Students revise their writing by listening to a digital reading of their text via Text-to-Speech tools and the VOKI Avatar

Good writers often read their writing out loud as they are composing and revising.  Sometimes the focus is on checking for meaning and the flow of the language.  Other times the focus is on checking that the sentences are the right length and are appropriately punctuated.  Of course, not everyone is comfortable doing this, and some may get so caught up in reading what they intended to say, that they aren’t able to listen critically and notice what’s not working.  This blog post features 2 tools, a text-to-speech reader that is available in most word processors and VOKI, a free talking head avatar.

Add a text-to-speech tool to your toolbar

Did you know that most computers and word processing programs now have a free text-to-speech tool that you can install on the toolbar?  I use a PC, so I’ll focus on the Microsoft tool that will read aloud written text in Word, Outlook, PowerPoint and OneNote. You can choose your voice and the rate of speed. You simply highlight a word or section of text and click the speak tool on your toolbar to listen to your text being read aloud.  Granted, TTS tools still have voices that are a bit robot-like.  However, the focus here is not on expressive reading, but rather, listening to catch major editing issues.

Directions for adding TTS to your Quick Access Toolbar can be found online at:

http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/word-help/using-the-speak-text-to-speech-feature-HA102066711.aspx

Listen and Revise with TTS

There are several ways to use TTS as a revision and editing support.  Of course, depending on the length of the text, you can always listen to the text in its entirety to get an overall sense of how it’s working.  Below are some targeted revision/editing strategies that can make the process more manageable for writers.

Targeted revision and editing with TTS

Paragraph Sense

Highlight a paragraph and then click on the Speak tool in your Word toolbar.

Listen and ask:

  1. Does this paragraph make sense?
  2. Does the lead sentence engage you and/or give you a sense of what the paragraph will be about?

Text Sense

Highlight the opening sentence of each paragraph and listen to hear how the paragraphs are building on one another to create an overall text that meets your genre requirements and writing goals.

Listen and ask:

  1. Do the opening sentences give you a sense of how the text is building to tell a story or present an argument?
  2. Are there some paragraphs that seem to be standing on their own, and aren’t connected to the rest of the text?
  3. Are there big jumps between paragraphs where I need to make a transition?

Run-on sentences and fragments

This is a quick and easy check.  The TTS tool will read along at the same rate, pausing only for punctuation. Run on sentences and fragments without punctuation will sound very strange!

Listen and ask:

  1. Do I have any very long sentences that are hard to understand?
  2. Do I have some sentences that aren’t complete?

Spelling check

Listening to check spelling will only capture misspellings that result in a phonetically different pronunciation. For example, typing ‘happee’ for ‘happy’ will sound okay.  Typing ‘hape’ or ‘hapy’ for ‘happy’ will not!  This process does help writers learn to listen for misspellings, which can be useful.  However, you will want to connect this kind of spelling editing check with the use of the embedded spell checker tool or an online dictionary.

Listen and ask:

  1. Do my words sound right?

VOKI:  Listen to an animated Avatar read your writing to help you review and revise

http://www.voki.com/

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VOKI is a free online tool that even young children can use to create an avatar who will then read the text they have typed in aloud to them.  Clearly, this can be engaging for students, since it allows them to create a reader and watch the reader speak their text.  It only takes a few minutes to customize your avatar. Then, you choose the TTS read aloud option and enter your text.  If the text has been created in a word doc, you can copy and paste it into the text input box. You may preview it, save it, and/or email it.  All of your saved avatars will be available in your ‘my avatars’ space.

A word of caution – there is a 60 second restriction on each Avatar speaking segment on the free VOKI and 90 seconds on the school paid version.  You will be surprised at how much the avatar can read aloud in 60 seconds.  However, if the text is longer than 60 seconds, have students entered in portions (perhaps at the paragraph level or beginning, middle, end, of the text, etc.).

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This screenshot shows that I’ve created my cat avatar and typed in my text so that the avatar will read my text aloud with a TTS voice.

Hear from  students about how VOKI is a fun way to help them with their writing

The VOKI website features videos created by teachers illustrating how they use VOKI in the classroom. Watch this video of Mr. Young’s classroom to learn from his students how they use VOKI to help them review their writing.  One student realizes his text doesn’t make sense, another  decided that he needs more sentences, a third notices that periods are missing, and a fourth hears mispronunciations that some spellings need correction.

http://www.youtube.com/embed/Y9gHpIH9RTA

child typing text for VOKI avatar to read aloud

Please share your strategies for using TTS and Avatars to support your students’ literacy.

Power Up What Works!

