Story Shares – A Digital Library for Teens and Young Adults

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Recently, I participated in a Twitter chat hosted by the International Literacy Association #ILAChat and Sam Patterson (@SamPatue) on the topic of the Association’s latest What’s Hot in Literacy report.  While there, I met the Story Shares team.

Story Shares in their own words, “Story Shares is a non-profit organization devoted to inspiring reading practice and improving literacy skills.”  The organization leverages technology to bring books worth reading to teens and young adults who struggle. As most readers of Literacy Beat who work with adolescents know, finding material that is not overwhelming is a challenge.

Story Shares Home Page Screenshot

Story Shares Home Page

Story Shares has created an online space that provides opportunities for writers to publish their work in a variety of genres and fills the need of teen readers for something meaty but not impossible to read.

Romeo and Me

Story Shares Digital Book

The online book collection is searchable by the usual indicators (author, title)
but also by interest level and three readability indices.  The books are easy to navigate by chapter and by scrolling. Controls include a bookmark, a word lookup tool that brings up definitions of challenging words, and a tool to mark a book for reading later. Some readers prefer books on paper, so Story Shares makes some of their collection available for purchase as a paperbound book.

Because some readers benefit from hearing the words of a book read aloud, the Story Shares team has built in a text-to-speech reader. As the reader speaks the words, the written words are highlighted on the page.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela: In His Own Words for iPad. Author: Ruth Chasek

I sampled the books on my computer and on my iPad. Both worked perfectly with the books on Story Shares.

For authors who wish to write for the teen and young adult audience, a user-friendly interface allows the writer to focus on the narrative and not the technology.  I tried it and found the graphic user interface (GUI) very easy to use.

Because Story Shares is a nonprofit organization that serves students around the world, they also appreciate donations. Just click here to help them out.

Social Media Quizzes and Differentiation

by Thomas DeVere Wolsey

In previous posts, we explored how social media quizzes can assist with differentiation by interest. Social media quizzes may also be used to differentiate by ability to some extent.  This reblogged and adapted post from Teaching the Language Arts provides one example.

Social media quizzes  can help students take control of their own differentiation through interests or by ability (knowledge).

Lesson planning Jedi

Are you a lesson-planning Jedi?

Now you can have fun taking this social media quiz to gauge your lesson-planning skills. It will test your knowledge of how to create literacy-based lesson plans, as explained in Chapter 4 of Teaching the Language Arts: Forward Thinking in Today’s Classrooms.

Which Robber Baron Are You? Quizzes to Inspire Writing

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

You might be like me if you scroll through your Facebook news feed clicking “like” but come to a screeching halt when you find a social media quiz like this one, Which Social Networking Site Are You? on Cha Cha.  It turns out that I am Google+. Want to know which Avenger you are from the Marvel series? Take this quiz on The Escapist. According to this quiz, I’m Hawkeye.


Take this quiz

These quizzes that focus on the quiz taker and often combine popular culture are a little addictive. But what if they were educational tools, too? I set up a free account on Qzzr to find out.

Standards in this example:

History–Social Science Standards for California Public Schools

8.12 Students analyze the transformation of the American economy and the changing social and political conditions in the United States in response to the Industrial Revolution.

(4) Discuss entrepreneurs, industrialists, and bankers in politics, commerce, and industry (e.g., Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Leland Stanford)  (1998, p. 38).

Common Core State Standard for writing and related substandards.

I created a social media quiz that asks students, “Which Robber Baron are you?” Based on their responses, they are given a prompt for writing based on the popular RAFT technique [click here]. In this example, I gave students the option to choose the topic based on their responses. I controlled or assigned the role, audience, and format. When I learn more about social media quizzes, I will add the R, A, and F into the quiz, as well.  Try out the quiz, below—you know you want to!

