Text Complexity in the Digital Age: An F for Online Reading?

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

If you are reading this, chances are good that you are a teacher or education professional. As a result, the subtitle probably caught your attention right away; but this blog post is not about the ill effects of digital reading. Instead, we are going to explore what reading online might mean at a time when we will all be searching for ways to increase the amount and quality of text students read and the complexity of those texts. Shortly, you will see why an F in digital reading can be a useful tool.

Why Do Digital Texts Get an F?

To understand how text complexity can be promoted in the online environment, it helps to know and understand how readers approach reading many webpages. As you probably know, readers’ eyes move across text sweeping from left to right (a saccade) and stopping on some words to take in the content and perhaps focus on more challenging terms or phrases (fixations). However, when readers go online to a search engine, their reading tends to skip wide swaths of text as they search for the content they need. Eye movements can be tracked, and during perusal of a search result, the places where the reader’s gaze tends to be most concentrated resembles an ‘F’ shape. It would not be productive to read every word of a search result. Rather, the reader takes in key terms most often on the left side of the screen and sweeps across in some places forming the arms of the ‘F.’ Would you like to see what eye movement tracking of a search result might look like? Check this out:

An image from Clickrmedia: Eye Movements on a Search Page

More important, once readers do select a web source to read, they tend to follow the same pattern during initial reading of the webpage. Because reading on the screen is somewhat different than reading on paper, web designers actually take advantage of this F-shaped pattern and write text using headings and key words that fall within the F-zone in an effort to gain the reader’s attention. This results in important concepts from the site being conveyed to the F-zone reader, and perhaps entices the reader to go beyond the F-zone and read more closely. This is a good thing for the same reasons we cannot and should not read every word on a search page. The challenge for teachers and the readers in their classes is deciding when to use this strategy and when to go beyond this approach and read a bit more thoroughly and perhaps slowly. In this photo, you can see what the F-shape looks like when eye movements are tracked. The redder the color, the more time the reader spends looking at the content on that part of the page.

An image from the Nielsen Norman Group: Eye Movements on Three Webpages (Notice the general shape of the ‘F’)

F-shaped Pattern

See eyetracking in action (real-time): http://www.vimeo.com/40021154 (source: The Nielsen Norman Group)

…and eyetracking in action (slowed-motion version):  http://vimeo.com/40021215 (source: The Nielsen Norman Group)

Is F-Shaped Reading a Problem?

Some voices in education believe this F-shape reading pattern is part of a larger problem that demonstrates how online reading in some way detracts from a reader’s ability to comprehend complex and longer texts. While we certainly need more research in the area of digital reading and how it affects young readers (and older ones, too), we can use what we know about the F-shaped pattern to our advantage in the classroom. Slow and careful reading need not be impossible in digital environments.

Effective reading online involves complex skills that can build what Newkirk (2012) calls a growth mind-set. This mind-set “…is the capacity to view difficulty as an opportunity to stop, reassess and employ strategies for making sense of problems” (p. 122). When readers encounter uncertainty, they may quickly navigate away from the webpage causing doubt; however, teachers can assist readers to make clear and conscious choices to seek out uncertainty, confront doubt, and consult many sources. Moreover, maintaining a healthy skepticism that promotes further inquiry even as some uncertainty is reduced, new doubts will surface. A  reason the Common Core State Standards Initiative (2010) includes qualitative elements represents recognition that young readers and their teachers have a role in deciding how they may challenge themselves to greater growth as proficient readers.

A really neat thing about the human brain is that it is very capable of changing its own behavior. Metacognition theories tell us that thinkers (in this case, thinking through reading) can be aware of their learning behaviors and consciously choose to adapt them to suit varying purposes and contexts. Because the Internet is full of worthwhile and complex texts, the online environment presents a challenge for young readers. Fortunately, the challenge is one educators are well-equipped to take on. Reading online has many facets, and four of them appear in the list below. In this post, we have zoomed in on reading habits in online environments. Others will be explored in subsequent posts.

