Using Technology to Improve Reading and Learning

Book  cover of Using Technology to Improve Reading and Learning

When friends write a book, of course, you’re excited for them and can’t wait to read it.  What’s even more wonderful is when you read the book and it’s terrific – one that you know you will use in your own teaching. Using Technology to Improve Reading and Learning by Colin Harrison and fellow Literacy Beat bloggers Bernadette Dwyer and Jill Castek is just such a book.

I found this book to be exceptionally useful for many reasons, but I will highlight just two of those reasons here.

First, Colin, Bernadette, and Jill are not only experts in technology and new media; they are first and foremost experts in literacy instruction. They have taught children how to become engaged and successful readers and writers, and they have taught and collaborated with teachers on effective literacy instruction and technology over many years. Their deep knowledge and on-the-ground experiences with children and teachers is demonstrated in every chapter. They speak directly to teachers, acknowledging the realities of today’s schools and the pressure to achieve high academic standards with all students, while offering a vision and concrete classroom examples to inspire us to embrace the challenge.

Second, this book provides a comprehensive blueprint for integrating technology so that children are more successful with print-based reading and writing AND are developing the new literacies of reading, learning, and communicating with eBooks and on the Internet. Bernadette, Jill and Colin complement a chapter on reading eBooks and digital text with two chapters on Internet inquiry – one focusing on the search process and the other focusing on how to compose and communicate through multimodal products. These are areas where we need to make tremendous progress if we are going to prepare our students for a future world that will be more multimodal, more networked, and more dependent on individuals who are creative, strategic, and collaborative.

I’ve copied the table of contents below. You will see that this book offers teachers multiple pathways for moving forward on their own journeys of technology and literacy integration. Enjoy (I know I will)!

Table of Contents

  1. Using technology to make the teaching of literacy more exciting
  2. Strategies for capitalizing on what students already know
  3. Strategies for using digital tools to support literacy development
  4. Strategies for using eReaders and digital books to expand the reading experience
  5. Strategies for teaching the information-seeking cycle: The process stage of searching for information on the Internet
  6. Strategies for teaching the information-seeking cycle: The product stage of searching for information on the Internet
  7. Strategies for encouraging peer collaboration and cooperative learning
  8. Strategies for building communities of writers
  9. Strategies for building teachers’ capacity to make the most of new technologies

Talking Drawings

by Rebekah Lonon with Karen Wood and Thomas DeVere Wolsey

This is the third in a three-part series exploring conversation and collaboration opportunities using digital tools. Rebekah Lonon describes how she uses “talking drawings” to promote academic discussions in her classes and explains how she uses the Educreations digital tool with her students.

My second-grade students enjoy using the talking drawings strategy regularly in all content areas. I always begin by having the class close their eyes and imagine a mental image of a word or concept. Once they open their eyes, they immediately draw the image they made in their minds. This gives me great insight into their prior knowledge of the topic, and it helps me tailor my instruction for the coming unit. I recently used this strategy to introduce a unit about properties of matter, and I learned that my students associated the word “matter” with something being wrong (“What’s the matter?”). I knew then how my unit needed to be planned.

When it is available for our use, I like to incorporate a digital tool. In this case, I used www.educreations.com because it provides an online venue for creating related drawings. Educreations is also available as an app for mobile devices. After their initial drawings, students independently read a passage, entitled “Why Does Matter Matter?” by Kelly Hashway (n.d.) from the website http://www.superteacherworksheets.com about the states of matter and then they discussed their drawings and thoughts with a partner. Next, they returned to Educreations to create a new drawing, based on their new knowledge. If technology is scarce, students can create their drawings in pairs or small groups, using paper with Crayons or markers. To reflect on what they learn and, as a means of integrating writing with the reading and drawing process, I always ask them to compare their original  and after reading drawing. In this instance, one partner group exclaimed aloud, “Matter DOES matter!” as they drew examples of each state of matter. Another partner group continued their reflection process as they wrote in their journals.  Seeing their developing knowledge when using this strategy is an effective assessment tool for me.

View the video to hear Rebekah explain talking drawings using Educreations.

Bibliography: 

Hashway, K. (n.d.). Why does matter matter? [PDF]. Retrieved from http://www.superteacherworksheets.com/matter/matter-article_WMTBN.pdf

McConnell, S. (1992/3). Talking drawings: A strategy for assisting learners. Journal of Reading, 36(4), 260-269.