Robber Baron

Click the image to take the quiz (opens in a new window)

To set this up, I designed an Excel template with two sheets (see below). One sheet is for the overall profile for each choice; in this case, Leland Stanford, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, and J. P. Morgan. For each, I wrote a profile in second person (you are….) which I post as an outcome. If you would like to see the Excel spreadsheet I used, please click here. Each profile is set up according to criteria I determined in advance: Early life, interests, business focus, and so on.  The Qzzr tool allows me to choose an outcome (in this case, one of the Robber Baron profiles along with a format type), and I enter the questions from the Excel sheet into Qzzr. Just copy and paste from Excel into Qzzr and voilà!


Tabs for each sheet are on the bottom left.

Next, I create a link to a writing prompt based on the students’ responses in Qzzr and place that in the final outcome description (for example, “ You are John D. Rockefeller”).  I linked the prompt to this blog, but you may use a variety of platforms to deliver the prompt to students (e.g., Google Drive, your course management system). The great thing about Qzzr is that if the students don’t like the assigned topic, they can go again.

In this example, I wanted students to compare the assigned Robber Baron with another in the same industry. The prompt, which you may download here, is based on the format of the prompts provided at for informative writing.

Other quiz tools you may like:

Good luck, and have fun, too. Learn more about differentiation on LiteracyBeat here. Also, check out other educational uses of social media quizzes here.


The images were found using Creative Commons image search, and the photos of the Robber Barons are in the public domain. Background image in Qzzr:

Expanding the Scope of Digital Writing with iBooks Author

A New Post by Jill Castek

Tools for digital publishing are becoming much more sophisticated. With iBooks Author, it’s now easier than ever to create interactive and visually appealing iBooks for iPad. The Apple-provided templates feature a variety of page layouts. You can add your own text and images using drag-and-drop. Interactive photo galleries, movies, Keynote presentations, 3D objects, and more can also be embedded. Completed books can be submitted iBookstore in a few simple steps. And before you know it, your students can be published authors.

Many teachers are now using the iBooks Author app to create iBooks. Some have used the ePub export option using Apple’s word processing program Pages to create PDFs that can be stored and accessed on iPads (using Kindle Reader for iPad).

Andrea Santilli and her seventh graders at Woodlawn Beach Middle School created a 133 page iBook entitled Creatures, Plants and More: A Kids Guide to Northwest Florida, that includes numerous images of creatures and plants. This book is an interactive field guide of Northwest Florida. The stories and photos are now a published collection that has become top seller in Apple’s iBookstore. For those interested in visiting Florida, or just reading about it, this book will bring you in contact with fascinating interactive photo galleries and videos along with detailed narrative descriptions.

Creatures, Plants, and More:   A Kid's Guide to Northwest Florida

Creatures, Plants, and More: A Kid’s Guide to Northwest Florida

Mr. Smith’s 5th graders created  Two Kids and a Desert Town. These special education students were greatly motivated to write for an authentic audience. The project integrated technology, provided opportunities for collaboration, and gave students the chance to reflect on their learning process. Having published this book, and knowing that individuals all over the world have downloaded it and read it, these students will forever see themselves as writers!

Two Kids and a Desert Town

Two Kids and a Desert Town

After the success of Desert Town, Mr. Smith’s students created a second iBook entitled 5th Grade: Reflections on our Year. This book showcases the growth made by each student across the year.  Reflecting on their progress has encouraged them to see themselves as readers and writers.

5th Grade:  Reflections on our Year

5th Grade: Reflections on our Year

Other creative teachers, such as Chris Schillig, and his students created spin-offs works including It Was A Dark and Stormy Classroom. This book is made up of more than 40 of their collaborations and solo stories — an anthology of crime, murder and clues that proves detective fiction is alive and well in the 21st century.

It Was a Dark and Stormy Classroom

It Was a Dark and Stormy Classroom

Mr. Schillig’s AP English class tried their hands at modernizing The Canterbury Tales and created Canterbury Remixed. As you peruse this book, you can see how engaging this tools in iBooks can really be!