  1. Finding the most appropriate reading material
  2. Determining the best approach for reading that material
    1. Monitoring reading habits
    2. Reading text in a non-linear manner (cf. Reinking, 1997)
  3. Synthesizing multiple sources
  4. Integrating multimodal resources

A Challenge to Readers of Literacy Beat

As you read the remainder of this post, here are some reader challenges for you. Did you use the F-shaped pattern in selecting this blog post from a search engine? Did you use the F-shaped pattern as you read the post at first (remember, this is a good thing)? Did you read “below the fold” or the point at which you had to scroll to get at more content? At what point did you decide to abandon the F-shaped pattern and choose a different approach (you did, didn’t you?). Why did you change your approach? Finally, if you are a teacher, how have you helped your young readers to understand and effectively read online sources?

Tools and thinking habits for evaluating the reliability of online sources are well-known (e.g., Schrock, 2002). Therefore, we won’t spend more time with these tools here. A good point to add, though, is that online readers often do not apply principles successfully for evaluating sources even if they know they should do so (e.g., Leu, Zawalinski, Castek, Banerjee, Housand, Liu, & O’Neil, 2007). Effective instruction in choosing reading material online that suits the purpose for the search and challenges the reader to think deeply about the topic of the search is critically important. To that, I should emphasize that students need to be taught how to select online reading that is appropriately challenging to them rather than defaulting to the easiest material available.

While the F-shaped pattern seems to be the default reading pattern for reading on the web, there are appropriate times when readers should slow down and read closely. In Module 1 on the TextProject site, we defined close reading in rather concise terms:

“Close reading is characterized by the use of evidence from the text to support analysis, conclusions, or views of texts. For example, responses to the definition of text complexity would begin with a reference to the place in the text where the term is defined” (Wolsey, Grisham, & Heibert, 2012, p. 2).

The F-shaped pattern and close reading of complex texts need not be exclusive of each other. There are times when scanning content is appropriate and other times when slowing down and reading closely is the better choice—even for web content.

Please use the comment feature of this blog to explore this topic with us.

  • How do you help your students choose increasingly complex texts that challenge them as readers to work with uncertainty?
  • In what ways do you help students monitor their reading behaviors such that they move from the F-shaped pattern of most web reading tasks to the slower close reading tasks associated with complex text?

References

Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS). (2010). Appendix A: Research supporting key elements of the standards; Glossary of key terms. In Common Core State Standards for English language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_A.pdf

Leu, D. J., Zawilinski, L., Castek, J., Benerjee, M., Housand, B., Liu, Y. & O’Neil, M. (2007). What is new about the new literacies of online reading comprehension? Retrieved from http://www.newliteracies.uconn.edu/pub_files/What_is_new_about_new_literacies_of_online_reading.pdf

Moje, E., Overby, M., Tysvaer, N., & Morris, K. (2008). The complex world of adolescent literacy: Myths, motivations, and mysteries. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 107-154.

Newkirk, T. (2012). The art of slow reading. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH.

Reinking, D. (1997). Me and my hypertext:) A multiple digression analysis of technology and literacy (sic). Retrieved from ReadingOnline: http://readingonline.org/articles/art_index.asp?HREF=/articles/hypertext/index.html

Schrock, K. (2002). On a good website you can tell… Retrieved from http://kathyschrock.net/abceval/primary/index.htm

Wolsey, T. D., Grisham, D. L., & Hiebert, E. H. (2012). What is text complexity? Teacher Development Series. Retrieved from http://textproject.org/tds

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Using Strip Designer for Literacy Learning

Using Strip Designer for Literacy Learning

“In order to be read, a poem, an equation, a painting, a dance, a novel, or a contract each requires a distinctive form of literacy, when literacy means, as I intend it to mean, a way of conveying meaning through and recovering meaning from the form of representation in which it appears.” (Eisner 1997, p. 353)

It has been 15 years since Eisner eloquently reminded us that we are moving from a text-based world to a multimodal one where we learn to learn from a fresh variety of sources and communicate generatively with a vast array of tools at our disposal. Schools around the U.S. have not always been quick to adopt such new tools and in some cases have moved to discourage the use of new literacies and evolving technologies in the classroom. In other places, such technological innovation is not only welcomed, but also supported.