Wolsey, T.D., Wood, K., & Lapp, D. (in press). Conversation, collaboration, and the Common Core: Strategies for learning together. IRA e-ssentials series: What’s New?Newark, DE :International Reading Association.

Wood, K. D., & Taylor, D. B. (2006). Literacy strategies across the subject areas. (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

About the contributors:

Rebekah Lonon teaches 2nd-grade for Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools, North Carolina

Karen Wood is a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

 

WebWatch: Newtown Kindness

by Thomas DeVere Wolsey

This month, I feature some music you may have heard and a website you might like. The two go together, but you will need to make this a multimedia moment.  First, start the YouTube video, below, so you can hear the music from The Alternate Routes.

 

If you would like to read the lyrics, point your browser to The Alternate Routes website.
 

Next, click this link http://www.newtownkindness.org/ and visit Newtown Kindness.  The link will open in a new window so you can listen to the music as you explore the site.  Newtown Kindness is an organization dedicated to teaching students to be kind and recognizing those who are kind in any of many ways. The site honors Charlotte Bacon, who died at Sandy Hook Elementary School, by turning tragedy into hope. Maybe you and your students will want to become involved by supporting therapy and comfort dogs, taking a kindness pledge, or engaging in a lesson about responding with kindness. Watch the video below to learn about some of the recipients of the Charlotte Bacon Acts of Kindness Awards.
 

 

Heroes don’t look like they used to, they look like you do. -The Alternate Routes

Literacy Beat @ IRA (Monday)

At a roundtable in the Research Into Practice Series on Monday, Karen Wood, Diane Lapp, and DeVere presented some ideas about conversation, collaboration, and the Common Core State Standards. Find out more about the IRA e-ssentials series by pointing your browser here: http://www.reading.org/general/Publications/e-ssentials.aspx

If you would like a copy of our handout, please point your browser to https://app.box.com/CCCCSS

Watch and listen as teacher Jolene Graham discusses how she uses the exchange compare write strategy using TitanPad and other digital resources.

The Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy

Digital_Literacies

 

Emily Skinner and Margaret Hagood, JAAL Editors, featured three pieces from the Digital Literacies Virtual Issue at the IRA conference.  Melanine Hundley & Teri Holbrook presented Set in Stone or Set in Motion?: Multimodal and Digital Writing With Preservice English Teachers, Jill Castek & Rick Beach presented Using Apps to Support Disciplinary Literacy and Science Learning and Jessica K. Parker presented Critical Literacy and the Ethical Responsibilities of Student Media Production.  

International LITERACY Association 2015

We hope you will join us at IRA, soon to be ILA, next year in St. Louis, July 17 to 20, 2015.

#IRA2014

Project Planning, the Common Core, and Technology, Too

by Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Digital Project Management Tools bring College and Career Skills Right into the Classroom

This weekend, one of my projects is to renovate the garden and put in spring vegetables. It’s up to me and my favorite nursery. All I have to do is motor on down to the garden center, buy what I need, and plant the seeds and seedlings. Other projects take a bit more planning, and digital tools can be a big help. Students often have a great number of projects in progress, and many of those involve collaborative work. Students work with students, with their parents, and sometimes members of the community. Teachers orchestrate much of the project management aspects, quite often. But, what if students could take on some of the College and Career Readiness Standards and learn how to manage their own projects?

Here are some of the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards that require collaboration.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

The Common Core State Standards in English-language arts/literacy emphasize the need, for the first time, for students to work together in a variety of settings and contexts and to use their literacy skills to get the job done. Assigning, selecting, or choosing a project is the first step. Managing the project so that work that is planned is actually carried out is where technology comes into play. Class projects last from a day to several weeks, and they range from preparing presentations to the class, making a digital demonstration of knowledge, or engaging in various service-oriented activities.

A project management tool that has been around for more than a century is named after the man who created it, Henry Gantt (cf. Clark, 1923). The Gantt chart has been used in the military, in manufacturing industries, live sports events (think Final Four) and in long range planning just about everywhere—including schools. Gantt charts are useful because they graphically show, “Work planned and work done are shown in the same space in relation to each other and in their relation to time” (p. v). Their visual nature encourages student project participants to develop a plan, stick to it, and note their progress over time. Digital tools improve Gantt charts by automating some tasks, making them easily available to project participants at any time, and being infinitely expandable. The use of color further improves the appeal and utility of the organizer.

