Vocabulary Self-Collection Plus, Part 2

By Linda Smetana, Dana L. Grisham and Thomas DeVere Wolsey,

Last week, we introduced Vocabulary Self-Collection Plus (VSSPlus). Our goal in modifying this time-tested approach (Haggard, 1982) for the digital age (Grisham, Smetana, & Wolsey, in press) was to create an intersection where students might interact with each other in face-to-face spaces to add depth to their vocabulary and concept knowledge. At the same time, we wanted to use technology in a generative way (Grisham & Smetana, 2011) so that students became proficient users of technology while learning academic vocabulary related to their science lesson. This week, want to introduce the technologies we used, and share some lessons learned.

We chose two presentation methods, PowerPoint® and Thinglink, for the students’ e-dictionary entries.  However, many other tools are possible options.  Students might use Voicethread, Prezi, or Popplet, for example. In our work with these fifth-graders, we chose to limit the tools to one that is more familiar to them, and one that would be new.  Embedded in the technology task, we also helped students create audio recordings and showed them how to further deepen their word learning using the Wordsift website.

Wordsift

In Wordsift, students type in a word and produce a visual that links synonyms and related words. For example, “melting point” is a science term students in fifth-grade might be expected to know. By entering “melt” into the Wordsift visual thesaurus, students see related terms including Latinate versions and synonyms.  Please see figure 1.  In addition, Wordsift has many other capabilities including creating a word cloud, executing an image search, or sorting words according to academic word lists. Students in our exploratory group did not have access to screen capture tools, but a few used drawing tools to recreate the visual thesaurus they created in Wordsift.

Figure 1: Wordsift Result for “Melt”

Wordsift-melt

Wordsift

PowerPoint

While PowerPoint is a familiar tool to many, some features are not widely known.  We recently asked a group of teacher candidates if they knew PowerPoint could support narration they created, and only two responded that they knew of this feature. In our work with fifth-graders, the students use voice recorders to create the audio, and then they attached those to the PowerPoint slide.  We found that saving the slide as a PowerPoint show (rather than a regular PowerPoint) kept all the audio intact and could be used on any computer using free PowerPoint Show software if the regular version of PowerPoint was not available. Many of the students in the class started out exploring Thinglink, but because they were more comfortable with PowerPoint and recognized the time constraints of the task, switched to that format.

Learn more about adding audio narration to PowerPoint by clicking here.

Thinglink

The Thinglink tool intrigued students, but it required some playing around as they tried to figure out how best to use the tool. In PowerPoint, students could add text and images in any order, but in Thinglink, they needed to locate an appropriate image first.  Then, they could use the editing tools to tag the image with the text such as their definitions and rationales.  Find out more about Thinglink and view some examples by clicking here. An additional challenge was to upload the audio portion of the VSSPlus presentations to a podcast sharing site (we used Podbean), then link the podcast to the Thinglink.  To save time and avoid student frustration, we did this for the students.  For this reason, it was very important that students included their group names on the Thinglink as well as in their audio narration making it possible to easily match up the files.  Figure 2 is an embedded Thinglink created by students you can try.

Figure 2: Thinglink: Boiling Point (Click the image to view the interactive Thinglink)

The E-dictionary

We used Wikispaces to create the first page of the e-dictionary which you can see in figure 3 below. Additional pages for future learning can be added easily.  Students and parents can view the work at will, and learn from each other’s presentations. Other wiki tools, blogs, or even a learning management system (Canvas, BlackBoard, etc.) might be used to host the e-dictionary.

Figure 3: E-dictionary on Wikispaces

edictionary

E-Dictionary

Moving Forward

The first time out took a little over three hours because students had to learn to use certain aspects of the technology (inserting images, finding images, creating audio files, and so on). However, in the future, they will not have this hurdle, and the task will proceed much more rapidly.  The important aspect of this task is that students had to discuss the terms amongst themselves, evaluate the relevant aspects of images they chose together, plan their audio components, and work as a team to assemble the final product. Throughout the process, they became deeply aware of the relevant attributes of the concept represented by the term and also what it was not, in some cases.

