Finding the needle in the haystack

A post from Bernadette

Successful online readers access information speedily, effectively and efficiently (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro & Cammack, 2004). However, given the sheer volume of information available online, finding relevant information for a task focus can be laborious, rather daunting and somewhat overwhelming and akin to finding a ‘needle in a haystack’.

Two issues warrant attention. The first issue relates to judging the relevance of a search result blurb for your inquiry focus. As Eileen (a struggling reader in 6th grader) noted to me, “The blurb might tell you something but when you go inside it, it’s something different. Don’t get your hopes up if it says what you want to find ’cause it mightn’t always be inside it”.

The second issue relates to remembering ‘aha’ websites. Given the amount of time we all spend online finding your way back to particularly relevant websites, which you have previously visited, can be rather taxing. In this post I will explore two digital tools (Yolink and Diigo) which may help to enhance search functionality.

Yolink (http://www.yolinkeducation.com/education/) is an add on browser extension tool that scans web pages, search engine results and digitized books to find your inputted search terms and deliver information that is relevant to your inquiry. Yolink is a supportive digital tool in two ways. Firstly, it enables the reader to dig deeper behind the links without painstakingly navigating to and opening each website link in turn. It does this by previewing and filtering the search results and highlighting snippets of information from relevant sections of search results for the reader. Secondly, Yolink can also search within bodies of texts (e.g. digitized versions of books) for key words or phrases to find information relevant for a particular research focus. Yolink helps you move, as the developers say, ‘from search to find’.

Sample lesson plans and resources are available on the Yolink education site (http://www.yolinkeducation.com/education/teachers.jsp).

For example, the lesson plan for ‘Polar Bears in a Changing Climate’, prepared by Julene Reed, is an example of a Challenge Based Learning unit using Yolink, and is based on the Apple Learning Interchange. Students are assessed on abilities in areas, such as creativity and innovation, communication and collaboration, research and information fluency and critical thinking, problem solving and decision making.

Bookmarking relevant sites by adding them to your favorites tab is one way to collect and retrieve websites that you visit. Creating subfolders with meaningful names is helpful when you want to revisit a particular website. However, if like me, you engage in squirreling behaviors where you tab multiple web sites on an hourly/daily basis you can end up with hundreds of websites in multiple subfolders. Just why you wanted to bookmark a particular website can be lost in the moment of tabbing! It is also difficult to backtrack quickly to a specific website when you want to locate information. So the proverbial haystack looms again!

A digital tool for organizing research online is Diigo or Digest of Internet Information, Groups and Other Stuff. (http://www.diigo.com/ ). Diigo is a cloud-based information management tool that enables users to collect, highlight, bookmark, tag, clip, share and annotate websites.

Teachers can create an educator account with Diigo. This will enable you to generate student accounts and establish collaborative research groups within your classroom. Diigo is helpful when conducting research, creating personal learning environments and collaborating with others. Some of the features of this tool which are useful include:

  • Annotating and highlighting snippets of information on websites with sticky notes.
  • Saving a screen shot of a web site on a particular day and revisiting to review changes over time or simply to archive the website.
  • Categorizing relevant information through the use of tags and lists on websites for quick retrieval of information.
  • Creating collaborative groups where teams of students can research information and post their findings and annotations for others in the group to review. Members can then interpret, critique and synthesize information from a variety of online sources.
  • Accessing your own digital library, as part of a personal learning environment, from any computer or through apps on Ipads and Android Tablets or smart phones.
  • Developing professional learning opportunities for teachers through Diigo created educator groups.

Reference
Leu, D. J., Kinzer, C. K., Coiro, J., & Cammack, D. (2004). Towards a theory of new literacies emerging from the Internet and other Information and Communication Technologies. In R. B. Ruddell & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (5th ed., pp. 1570-1613). DE: International Reading Association.

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!