We find a welcome case of such support in Napa, California, where a non-profit institution, NapaLearns (napalearns.org) has become a benefactor of technological innovation, providing grants to schools in the area for the purchase of tools and training. You may learn a great deal about the efforts of NapaLearns by visiting their website.

Here I would like to highlight one of the projects that NapaLearns funded. The project takes place in a public school and in the Kindergarten classroom of a very talented teacher, Ms. Martha McCoy. Martha and I became acquainted through her graduate program in Innovative Education at Touro University, where I taught research methods last spring.

In Martha’s words:

This year our kindergartners embarked on a great journey to explore the ways technology can be used to enhance their learning. In addition to crayons, paper, pencils, playdough, puppets, puzzles, play, manipulatives, and realia, we are learning with iPads.

Our students are primarily English Language Learners, 100% of whom are living in poverty based on qualifying for free or reduced lunch. Less than 2% of the students’ parents graduated from high school in the U.S. and 17/18 students only speak Spanish at home.  These students are at the greatest risk of school failure.

The strategy for use of the iPads was to provide early academic intervention focused on building English language vocabulary and school readiness in our most ‘at risk’ students. The iPad enhanced kindergarten project began as a partnership between NapaLearns, a nonprofit organization, Calistoga Family Center, a family resource center, and Calistoga Joint Unified School District. The partners share in NapaLearn’s mission to “re-imagine learning for all children in Napa Valley …to promote implementation of education innovation and promote student- centered 21st century learning…so our students can compete in a fast paced technology enhanced world.” (NapaLearns Mission Statement, 2010).

********

Martha completed an action research report to ascertain the effects of a partnership in her school between her kindergarteners (who knew iPads) and 6th graders at the school (who knew about writing). The Kinders and the 6th graders worked in cooperative pairs to create comic strip posters to show preschool children (who would be in K the next year)  what a typical day in Kindergarten looks like.

The Kindergarteners used their iPad cameras to take pictures of typical scenes in a Kindergarten day. They also drew pictures using Drawing Pad (see screen capture below).

 

 

The drawing pad application costs $1.99 and I purchased it to try it out. Don’t laugh (I’m not an artist!), but learning the program was simple and here is a terrible example.

For those of you who know my husband, Marc, he is well represented by a firetruck (we own one from 1949). Me, I’m always up in the air.

The students put this photos and text together using another iPad (and iPhone) application called Strip Designer (see screen capture below). This program costs $2.99 and I also downloaded and tried it out using photos.

Strip Designer also has a tutorial and is relatively easy to learn.  I’ve done a couple of the comic strips, but instead of sharing mine, I have Martha’s permission to share one her student did:

But probably the best way to get the essence of Martha’s work is to view her Animoto on the project, also created for the Innovative Learning program at Touro (under the auspices of Program Director, Dr. Pamela Redmond). You can view this at http://animoto.com/play/xLgpKJU7wrQjLe1qaVfWuQ.

You can also get more information about Martha on her weebly website: http://msmccoysclasswebsite.weebly.com/

One project is complete, but new learning continues. Martha is busy planning new efforts for this academic year. She has already designed lessons on digital citizenship for the K-6 team. She plans for 6th graders to learn about Internet safety, cyberbullying, and respectful (and responsible) digital behavior to prepare for teaching their Kindergarten buddies.  Then they will design posters, digital books, and skits with their Kindergarten buddies about how to be safe and respectful online. Martha plans to weave elements of Internet safety throughout their projects all year long and build it into their rubrics.