For future VSSPlus projects, we would appoint a Wikispaces librarian whose job is to put the final presentations in the e-dictionary.  Some students were more adept at using the audio recording tools, and would become the audio engineers.  Thinglink aficionados are appointed the go-to person for Thinglink questions, and PowerPoint specialists who know how to link or insert audio, use the drawing tools, and save in PowerPoint Show format would have a place to shine. Finally, a means of sharing the work is needed.  A data projector with each group presenting their work to the class is a good start. If the classroom has a few computers or laptops, students could rotate through stations viewing and listening to the presentations at some stations while doing other academic work at different stations.

We hope you will try VSSPlus. Let us know what ideas you have to change it up and how well your students learned from the experience.

References

Haggard, M. (1982) The vocabulary self-collection strategy: An active approach to word learning.  Journal of Reading, 26(3), pp. 203-207.

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

Grisham, D. L., Smetana, L., & Wolsey, T.D. (in preparation).  Post-reading vocabulary development through VSSPlus. In T. Rasinski, R. Ferdig, & K. Pytash, (Eds.). Technology and reading [working title]. Bloomington, IN: Solution-Tree.

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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Digital Literacies: An IRA Cross-Journal Virtual Issue

In response to the Common Core State Standards, and the growing literacy demands of a 21st century digital world, educators have increased their focus on practices related to critically navigating, evaluating, and creating texts using a range of digital technologies. When digital literacies is a part of classroom instruction students are better equipped to communicate effectively in digital media environments, as well as to comprehend the ever-changing digital landscape.

The International Reading Association has created a cross-journal virtual issue focused on digital literacies. This new FREE virtual issue is available through Dec. 2013 and features articles from  The Reading TeacherJournal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, and Reading Research Quarterly.  The articles were selected by the editors of these journals for their impact on both literacy scholarship and practice.

Among the offerings is Bridget Dalton’s piece entitled Multimodal Composition and the Common Core State StandardsThis article describes how a Digital Writers’ Workshop can be a vehicle for integrating multimodal composition into the classroom. It offers general workshop principles and strategies, followed by a multimodal poem project illustrating how to scaffold students’ design processes. It invites teachers to contribute to the conversation about literacy and technology integration at The Reading Teacher‘s Facebook page.

Another intriguing piece is co-authored by Jill Castek and Rick Beach.  It’s entitled Using Apps to Support Disciplinary Literacy and Science Learning.  This article showcases apps that help students access information, interpret and share information, and create multimedia products. Classroom examples illustrate how to use these tools strategically to enhance learning. For additional insights, don’t miss the Podcast supplement for this article.

Comprehending and Learning From Internet Sources: Processing Patterns of Better and Poorer Learners co-authored by Susan R. Goldman, Jason L.G. Braasch, Jennifer Wiley, Arthur C. Graesser, Kamila Brodowinska used think-aloud protocol methodology to better understand the processing that learners engaged in when performing a web-based inquiry task about volcanoes using multiple Internet sources.  In this study, 10 better learners were contrasted with 11 poorer learners. Findings suggest that multiple-source comprehension is a dynamic process that involves interplay among sense-making, monitoring, and evaluation processes, all of which promote strategic reading.

There are several more great articles in the virtual issue on digital literacies.  We hope the ideas you find within these articles will spark a whole host of new implementation directions for you and your students.  Happy reading!

Power Up What Works!

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

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

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Power Up with Technology Blog

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

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

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

The Learning Center

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

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

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PowerUp Your School

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

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

Webinars: Professional Development Across a Global Community of Learners

A post from Bernadette

Webinars and online interactive podcasts provide opportunities for professional development that is convenient and participatory. A key feature of webinars is the ability to cross time and space and to interact synchronously with key researchers and scholars in literacy in real time seminars. Participants can ask questions, make comments, and interact with colleagues in a global community of learners. In this blog post I want to draw attention to some of my favourite webinars and online podcasts.