Canterbury Remixed

Canterbury Remixed

If you’re interested in learning the specifics of iBooks Author and are attending the International Reading Association conference in San Antonio (April 19 – April 22), check out Genya Devoe’s session entitled Using iBooks Author to Bring Content To Life with Your Students. The session will include an introduction to iBooks Author and an extensive step-by-step presentation in how participants can use iBooks Author to meet the differentiate needs of students and engage students in literacy in a new, exciting way. This session will take place Sunday April 21st from 9am – 10am in the Grand Hyatt Lone Star Ballroom E.

IRA 2013

IRA 2013

If you’ve used iBook author and have a book or experiences to share, please leave a comment. It would be great to hear from you!

Generative Technology for Teacher Candidates: The Assignment

Generative Technology for Teacher Candidates:  The Assignment

Dana L. Grisham

My friend and colleague, Linda Smetana, and I have been working together since about 2004. She’s a full professor at CSU East Bay (Hayward, CA), from which I retired in 2010. Linda is one of those extraordinary scholars and teacher educators who stays close to her field—she teaches one day per week in a Resource classroom in the West Contra Costa Unified School District—and also works full time at the university, where she specializes in literacy teacher education in both special and general education. Recently, Linda and I have been investigating the intersections of literacy and technology in teacher preparation together and I’d like to share with you a project we just completed and the results of which are going to be published in a book edited by Rich Ferdig and Kristine Pytash, due out later in 2013.

Our belief is that “generative” technology needs to be infused into teacher preparation. Technology in teacher preparation tends to be “silo-ed” in the programs where we teach. Currently, candidates at our university have one technology course, based on the ISTE standards, but bearing relatively little on pedagogy for teaching. By generative technology, we mean that the technology is embedded in the content of the course in teaching methods, rather than something “added on.”

The basic framework that we used for the assignment was the TPACK model (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) that has appeared in this blog before:


The TPACK model asks the teacher to look at the content of the lesson, or what we want students to learn, as well as the pedagogy (how best to teach this content), and then at the technological knowledge that might be advanced in the lesson. Where the three elements intersect is known as TPACK or the theoretical foundation and link between technology and praxis. In our courses, we have presented TPACK as the goal for integrating meaningful technology into lesson planning and teaching.

The participants in our recent study consisted of 21 teacher candidates in the fifth quarter of a seven-quarter post-baccalaureate teacher preparation program; 17 of these candidates were simultaneously completing their masters degree in education while 18 of the 21 participants were earning their education specialist and multiple subject (elementary) credentials.

In creating the assignment, we carefully considered the context for teaching of the candidates in the course, structuring the assignment so that all candidates could successfully complete it. Candidates had different levels of access to student populations. Accessibility ranged from 30 minutes a day three days a week, to the full instructional day five days a week.  Teacher candidates also taught different subjects among them: English, History, Writing, Reading, Language Arts, Study Skills, and Social Skills. To insure that teacher candidates considered all aspects of their assignment in their write-ups of the project, Linda provided guidelines for the reflection. Students were responsible for learning to use the tools they chose. Linda collected and we jointly analyzed the data. Findings from the research were uniformly positive. In fact, right now Linda is doing post-research interviews with a couple of the candidates who have really taken to the integration of technology into their teaching.

For the purposes of this post, I would like to share the assignment with you. In my next post I plan to share a couple of the projects. Teacher candidates were provided with guidelines for the technology assignment and provided with a list of potential tools that they might use for the assignment. They learned the TPACK model for planning. Below is the technology assignment from Linda’s syllabus and the list of technology tools (free or very inexpensive) provided for students to investigate. We offer this with complete permission for other teacher educators to use or modify for use in their courses.

The Generative Technology Assignment

The Common Core Standards mandate the use of technology for instruction, student work, and student response.  Students with special needs, especially those with mild moderate disabilities may not have access to technology or their access may be limited to hardware and software that may not be useful to support the learning process.

During the second month of the class, we will have three independent learning sessions.  These sessions are intended to enable you to complete the technology assignment.  This assignment focuses on integrating technology with academic skill development, core content with teacher and student creativity. The focus should be on an aspect of literacy or multiple literacies.