Digital Technologies for Literacy in Early Years Classrooms

A post from Bernadette

There is considerable evidence that young children (aged from 0 to 6) are immersed in a digital world from birth. For example, surveys conducted in the U.K. revealed that young children were active users of digital technologies engaging in a range of multimodal experiences (Marsh, 2005).

However, recent research has highlighted a dissonance between technology use in the home and at school and indeed a general under-utilisation of digital technologies in early years classrooms (Aubrey & Dahl, 2008).

Given that young children are engaging with digital technologies and digital practices in the home the possibilities afforded by these early digital experiences need to be more fully explored and accommodated within the classroom curriculum.

So how can we utilise digital technologies in ways that support children as readers, writers and thinkers? How can we use technologies to support the development of essential early literacy skills and increase motivation and engagement with literacy and learning?

I have been reflecting about this recently and here are some tentative musings and suggestions.

• Young children should engage with digital literacies in ways that encourage “playfulness, agency and creativity” (Burnett, 2010). Indeed, research has shown that children can draw on narratives and characters from their use of multimedia in their own play (Pahl, 2005).

• Digital technologies should not replace ‘busy’ workbook type activities in the classroom in drill-and-practice type scenarios. Freddy Hiebert noted, in her Frankly Freddy column, that “tricked out rote exercises will not support children’s love of language and literacy in the long run” (Hiebert, 2012).

• Digital technologies and multimodal texts offer the potential to support the development of early literacy skills. They present multiple means of representation, provide robust supports to meet the diverse needs of pupils in the classroom, and reduce the barriers to text (e.g. decoding difficulties) through embedded supports.
BookBuilder from CAST (CAST.org ) is a particular favourite of mine and I have previously blogged about how BookBuilder can enhance the Language Experience Approach

• Digital technologies should complement or supplement teacher read aloud. For example, children can listen to or re-read favourite class room texts though storyline online, developed by the screen actors guild (http://www.storylineonline.net/) or through apps such as, a Story Before Bed-Personalized Children’s Picture books.

• Digital technologies should build on the creativity of children, provide opportunities for engagement and response and encourage children to become authors and producers of text. In addition digital technologies should encourage experimentation and expression with regard to the generation and construction of a story or message. Apps such as, Sock Puppets allow child to create a story, choose a background and record their voices. The sock puppets then automatically lip-synch to the child’s recorded voice. Other examples include Strip designer, for creating comics; Book Creator for Ipad and Story kit for creating stories to share with an audience outside the classroom walls.

• Digital technologies can supplement the development of fine motor skills for handwriting. Apps such as, Dexteria, which was developed for children with special needs, develops fine motor skills e.g pincer movements, finger strength and hand movements and letter formation. Watch the You tube video and you’ll see how appealing this app is. I would caution, however, that to my mind, nothing replaces concrete materials, like pegs and peg boards, sand trays, and making letters with plasticine for the development of fine motor skills for handwriting.

Would love to hear your views on ways to embed and integrate digital technologies to support literacy development in the early years classroom. Jill has recently blogged on Expressive Learning: Encouraging Students’ Multimodal Expression to Enhance Content Learning and using apps for education so do read her blog here.

References
Aubrey, C. and Dahl, S. (2008). A review of the evidence on the use of ICT in the Early Years Foundation Stage. BECTA. Accessed online May 2009 at: http://partners.becta.org.uk/uploaddir/downloads/page_documents/research/review_early_years_foundation.pdf

Burnett, C. (2010). Technology and literacy in early childhood educational settings: A review of research. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 10(3), 247-270.

Hiebert, E.H. (2012) Children’s literacy learning and screen time accessed June 2012 at http://textproject.org/frankly-freddy/children-s-literacy-learning-and-screen-time/

Marsh, J., Brook, G., Hughes, J., Ritchie, L., Roberts, S. Wright, K.(2005). Digital beginnings: Young children’s use of popular culture, media and new technologies. Literacy Research Centre, Sheffield

Pahl, K. (2005). ‘Narrative spaces and multiple identities: Children’s textual explorations of console games in home settings’ In: J. Marsh (2005) (Ed.), Popular Culture, New Media and Digital Literacy in Early Childhood, pp. 126-143.London: Routledge.