I can hardly wait to see the results!

In the meantime, I am planning a little research of my own with the collaboration of four high school teachers who will use Strip Designer to scaffold the literature they will be using in their classrooms. Much more on that later.

There are so many ways that the above two inexpensive programs can be used to scaffold our students’ learning. The Drawing Pad art can be emailed and archived, as well as placed in “albums” and books to be viewed online or printed out. Strip Designer is very productive also. I have written before with colleagues on the uses of graphic novels in special education (Smetana, Odelson, Burns, & Grisham, 2009; Smetana & Grisham, 2011), while having used them with mainstream classes. Storyboarding and graphic novel writing is made easy with Strip Designer. There must be many more uses of this that readers of this blog can envision! A very positive part of this is that one iPad can be used to do all of this. Martha has iPads for all her students, but even if you have one in your classroom, you can provide enormous benefits to your students with very little expenditure.

What are YOUR ideas for using these new tools? All ideas and comments are very welcome!

References

Eisner, E.  (1997). Cognition and representation: A way to pursue the American Dream? Phi Delta Kappan, 78, 349-353.

Smetana, L., Odelson, D., Burns, H. & Grisham, D.L. (2009). Using graphic novels in the high school classroom: Engaging Deaf students with a new genre. Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy, 53, 3, 228-240.

Smetana, L. & Grisham, D.L. (2011). Revitalizing Tier 2 interventions with graphic novels. Reading Horizons, 51, 3.

Bringing it Together: Utilizing Digital Tools for Collaborative Learning Opportunities

A post from Bernadette

Digital tools can promote collaborative and social learning opportunities, enhance literacy development and extend the boundaries of the classroom. Digital tools can be used in ways that support receptive, expressive and generative processes. This coming semester I want to explore, with my teacher candidate students, the possibilities presented by a range of digital tools. In this post I will explore the possibilities presented by Voicethread and Thinglink

Voice Thread

Voicethread for educators (http://ed.voicethread.com/#home ) provides an interactive online forum for conversations and student collaboration. Voice threads are collaborative multimedia slide shows which integrate images, documents, and sound files. A voicethread workshop, with easy to follow instructions of how to create a voice thread, can be found here or you can view online tutorials.

Voice threads allow for anytime, anywhere conversations, and allow participants to annotate and comment asynchronously in five different ways: using voice (via a microphone), text (using a keyboard), audio file, video (with a web cam) or annotation through doodling. Participants click on ‘Record’ or ‘Type’ to add a comment which then appears around the border of the image, slide or video. Teachers can create free education accounts for their students. Participant identities are represented through images or avatars (created in for example, Doppelme.com) which are added to the accounts. The interplay of multimedia and commentary are essential parts of the process and encourage student response. Students can respond through for example, asking questions; offering opinions; or making text-to-self, text-to-text or text-to-topic connections.

At voicethread4education wiki (http://voicethread4education.wikispaces.com /) you can view 26 different ways to use Voicethread for language arts and the content areas in the classroom.

Here are some of my favorites for language arts from the list:
#1 A mystery scene: What is happening and what might have caused it? What vocabulary can be used to describe the scene?

#5 Video : view, comment on and review a short video. For example, comment one of the vocabulary videos produced by the class group.

#7 Novel: comment on a character or protagonist from a novel.

#10 Inferencing: what were they thinking? Providing an image from the creative commons on Flickr and asking students to comment. Great for developing inferencing and reinforcing vocabulary.

#14 Digital Portfolio: Students could create a digital portfolio using images video and text.

Thinglink

Thinglink (http://www.thinglink.com/ ) is a digital tool that allows students to explore topics through collaborative discussions. Students can insert interactive links to tag an image by adding pop up multimedia hot spots. Hotspots can link to music, audio files, video, descriptions, definitions or quotations.

In the Thinglink example from http://auntytechideas.tumblr.com / images were added to illustrate the target word Perseverance.