In this assignment you will use technology to develop a set of learning sequences for use with your students.  You may complete this assignment in groups of no more than two individuals one of the technology tools in the syllabus or one that you locate on your own.  If completed in pairs, the finished product must demonstrate increased complexity and include the work of students in both individuals’ classrooms.

Your technology assignment should enhance the learning of your students.  Prepare an introduction to the presentation to educate your viewer.  Think about the content of the presentation, reason for the your selection this medium and/or process.  Share how your presentation meets the needs of your students and reflects their knowledge. The assignment must incorporate student work.  Identify how the students participated in the development and creation of the assignment. 

Prepare a thoughtful reflection of your thoughts on the process and the final product including the preparation, implementation and evaluation of the product and the management of students and content. This reflection should be descriptive and include specific examples. It may be submitted as a word document.

Place your project on a flash drive that may be placed into the classroom computer for projection.  Use your student work of materials from the web, interviews, u-tube and anything else that will capture students’ attention. 

Technology Web Resources Provided to Teacher Candidates










Strip Designer

(iPad app)




Cool Tools for Schools


In addition to the assignment, teacher candidates were provided with guidelines for reflection, seen below.

Questions to Guide Reflection

What and how did students learn? Include both intentional and unintentional lessons.
What did you learn?
What would you do differently if you were to do this project again?
What were the greatest successes of this project?
How would you improve this project?
What advice would you give a teacher contemplating a similar project?
What kinds of questions did students ask?
Where were students most often confused?
How did you address the needs of different learners in this project?
What resources were most helpful as you planned and implemented this project?

To scaffold teacher candidates application of technology to lesson planning for the project, each one provided Linda with a proposal to which she gave feedback. Each proposal contained the following components: Context, Students, Standards (literacy and NETS•S standards), Technology, Process, and Product.

Every student completed the assignment successfully and their reflections are highly interesting….more to come! In my next post, I will share with you some of the amazing projects that Linda’s teacher candidates produced.


Grisham, D. L. & Smetana, L. (in press). Multimodal composition for teacher candidates: Models for K-12 writing instruction. In R. Ferdig & K. Pytash (Eds.). Exploring Multimodal Composition and Digital Writing. Hershey, PA: I-G-I Global.

Mishra, P. & Koehler, M. J. (2006). Technologiical Pedagogical Centent Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge. Teachers College Record, 108, 6, 1017-1054.

Differentiation Meets Digital Technology

A Planning Process for Differentiated Instruction with Digital Tools

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Differentiating instruction is a time-tested way of thinking about meeting students’ needs as they make progress toward achievement or learning targets.  Differentiation is an elegant mindset that suggests to teachers a framework that permits them to engage students while focusing on learning results, and digital technologies offer many opportunities to differentiate instruction in meaningful ways.  However, differentiating instruction takes a concerted planning effort on our parts as teachers and teacher educators. This is especially so as we develop a mindset that differentiation can be effective. In this post, I propose a three-phase approach to planning differentiated instruction:

  1. Where do we start planning for differentiated instruction with technology?
  2. What are considerations for who we teach, what we teach, and how we plan?
  3. How do I put it all together?

Throughout this post, you will notice a pattern of threes based on where, what and who, and finally how. Because examples often help, this post will close with one which I hope will inspire you to even better differentiation with technology.

Where Do We Start the Planning Process?

  • Curriculum: What standards and lesson objectives are appropriate?
  • Results: What are the key attributes of the target concept to be learned? What is acceptable evidence that students are learning?
  • Resources: What human, digital, and traditional resources are available?

Let’s start with a premise: Planning differentiated instruction enhanced by technology is a perfect fit for the principles of understanding by design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005) in which teachers plan instruction based on the results they intend for their students.  This means that before any digital tools are chosen, before a single activity is determined, before assessment instruments are designed, the intended results must be decided. Results are informed by standards and further refined by lesson objectives. They are carefully honed predictions for student learning that require the teacher to determine the key attributes of target concepts and consideration for what acceptable evidence of learning might be. Once we know we have this down, the rest falls into place.

