Let the Reader Beware: Evaluating Digital Books

This week’s post is a guest presentation by Elizabeth Dobler from Emporia State University. Beth has been working in an area that looms large for all educators: evaluating digital books for use in the classroom. Beth has put together a rubric which I believe teachers everywhere will find useful for these essential evaluations. As a teacher educator, I am planning to use the rubric with my master’s level practicing teachers and I beiieve that teacher preparation programs need a useful tool like this for teacher candidates to learn about and use. It is with a great deal of pleasure that I offer Beth’s post on LiteracyBeat. DLG

Let the Reader Beware: Evaluating Digital Books

Elizabeth Dobler

Three things happened to me in the same month that led to my interest in the topic of digital books.  I received an iPad from my university, I began teaching a children’s literature course, and I watched first grade children create their own digital books.  So now, during the winter evenings, instead of watching television or crocheting, I am searching Amazon, the iBookstore, and Barnes and Noble for quality digital books for children that I can recommend to preservice and inservice teachers.

Through my perusal of many digital books, I have reached two conclusions.  First, digital books, or ebooks, have the potential to let readers interact with the book in amazing ways, which can be both motivating and distracting. Many digital books integrate multimedia elements, including text, images, music, sound effects, and narration. In Axel the Truck, published by Harpers Collins, this book for beginning readers provides simple text, colorful images, intro music, and truck sound effects. The reader may choose the narration feature or to read the book themselves.   A reader’s interactive finger tap or swipe can move objects or cause characters to speak. In the app book The Monster at the End of This Book, the beloved Muppet, Grover invites readers to tickle his tummy, upon which he giggles. Some digital books provide ways for readers to become part of the story, such as the app book Cinderella: A 3-D Fairy Tale, which uses  the camera feature of the iPad to place the reader’s own face in a mirror above the mantle.

When teachers, library media specialists, and caregivers choose digital books to use with children, care should be given to selecting books with multimedia elements that deepen the reader’s understanding and appreciation of the story, rather than distract from the meaning of the text. A study by the Cooney Center at Sesame Street Workshop, entitled “Print Books vs. E-Books” (Chiong, Ree, & Takeuchi, 2012), looked at the interactions between parents and their children when reading digital books and found that the enhanced digital book (one with multimedia elements) promotes discussion related to the digital design rather than the content of the book. Does this shift from a focus on the story mean we shouldn’t read ebooks with children? Absolutely not! Children need to experience lots of different genres and formats of books, both print and digital, to prepare them for the wide variety of reading experiences they will encounter in their future.

The second realization I had during my very unscientific-relaxing-on-the-couch study of digital books for children is the quality of these books varies greatly. With the advent of self-publishing and digital bookstores, the world of children’s literature is experiencing unprecedented change. Today anyone can publish a book and make it available in a digital bookstore. On the one hand, this change is highly motivating for our students, as they can see their ideas and writing come alive in a digital book, and this can be shared with others. On the other hand, because anyone can publish their digital book using relatively easy to use publishing software, the traditional system of checks and balances used to screen publications before putting them into the hands of children no longer applies. Books with inappropriate content or incorrect spelling, grammar, or punctuation are available for little or no cost. The book The Case of the Missing Banana, by Matthew Ryan, has bright illustrations and a simple, yet clever text. It’s also missing capital letters for proper nouns and at the beginning of sentences. The Quirky, Nerdy, and Entirely Original Elementary School Adventures of Derpy Dork by Jack Thomas, appears to be a cruder version of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Kinney, 2007). Lest I paint an unfair picture, many high quality digital publishing companies do exist. Nosy Crow and Callaway Digital Arts are two of my favorites.

Those who teach, love, and care for children must be the gatekeepers, teaching children how to make wise decisions about book selections of all types, and making these selections for children when necessary.  In order to do this effectively, we must be able to identify quality digital books.  I have shared my interest in digital books with fellow educators, and with their help, we created a simple tool for considering the quality of a digital book.  The Digital Book Evaluation Rubric guides teachers to consider the reading options, user friendliness, appropriateness, and polished appearance of a digital book. Please take the tool, use it, and send us feedback.  In fact, the process of evaluating an digital book works really well if you find a comfy spot on the couch, curl up with a blanket, your digital device of choice and enjoy a book or two.