Search engines and multimodal representations

I was recently working with my third year, teacher candidate, students exploring the skills, strategies and dispositions necessary to successfully conduct Internet inquiry within the information-seeking cycle. The information seeking cycle is comprised of (a) planning inquiry questions and forming goals for internet inquiry; (b) generating and revising search terms; (c) investigating search results with a critical eye; (d) locating and transforming information; (e) critically evaluating information; and synthesising and communicating information to others. The students undertook an Internet information challenge, What caused the downfall of the Mayan civilisation?, to develop metacognitive awareness of their own skills, strategies and dispositions when conducting Internet inquiry. What I observed was that some students began this information quest by exploring videos and images relating to the Mayan civilisation. Helen explained the strategy to me, “I usually search for information by looking at videos and images to get the main concepts related to a topic. Then I will look up some articles when I have this background information”. Does this strategy represent a shift from privileging text as the primary source of information to favouring more multimodal representations of information? In this blog post I will explore some search engines which provide multiple representations of information.

Googling’ has entered the lexicon to become synonymous with searching for information online. The left hand panel on the Google interface, as shown in the screen shot below, provides a number of interesting representational choices such as, images, video, blogs, discussion fora, news features and time ranges. However, you can also customise your search results according to reading levels at basic, intermediate or advanced reading levels. This is a positive affordance for struggling readers. The Twurdy search engine (http://www.twurdy.com/ ) will also sort search results according to readability levels. You can also, of course, customise the search results by using the customised Google Search Engine Tools (http://www.google.com/educators/p_cse.html ). See Jill’s wonderful post on Customised Google search engine on Literacy Beat, March 2011

screen shot of Googel left hand panel

Screen shot of the left hand panel on Google Search engine

Other search engines privilege a more multimodal, multi-representational approach to presenting information. The Qwiki search engine (http://www.qwiki.com ) combines images, infographics, video and voice to enhance interactivity. Some of the pronunciations, especially for Irish place names are hilarious and entertain my students greatly! Qwiki is also available as an app for IPad, IPhone and Android devices. Qwiki Creator has just been released by the Qwiki team in alpha format and is currently available by invitation only. Qwiki Creator allows the user to create their own Qwiki representation with voice, text, images and video. I can see many possibilities for using Qwiki Creator with students in our classrooms. I think it’s certainly one to watch out for. A screen shot from the Qwiki interface is shown below.

Screen shot of Qwiki related to Inishbofin, Galway, Ireland

I have also recently begun to explore the Instagrok search engine. (http://www.instagrok.com/ )
Instagrok provides both a visual representation and a journal format. Watch the video for an overview.

To grok, the developers tell us is to ‘understand thoroughly and intuitively’. Instagrok presents a visual graph of the key concepts related to a topic. You can click on any of the key concepts to investigate that concept more thoroughly. In addition, on the right hand side of the screen, you can view key facts related to the topic¸ web sites, videos, images, and quiz topic questions related to the topic. You can pin any of these representations on to the visual graph. See my screen shot related to a grok I conducted related to the collapse of the Mayan civilisation. There is also a slide bar at the top of the screen to adjust the level of difficulty of the information presented. What really excites me about Instagrok is that you can also create a journal, which is automatically generated, as you annotate the visual graph. See the screen shot of the journal below. As Instagrok allows the teacher to create student accounts you can view the work of students in these journals.

Screen shot of a grok related to the collapse of the Mayan civilisation

Screen shot of the  journal created by Instagrok realted to the collapse of the Mayan civilisation

So have fun exploring these search engines. Have you noticed any changes in the ways you are searching for information online? Do you privilege text over other formats such as, video, voice or images? What about your students? Do let us know by replying to this blog.