Right now, you might be wondering, “Hey, where’s the technology?” At this point in our three-phase approach, we can ask ourselves what human, digital, and more traditional resources are available to support these learning events.  It will be tempting to think something like, “I really love Prezi and Glogster” so I’ll design my activity around those two tools.” An analogy might be helpful here as a kind of caution about choosing the technology before moving forward with other aspects of instruction.

In my backyard, I have decided to build a shed to store potting soil, extra pots, shovels, and so on. I know I have a claw hammer and a sledge hammer. I like my hammers, so I decide that those are the tools I will use.  Already, you can see this will not work out well. I may need other tools, and I may even have to borrow one from a neighbor or go to the hardware store and buy a tool for this task.  To be successful, I will need a pretty good inventory of the tools that are required for the job, the tools I own, and the tools I will borrow or buy. Planning to use technology to improve differentiated instruction is like that, too.  The technology should match the demands of the tasks.

What Do I Differentiate + Who and How?

  • Differentiate curriculum by process, product, or content
  • Based on readiness for learning relative to the standards and objectives, student interests relative to the standards and objectives, and the way they learn in general
  • While considering overall lesson design and time requirements

Once we have a firm grasp on what results we expect based on standards and objectives, we can begin to think about the best ways to challenge our students. Embedded in what we differentiate are considerations for who our students are and what we know about them along with what aspects of the curriculum might result (there is that word again) in effective student learning.  Curricular elements we can differentiate commonly include the processes of learning, the products of learning, and the content on which learning is based (Tomlinson, 2001).  Juxtaposed with those elements are the needs of the students including their readiness for learning relative to the standards and objectives, their interests relative to the standards and objectives, and the way they learn as a general rule. Learning needs and curricular elements or demands can be thought of as a matrix, as represented in figure 1. What cell on the matrix might produce the best learning results for the specific students sitting in the classroom? Finally, we need to decide what part of the lesson will be differentiated, how much time is available, and how this lesson fits in broader learning goals.

Differentiation Matrix

Figure 1: Differentiation Matrix

How Do I put it All Together?

  • Develop options and choices for learning
  • Based on identified learner needs relative to the standards and objectives
  • While keeping in mind key attributes of the target concept and intended learning results

Options: High-quality differentiation typically means different students doing different things that lead to achievement of a common learning goal.  Developing options is an effective way to put differentiation into effect. Sometimes the options are choices students can make based on the information they have about their own learning needs. At other times, the options are decisions that teachers make for students or are choices students make with guidance and nudging from their teachers. Options for learning in high-quality differentiation are always made with the key attributes of the target concept and effective learning results in mind.

Teachers develop options that meet identified learner needs while keeping key attributes of the target concepts and results in mind.

Checking for Differentiation: To check the effectiveness level of differentiated instructional tasks, fill in this sentence with details from your own lessons. Choose the element from the list in brackets or fill in your learning objectives or standards:

Based on what I know about the curriculum and my students, their [interests, readiness, or learning profiles] are [identify those interests, readiness levels, or learning profiles] relative to the objective of [insert the objective]. The [process, product, or content] will help students [achieve the objective] because…

So, Why Technology?

Early in this post, I asserted that technology offers the potential for powerful differentiation that results in high-quality learning. How digital technologies are embedded in the learning tasks is vitally important. They can be simple tinkering (or micro-differentiation, as Tomlinson, 2001, asserts) or those digital tools can vastly improve how students learn and how they interact in our digital world.  In choosing tools to be part of the options or choices available to students, three (remember our rule of threes for each phase?) questions can guide our thinking about what tools are appropriate and useful.

  • What tools do my students know or might they learn to use?
  • What digital technologies are available to the students in the classroom, at school, at home? And a corollary: What digital technologies can students bring with them to school to assist in their learning?
  • Will the digital technologies that are part of the options for students really improve their learning relative to standards, objectives, and intended learning results?