I have been following the interpretation and implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in the U.S. with great interest. Text Project, under the expert guidance of Elfrieda (Freddy) Hiebert, has been running a series of really useful and informative webinars on the core goals of the CCSS featuring speakers who served in an advisory capacity for drawing up the CCSS. For example, Professor P. David Pearson provided a very enlightening webinar entitled Research and the Common Core: Can the Romance Survive? where he discussed the research underpinning the CCSS with particular reference to comprehension. He provided a very illuminating critique of the interpretation and implementation of the CCSS. You can also view the archived webinars asynchronously on the Text Project You Tube channel . Other archived webinars include Dr. Timothy Shanahan on CCSS and Education. Upcoming events on the webinar series include eminent scholars and researchers such as, Dr. Karen Wixson, University of Michigan on Key Shifts in Assessment and Instruction Related to CCSS-ELA (24th of April, 2013); and Dr. Nell Duke on Informational Text and the CCSS: Pitfalls and Potential (30th of May, 2013). You can register for these webinars on the Text Project website.

The International Reading Association (IRA) has also conducted a series of webinars on Staying Ahead of the CCSS. Members can access the archive of these seminars for a modest rate on the IRA website.

Another series of webinars which I follow are the Global Conversations in Literacy Research (GCLR). Past webinars have included eminent scholars, from across the globe, on a diverse range of issues pertaining to literacy and have included Dr. James Paul Gee, Dr. Allen Luke, and Dr. Julia Davies. An upcoming webinar features Dr. Patrick Shannon (April 14th, 2013) on A Closer Reading of the Common Core: Reading Wide Awake looks particularly interesting. The GCLR team hope to begin archiving these webinars in the coming months.

Finally, I really enjoy the biweekly podcasts on the Voice of Literacy where Dr. Betsy Baker interviews researchers about recently published research in Tier 1 journals such as, Reading Research Quarterly (RRQ) or Journal of Literacy Research (JLR). These podcasts provide an opportunity to listen to a researcher flesh out their research findings in discussion with Betsy. The Voice of Literacy site provides a comments section where listeners/ readers can pose questions or provide commentary on the podcast. Our very own Literacy Beat Blogger Bridget Dalton has been featured discussing her research related to utilising digital technologies to support the development of reading comprehension and vocabulary with 5th grade monolingual and bilingual students. I have embedded the link below.

Designing technology to support comprehension among monolingual and bilingual students with Dr. Bridget Dalton

Book Review: Using iPad and iPhone Apps for Learning Literacy Across the Curriculum

A new post by Jill Castek

The Literacy Beat bloggers are back on the beat!  We’re rested and relaxed from the winter holidays with lots of great new ideas to share.  Stay connected with us over the next several months. We’ll once again be posting dynamic new content weekly. This week’s post is dedicated to a incredible new e-book that has inspired me to think in new ways about incorporating tablet technologies into literacy and content instruction.

Schools all over the world are making iPads a part of the classroom experience.  Yet how can we best use this tool in ways that support student learning? Rick Beach and David O’Brien from the University of Minnesota offer their insights in  Using iPad and iPhone Apps for Learning Literacy Across the Curriculum.  It is one of the best professional books I’ve read this year.  Not only  is it one of the only books out there that explores tablet use (an area that has grown exponentially in the last year) but it tackles this content from a literacy and learning perspective aimed at supporting teachers’ pedagogy.  The e-book was released on Dec. 26th and is available from Amazon as a Kindle Edition and on Apple iTunes Books.

Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 1.28.27 PM

Each chapter of the book addresses an important area of literacy instruction. For example there are chapters focused on Writing to Learn, Discussing to Learn, Using Audio and Video to Learn and Using Images to Learn (to name but a few). Each content genre that is covered showcases new dimensions of literacy and learning that apps make possible. Echoed throughout the text is an emphasis on learning contexts such as focused collaboration, peer-supported reading and writing, use of visual and multimedia to express ideas, sharing learning with audiences, and student-teacher communication.

Beach and O’Brien think about the uses of apps in terms of their affordances.  They define app affordances as the particular features of apps and the ways they mediate the uses of literacies and show tangible ways that app affordances serve as tools connecting the student with certain goals for learning. They assert that these affordances are not in the apps themselves but rather are part of the learning context.  This way of thinking suggests that using tablets purposefully in the classroom requires creating a context in which apps are a part of the instructional context for learning (not the end in and of itself).

Reading about apps for iPads, iPhones, and other portable technologies, sparks a desire to check out the features and explore possibilities. For this reason, the e-book format is perfect for this type of text. Some of the most powerful examples of the potentials of apps demonstrate how they can be used for building conceptual understanding and communicating ideas through use of concept-mapping, screencasting, or video production apps. Beach and O’Brien show how these apps allow students to access information and create their own products that include rich visual representations.