Gantt project management organizers can be created with sticky notes on a white board or wall (Click here to see one example), on butcher paper, or with an 11 X 17 piece of construction paper. However, technology can greatly simplify the task. Typically, they show the tasks to be accomplished, who is responsible for each task, and a timeline showing planned and completed tasks. Excel® spreadsheets offer one digital solution to the Gantt chart that makes updating simple, and you’ll see that data entered in one part of the chart is translated visually.  Gantt charts can easily be created in a shared spreadsheet file such as those found in Google Docs, or with online apps specifically designed for this purpose (see figure 1), such as Smartsheet.

Smartsheet

Figure 1: Image courtesy of Smartsheet.

Online apps, such as Smartsheet, make it easy to share the chart on a class webpage, blog, or course management system. Parents can see it, students can edit and change it, and everyone will know who has to do what in order to get the job done and done well. Read more about project management tools for the classroom in this interview with Jodi Sorensen of Smartsheet. The company provides a free student project sheet for teachers to get started–log in and play around; it’s fun. There’s also a free teacher syllabus sheet. All those binders of curricular materials may be a thing of the past. One feature of Smartsheet I liked is the capability of linking other files (pictures, documents, and so on) right to the project organizer. See how this is done in this video on YouTube starting at time 0.36.

If you choose to use Excel or other spreadsheet software, you might find that templates for Gantt project management organizers are helpful because the setup is already done. In figure 2 you can see a basic template from Microsoft downloads, found here. Figure 3 shows a modified Gantt Project Management Organizer using Excel for use in upper-elementary and secondary grade classrooms, and you may download this template if you want to try it out.

Excel Gantt Chart

Figure 2: Generic Excel Gantt chart

Excel for School

Figure 3: An Excel Gantt chart modified for school projects.

Both of these organizers allow students to quickly enter data about what they plan to do, how much they have accomplished, and how they are proceeding. The neat thing is that Excel and other spreadsheets or software automatically create the timeline showing what is planned, and what is actually accomplished. These examples show a start date for the first of the month, but teachers can create their own templates just by deleting columns for dates that don’t match the timelines for completion.

Choose the digital tool you plan to use (e.g., Smartsheet, Excel). Next, train a few students, perhaps one from each project group or team, to be the expert on using the project management technology. The teacher should not be the only resource for using the tool.

Help students define the major parts of the task. In the example in figures 1 and 3- above, the teacher defined large categories as

1. Planning, Reading and research,, making it happen, etc.

or

2. Research, interviewing, and so on.

At first, students will need help breaking down the specific tasks for each category. A model the teacher creates or from past student project will be helpful in guiding students to decide just what the specific tasks might be.

Start the project!

In schools and at the university, we often engage students in projects of all kinds. However, students need to know more than what the project is and what its goals or objectives are. They also need the 21st century skills to manage large projects that will help them succeed in their schooling and in their careers.  Have you tried using digital project management tools, or even a traditional paper-based Gantt chart? If so, tell us about it by posting a comment.

Reference:

Clark, W. (1922) The Gantt chart: A working tool of management. New York, NY:  Ronald Press. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/ganttchartworkin00claruoft

Read more on this topic at the International Reading Association website. (added 3-29-2014)

Vocabulary Self-Collection Strategy Plus (VSS+)

by Dana L. Grisham (with Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Linda Smetana)

The Need for Vocabulary Learning

The need for breadth and depth of vocabulary accelerates through the grades as students encounter more challenging academic texts in print and on the Internet (CCSS, 2010). Improving students’ vocabulary is critical if students are to develop advanced literacy levels required for success in school and beyond, in the world of higher education and the workplace (Biancarosa & Snow, 2006; Graves & Watts-Taffy, 2008; Lubliner & Grisham, 2012).

Research suggests that students with a well-developed vocabulary learn many more words indirectly through reading than from instruction (Cunningham & Stanovich, 2001). If wide reading promotes vocabulary development, then conversations about their reading with adults and peers also strengthen students’ word learning (Biemiller & Boote, 2006). The goal of effective vocabulary instruction is to promote a lively interest in words through student expression and participation in a learning community that enjoys playing with words, builds on individual interests as well as curriculum needs, and emphasizes self-efficacy in word learning (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2008; Graves & Watts-Taffy, 2008). As we have noted in this blog, the impact of technology on vocabulary development also needs to be considered (Castek, Dalton & Grisham, 2012).  In other contexts, we have suggested that technology integration should be generative in the sense that learners should use technological tools to satisfy their curiosity and to generate creations for learning and for the demonstration of learning (Grisham & Smetana, 2011).

