Let the Reader Beware: Evaluating Digital Books

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

Let the Reader Beware: Evaluating Digital Books

Elizabeth Dobler

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

Quality Digital Books

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

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

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

Questionable Quality Digital Books

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

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

Digital Book Evaluation Rubric

Type of Digital Book (check all that apply):

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

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

_____  uncertain/unknown

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

Created by Elizabeth Dobler and Daniel Donahoo

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

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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.

Reading Complex Texts In Digital Environments: Four Teaching Practices

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Go to the parking lot of almost any school and ask ten adults (parents, school staff, faculty, etc.) if technology is helping students to be better readers in general or if it is detrimental to student reading.  While you will have ten very different answers, it is very likely that most of those adults will tell you that digital technology hinders students’ reading capacities.  This need not be the case, however.

Fortunately, teachers hold the answer to improving how their students interact with digital texts. Many have anticipated that asking students to read complex texts also mean asking them to navigate digital environments more often. In this post, we explore effective practices to help students navigate complex digital environments and the texts found there.

As schools move toward increasing the amount and the complexity of texts students read, digital environments will become increasingly important in meeting the goals to prepare students for college and work (CCSS, 2010). Reading online differs in many ways depending on the text itself and the electronic format (e.g., Kindle or Nook, PDF or HTML webpage, etc.). Here are four effective practices for teachers to encourage engagement with complex digital texts. In a future post,  I will explore those four practices in context of four reading tasks students might confront when reading digital texts.

MNOP

Model, Name, Overcome obstacles, Probe

Teachers can do a great many things to help students find, engage, and comprehend complex materials in digital environments.  Four critical teacher practices include modeling, naming, overcoming obstacles, and probing.

M (source: http://www.clker.com/profile-160226.html) Modeling may be the most time-honored tradition of the effective teacher, with good reason, we add.  When students see their teachers or peers employ effective reading habits, they tend to mimic those habits. Moreover, as they do so, they expand their repertoires of skills that serve them when they encounter new or challenging texts.

N (source: http://www.clker.com/profile-160226.html) Naming recognizes that students have skills on which they draw. However, students don’t always know why a skill or strategy might work effectively or under what conditions. When a teacher names the strategy, the student learns that it is an effective approach recognized by others and that it can be replicated.  For example, Howard is a sixth grader who skimmed several search results finding one near the bottom of the page that met his purpose for searching and reading.  His teacher noticed what he had done and specifically named the strategy as “skimming for the best website.”

O (source: http://www.clker.com/profile-160226.html) Overcoming obstacles suggests that novice readers of digital content often arrive in class with preconceived notions of what reading online is all about.  Sometimes those ideas are accurate, but at other times, these ideas present obstacles to comprehension of digital content.  For example, readers of webpages typically use a skimming strategy that resembles the shape of an ‘F.’ They read the top line, skim the left margin, and occasionally read a portion of a line partially down the page.  The strategy is effective when readers try to determine if a site is worthwhile for their purposes; however, it may hinder reading of complex content if the same skimming strategy is employed.

Read more about the F-shaped pattern on this blog: https://literacybeat.com/2012/08/28/text-complexity-digital-reading/

P (source http://www.clker.com/profile-160226.html)Probing involves teachers watching their students read online and probing for insights into their thinking processes as they read. For example, Sheila’s tenth-grade social studies teacher noticed that she selected a link with challenging vocabulary about a Civil War battle site instead of an easier site intended for younger readers.  He asked her why she chose the site, and she explained that the easier site presented information she already knew; she wanted to challenge herself.

Next month, we explore how these four teacher practices can be applied as students work with complex digital texts.

  1. Find and read materials that meet academic and other purposes
  2. Determine the best approach for reading digital material
  3. Synthesize multiple sources to create a deeper understanding
  4. Integrate multimodal resources into their reading experiences

Reference

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (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

Images source

abaverman. (2012). Letters M, N, O, and P. Retrieved from http://www.clker.com [creative commons CC0 public domain dedication]

Text Complexity in the Digital Age: An F for Online Reading?

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

If you are reading this, chances are good that you are a teacher or education professional. As a result, the subtitle probably caught your attention right away; but this blog post is not about the ill effects of digital reading. Instead, we are going to explore what reading online might mean at a time when we will all be searching for ways to increase the amount and quality of text students read and the complexity of those texts. Shortly, you will see why an F in digital reading can be a useful tool.

Why Do Digital Texts Get an F?