I want to share an excellent resource to support technology integration, the Center for Technology Implementation’s Power Up What Works website (http://powerupwhatworks.com).  With funding from the US Department of Education, EDC, AIR, and CAST have partnered on this project to develop a comprehensive set of online resources for using technology to support literacy and math (of course, I have focused my attention on the literacy materials!).

What makes Power Up unique is its special attention to the needs of students who struggle with learning, including students with special needs.    As a member of the Power Up Advisory Board, I’ve had the opportunity to see the resource evolve and want to share a few of my favorite features.

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Power Up with Technology Blog

Stay connected and get up-to-date information and teaching ideas through the Power Up with Technology blog.   The April 17 blog post caught my eye, since it was about “create your own interactives”, something that I find key to my own teaching. It highlighted three resources that offer lots of potential:

Did you notice that the blogger noted whether the resource was free and/or fee-based?  I find this incredibly helpful, since like most teachers, I have limited funds and want to take advantage of the high-quality free resources that are available online.

You can find the blog on facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/PowerUp-What-Works/127625650650645?group_id=0

The Learning Center

http://powerupwhatworks.com/content/render/LearningCenter

The Learning Center has a wealth of information and resources to explore. Since literacy is my thing, I’ve spent most of my time in the Reading and Writing sections.  In Reading, the focus is on comprehension and vocabulary, while the Writing section focuses on supporting the writing process, from idea generation to publication.  Throughout, you’ll notice the links to the Common Core State Standards.  You can get information at the level and type that is useful to you. For example, each of the Reading sections includes an overview of the strategy (e.g., self-questioning, summarizing, visualizing, context clues, s semantic mapping and word analysis), a description of how to teach the strategy, an extended classroom example, a list of resources, research, and tech tips.

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PowerUp Your School

Teachers are the ones leading the way on integrating technology into their teaching and their students’ learning.  While teachers are ‘making it happen’, sometimes one classroom at a time, we know that more is usually required to sustain effective technology integration over the long term.  If your school is interested in developing a school-wide plan for integrating technology, Power Up offers a range of resources to support you in developing a school-wide plan and building a team that will work together to support one another in making technology a meaningful part of children’s learning.

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I know the Power Up team is eager for feedback, so let them know what you find especially helpful and share suggestions for improvement.

Literacy and Technology Special Issue from Research in the Schools

It’s snowing here in Boulder and time for me to catch up on some reading!  Guest edited by Marla Mallette, this special issue from Research in the Schools focuses on ‘Literacy and Social Networking’.

The articles can be accessed online at http://dtm10.cep.msstate.edu/rits_191.htm.

As you can see from the table of contents below, the authors address a broad range of topics, from Diane Barone’s article on young children’s experience with social media and Web 2.0, to Frank Serafini’s piece on reading multimodal texts in the 21st century, to Don Leu and Elena Forzani’s article on Web 2.0 –  now and into the future!  Blaine Smith and I also have an article in this issue about how teachers design Internet-based literacy and learning lessons with Strategy Tutor, a free online authoring tool developed by Cast, Inc. (www.cast.org).

Enjoy reading and please post a comment, question, or related resource.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

TABLE OF CONTENTS

In the latest issue: Spring, 2012, Volume 19(1)
(Special Issue on Literacy and Social Networking)

Mallette, M. H., & Mthethwa, P. M. (2012). Guest editorial: Web 2.0 and literacy: Enacting a vision, imagining the possibilities. 19(1), i-iv.

Barone, D. M. (2012). Exploring home and school involvement of young children with Web 2.0 and social media. 19(1), 1-11.

Dalton, B., & Smith, B. E. (2012). Teachers as designers: Multimodal immersion and strategic reading on the internet. 19(1), 12-25.

Serafini. F. (2012). Reading multimodal texts in the 21st century. 19(1), 26-32.

Alvermann, D. E., Hutchins, R. J., & McDevitt, R. (2012). Adolescents’ engagement with Web 2.0 and social media: Research, theory, and practice. 19(1), 33-44.

Beach, R. (2012). Uses of digital tools and literacies in the English language arts classroom. 19(1), 45-59.

Karchmer-Klein, R., & Shina, V. H. (2012). 21st century literacies in teacher education: Investigating multimodal texts in the context of an online graduate-level literacy and technology course. 19(1), 60-74.

Leu, D. J., & Forzani, E. (2012). Discussion, new literacies in a Web 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, …, [infinity] world. 19(1), 75-81.

Multimodal Shoe Poems and Digital Writers Workshop

by Bridget Dalton

The next issue of the International Reading Association’s The Reading Teacher includes a column that I wrote on ” Multimodal Composing and the Common Core Standards”.  In the column I describe a multimodal shoe poem project . To complement the article, I’ve pasted below the PowerPoint slide presentation that Blaine Smith and I created to introduce the activity and scaffold the process. Feel free to use and remix this for your students.  If you try it out, it would be great to hear from you via a post to the blog or an email (bridget.dalton@colorado.edu).