Moving from page to screen

A post from Bernadette

The Rand Reading Study group in 2002 noted that the Internet “make large demands on individuals’ literacy skills , and little is known about how to analyse or teach these skills”. Print-based and online reading share a number of common skills (e.g. decoding, word recognition and reading fluency) and strategies (e.g. identifying and locating information, monitoring understanding and evaluating text). However, higher levels of these skills strategies and indeed dispositions may be required to fully exploit the potential of the Internet and other digital technologies for literacy as sites for deep learning.
In considering the possible changes when reading in an online environment I want, in this blog post, to consider how P. David Pearson’s metaphor of the reader as a ‘builder’ and a ‘fixer (Pearson, 2009) could be transitioned into an online environment. I want to draw on and extend this use of metaphor and consider the online reader from four perspectives: the online reader as an ‘assembler’, the online reader as a ‘builder’; the online reader as a ‘fixer’ and finally the online reader as a ‘responder’.

The online reader as an assembler

The Internet is a nonlinear, multimodal, n-dimensional space. The reader must assemble the text to be read, it is not a given. He /she does so by carving a unique, opportunistic pathway through a larger, more expansive and boundless navigational space. Although the print based reader may choose to read nonfiction or indeed fiction text in a non-linear fashion, (skipping the descriptive passages of a novel to get to the heart of the action. Do any of us admit to doing that?) the body of printed text is a fixed entity within the confines of the covers of the book. The reader is aware of exactly where they are in a print based text and indeed the length of such a text. You know when to slow down and linger to savour the dying embers of a novel! Online text is more fluid and dynamic. Further, it is the reader rather than the author who decides on the pathway through online text. We talk a lot about the transaction between the reader and the text. In an online environment there is a physicality to that interaction. The interaction between the online reader and text is more transactive and reciprocal in nature than in a print based environment. John Mc Eneaney refers to this as agent-based theory (Mc Eneaney, 2006). For example, when I log on to Amazon.com I am greeted by a welcome back message with suggestions related to former purchases, possibilities for future purchases including references to books purchased by colleagues.

The online reader as a builder

The online reader must draw flexibly on a wide range of prior knowledge sources in an online environment. Prior knowledge sources including the architecture of online information text structures (e.g. menu, hyperlinks, audio and video links); end-user application knowledge such as, navigational skills and knowledge of browser features; domain and topic knowledge and world knowledge. What is unclear is how these knowledge sources fuse together in an online environment. For example, what level of automaticity of prior knowledge of both online informational text structures and navigational and Internet application knowledge is required to free up the cognitive energy of the online reader to focus on and connect with prior domain, topic and world knowledge? What level of domain and topic knowledge is needed so that the online reader has a sufficiently extensive subject knowledge and vocabulary range to generate and revise search terms , investigate search results with a critical eye, and judge the accuracy, authority, relevance and importance of information in text to the task at hand? Finally, what about the role of knowledge gathered on-the-hoof by the navigational decisions of online readers across multiple websites where online readers accrue new knowledge and update their prior knowledge sources in the malleable moments of Internet searching?
 

The online reader as a fixer

Learner control and choice is heightened in an online digital environment. The online reader generates search terms and evaluates search results, activates hyperlinks by making predictive inferences about hidden content. The online reader judges what information to skim quickly and what information to scan carefully. While this can both empower and liberate the online reader it can also be daunting for those readers with limited online skills. The online reader must be metacognitive, strategic and exercise high levels of persistence, self-efficacy and cognitive flexibility to take responsibility for their own learning in a shifting dynamic environment.

 The online  reader as a responder

We are certainly faced by a number of issues of a global nature in the 21st century. Consider for example the two posters which follow which I photographed on the London Underground related to whether China is a friend or foe to the West. What critical stance would you take?