Elizabeth Dobler is a literacy professor at Emporia State University, in Emporia, Kansas. edobler@emporia.edu

References

Chiong, C., Ree, J., Takeuchi, L., (2012). QuickReport: Print Books vs. E-Books. Joan Ganz Cooney Center.   http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/publication/quickreport-print-books-vs-e-books/

Kinney, J. (2007). The Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Amulet Books.

Quality Digital Books

Axel the Truck: Rocky Road (Harper Collins) by J. D. Riley, Illustrated by Brandon Dorman. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/axel-the-truck-rocky-road/id472125985?mt=11

Cinderella: A 3-D Fairy Tale (Nosy Crow). https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/cinderella-nosy-crow-animated/id457366947?mt=8

The Monster at the End of this Book (Callaway Digital Arts/Sesame Street Workshop) by Jon Stone; Illustated by Mickael Smollin. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/monster-at-end-this-book…starring/id409467802?mt=8

Questionable Quality Digital Books

The Case of the Missing Banana by Matthew Ryan. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-case-of-the-missing-banana/id442569924?mt=11

The Quirky, Nerdy, and Entirely Original Elementary School Adventures of Derpy Dork by Jack Thomas. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/quirky-nerdy-entirely-original/id452819761?mt=11

Digital Book Evaluation Rubric

Type of Digital Book (check all that apply):

_____  traditional (print book turned digital)                            _____  gamified (book has embedded game elements)

_____  original (book written for mobile device only)           _____  movie and cartoon inspired

_____  uncertain/unknown

Robust Quality Adequate Quality Limited or Weak Quality
Reading Options Readers can choose options for reading, listening, viewing, or interacting with the text. I can adapt the way I “read” this digital book depending on my reading needs and interests. Or if I cannot choose, I at have several options available (read, view, listen). A limited number of reading options are presented, but the reader has no choice (i.e., audio and text). I can read and listen to this digital book, but cannot choose between one or the other. Reader has no choice of options beyond reading the text and viewing the illustrations. I only have the option of reading this digital book.
User Friendliness Provides various prompts, such as arrows or sounds, for accessing special features (i.e., turning pages, moving objects). Guides the reader towards interaction with the text. I can easily understand how to access all of the bells and whistles available in this digital book. Provides a limited number of prompts for accessing special features.  I can find the special features of this digital book with some exploring. No prompts are provided for accessing special features. The reader must dig to discover the features. I have to search to find the special features of this digital book and even then I may not find them.
Appropriateness The text (vocabulary and ideas) and illustrations are appropriate for the age level of the intended audience.This is an appropriate digital book that I would recommend to the children in my class. One or two questionable elements are present in the words and/or illustrations.  I should provide an explanation prior to sharing this book with my class. The topic, language, and/or illustrations are not appropriate for the age level of the intended audience. I would not share this digital book with my students because it is inappropriate.
Polished Appearance The text has been carefully edited for spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  No errors are present. The illustrations are placed near the appropriate text. I can recommend this digital book to my students with an assurance of high quality. One or two small editing errors are present in the entire digital book, and these do not detract from the text. Illustrations are placed close to the appropriate text. I am aware of the miniscule number of editing errors, but feel the value of the digital book provides a balance. Numerous spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors are present in the text. Illustrations are repeatedly not placed near the text. There are so many editing errors in this digital book, I would be not share this with my students.

Created by Elizabeth Dobler and Daniel Donahoo

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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Using Strip Designer for Literacy Learning

Using Strip Designer for Literacy Learning

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

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

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

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

In Martha’s words:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can hardly wait to see the results!

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

When we were young: A book memories project

Remembering when we were young:  A book memories project

a post from Bridget Dalton

A student views the Book Memory Quilt Display at Peabody Library, Vanderbilt University.

I always begin my course on children’s literature with sharing of book memories. Students and I travel back in time to the child we were at age three, seven, perhaps ten or eleven, and recall the books that held such special meaning for us at that time in our childhood. Why do we remember these books so powerfully? Often, it is who we read the book with that is most important, with many remembering the sights, sounds, and physical presence of reading with a parent. Sometimes it is the book’s role in our development of a reading identity. One student describes the first book she was able to read on her own; another describes how her love of “Eloise” led to a family trip to the Plaza Hotel in New York City where she was able to order room service, just like her favorite heroine!; a third describes a kitchen scene where he listened to his father read aloud from the Bible and respond to his questions.  Sharing book memories is always one of my favorite classes. We get to know one another better. It’s fun, and sometimes a bit emotional, as we remember “when we were young”.

