011).  Designing for diversity:  The role of reading strategies and interactive vocabulary in a digital reading environment for 5th grade monolingual English and bilingual students.  Journal of Literacy Research, 43 (1), 68-100.

Dalton, B. & Grisham, D. (2011).  eVoc strategies: Ten ways to use technology to build vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 64(5), 306–317. DOI:10.1598/RT.64.5.1


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