Thinglink Hot Spots for the target word Perseverance include a dictionary definition, a quotation using the word and a short video showing how people from a range of backgrounds (e.g. sports, music, politicians) persevered against the odds. You could also add examples for the target word used in a context, an audio file for pronunciation (great for English Language Learners), or a vocabulary video to illustrate usage ( Bridget  previously blogged about vocabulary videos on Literacy Beat ).

A photo collage created in Photovisi (http://www.photovisi.com /) could be created by groups of students to tag each image with a pop up of descriptive adjectives, synonyms or antonyms. Further information on Thinglink can be found on Donna Baumbach’s list of ways to use Thinglink in the classroom on Google docs or alternatively you can visit Pininterest to view how teachers have used Thinglink in the classroom  here

So in the dying embers of your summer vacation do take time to mess around, play with and explore the possibilities presented by these digital tools to enhance literacy development in your classroom. Happy exploring! Good luck with the new semester!

Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age

a post from Bridget Dalton, Aug. 7, 2012
book cover of"Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age"

Dana Grisham and Thomas DeVere Wolsey’s new book, “Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age: Techniques for Grades 5-12”. is a wonderful resource for all of us who are striving to integrate technology and writing instruction in ways that make a meaningful difference for our students. I was honored to write the foreword for this outstanding volume and have provided it below for your information. I’ve been re-reading the book in preparation for the fall semester and was struck by its timeliness and relevance to the Common Core State Standards. This adds even more to its value!

The book is available at http://www.guilford.com/p/wolsey

From Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age: Techniques for Grades 5-12 by Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Dana L. Grisham. Copyright 2012 by The Guilford Press. All rights reserved.

Foreword
My friend calls out, “The water’s amazing! Jump in!” I hesitate. “Hmmmnn, shall I? It looks cold. Are those clouds on the horizon? I like to swim, but snorkeling is relatively new to me.” I stand at the edge of the dock, watching my friend enjoy herself. I know she is an experienced snorkeler and this is one of her favorite spots. I grab hold of my gear and step off the edge. “Okay, here goes, I’m JUMPING! Wow, this feels great!” And away we go, my friend and I, swimming over the coral reef, ready for an adventure together.

Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Dana L. Grisham have written a book about technology and writing that invites us to “Jump in!” and join them in the adventure of integrating technology into the teaching and learning of the millennial generation. They invite us to jump (or step, if you are feeling a bit more cautious) into the exciting and sometimes turbulent waters of teaching writing in today’s schools. They guide us to focus on what’s important about writing, learning, and the role that technology and media can play in improving the quality of our students’ compositions, their use of writing to transform learning, and their engagement with academic literacy.

Leaders in the scholarship and practice of digital literacies, DeVere and Dana are expert guides who share the wealth of their knowledge and experience in this book, which is designed to help teachers take the next step forward in using technology to engage students in writing that is worth doing. The book artfully combines theory and practice, presenting numerous examples and vignettes to offer a vision of what is possible, along with the concrete suggestions and practical tips that are essential to success. I had barely started reading the manuscript and taking notes to prepare me for writing this foreword when I found myself opening a second document file to take note of teaching ideas, digital tools, and resources that I knew would be useful to me in my own work. The book had a larger effect on me, how- ever, stimulating my thinking about our underlying models of composition in a digital world and the urgent need to improve both theory and practice. It also reinvigorated me. The status quo is not working for too many of our students. It’s not working for many of us who are teachers. Using technology to help students create, communicate, connect, and learn is one way to change things. I believe that teachers, literacy coaches, teacher educators, and curriculum specialists will find this book to be a valuable resource, one that provides multiple entry points and pathways to follow in accordance with their individual goals, subject areas, and levels of technology expertise. In the following section, I highlight some of the key features of the book that I think make it a particularly valuable resource.