Another example of high-quality differentiation using technology is available in this video:

An Example from a High School English Classroom

Imagine a high school English course in which students are expected to understand and analyze characters in novels they selected as part of a coming of age unit.  The standard, drawn from the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS, 2010) informs these differentiated tasks.

RL.9-10.3. Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

The lesson objective relates directly to the CCSS standard; that is, students will be able to form inferences about characters from dialog and from their actions. Making inferences about characters from dialog and actions are key attributes that the teacher will use in guiding students as they work on differentiated tasks, and that will inform feedback she provides to students as they work.  In the following example tasks, notice how the tools enhance the learning rather than restrict it; at the same time students are encouraged to use new literacy skills in learning as they complete the tasks. In these examples, presented as directions to students, tasks are based on student choices, provide flexible grouping arrangements, and encourage a limited range of technologies that align with the intended learning result.

Differentiation of Product by Student Interests (based on the novels they selected to read):

1.  Sometimes what characters in novels we read say speaks volumes about them. Work with someone who read a book that is different than your own. Using Voicethread or a podcast, each partner should choose a character from their respective books. Create a dialog between those two characters that is clearly based on inferences you made about your respective characters. If you choose to work with Voicethread, choose appropriate images to correspond with the dialog you create. Ask yourselves, what would these two characters from different novels say to each other about their coming of age experiences? Challenge: Can you include, in your dialog, references to  characters’ actions that lead you to believe characters would respond in a certain way?

2.  Sometimes what characters in novels we read do tells us volumes about them. Work on your own to create a tree diagram, which includes several levels. If you would like to see an example of a tree diagram, click here. Use one of the interactive graphic organizer tools you find on the class webpage (for readers of this post, some possibilities are listed among the many tools here). At level one, identify the character and include the title of the novel. At level two, identify three or four characteristics of your chosen character that are based solely on their actions. At level three, find three or four actions in your novel that support your choice of attributes. Hint: You may want to choose the actions and categorize them, then identify the characteristics based on those attributes. Challenge 1: Share your graphic organizer with another member of your group and ask that person to add to your graphic organizer by either expanding the list of characteristics or adding to the possible actions that support the characteristics you chose. Challenge 2: Can you add a fourth level with an example from what characters say that supports the characteristics you chose?

3.  Sometimes what characters in novels we read do and say tells us volumes about them. Using the Twurdy search engine, find three reviews of your novel that include analysis of the characters in the novel you read.  Post your findings along with a paragraph indicating why you agree or disagree with the reviews you found. Be sure to include evidence in the form of inferences you have drawn from dialog or actions. Three to five examples will serve as evidence.  Work with a member of the class who read a different book than you did to determine if there are common attributes for the characters in the two different novels. Use Google Docs to create a matrix similar to the one you see here. Share your link on the class wiki. Challenge: Can you identify a character from your novel that is like any of the characters in our reading of a Shakespeare play (or other touchstone text) earlier this year?

In each example task, the students act on the interest in the novel they have read, and they create a product that is true to the standards and objectives.  Each can be assessed based on the intended results that are embedded in the standards, and each includes technology components that might increase student learning through collaborate to further enhance learning. Using the sentence frame suggested above, the teacher checks for differentiation:

Based on what I know about the curriculum and my students, their [interests ] are [grounded on the novels they selected to read for literature circles] relative to the objective of [character analysis]. The [product] will help students [analyze characters] because they must attend to the critical attributes of a character’s actions or interactions in dialog.

In your classroom, what successful tasks have you designed with the end in mind that were built on solid principles of differentiation and use of digital technologies? Use the comment button to add your thoughts to the conversation.


Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010). Standard RL.9-10.3. Common Core State Standards for English language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. Retrieved from

Tomlinson, C. A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms, 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Tomlinson, C. (1999). Differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners: Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (Expanded 2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

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