To understand how text complexity can be promoted in the online environment, it helps to know and understand how readers approach reading many webpages. As you probably know, readers’ eyes move across text sweeping from left to right (a saccade) and stopping on some words to take in the content and perhaps focus on more challenging terms or phrases (fixations). However, when readers go online to a search engine, their reading tends to skip wide swaths of text as they search for the content they need. Eye movements can be tracked, and during perusal of a search result, the places where the reader’s gaze tends to be most concentrated resembles an ‘F’ shape. It would not be productive to read every word of a search result. Rather, the reader takes in key terms most often on the left side of the screen and sweeps across in some places forming the arms of the ‘F.’ Would you like to see what eye movement tracking of a search result might look like? Check this out:

An image from Clickrmedia: Eye Movements on a Search Page

More important, once readers do select a web source to read, they tend to follow the same pattern during initial reading of the webpage. Because reading on the screen is somewhat different than reading on paper, web designers actually take advantage of this F-shaped pattern and write text using headings and key words that fall within the F-zone in an effort to gain the reader’s attention. This results in important concepts from the site being conveyed to the F-zone reader, and perhaps entices the reader to go beyond the F-zone and read more closely. This is a good thing for the same reasons we cannot and should not read every word on a search page. The challenge for teachers and the readers in their classes is deciding when to use this strategy and when to go beyond this approach and read a bit more thoroughly and perhaps slowly. In this photo, you can see what the F-shape looks like when eye movements are tracked. The redder the color, the more time the reader spends looking at the content on that part of the page.

An image from the Nielsen Norman Group: Eye Movements on Three Webpages (Notice the general shape of the ‘F’)

F-shaped Pattern

See eyetracking in action (real-time): http://www.vimeo.com/40021154 (source: The Nielsen Norman Group)

…and eyetracking in action (slowed-motion version):  http://vimeo.com/40021215 (source: The Nielsen Norman Group)

Is F-Shaped Reading a Problem?

Some voices in education believe this F-shape reading pattern is part of a larger problem that demonstrates how online reading in some way detracts from a reader’s ability to comprehend complex and longer texts. While we certainly need more research in the area of digital reading and how it affects young readers (and older ones, too), we can use what we know about the F-shaped pattern to our advantage in the classroom. Slow and careful reading need not be impossible in digital environments.

Effective reading online involves complex skills that can build what Newkirk (2012) calls a growth mind-set. This mind-set “…is the capacity to view difficulty as an opportunity to stop, reassess and employ strategies for making sense of problems” (p. 122). When readers encounter uncertainty, they may quickly navigate away from the webpage causing doubt; however, teachers can assist readers to make clear and conscious choices to seek out uncertainty, confront doubt, and consult many sources. Moreover, maintaining a healthy skepticism that promotes further inquiry even as some uncertainty is reduced, new doubts will surface. A  reason the Common Core State Standards Initiative (2010) includes qualitative elements represents recognition that young readers and their teachers have a role in deciding how they may challenge themselves to greater growth as proficient readers.

A really neat thing about the human brain is that it is very capable of changing its own behavior. Metacognition theories tell us that thinkers (in this case, thinking through reading) can be aware of their learning behaviors and consciously choose to adapt them to suit varying purposes and contexts. Because the Internet is full of worthwhile and complex texts, the online environment presents a challenge for young readers. Fortunately, the challenge is one educators are well-equipped to take on. Reading online has many facets, and four of them appear in the list below. In this post, we have zoomed in on reading habits in online environments. Others will be explored in subsequent posts.

  1. Finding the most appropriate reading material
  2. Determining the best approach for reading that material
    1. Monitoring reading habits
    2. Reading text in a non-linear manner (cf. Reinking, 1997)
  3. Synthesizing multiple sources
  4. Integrating multimodal resources

A Challenge to Readers of Literacy Beat

As you read the remainder of this post, here are some reader challenges for you. Did you use the F-shaped pattern in selecting this blog post from a search engine? Did you use the F-shaped pattern as you read the post at first (remember, this is a good thing)? Did you read “below the fold” or the point at which you had to scroll to get at more content? At what point did you decide to abandon the F-shaped pattern and choose a different approach (you did, didn’t you?). Why did you change your approach? Finally, if you are a teacher, how have you helped your young readers to understand and effectively read online sources?