The book includes numerous links  that bring readers directly to examples  that illustrate the authors’ key ideas. But what sets this book apart from others is its range of resources referenced.  A supplementary wikhttp://usingipads.pbworks.com  and website http://www.appsforlearningliteracies.com provide even more to explore in the form of resources and further reading.

Congratulations to Rick and David on an incredibly useful and timely book.  While many e-books are not lendable, my Kindle edition indicates I CAN in fact lend out my e-copy.  Feel free to add a comment below if you’d like me to share with you.

Four Online Reading Tasks

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Researchers are delving deeper into the nature of online reading tasks for PK-12 students; however, four common tasks emerge that readers encounter often. The MNOP teaching strategies (model, name, overcome obstacles, and probe) for digital and online texts are bolded throughout. Tasks readers might encounter in digital environments include:

  • Finding and reading appropriate material
  • Determining the best approach for reading digital materials
  • Synthesizing multiple sources
  • Integrating multimodal resources

Finding and Reading Appropriate Material

Confronted by search results from Google or other providers, readers must make a number of decisions. As important, they must do so quickly if they are to succeed in reading anything meaningful in a reasonable time frame.  Identifying appropriate online material is not as easy as it sounds; it involves much more than simply choosing some search terms.  Effective readers of online content try search terms, survey the results, refine search terms as necessary, skim some pages, and read other pages in depth.  Equally important: This process continues as readers encounter ideas and links to other sources; in short, the process does not proceed step-by-step.

Effective practice: Teachers assist readers to set a purpose for reading online sources, evaluate the sources they find, and challenge themselves to read increasingly complex materials online. They model these behaviors, often using a data projector or interactive whiteboard.

Example: Stephanie, a fourth-grade student, looked for information about “California missions,” but most of what she found using just those two words in her search was very broad, and repeated the same information.  She had visited the mission at San Luis Rey, and she knew it was not far from the famous San Juan Capistrano mission. Many of the sites in her search results included information about nearby hotels and restaurants which she knew would not help her learn more about the network of missions along the California coastline.  She knew she needed a web source that went into more detail than what she was finding, and she was sure the information was online somewhere. But, where was it?

CapistranoMrs. Wilkinson, the fourth-grade teacher, had seen students struggle with finding just the right search terms. She had learned that students often got stuck and couldn’t get out  of the mire of many search results but little useful information.  On her class webpage, she had linked some fourth-grade friendly resources.  When she saw Stephanie’s face scrunch up after another click to another website that wasn’t helpful, she walked over and watched for a minute.

“It looks like you have found several sites about the missions, and a couple of them about San Luis Rey that we visited last week on our field trip. But, you seem puzzled, too. What’s going on?”

Stephanie took her finger off the touchscreen, relieved somewhat for a chance to tell Mrs. Wilkinson about her search, “I found a ton of sites, but most don’t tell me anything new. I’m not sure what to do to find out more.”

“Ah, it’s no fun to search and search and come up with so little. That happens to me, too. I remember when we were at the mission, you wondered why San Luis Rey was built so close to the ones in San Diego and Capistrano. Is that what you’re trying to find out?” Mrs. Wilkinson probed.

“Uh huh. I thought it wouldn’t take long to find out. What do I do?”

Do you remember the class webpage we created with ideas to use when we get stuck? Why don’t you open a new browser window, so you don’t lose your place, and take a look at that link? It might have a model you can use.

Young readers of paper-based texts are frequently taught for finding texts that are not too hard to read, called the five finger rule, [learn more about the five-finger rule]. The five-finger rule is used to roughly determine how difficult a text will be; however, online, the five finger rule may not be very effective because page lengths are indeterminate, the amount of text on a page may be lengthy or very brief, and multimodal sources may also constitute portions of the information the reader is asked to process.  Instead, young readers can be taught to challenge themselves by asking themselves a few simple questions when they arrive at a website or other digital text:

  1. How well does it seem this information match my purpose for reading?
  2. How much do I already know about what I am seeing on the page?
  3. Do most of the words look familiar? If not, are there links to definitions or examples that can help me?
  4. Are there tools, such as Twurdy [learn more about Twurdy on this blog here and here], that can assist me in knowing how difficult this page will be to read?
  5. When I read this page, do I feel like I am challenged to learn new information as I read, or do I just feel overwhelmed?