Trying something different – a multimodal book memory

This year, I decided to try something different. I wanted students to share their stories with a larger audience, and I wanted to involve them in composing in a digital format. After we talked through our book memories, I introduced our Book Memory Project by projecting a PowerPoint slide illustrating my memory of Robert McCluskey’s classic tale, “Make Way for Ducklings”. I described why this book is so special to me and then talked about my visual design – my choice of an illustration from the book to serve as the background, use of sepia brown font and inclusion of a photo of my father, brother, sister, and me during my own duckling years. I explained how I made design choices in hopes that my writing and visuals would work together to effectively communicate my book memory.

I recall reading “Make Way for Ducklings” with family.

Getting started with a hypertext anthology of book memories

Students were intrigued and curious about the possibilities, so the next step was to create a hypertext anthology using PowerPoint.  I provided a rubric to guide them, with the most important guideline being that they should have fun with this experience and allow themselves to be creative in both their writing and visual design.  In the sections that follow, I share some examples of students’ book memories (they did a wonderful job!), outline the project steps and provide a rubric for you to adapt.

In thinking about how you might want to adapt this idea for your own students, consider first whether a book memory as I’ve conceptualized it for adults makes sense for younger children.  They might not be interested in recalling a book from younger days – unless they are used as book advertisements for children in a younger grade?  Another option would be to use this format as a book response activity for a favorite book they have read recently (or perhaps riff on this to capture their experience with their ‘worst’ read book of the year!).  A third option would be to have students interview a parent or grandparent about their favorite book memory.  For some, it may be a story told orally that they remember best, and that would work equally well.

Project steps

Creating a hypertext anthology of book memories using Power Point (note you can also do this as a web page or with any hypertext tool):

  1. Have each student create one slide illustrating their book memory.
  2. Create a master PowerPoint and insert each student’s slide (remember to check ‘keep source formatting’ when you insert so that you don’t lose the students’ design). Let students know that they can use a first name only, a pseudonym, or a full name, depending on privacy concerns if it is to be shared publicly.
  3. Create a title slide with the title, date, and authors (see example).

4. Create a table of contents slide that will be hyperlinked to each book memory.

In the example below, I used the table feature to enter the student’s name and book title and then hyperlinked each name to the student’s slide with their book memory.

The table of contents is hyperlinked to each book memory slide.

5. Hyperlink each book memory slide back to the table of contents slide.

For your first book memory link, create a graphic to serve as the hyperlink back to the table of contents. Then, copy and paste that on each of the slides (this way you avoid creating a new link to return to the table of contents for each book memory slide).

This student recalls her memory of The Polar Express. Notice how she has inserted a photo of her head onto the child’s body to show how she imagined riding the train. the arrow in the bottom right corner is a hyperlink back to the table of contents.

6. Once you’re done, test each link from the table of contents to each slide and return.

7. Save your PowerPoint anthology (or hyperlinked web page).

8. Decide how you will share the PowerPoint.  You could put it on a computer in the classroom and the school library. You might also want to share it on your class webpage.

Assessing a book memory

I needed to asses students’ book memories to reflect their multimodal compositions.  I’ve pasted the rubric I developed below.  I tried to keep it general so that students would have flexibility in creating their designs (I intensely dislike rubrics that try to quantify multimodal composing such that more images are better than fewer images.  We all know the power of a single image when it suits the message and intended audience!).

Book Memory Rubric

A = Either writing or visual design are advanced, or both are advanced.

B = Either writing or visual design are proficient, or both are proficient.

C = Both areas are basic, or below basic (I know this will not be an option for any of you!).

This rubric is designed to assess writing and visual design quality of the book memory.

Option:  Book memory quilt display

The book memory quilt created by our class is hanging in the Peabody Library for all to enjoy! We printed out the slides in color on hard stock paper and laid them out on a large table so that we could balance the colors.  Next, we strung them together with ribbon to create several banners.   Then, we hung the banners together to create a quilt-like display for the wall.  Simply done, but quite effective!

Group banners to create a book memory quilt to hang on the wall.

A few more book memories

A student remembers her father’s gift of “Call it Courage” and how it helped her to be brave.

“Goodnight Moon” was a book fondly remembered by several students.

Enjoy your own book memories!

If you try this project out with your students (or some adaptation), please consider sharing your experience by posting a comment to this blog.  I look forward to reading more book memories.

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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