Student learning and writing pedagogy drive technology integration, not the other way around.
I love “cool tools.” In fact, my colleague Debbie Rowe and I lead a multimodal composition research group for doctoral students that begins each session with one of the members sharing a digital tool that has interesting implications for research and practice. DeVere and Dana offer a rich array of digital tools and resources throughout their book. However, it is abundantly clear from the Introduction through to the last page that their book is about writing, is about learning, and is about engagement. Technology and media are essential to making that happen. We need the nuts and bolts to build something, but we also need to have a vision for what we’re building, to understand why it’s important, and to know how we go about constructing it. Before we begin, we want some evidence that what we’re doing is supported by previous experience and success.

Dana and DeVere set their vision in the Introduction and then extend and apply it in each chapter. They draw on Bereiter and Scardamalia’s (1987) models of writing as either “knowledge telling” or “knowledge transformation.” While they acknowledge the role of “writing to tell,” their passion is in helping students use writing for knowledge transformation. I appreciate the way they structure each chapter to open with sections on “What is it?” and “Why is it important?” before moving on to how technology can help. Theory and research are embedded throughout (and where the research is limited, they suggest practices that are promising). The continuing message is that technology is both medium and message, and that it is their particular use by knowledgeable teachers and their students that will move us forward.

Writing is not just for English; writing is discipline specific.
Often there is a divide between folks who love to teach writing for literary purposes and those who love to teach their content and view writing as a vehicle to communicate learning. DeVere and Dana offer a more integrative perspective. They make a strong case for why writing is part of academic literacy. Writing is not just a matter of genre and text structure; rather it’s a way of thinking and using language and symbol systems to communicate within our community. A real strength of this book is the range and depth of examples from English, social studies, and science classrooms that illustrate how technology and media can transform the learning process and offer new opportunities for students’ creative expression, social interaction, and learning. Students compose to grapple with challenging content and accomplish purposes specific to the subject matter. While composing tools might be considered somewhat generic, Dana and DeVere illustrate how it is what you do with them in relation to particular academic content and skills that can make all the difference between a “just okay” and an “amazing” student- learning experience and outcome.

We’re all in this together, or teachers and students are making it happen.
In public speeches about educational reform and in professional devel- opment efforts, we often hear that teachers are leaders and that our notion of “what works” should expand to include practitioners’ expertise and expe- rience. The democratization of publishing on the Internet has offered many teachers the opportunity to communicate directly with an audience that is interested in learning from and with them as they go about the daily work of teaching in schools. Blogs, websites, and wikis are just a few of their online venues. However, teachers’ voices are less well represented in published text- books. One of my favorite features in this book is the inclusion of in-depth classroom examples in each chapter. Some examples are written by teachers, whereas others are written by DeVere and Dana at a level of detail that shows their intimate knowledge of the teacher, his or her classroom, and students. It is the combination of Dana and DeVere’s expertise with the expertise of some amazing classroom teachers that give this book depth and credibility.

Affect matters—for students and for us.
Have you ever taken a course or a workshop because of the way the instructor teaches, as much as the content of the course? The importance of affect and the social basis of learning is just as true for adults as it is for children—perhaps even more so, since we bring firmly entrenched beliefs and dispositions along with vast stores of knowledge and skills to each learning encounter. Clearly, DeVere and Dana are highly expert and experienced in the field of writing and technology and there is much to be learned from the information in this book. They are somewhat unusual, I think, in the way that they have shared some of who they are through their writing of this book. Their writing style and tone are conversational as they think out loud, conjecture, joke, and share strong feelings and convictions. They respect teachers and children. They understand and have experienced the realities of real teaching, real kids, and the unpredictability and promise of teaching with technology. They are resilient and hopeful about the future of students in our schools and the role of technology and writing in making change happen. By the end of the book, I was very glad to have had Dana and DeVere’s guidance and to know that they are continuing their adventures in writing and technology. Jump in and try an adventure of your own—I know I will.

Bridget Dalton, Ed.D.
Vanderbilt University

Order Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age: Teaching Practices That Work on Amazon.