China is a Friend to the West

China is a Threat to the West

Critical evaluation of information is an important skill in a print-based environment. However, critical evaluation and interrogation of information in an online environment is crucial as anyone can post anything in an open networked environment such as, the Internet. The internet is largely unvetted by any editorial review of traditional mediators, such as, critics, editors, or reviewers (Metzger, 2007). The online reader needs to respond to information posted online as a critical evaluator of online information (e.g. assessing reliability and accuracy of information). Is the information dependable and how do I know? The online reader must exercise critical thinking skills to interrogate the text. How do I evaluate accuracy, believability? Critical literacy skills are important for the online reader as information is not neutral. So how do I assess the author purpose, stance and bias? Finally, media-saviiness and media literacy skills are important to develop. Asking questions such as, how do I separate the media from the message?
So to my mind the online reader must act as an assembler, builder, fixer and responder, exercising higher levels of skills, strategies and dispositions to fuse these response modes and in so doing construct meaning from text.
References
McEneaney, J. E. (2006). Agent-based literacy theory. Reading Research Quarterly, 41(3), 352-371.
Metzger, M. J. (2007). Making sense of credibility on the web: Models for evaluating online information and recommendations for future research. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 58(13) 2078-2091).

Pearson, P. D. (2009). The roots of reading comprehension instruction. In S. E. Israel & G. G. Duffy (Eds.), Handbook of research on reading comprehension (pp. 3-31). New York: Routledge.

RAND Reading Study Group. (2002). Reading for understanding: Toward a research and development program in reading comprehension. Pittsburgh, PA: Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

Critical Evaluation of Online Information

A post from Bernadette

The Internet is an open network environment where anyone can post any information. Fake or erroneous information posted online may range on a continuum; from that of a prankster to a poster of a more sinister nature. For example, a report in The Times newspaper in the U.K. listed Masal Bugduv at number 30 in a list of 50 rising stars in football. A number of top premiership clubs, including Arsenal and Liverpool, were reported as being interested in signing the young player.

30. Masal Bugduv (Olimpia Balti)

Moldova’s finest, the 16-year-old attacker has been strongly linked
with a move to Arsenal, work permit permitting. And he’s been linked with
plenty of other top clubs as well

However, the story began to unravel when football fans, bloggers and reporters started to note inconsistencies in the story. Masal Bugduv was in fact a non-existent, manufactured player whose name was curiously phonetically similarly sounding  to the title of a story in the Irish language called M’Asal Beag Dubh, a story of a pretty useless donkey! Over an extended period of time a prankster has posted snippets of information about the rising status and footballing prowess of the Moldovan player on blogs and football forums on the Internet. Thereby creating the fictitious player and leaving The Times reporters with red faces! At the other end of the spectrum are hateful websites such as, MartinLutherKing.org, a web site created by Stormfront, a white supremacist group, designed to discredit the life and work of Martin Luther King.

Therefore, one must exercise critical evaluation skills, critical thinking skills, critical reading skills and media and information saviiness skills to obtain, corroborate and integrate information across multiple online sources and to interrogate online text in terms of accuracy, reliability, believability, currency, depth, authority and author motive. The research suggests that adults (Fogg et al., 2002) and adolescent students (Leu et al., 2008) rarely engage in such critical evaluation of online information.

 Free Forever: The Dog Island (http://www.thedogisland.com/).
In a recent study (Dwyer, 2010) which I conducted with 3rd and 5th grade elementary school students, (N=43) the children were asked to evaluate the reliability of the information on the dog island web site  (http://www.thedogisland.com/). The web site welcomes dogs to a better life on dog island free from the stress and strain of living among humans and is of course a hoax web site. The children judged the information to be very reliable using either signals on the web site (“It has an email and shows you photos of the little dogs and you can check out the dog island products”); or past experiences and topic knowledge (“dogs would be happy if they’re with their friends in a family…. And when they have their babies; their babies aren’t going to be taken away from them”). One dissenting voice, in what could be termed an emperor’s new clothes moment, suggested that the information was not reliable because, “There’d be loads of dogs there, and they’d have done loads of stuff and save they were really stuck on an island like, and they had nothing, what would they eat? How would they get a wash? Well I know how they’d get a wash, but if they got a wash like that’s salt water and something might happen to their skin or something. Where would the water be?They can’t drink sea water so…”

The children’s ability to evaluate online information was developed by explicit strategy instruction in both a checklist and cognitive type approach (For a review of these approaches read Metzger, 2007). For example, the children were taught to evaluate the information provided in the URL domain-name prefix and suffix concerning the reliability, origin and purpose of the web site. Further, the children were encouraged to judge, evaluate, and cross check information across multiple web sites and connect this information with their prior domain and world knowledge. Finally, the children engaged in  class discussions to reflect on the need to critically evaluate information in an online environment.