Vocabulary instruction may occur before reading (preteaching important vocabulary), during reading (teaching what emerges as needed), and after reading. Vocabulary Self-collection Strategy or VSS (Haggard, 1982), is an after reading strategy.

The Common Core (2010) requires that technology be integrated into instructional and independent learning sequences.  Research has shown that the use of technology and technology-based instruction enhances student learning. In the post-reading vocabulary assignment we explore here, teachers may use use several forms of technology to increase student interest in vocabulary and a variant of the VSS strategy to engage students in more robust vocabulary learning.

Vocabulary Self-collection Strategy Plus (VSS+) occurs after a selection has been read and is based on the principles of VSS (Haggard, 1982), a researched-based strategy that captures the essence of vocabulary learning:  multiple exposures to a word, multiple readings of a text, collaboration of students and teacher, oral discussions and presentations, selecting words that are important to know, writing a script and recording a podcast, Internet search for illustrations, and building semantic webs. Recently, two colleagues (Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Linda Smetana) and I worked in a fourth-grade classroom in a public school in Northern California, to teach the students how to make an online dictionary (e-dictionary) page using the VSS+ strategy. The three of us spent three hours with Mr. D’s 33 students, first in the classroom, then in the computer lab at their school.

VSS+ is a structure that becomes familiar to students so they can use it with more independence over time. It takes more time in the beginning as teachers and students get used to the technology, the time, and the process.  To teach VSS+ we wanted to use text with interesting or unknown words or text dense with academic language. Mr. D provided us with a passage from the Science textbook in use in his classroom. Mr. D pre-taught some of the vocabulary and students had already read and discussed the package when we arrived.

Collaboration and peer learning are essential to the VSS+ strategy. Mr. D had the students divided into cooperative groups of 4 students. In order to differentiate instruction to meet the learning needs of students, they may be grouped heterogeneously or homogeneously as needed. Mr. D’s students were grouped heterogeneously.

To teach the VSS+ strategy, we began in the classroom with a PowerPoint slide and a demonstration of the strategy.  Using a think aloud protocol, I modeled the strategy by presenting a nominated word to the class, and provided suggested answers to the following questions. In the demonstration, we used an example that we constructed on “continent” (see below). These are the three elements that students must consider as they nominate a word.

a.     Where is the word found in the text?  (Page number; read the sentence aloud)

b.     What do the team members think the word means?

c.     Why did the team think the class should learn the word?  The team must tell the class why the word is important enough to single out for emphasis (a rationale).

During the team presentations of nominated words, we facilitated discussion, listened to students’ projected meanings of the word, and invited class members to contribute additional clarifications of the words. A chosen target word was allocated to each team to prepare an e-dictionary page.

 Then came the fun part!  We adjourned to the computer lab where we asked students in Mr. D’s class to use two formats for their e-dictionary pages:  PowerPoint (like our example below) and a program called Thinglink.

In the lab, under teacher supervision, team members used the Internet to locate images and or definitions for the target word and then collaboratively determined which of the images/definitions best fit their prediction of the word meaning.

We proposed the following formatting for the eDictionary:

Word and Written Definition

Image selection from the Internet, Photos, Illustrations or Student Drawings (if a scanner is available)

Semantic web (we used WordSift)

Student audio recording about the word (critical thinking about own word learning)

Arrangement of the PowerPoint or Website page

Audio recording by students of the main elements of the word exploration

Posting to website (classroom e-Dictionary)

In the following example, the three of us used PowerPoint to make a sample e-dictionary page using the word “continent.” In the PowerPoint page is an audio recording that cannot be loaded into WordPress. To hear this recording, please visit

http://media60.podbean.com/pb/5d2ff0db75b8e90568ffd2295b4362b8/52693971/data1/blogs25/353339/uploads/ThinglinkContinents.mp3

Slide2

Next week in Literacy Beat, Linda, DeVere and I will talk more about the work we did with Mr. D’s students and share examples of their PowerPoint and Thinglink pages with you.

References

Biancarosa, C., & Snow, C. E. (2006). Reading next—A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy: A report to Carnegie Corporation of New York (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Biemiller, A. & Boote, C. (2006). An effective method for building meaning vocabulary in primary grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 44-62.

Blachowicz, C. L. Z., & Fisher, P. (2000). Vocabulary instruction. In R. Barr, P.