Supporting English Learners’ Literacy Development in a Digital Age

A new post by Jill Castek

Lit Beat is back in action!  It’s wonderful to have had a bit of the summer to relax, refresh, and explore new ideas.  Wishing you an upcoming school year filled with promise.  I hope this post sparks your thinking.  Please post a comment to share additional connections or implementation ideas.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Supporting English Learners’ Literacy Development in a Digital Age

The diversity present in our classrooms requires us to think differently about the literacy instruction we offer our students. We need to offer new opportunities for students learning English to enhance and extend their language, literacy, and content learning.  This new post suggest ways to (1) use digital videos and animations to promote students’ vocabulary development and content knowledge, (2) use bilingual texts to encourage language and content learning across the curriculum, and (3) involve students in sharing ideas with the aid of digital tools.

Using Digital Videos and Animations to Promote Vocabulary Development and Content Knowledge

ELLs benefit from a multi-faceted approach to learning that makes use of interactive visuals.  The Internet offers easy access to a great many of these visuals across a range of topic areas. Providing students opportunities to view media that presents ideas both textually and visually creates a meaningful learning context that supports the acquisition of academic vocabulary in writing and speaking (Dalton & Grisham, 2011).  Using digital resources brings concepts to life for students. Pairing them with opportunities to read, write, and share ideas helps support and enhance ELL’s content understanding.

Sea Otter Interactive

Children of all ages and backgrounds seek to better understand the fascinating animal species found in our world.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium, home of several sea otters and other marine creatures, makes reading about animals an adventure.  The Sea Otter Interactive http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/media/all_about_otters/whatsanotter01.html  is one of many resources that will spark students’ curiosity about the natural world.  The visual support offered by the animated otter, along with the illustrative diagrams and animations, provides visual support that aids students in making connections across languages.

Sea Otter Interactive developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Providing opportunities for students to discuss the interactive in their native language before participating in whole-class discussion can reinforce these connections.  The native language discussion serves as a form of language rehearsal where students can organize their thinking, plan, test their ideas, and make appropriate revisions before sharing their thoughts with the whole class. Discussion techniques such as Turn and Talk or Think-Pair-Share are some examples of ways to provide opportunities for language rehearsal.

When introducing a new interactive to your class, set up a digital projector and talk through one part of the resource as a demonstration while generating guiding questions together as a class. Then, offer students time to explore the digital resource in small groups during literacy center time.  This second self-guided viewing will provide a means to read for a purpose, investigate the questions posed, and deepen students’ interest.

Below is a brief list of videos and animations that connect to common content topics covered in elementary and middle grades:

BBC Schools Science Clips

Carbon Cycle

Discovery Dino Viewer

Endangered Animals 

Habits of the Heart

NASA eClips

PBS Play Amazon Explorer (Rainforest) 

Water Cycle Interactive from Discovery Education

To locate additional resources in curriculum areas you teach, search Google by typing in your topic area + interactive (e.g. solar system + interactive).

Using Bilingual Texts to Encourage Language and Content Learning

Effective literacy instruction makes connections to students’ linguistic, literacy, and cultural resources. These resources can be used to support learning in their second language. Utilizing educational resources in both languages builds students’ cognitive flexibility and increases meta-linguistic awareness (Gort, 2008). Bilingual websites such as Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Pup’s Supper/La Cena del Cachorro http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/lc/activities/book_pups_supper.asp encourage home school connections and encourage learning across the curriculum.

Bilingual English/Spanish e-book about Sea Otters developed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium

NASA’s Sun-Earth Day Multimedia Children’s Books http://sunearthday.nasa.gov/2006/multimedia/books.php are free animated multimedia books that present concepts both visually and textually.  Because these resources make it possible to see and experience phenomena such as aurora, they support the development of language, literacy, and content simultaneously. Accessible in both English and Spanish, each book poses essential questions and presents concepts that help students address them. Related resources such as an image gallery and dictionary, extend ideas presented in the text.