Determining the Best Approach for Reading Digital Materials

Reading for specific purposes that promote content learning as well as increasing proficiency with text means that readers in digital environments must attend to features that differ from traditional paper-based texts. Readers must understand the fundamental differences of reading electronic texts from those in the paper-based environment, and they must be able to regulate comprehension processes in ways that recognize these differences.

Some differences are evident in the layouts designed to work well on a computer monitor or screen versus those that are designed for paper-based environments. A quick experiment will highlight the differences between what our eyes do as we read, what we must do with our hands and fingers, and what are brains are doing when we read complex texts.  Compare this blog post designed with the computer screen in mind with this PDF file that was originally designed mainly for paper (click the link for an example of such a text). As you read, what do you have to do when you read the bottom of page 23 with your eyes, your hands and fingers, and your thinking processes? What if you want to review something from earlier in the article? How do you locate it? Does that process interrupt the flow of your thoughts?

Reading many online materials means that young readers will bring to bear their knowledge of the topic, but it also means they must adapt to online text structures. Online text often differs markedly from paper-based text.  There may be fewer meaning cues to guide inferences because the author believes that the reader will click those links that are relevant to the reader.  The reading may proceed in a non-linear way that is quite unlike reading a book or article in a paper-based magazine.  It is up to the reader in exponentially different ways to construct meaning because the texts are interlinked. Readers literally go to additional sources rather than taking the author at face value, and the quality of inferences drawn may be much more complex. For readers, the potential of consulting a great variety of sources may result in richer thinking. The reader might, for example, consult the links provided by the author, or the reader may search for more information by initiating an original search.

Self-regulation of reading is foregrounded in most online reading environments.  In most reading situations, readers must ask themselves questions as they read and apply fix-up strategies when they realize that the words they read are not matching closely with the background knowledge they bring to the reading task (Hacker, 2004).

Moreover, online readers may be apt to distractions caused by advertisements, instant messaging, a great many sources in a search result and so on.  Teachers can assist students to avoid information overload by attending to the purpose for reading established early on and knowing when to switch from one reading approach to another.

The f-shaped pattern described earlier on this blog can be an efficient approach to locating appropriate sources online; however, as online readers find internet sources that are most helpful to them (focusing on the purpose for reading!), they should be taught to switch from scanning material to reading closely.

Close reading is a term readers will hear more often as the Common Core State Standards (2010) are implemented in most of the United States in the coming months and years.  A useful definition of what close reading is can help here:

Close reading: Close reading is characterized by the use of evidence from the text to support, analysis, conclusions, or views of texts. For example, responses to the definition of text complexity would begin with a reference to the place in the text where the term is defined (Wolsey, Grisham, & Hiebert, 2012, p. 2).

Effective practice: Readers of online materials may apply the same scanning approach to most, if not all, of the web sources they encounter, but sometimes they must slow down and read more carefully.  Teachers can help readers overcome obstacles when they encounter web sources that seem to require close reading. Web sources demand that readers determine when to scan search results and the webpages they find and slow down, applying more thorough approaches as they narrow their search to the information needed to meet reading purposes.

Example: Joe worked on his California missions project, and he was really excited to find out that the hero Zorro, had visited the mission at San Juan Capistrano.  When Mrs.  Wilkinson noticed his finding, she probed for more information. “That’s an interesting bit of information, Joe. Where did you learn this?”

Joe quickly pulled up the webpage, and pointed out that there was a neat picture of Zorro on the Capistrano mission’s website, and the  opening line talked about Zorro at the mission.  Mrs. Wilkinson knew right away that Joe needed help overcoming an obstacle—he had read too fast and not enough.  She probed some more, “Very interesting site, Joe. Zorro is one of my favorite characters, too. What else do you think you might learn if you read some more on this page?” (Note to Literacy Beat readers: There was an exhibit at the Capistrano mission about Zorro, a fictional character, and that is the webpage Joe had mistaken as fact about Zorro visiting the historic mission).