Tools and thinking habits for evaluating the reliability of online sources are well-known (e.g., Schrock, 2002). Therefore, we won’t spend more time with these tools here. A good point to add, though, is that online readers often do not apply principles successfully for evaluating sources even if they know they should do so (e.g., Leu, Zawalinski, Castek, Banerjee, Housand, Liu, & O’Neil, 2007). Effective instruction in choosing reading material online that suits the purpose for the search and challenges the reader to think deeply about the topic of the search is critically important. To that, I should emphasize that students need to be taught how to select online reading that is appropriately challenging to them rather than defaulting to the easiest material available.

While the F-shaped pattern seems to be the default reading pattern for reading on the web, there are appropriate times when readers should slow down and read closely. In Module 1 on the TextProject site, we defined close reading in rather concise terms:

“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, & Heibert, 2012, p. 2).

The F-shaped pattern and close reading of complex texts need not be exclusive of each other. There are times when scanning content is appropriate and other times when slowing down and reading closely is the better choice—even for web content.

Please use the comment feature of this blog to explore this topic with us.

  • How do you help your students choose increasingly complex texts that challenge them as readers to work with uncertainty?
  • In what ways do you help students monitor their reading behaviors such that they move from the F-shaped pattern of most web reading tasks to the slower close reading tasks associated with complex text?

References

Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS). (2010). Appendix A: Research supporting key elements of the standards; Glossary of key terms. In 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 http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_A.pdf

Leu, D. J., Zawilinski, L., Castek, J., Benerjee, M., Housand, B., Liu, Y. & O’Neil, M. (2007). What is new about the new literacies of online reading comprehension? Retrieved from http://www.newliteracies.uconn.edu/pub_files/What_is_new_about_new_literacies_of_online_reading.pdf

Moje, E., Overby, M., Tysvaer, N., & Morris, K. (2008). The complex world of adolescent literacy: Myths, motivations, and mysteries. Harvard Educational Review, 78(1), 107-154.

Newkirk, T. (2012). The art of slow reading. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH.

Reinking, D. (1997). Me and my hypertext:) A multiple digression analysis of technology and literacy (sic). Retrieved from ReadingOnline: http://readingonline.org/articles/art_index.asp?HREF=/articles/hypertext/index.html

Schrock, K. (2002). On a good website you can tell… Retrieved from http://kathyschrock.net/abceval/primary/index.htm

Wolsey, T. D., Grisham, D. L., & Hiebert, E. H. (2012). What is text complexity? Teacher Development Series. Retrieved from http://textproject.org/tds

Moving from page to screen

A post from Bernadette

The Rand Reading Study group in 2002 noted that the Internet “make large demands on individuals’ literacy skills , and little is known about how to analyse or teach these skills”. Print-based and online reading share a number of common skills (e.g. decoding, word recognition and reading fluency) and strategies (e.g. identifying and locating information, monitoring understanding and evaluating text). However, higher levels of these skills strategies and indeed dispositions may be required to fully exploit the potential of the Internet and other digital technologies for literacy as sites for deep learning.
In considering the possible changes when reading in an online environment I want, in this blog post, to consider how P. David Pearson’s metaphor of the reader as a ‘builder’ and a ‘fixer (Pearson, 2009) could be transitioned into an online environment. I want to draw on and extend this use of metaphor and consider the online reader from four perspectives: the online reader as an ‘assembler’, the online reader as a ‘builder’; the online reader as a ‘fixer’ and finally the online reader as a ‘responder’.

The online reader as an assembler

The Internet is a nonlinear, multimodal, n-dimensional space. The reader must assemble the text to be read, it is not a given. He /she does so by carving a unique, opportunistic pathway through a larger, more expansive and boundless navigational space. Although the print based reader may choose to read nonfiction or indeed fiction text in a non-linear fashion, (skipping the descriptive passages of a novel to get to the heart of the action. Do any of us admit to doing that?) the body of printed text is a fixed entity within the confines of the covers of the book. The reader is aware of exactly where they are in a print based text and indeed the length of such a text. You know when to slow down and linger to savour the dying embers of a novel! Online text is more fluid and dynamic. Further, it is the reader rather than the author who decides on the pathway through online text. We talk a lot about the transaction between the reader and the text. In an online environment there is a physicality to that interaction. The interaction between the online reader and text is more transactive and reciprocal in nature than in a print based environment. John Mc Eneaney refers to this as agent-based theory (Mc Eneaney, 2006). For example, when I log on to Amazon.com I am greeted by a welcome back message with suggestions related to former purchases, possibilities for future purchases including references to books purchased by colleagues.