The Rainforest Alliance Virtual Story Books http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/kids/stories offer engaging and colorful fiction and non-fiction books in three languages English, Spanish, and Portuguese.  These texts engage young readers by introducing them to children who live in areas that surround rainforests.  The imagery and first hand accounts captured in these unique texts make students more aware of these diverse environments and the wildlife that inhabit them. Exploring these engaging texts extends emergent bilingual students’ comprehension and vocabulary while helping them make connections between languages.

The International Digital Children’s Library http://en.childrenslibrary.org/ is a portal site that makes children’s books from around the world available in a variety of languages. Over 2,800 books are available in 48 languages, free of charge. The simple search feature makes it easy to find books that match the age range and interest level of all students. Each text includes a feature that allows the reader to switch the language for instant translation. Because the books on this website do not require a trip to the library, students can access them at school and at home.

Sharing Ideas with the Aid of Digital Tools

The Internet has made it possible to write in a variety of forms and reach a wide audience almost instantaneously. By introducing new outlets for sharing ideas, ELLs can make important connections between reading and writing.

Wordle http://www.wordle.net/  is a resource that makes it possible for students to generate word pictures using an assortment of words that they chose (in any language).   How frequently the inputted terms appear determines the size, placement, and prominence in the final product. The interface eliminates common words such as “the” or “and” so that key words take on greater emphasis. The selection of layout schemes can be used to highlight ideas and relationships among terms.

This easy-to-use resource provides students a powerful tool for expressing their developing understanding of words, concepts, or ideas in a motivating and engaging way.  For example, Wordle can be used to extend quick write activities.  For example, after reflecting, students can be paired up in small groups to input their writing into the interface. Printing out students’ Wordles and creating a gallery walk can be a useful review and reflection activity to summarize what they have learned about a topic they’ve studied. Repetition of similar learning statements in this case would be beneficial since key concepts would pop visually and aid students in recalling important ideas. These alternatives for formal writing activities would also provide teachers a way to formatively assess students’ understanding of content studied.

ELL students can create Wordles in their home language.  Below is one that Iliana created to reflect the concepts she had learned about the sun and its importance the solar system.  She placed a tilde ~ between words that she wanted displayed together, such as sistema~solar so that these terms would appear side by side.

Iliana’s Spanish wordle about the sun and its importance the solar system

RealeWriter (“Really Writer”) http://www.realewriter.com/ is a free Web site that invites users to upload images or drawings, write their own text, and publish professional looking books that can be printed or posted online. Educators have used RealeWriter to author books collaboratively as a class project and also as a tool for individual student authors. Innovative educators all over the world have used these resources to help students express ideas.  The ease of the software enriches the writing experience and helps English learners find their voice as writers.  RealeWriter  turns writing into an experience that is enjoyable, authentic, and social.

To get started with RealeWriter, explore the wide selection of student published books.  Topically focused texts can be found by typing key words into the site-specific search engine at the top of the page. Clicking on the featured or popular books tab to view examples that will appeal to all ages and interest levels. El Mercado  is a delightful Spanish/English bilingual book that takes readers on a trip through a market place in Mexico City in search of a birthday present for six-year-old Sean.

Reflecting on Implementation

As new technologies continually emerge, new skills and strategies will be required by students to effectively make use of them. Though many teachers have yet to possess these skills themselves, it is nonetheless our responsibility as educators to provide an educational context in which all students can acquire them.  Extending these digital learning opportunities is central to students becoming participatory citizens and achieving success in school, higher education, and the workplace.

References

Dalton, B. & Grisham, D. (2011). eVoc strategies: A dozen ways to use technology to build vocabulary.  The Reading Teacher, 64, 306–317.

Gort, M. (2008). “You give me idea!”: Collaborative strides toward bilingualism and biliteracy in a two-way partial immersion program. Multicultural Perspectives, 10(4), 192-200.

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