Data analysis suggested that although the children were aware of the strategies needed to evaluate online information they did not consistently engage with these strategies. Clearly more research on critical evaluation skills in an online environment needs to focus on the possible developmental nature of such skills. Is it feasible to develop critical evaluation skills, beyond a procedural and declarative level of knowledge to a conditional level of knowledge, with elementary school children? Or perhaps the best we can hope to achieve is that children develop an awareness of the need to have their antennae raised around issues such as, reliability, veracity, authority and author bias in evaluating online information? What do you think?

References

Metzger, M. (2007). Making sense of credibility on the web: Models for evaluating online information and recommendations for future research. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology,58(3), 2078-2091.

Fogg, B. J., Soohoo, C., Danielson, D. R., Marable, L., Stanford, J., & Tauber, E. R. (2002). How do people evaluate a web site’s credibility? Results from a large study. Retrieved August,15, 2011 from http://www.consumerwebwatch.org/pdfs/stanfordPTL.pdf

Leu, D. J., Coiro, J., Castek, J., Hartman, D. K. Henry, L. A., & Reinking, D. (2008). Research on instruction and assessment in the new literacies of online reading comprehension. In C. C. Block & S. R. Parris (Eds.), Comprehension instruction: Research-based best practices (2nd ed., pp. 321-346). New York: The Guildford Press.

Exploring digital tools for literacy

A post from Bernadette

My teacher candidate students and masters students have been weaving in some digital tools for literacy into the before, during and after reading stages of a guided reading lesson. They have explored the affordances and possibilities presented by these digital tools for literacy. The following are some of the most popular digital tools for literacy that the students have explored this past academic year.

Wordle (www.wordle.com) or Tagxedo (www.tagxedo.com ) to create word clouds. For example, drawing attention to difficult or tricky vocabulary in a text; creating synonyms and antonyms for vocabulary; making predictions using an anticipation guide for Charlotte’s Web (E. B. White) or summarising text as in I have a dream speech by Martin Luther King.

Word sift (www.wordsift.com) as a teaching tool to sift vocabulary in a text. Word Sift captures an inputted text and displays (a) the most frequent words in text in a variety of formats, e.g. in alphabetical order or from frequent to rare; (b) presents Google images and a visual thesaurus of highlighted words; and (c) provides examples of selected vocabulary within the context of the sentences from the original text. Pretty powerful stuff!

Text of speech by Queen Elizabeth II delivered in Dublin Castle,Ireland  on May 18th 2011

For more great evocabulary ideas see Dalton and Grisham (2011)


Electronic reading formats of texts The students have explored the affordances presented by electronic reading formats for deepening response to literature. For example, they have adapted the work of Larson (2009) to create an electronic reading workshop. Elementary school children were asked to create ebookmarks or generate ejournals to capture fleeting thoughts, construct predictions, make connections or clarify difficult vocabulary as they read.
Students have also created threaded discussions using wordpress (www.wordpress.com) to create class blogs in response to electronic ebooks. Here children can respond to teacher created prompts. In one student’s classroom the children developed their own prompts and responded to each other in an asynchronous discussion format. The class blog helped to develop a community of readers within the classroom. Analysis of the blog discussions suggested that children scaffolded, contested, affirmed or extended each other’s responses.

See Lisa Zawilinski’s (2009) article in The Reading Teacher for an extended discussion of blogging in the classroom.