The online reader as a builder

The online reader must draw flexibly on a wide range of prior knowledge sources in an online environment. Prior knowledge sources including the architecture of online information text structures (e.g. menu, hyperlinks, audio and video links); end-user application knowledge such as, navigational skills and knowledge of browser features; domain and topic knowledge and world knowledge. What is unclear is how these knowledge sources fuse together in an online environment. For example, what level of automaticity of prior knowledge of both online informational text structures and navigational and Internet application knowledge is required to free up the cognitive energy of the online reader to focus on and connect with prior domain, topic and world knowledge? What level of domain and topic knowledge is needed so that the online reader has a sufficiently extensive subject knowledge and vocabulary range to generate and revise search terms , investigate search results with a critical eye, and judge the accuracy, authority, relevance and importance of information in text to the task at hand? Finally, what about the role of knowledge gathered on-the-hoof by the navigational decisions of online readers across multiple websites where online readers accrue new knowledge and update their prior knowledge sources in the malleable moments of Internet searching?
 

The online reader as a fixer

Learner control and choice is heightened in an online digital environment. The online reader generates search terms and evaluates search results, activates hyperlinks by making predictive inferences about hidden content. The online reader judges what information to skim quickly and what information to scan carefully. While this can both empower and liberate the online reader it can also be daunting for those readers with limited online skills. The online reader must be metacognitive, strategic and exercise high levels of persistence, self-efficacy and cognitive flexibility to take responsibility for their own learning in a shifting dynamic environment.

 The online  reader as a responder

We are certainly faced by a number of issues of a global nature in the 21st century. Consider for example the two posters which follow which I photographed on the London Underground related to whether China is a friend or foe to the West. What critical stance would you take?

China is a Friend to the West

China is a Threat to the West

Critical evaluation of information is an important skill in a print-based environment. However, critical evaluation and interrogation of information in an online environment is crucial as anyone can post anything in an open networked environment such as, the Internet. The internet is largely unvetted by any editorial review of traditional mediators, such as, critics, editors, or reviewers (Metzger, 2007). The online reader needs to respond to information posted online as a critical evaluator of online information (e.g. assessing reliability and accuracy of information). Is the information dependable and how do I know? The online reader must exercise critical thinking skills to interrogate the text. How do I evaluate accuracy, believability? Critical literacy skills are important for the online reader as information is not neutral. So how do I assess the author purpose, stance and bias? Finally, media-saviiness and media literacy skills are important to develop. Asking questions such as, how do I separate the media from the message?
So to my mind the online reader must act as an assembler, builder, fixer and responder, exercising higher levels of skills, strategies and dispositions to fuse these response modes and in so doing construct meaning from text.
References
McEneaney, J. E. (2006). Agent-based literacy theory. Reading Research Quarterly, 41(3), 352-371.
Metzger, M. J. (2007). Making sense of credibility on the web: Models for evaluating online information and recommendations for future research. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 58(13) 2078-2091).

Pearson, P. D. (2009). The roots of reading comprehension instruction. In S. E. Israel & G. G. Duffy (Eds.), Handbook of research on reading comprehension (pp. 3-31). New York: Routledge.

RAND Reading Study Group. (2002). Reading for understanding: Toward a research and development program in reading comprehension. Pittsburgh, PA: Office of Educational Research and Improvement.

Scaffolded Digital Reading Environments

A post by Bernadette

Ebooks and online learning environments introduce a number of possibilities for learner control to support literacy development. “Scaffolded digital reading (SDR) ”   (Dalton & Proctor, 2008) environments, provide embedded supports to both enhance access to texts and enable the construction of meaning for a range of diverse learners, such as struggling readers or English Language Learner (ELL) students. Embedded supports introduce physicality to the interaction between text and readers. Text-to-speech supports enable students to bypass the decoding bottleneck and so enhance listening comprehension, develop automaticity in reading fluency and word recognition. Studies have shown variance in the effectiveness of such supports where in terms of self-regulation students over or under utilise them (see for example, Dalton & Strangman, 2006; Mc Kenna, 1998).
As I discussed in my April blog, the Centre for Applied Special Technology (CAST) (www.cast.org)  has developed a number of free digital software tools based on the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) (Rose & Meyer, 2002). UDL principles are underpinned by the concept that text should in the first instance be accessible to all readers rather than compensated or fixed at a later stage for the struggling reader or ELL student. This is achieved through the provision of a myriad of learning supports, such as hyperlinked glossaries, multiple means of representation in audio and visual modes, and ways to build engagement and expression. Avatar coaches are embedded in texts to provide prompts for students to activate comprehension skills and strategies such as, activating prior knowledge sources, making predictions, asking questions, and encouraging affective responses.
A recent study published in the Journal of Literacy Research (Dalton, Proctor, Uccelli, Mo, & Snow, 2011) explored the contributions made by vocabulary, comprehension strategy support and a combination of both vocabulary and comprehension support. The Improving Comprehension Online (ICON) study was conducted with 5th grade bilingual and monolingual students and provides evidence of the support offered by SDR. Students were assigned to one of three conditions: vocabulary support; reading comprehension strategies support and a combination of reading comprehension strategies and vocabulary support. The students read eight multimedia and informational texts (CAST Folktales).
Listen to a podcast of Dr. Bridget Dalton discussing this study with Dr. Elizabeth Baker in the voice of literacy podcast at this link http://www.voiceofliteracy.org/posts/42574
Significant variation was reported for standardised measures and researcher designed measures for students in the vocabulary and combination groups. Interestingly, the effects were non-significant for the reading comprehension strategies support group.