Mosenthal, P. S. Pearson, & M. Kamil (Eds.), Handbook of Reading Research, vol. III, (pp. 503-523). White Plains: Longman.

Castek, J., Dalton, B. & Grisham, D. L. (2012). Using Multimedia to Support Generative Vocabulary Learning. In J. F. Baumann & E. J. Kame’enui (Eds.). Vocabulary Instruction: Research to Practice (2nd Edition). New York: Guilford.

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010). Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects. Washington, DC: CCSSO & National Governors Association.

Cunningham, A.E. & Stanovich, K. E. (2001).  What reading does for the mind. American Educator, 22, 1/2, 8-15.

Graves, M.E. & Watts-Taffy, S. (2008).  For the love of words:  Fostering word consciousness in young readers. Reading Teacher, 62, 99.185-193.

Haggard, M. (1982) The vocabulary self collection strategy: An active approach to word learning.  Journal of Reading, Vol. 26, No. 3 (Dec., 1982), pp. 203-207.

Grisham, D.L. & Smetana, L. (2011) Generative technology for teacher educators. Journal of Reading Education, 36, 3, 12-18.

Lubliner, S. & Grisham, D. L. (2012). Cognate Strategy Instruction: Providing Powerful Literacy Tools to Spanish-Speaking Students. In J. Fingon & S. Ulanov (Eds.), Learning from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Classrooms: Promoting Success for All Students (pp. 105-123). New York: Teachers College Press.

  

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Collaborative Digital Reading Response

A post by Jill Castek

I’ve gotten excited about the possibility of engaging students (both K-12 and university) in collaborative digital reading responses.  I have found that encouraging students to use embedded discussion tools (where they can dialogue about WHAT they’re reading WHILE they’re reading) prompts engagement in the reading process and supports deep and meaningful discussion.  I’ve been exploring a range of digital tools that facilitate this process (Diigo, DocAS, and iAnnotate).  I’ve recently learned about a new option called Ponder.  This post focuses on the affordances of these tools.

Ponder is a collaborative reading tool that links your students together in a community where each individual member can create reading responses in the form of annotations and reflect on the annotations of other students.  In the process of engaging in an online dialogue, students deepen their understanding of material become more active and engaged readers.

Image

Ponder has a few notable benefits:  1) it’s free, 2) it’s already set up to support teachers (clustering students in to classes), 3) it enables content sharing amongst all the individuals who are invited into the class, and 4) it makes a suite of powerful analytics available to better understand what students are getting out of the reading they’re doing.

Ponder is different from other social sharing sites like Diigo because it requires readers to extract a key excerpt from a reading assignment, reflect upon it by assigning a pre-populated “sentiment” to it (e.g. I’m confused, I’m skeptical, I disagree, among many others), and then tie it to the concepts they are studying by tagging it.  Instantly, the reading responses are viewable by other students and available for additional comment.  Assigning a pre-scripted annotation  to an except through Ponder, as opposed to a free response using a sticky note as in Diigo has both plusses and minuses.  First, it support students in thinking through, and in essence, synthesizing a response as opposed to simply posting an initial reaction.  And secondly, the statements provided can act as a scaffold for learning how to construct a reading response.  On the flip side, students may very well want to say something original to their peers about the content or pose a question for further reflection.   Unfortunately, these are not viable options through Ponder.

Ponder provides analytic tools to help teachers and instructors monitor reading engagement and identify students who are falling behind before it becomes a barrier to success.   Teachers can then use the reading responses students have entered in Ponder to help them identify portions of the readings that were confusing. Analytics can also determine which segments contain particularly controversial ideas that can be used to target focused and purposeful in class discussions.

While I’ve primarily used Diigo for collaborative response, I’m intrigued by the idea of playing with the pre-populated response options in Ponder as a means of reflection.  It may free up the burden of saying something original and encouraging students to think critically about the text and the ideas it contains in a more supported way.  I’m interested to collect students’ preferences to learn more.

One additional affordance is of interest.  Ponder tracks and archives the web articles that readers follow up to read after the assigned reading.  These topics show up as related themes and are displayed on the class Ponder home page.  These web texts offer additional reading allowing reader to dig deeper into the topic of the reading.  The fact that these suggested readings stem from students’ actual web explorations has crowd sourcing potential.

If you’re interested in trying out Ponder, leave a comment and let us know how it goes.  I’ll do the same and we can compare notes.   Happy reading!

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