Finally, my students have used Glogster (http://edu.glogster.com) to create interactive multimedia format posters. These glogs helped children to elaborate their response to ebook formats. For example, in one study the children created video dramas of weather forecasts predicting a storm as the characters in The Wildflower Girl (Mc Kenna, 1994) crossed the Atlantic; or developed meanwhile episodes where the children became involved in authorship to extend the original story crafted by the author.

Tús maith,leath na hoibre (a good start is half the work)! We have made small steps this past academic year. Next year we will extend and grow the affordances presented by digital tools for literacy in the classroom. My fellow bloggers at Literacy Beat have provided me with many inspiring ideas………..
References
Dalton, B., & Grisham, D. (2011). eVoc Strategies: 10 Ways to Use Technology to Build Vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 64(5), 306-317.
Larson, L. C. (2009). Reader response meets new literacies: empowering readers in online communities. The Reading Teacher, 62(8) 638-648.
Zawilinski, L (2009).HOT blogging: A framework for blogging to promote higher order thinking. The Reading Teacher, 62(8), 650-661.

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) (www.cast.org)  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 http://www.voiceofliteracy.org/posts/42574
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.
References
Baker, E. A. & Dalton, B. (2011, April 18). Designing technology to support comprehension among monolingual and bilingual students. Voice of Literacy. Podcast retrieved from http://voiceofliteracy.org
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.

A post from Bernadette: LEA meets Book Builder

The Language Experience Approach (LEA) (Hall, 1986; Stauffer, 1970) is to my mind an organic approach to the teaching of reading. Organic in three ways: firstly, LEA constructs a reading curriculum based around the lived and shared experiences of children; secondly it welcomes the cultural backgrounds of children; and thirdly LEA affirms the child’s own language diversity and language patterns within the developed reading materials. LEA helps to develop early literacy skills such as, phonological awareness, phonics, concepts of print, word identification strategies, vocabulary, oral language development, reading comprehension and reading fluency.

My students have used the LEA approach successfully with children on Teaching Practice placement in schools. Lately, we have begun to use online ebooks as a way to create, share and publish our LEA stories. This has helped to accommodate the LEA approach within the 21st century classroom.

We have developed ebooks with audio, video and image support. In addition, we have begun to use Book Builder, a free downloadable digital tool, developed by the CAST organisation (http://bookbuilder.cast.org/).

Book Builder offers a “scaffolded digital reading” environment (Dalton & Proctor, 2008) and is underpinned by principles of universal design for learning (UDL) (Rose & Meyer, 2002). In essence, this means that reading is accessible to all through the provision of a myriad of learning supports, multiple means of representation in audio and visual modes, and ways to build engagement and expression. Book builder is easy to use with a comprehensive how to Tips and Resources page.

Katie Murphy and her 1st grade students have been crafting the story of Karl the Teddy and his Adventures. So far in chapter one he has been to the St. Patrick’s Day parade where he took part in festivities (an experience that all of the children can relate to); and in chapter 2 Karl the Teddy has met Lucky Duck and together they are saving Easter from an evil bunny who has stolen all of the chocolate (luckily they succeed!). I visited the classroom today where Karl and Lucky Duck take pride of place on Karl’s adventure table. The children were clearly engaged in writing and illustrating the story and loved the avatar coaches who prompted them to add details to the story; to forge connections between their own lives and those of Karl, to make predictions or to read the story aloud. You will have to wait a while to read the story on the public domain on the CAST website, as the children informed me they are already planning more adventures for Karl in chapter 3!

Lucky Duck took the bad Easter Bunny to jail and splashed water all over him and he was a good Easter Bunny again.

