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 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.
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,, 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 (
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  ( 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?


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

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 ( or Tagxedo ( ) 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 ( 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 ( 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 ( 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………..
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) (  has developed a number of free digital software tools based on the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) (Rose & Meyer, 2002). UDL principles are underpinned by the concept that text should in the first instance be accessible to all readers rather than compensated or fixed at a later stage for the struggling reader or ELL student. This is achieved through the provision of a myriad of learning supports, such as hyperlinked glossaries, multiple means of representation in audio and visual modes, and ways to build engagement and expression. Avatar coaches are embedded in texts to provide prompts for students to activate comprehension skills and strategies such as, activating prior knowledge sources, making predictions, asking questions, and encouraging affective responses.
A recent study published in the Journal of Literacy Research (Dalton, Proctor, Uccelli, Mo, & Snow, 2011) explored the contributions made by vocabulary, comprehension strategy support and a combination of both vocabulary and comprehension support. The Improving Comprehension Online (ICON) study was conducted with 5th grade bilingual and monolingual students and provides evidence of the support offered by SDR. Students were assigned to one of three conditions: vocabulary support; reading comprehension strategies support and a combination of reading comprehension strategies and vocabulary support. The students read eight multimedia and informational texts (CAST Folktales).
Listen to a podcast of Dr. Bridget Dalton discussing this study with Dr. Elizabeth Baker in the voice of literacy podcast at this link
Significant variation was reported for standardised measures and researcher designed measures for students in the vocabulary and combination groups. Interestingly, the effects were non-significant for the reading comprehension strategies support group.

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

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

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

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

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 (

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

Google Earth

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