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

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

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

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

Google Lit Trips

A post from Bernadette
Lucy Calkins in the Art of Teaching Reading (2001) urges us to help our students to compose lives in which reading and writing matter. She noted that great literature helps us “to stand, feeling small, under the vastness of the Milky Way”. Google lit trips (the brain child of Jerome Burg, a retired high-school English teacher) allows students to travel beyond the mind’s eye, and take a virtual road trip, by satellite, navigating right across the world, viewing locations from the novel on the way. Lit trips help students, who are unfamiliar with locations within a novel, to recreate scenes  and become fellow travellers with the characters in the novel, visiting places the characters lived, where they struggled and where they overcome adversity. The site has won the 2010 Tech Laureate award. It provides us with a good example of a meaningful way to integrate literacy with technology and indeed the content areas.

Getting Started
Before visiting the Google Lit trip site you need to download Google Earth (a free downloadable program). You will need Google Earth as Google lit trips run off KMZ files. If you are not already familiar with the Google Earth interface take a couple of minutes to familiarise yourself with the tool palette and side bars. Tutorial videos are available here. For example, you can record a tour using the camera icon; view historical imagery of place marks on the clock icon; and create place marks using the pin icon. (On the side bar, in the layers menu, ensure you unclick the layers when creating a Google lit trip so that you will only view locations within the novel).
Visit the Google lit trip web site for helpful webinars and examples of Lit trips created by teachers and their students. Lit trips are organized across grade level from kindergarten through high school to higher education. Google lit trips don’t stop at merely visiting locations or geographical features within the novel. Sample Lit trips on the site show discussion popup windows to help our students ‘linger and look’ (Calkins, 2001) and dig deeper with their responses to literature by making connections to themselves; to other texts they have read and to their own world experiences. Teachers (or their students) can create different levels of questions to spark meaningful discussions; and can provide links to other web sites to access crucial historical background information thereby enhancing meaning.

Sample Lit Trips
There were many readymade lit trips that caught my eye. I’ll mention just three to whet your appetite.
Possum Magic by Mem Fox (aren’t all of her books memorable?) a tale of Grandma Poss who makes Hush invisible to protect her from snakes. Seemed like a good idea except she doesn’t know how to make her visible again! The lit trip takes the reader to seven locations in Australia and provides imagery of various types of Australian food as Grandma Possum tries to undo the mayhem.
Going Home by Margaret Wild is a tale of Hugo, a child anxiously awaiting discharge from hospital. His hospital window overlooks a zoo and Hugo begins day dreaming of the natural habitats of a range of animals, such as, African elephants and Snow leopards. Antonella Albini, the teacher librarian, who created this lit trip provides helpful imagery, audio and video links to child friendly web sites such as, National Geographic for kids.
• My final choice is the compelling The Watsons go to Birmingham -1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. This is the story of an African American family whose lives become intertwined with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. The teacher creator of the Lit trip, Heather McKissick, provides seventeen Question Stops along their journey with links to historical imagery and questions to spark meaningful discussion among her students.
I’m excited by the possibilities of Google Lit Trips. I am exploring online tutorials on the Google Lit trip site and YouTube videos to start building my own lit trip. Come Spring break I have my eye on The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier (Red Fox, 1956). Let’s see how I get on!

Url links used in Blog

Google lit trips http://www.googlelittrips.org/

Google Earth http://www.google.com/earth/index.html

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