Synthesizing Multiple Sources

Our research, built on the theoretical work of Rand Spiro and his colleagues (e.g., 1992, 1996, 2004), leads us to believe that learners who must reconcile a variety of sources and support their own conclusions with evidence are more likely to think deeply and engage thoroughly with content at every level. Reading online, when properly scaffolded, can lead student readers to develop thinking by carefully evaluating the content they find online, choosing the sources most appropriate to their purposes for reading, and challenging themselves to approach complex material.

Effective practice: Teachers can assist students to approach many sources, evaluate those sources, note differences between them, and reconcile those differences by noting them and deriving their own conclusions. Probing students’ choices of sources and the manner in which they approach the reading task provides the teacher with the opportunity simultaneously name the process (skimming, close reading, and so) and model alternative practices based on the prior knowledge the teacher brings to the interchange as well as the prior knowledge the student has about the topic and the processes necessary for successful online reading.

Example: When Mrs. Wilkinson’s fourth-grade students began to explore the legacy of the California missions, they often encountered information that was new to them. For every new idea they included in their final multimedia projects, she asked students to do two things: 1. Determine the reliability of the source, and 2. Find at least two sources of information (three is better) that supported the new information.  She found that as students read to verify what they included in their projects, they also drew connections between the sources, noticed new ideas and information to explore, and found disparities between the sources for which they had to account.  As a result, they had a richer understanding of the role of the missions in California and that not all views of the mission were positive.

Integrating Multimodal Resources

Though textbooks and other sources have long included photographs, graphs, and artwork, online reading more thoroughly integrates media into the online reading experience.  Graphics are easier for authors to create in the 21st century and include as are video and audio elements.  Icons require readers of online content to understand the icon and the process clicking it may initiate. Often, icons provide support, such as pronouncing a word or reading a passage aloud, that a paper-based text cannot.  Increasingly, multimodal sources invite the reader to interact with concepts about which they have been reading (learn more on this blog about multimodal learning).

Effective practice: Students are often innately aware that multimodal elements found in online reading are worthy of their attention or may be a distraction depending on the purpose for reading the online text, the arrangement of elements on the page, and the relevance of those multimedia elements to the text (and the other way around).  However, novice readers may be distracted by these or lack a process for reading text and viewing multimodal elements.

Example: Often, as Mrs. Wilkinson’s fourth graders worked with online sources, they found video clips, photographs, and primary source documents from the era linked or embedded within the text.  She taught them to decide what elements seemed to be more useful by watching short bits of video to determine whether to watch the entire piece.  Students learned to quickly scroll through a webpage noting the types of information in addition to the words, and whether any of those were ads and other visual information that might not be relevant at all.

Reading Online Text

What difficulties and successes have you and your students encountered when reading digital texts? What made the reading a friendly experience? How have you and your students challenged yourselves to read increasingly complex texts, perhaps a little beyond your comfort zones?

References

Common Core State Standards. (2010). Common core state standards for English/language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Coiro, J., & Dobler, E. (2007). Exploring the online reading comprehension strategies used by sixth-grade skilled readers to search for and locate information on the Internet. Reading Research Quarterly, 42(2), 214-257.

Hacker, D. (2004) .Self-regulated comprehension during normal reading. In R.B. Ruddell, & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (5th ed., pp. 755-779). Newark, DE: International Reading Association

Spiro, R. (2004). Principled pluralism for adaptive flexibility in teaching and learning to read. In R. B. Ruddell & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (5th ed., pp. 654-659). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Spiro, R. J., Feltovich, P. J., & Coulson, R. L. (1996). Two epistemic world-views: Prefigurative schemas and learning in complex domains. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 10, 51-61.

Spiro, R.J., Feltovich, P.J., Jacobson, M.J., & Coulson, R.L. (1992). Cognitive flexibility, constructivism and hypertext: Random access instruction for advanced knowledge acquisition in ill-structured domains. In T. Duffy & D. Jonassen (Eds.), Constructivism and the technology of instruction (pp. 5-75). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Wolsey, T. D., Grisham, D. L., & Hiebert, E. H. (2012). Module 1: Participant edition – What is text complexity? TextProject Teacher Development Series. Retrieved from http://textproject.org/teachers/teacher-development-series/

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