Multimodal Shoe Poem


Why start with Shoe Poems?

1. Kids know shoes – they are part of popular culture. They begin with expert knowledge and can focus on creating the poem
2. Shoe poems offer multiple entry points – they can be concrete or abstract.
Why Power Point?
1. It’s an easy to use composing tool that allows you to build with image, sound and text.
2. You can build on students’ prior experience with the tool.


Blaine Smith and I have been developing a Digital Writers’ Workshop instructional approach (Dalton & Smith, under review). For this project, we used a Demo, Create, and Share, Reflect, Respond structure, but there are lots of different ways to be successful. Think about how you teach writing and adapt your approach so that it reflects multimodal design.

Here we go! To begin, awaken students’ excitement by ‘showing and telling’.  What is a shoe poem? Why would you want to create one?
How does it work?


I try to use at least 2 examples and encourage students to come up with their own creative approaches. These 3 examples show different types of shoe poems: question-answer; shoe memory; and shoe conversation They offer choices and also show different styles of multimodal design. Tell students the blue box is information to help them – it is not part of the poem!


For this shoe memory, Claire selected a wooden floor background and a tap dancing sound effect to complement her written memory of the thrill of wearing her first pair of high heels when she was 11 years old.


This last example is likely to appeal to kid interested in sports. It illustrates a different visual style and how to use the audio-record tool to make the shoe conversation can come alive with dramatic dialogue.


Now for the fun part – create your own shoe poem. I often have students work with a partner so they can benefit from the talents, knowledge and skills that each brings to the task. Working with a partner also requires that they talk about design decisions and negotiate their collaboration.


I use PowerPoint to provide the directions for the activity. I project it on the screen while students are working, and put it in a folder on their computers so that they can consult it as needed. I do this to avoid repeating directions!


Since this was an introduction to multimodal composition for these students, I scaffolded it by putting a folder of shoe images on their desktops. Of course, if they had a special shoe in mind that wasn’t in the folder, they searched on the Internet.  While there are steps involved in creating and producing multimodal pieces, students can change the order as needed. This outlines the overall process; schedule intermittent sharing sessions so that students can present and get feedback as they go along.

Again, since these students were new to both shoe poems and this type of multimodal composition, I scaffolded it with a template they could use, if they wanted. I remind students that it is one way, and they may have a different way that will work better for them.


The Share, Reflect, Respond stage happens during the process to get feedback, and at the end, to celebrate. Students are more influenced by each other’s work than they are by teacher examples!
I combine students’ class presentations with some kind of publishing. Audience is important; the Internet offers multiple options for publishing student work. I also make color-printed hard copies when I can.

And that is a wrap, my friends! Hope to hear about the creative work you are doing with your students to transform them into designers and multimodal composers!

My Pop Studio: Develop critical thinking and media skills with this free online game from Renee Hobbs and the Media Education Lab

post by Bridget Dalton, 9//13/12

Usually I blog about digital tools and instructional strategies, but today I want to introduce you to someone whose work I’ve followed for a number of years – Renee Hobbs. Renee is Professor and Founding Director of the Harrington School of Communication and Media at the University of Rhode Island. Renee is quite unusual in that she combines ‘making stuff’ in the Media Education Lab, with conducting research on media literacy and consulting on copyright and fair use policy. You can get a sense of the breadth and depth of her work by accessing slide shows of her many presentations available at http://www.slideshare.net/reneehobbs.

If you would like to hear directly from Renee about her leadership role in media literacy, view this video of an interview with her at the 10th Anniversary of the National Association for Media Literacy Education:

photo of Renee Hobbs

My Pop Studio

Today, I want to feature My Pop Studio, a free online ‘creative play experience’ developed by Renee and colleagues at the Media Education Lab. The goal of My Pop Studio is to engage young adolescents and teens in creating, manipulating, critiquing, and reflecting on mass media that is directed at girls. It includes a Magazine Studio, a TV studio, a Music Studio, and a Digital Studio. My Pop Studio is designed for use at home and at school (teachers can download a curriculum guide at http://mypopstudio.com/for_parents.php

screen shot of My Pop Studio

If your students and/or children try out My Pop Studio, please consider posting a comment about your experience.

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.

Gone Fishing…Back in August

photo of fisherman casting at foot of falls

The Literacy Beat team is taking a summer break. We’ll be back posting the first week of August.
Happy summer days,
Bernadette, Dana, DeVere, Jill and Bridget

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