In the meantime, take a look at one of my favourite books on the CAST web site: Play Ball with Me! A Joel and Angel Book written and illustrated by Ann Meyer. The book features Anne’s two dogs in a story of the trials of friendship and is beautifully illustrated by her own digital photographs of her two charming dogs, with audio links, and a helpful illustrated glossary of terms. It features a text-to-speech feature but develops more than just listening comprehension.

copyright Ann Meyer

copyright Ann Meyer

One of the strengths of Book Builder is the presence of avatar coaches. These coaches can be customized, by the teacher, to the learning needs of the child where each coach can help the child to develop response; expand vocabulary, build strategy usage (e.g. making predictions, forging connections, asking questions). (Elmo is the sweetest avatar coach of all!) The children can also craft their own responses to answer teacher provided questions. Therefore, in providing a customized reading environment it affirms the uniqueness of the child as a reader, writer and thinker.

Percie, Emo and Can-do coach avatars

Emo a coach avatar

Google Lit Trips

A post from Bernadette
Lucy Calkins in the Art of Teaching Reading (2001) urges us to help our students to compose lives in which reading and writing matter. She noted that great literature helps us “to stand, feeling small, under the vastness of the Milky Way”. Google lit trips (the brain child of Jerome Burg, a retired high-school English teacher) allows students to travel beyond the mind’s eye, and take a virtual road trip, by satellite, navigating right across the world, viewing locations from the novel on the way. Lit trips help students, who are unfamiliar with locations within a novel, to recreate scenes  and become fellow travellers with the characters in the novel, visiting places the characters lived, where they struggled and where they overcome adversity. The site has won the 2010 Tech Laureate award. It provides us with a good example of a meaningful way to integrate literacy with technology and indeed the content areas.

Getting Started
Before visiting the Google Lit trip site you need to download Google Earth (a free downloadable program). You will need Google Earth as Google lit trips run off KMZ files. If you are not already familiar with the Google Earth interface take a couple of minutes to familiarise yourself with the tool palette and side bars. Tutorial videos are available here. For example, you can record a tour using the camera icon; view historical imagery of place marks on the clock icon; and create place marks using the pin icon. (On the side bar, in the layers menu, ensure you unclick the layers when creating a Google lit trip so that you will only view locations within the novel).
Visit the Google lit trip web site for helpful webinars and examples of Lit trips created by teachers and their students. Lit trips are organized across grade level from kindergarten through high school to higher education. Google lit trips don’t stop at merely visiting locations or geographical features within the novel. Sample Lit trips on the site show discussion popup windows to help our students ‘linger and look’ (Calkins, 2001) and dig deeper with their responses to literature by making connections to themselves; to other texts they have read and to their own world experiences. Teachers (or their students) can create different levels of questions to spark meaningful discussions; and can provide links to other web sites to access crucial historical background information thereby enhancing meaning.

Sample Lit Trips
There were many readymade lit trips that caught my eye. I’ll mention just three to whet your appetite.
Possum Magic by Mem Fox (aren’t all of her books memorable?) a tale of Grandma Poss who makes Hush invisible to protect her from snakes. Seemed like a good idea except she doesn’t know how to make her visible again! The lit trip takes the reader to seven locations in Australia and provides imagery of various types of Australian food as Grandma Possum tries to undo the mayhem.
Going Home by Margaret Wild is a tale of Hugo, a child anxiously awaiting discharge from hospital. His hospital window overlooks a zoo and Hugo begins day dreaming of the natural habitats of a range of animals, such as, African elephants and Snow leopards. Antonella Albini, the teacher librarian, who created this lit trip provides helpful imagery, audio and video links to child friendly web sites such as, National Geographic for kids.
• My final choice is the compelling The Watsons go to Birmingham -1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. This is the story of an African American family whose lives become intertwined with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. The teacher creator of the Lit trip, Heather McKissick, provides seventeen Question Stops along their journey with links to historical imagery and questions to spark meaningful discussion among her students.
I’m excited by the possibilities of Google Lit Trips. I am exploring online tutorials on the Google Lit trip site and YouTube videos to start building my own lit trip. Come Spring break I have my eye on The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier (Red Fox, 1956). Let’s see how I get on!

Url links used in Blog

Google lit trips http://www.googlelittrips.org/

Google Earth http://www.google.com/earth/index.html

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