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.

Meet the Influencer: Peggy Semingson

Influencers Banner

Influencers

Literacy Beat bloggers have long taken inspiration from Peggy Semingson’s dedication to using technology to advance learning. We wondered what she is currently working on professionally for our Influencer series. Her answers follow. 

I was asked to write for Literacy Beat about some of the latest projects and ideas I have been working on as they relate to the intersection of literacy and technology. A few of those ideas are shared here. Comments are most welcome!

Peggy Semingson

Peggy Semingson

What trends do you see having a significant impact in the coming 5 years in the space where technology and literacy meet?

There are two ideas I will briefly share: Open educational resources and self-directed teacher professional development via social media (e.g., Twitter).

Lately, I’ve been hanging out with librarians and attending library-focused presentations and events. Librarians are truly on the cutting-edge of the future and are in tune with trends like the changing nature of information and literacy access. One of the main topics of focus among librarians and those in the broader education community has been the concept of open educational resources, or OER.

Generally, OERs are text-based and multimodal resources freely available on the Internet. They are intentionally made and created to broadly share knowledge and information with the goal that others can remix and/or reuse the content to meet their needs. MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses that are offered free of charge), such as those offered by edX, are steadily used by educators and others to participate in open learning and connected with others online. Teachers are providing MOOCs in more grassroots ways, for instance, through Canvas.

OERs, including free courses such as MOOCs, are increasing access to learning and are of importance in underserved areas like third world countries and for those who just need or want to learn a skill or acquire knowledge outside of formal schooling.

What is exciting is these open and freely available resources are gradually replacing expensive textbooks. I’m a firm believer that learning materials should be mostly current and with digital and open resources, they can be more readily updated. I have personally contributed to the OER space also in terms of my YouTube channel which has almost a million minutes of viewings! The most popular video is on the topic of phonological awareness, phonemic awareness, and phonics. I think this topic is confusing to a lot of people, globally, so I’m glad I can help add some clarity there! I also share micro-podcasts on literacy topics in my podcast channel on SoundCloud.

One of my goals is to revamp my professional website, Virtual Gadfly, to focus more on sharing concrete tools for K-12 teachers. Future plans include expanding my YouTube channel to include videos on other complex ideas in literacy, such as dyslexia and other high-interest topics.

Also of interest are creating more of what I call dialogue videos, where I am informally talking with another educator about a specific topic in an unscripted way. I have done some dialogue videos with my colleague Dr. Jodi Tommerdahl and she brings her background in neuroscience and linguistics into our conversations on literacy topics of mutual interest. These videos are then also incorporated into my literacy teacher education courses and they are freely available online.

Beginning Reading: Dialogue with Dr. Peggy Semingson and Dr. Jodi Tommerdahl

Another idea I am seeing is the whole idea of teacher professional development as incretamixes_twitterasingly decentralized away from formal training led by schools, districts, or outside vendors. Increasingly teachers are taking learning into their own hands via social media (e.g., Twitter), digital platforms, and mobile learning (m-learning).

We are all seeing and participating in self-directed learning, or what I call “DIY PD” (do-it-yourself PD) such as scheduled Twitter chats, hashtag learning and awareness (e.g., #weneeddiversebooks), crowdsourced resources, and direct teacher-to-teacher supports. This is part of a broader trend of decentralized learning across multiple social media platforms. I appreciate the grassroots nature of these types of digital learning activities that teachers can participate in. The dialogue taking place on Literacy Beat is another example of educators engaged in “DIY PD” and learning. I would like to do empirical research in this area of self-directed teacher professional development soon. Recently, I wrote a column about the use of Twitter in learning about young adult authors recently in The ALAN Review.

What significant event in your life changed the focus of your work?

Teaching online, starting in 2008, made a huge impact on the focus of my practice and research. At first, I was a complete “deer-in-the-headlights” about teaching online and really didn’t know what to do or what my role was as an instructor. Most people need an overarching framework to guide their thinking about teaching online.

Related to digital teaching and learning, I learned about the Community of Inquiry (COI) framework from a former professor I still keep in touch with, Dave Caverly at Texas State University, San Marcos (in Texas). Learning about the Community of Inquiry framework (Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007) changed my whole approach to digital teaching and learning as a teacher educator!

The focus of COI is three-fold (Garrison & Arbaugh, 2007). First, there is the teacher presence and role in the course. Second, there is an intentional fostering a sense of trust and social presence in the course. Third, the teacher actively facilitates a cognitive presence, or an inquiry and problem-solving approach in the course.

It has worked quite well as a foundation and framework for my own teaching. I also create a lot of my own materials, mostly multi-modal. I have been well supported in my ongoing learning in digital teaching and learning by the Center for Distance Education at The University of Texas at Arlington.

What research are you currently working on related to literacy and technology?

I’m working with a small team of colleagues to analyze how a major literacy organization exchanges ideas in networked ways through Twitter. We are incorporating data analytics (“big data” approaches to research) as well social network analysis (SNA) of the publicly posted Tweets from a major conference. We are using mostly computational tools to look at the data.

It’s really fascinating! This ties to my earlier point about teachers seeking to enhance their own learning spaces and backchannels outside of more traditionally sanctioned (e.g., school district or formal schooling) contexts. I’m really interested in how teacher knowledge production about literacy works in self-directed professional development digital spaces like Twitter, blogs, and other online forums. I believe that literacy organizations and publishers will play a big part in helping to facilitate such “backchannel dialogue” related to professional learning about literacy. Stay tuned for more on this soon!

I am affiliated with a small group of colleagues (“Obnoxious Academic Consortium”) in literacy. We want to advance thinking in our field about multimodality in literacy and academia. We want to also advance the idea that there are other venues besides traditional print journals to network and exchange ideas. The blog for this group is here.

Reference

Garrison, D. R., & Arbaugh, J. B. (2007). Researching the community of inquiry framework: Review, issues, and future directions. Internet & Higher Education, 10(3), 157-172.

Meet Peggy:

Dr. Peggy Semingson is an associate professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Arlington where she teaches online courses in Literacy Studies. Dr. Semingson has experience as a classroom teacher and reading specialist in both Southern California and Texas. Her research interests include social contexts of literacy learning, digital pedagogies, and online literacy teacher education. She has published in Teachers College Record, Language Arts, and Research in the Teaching of English. She was awarded the Jeanne S. Chall Research Grant from Harvard University in 2009–2010. She is on Twitter: @PeggySemingson. Her blog is: http://virtualgadfly.com

Contact Peggy at peggys@uta.edu

Peggy and Dexter

Peggy and Dexter

Literacy Instruction in a Brave New World: A themed issue from Kappan

Phi Delta Kappan has just published a themed issue on “Literacy Instruction in a Brave New World” (November, 2014, volume 96, No. 3). For a short time period, you may view and download all of the articles online, for free.

http://pdk.sagepub.com/content/current

magazine cover shows child reading on a tablet

Literacy Instruction in a Brave New World

As literacy and technology expert Mike McKenna states in the opening to his article,

“Technology integration into language arts instruction has been slow and tentative, even as information technologies have evolved with frightening speed. Today’s teachers need to be aware of several extant and unchanging realities: Technology is now indispensable to literacy development; reading with technology requires new skills and strategies; technology can support struggling students; technology can transform writing; technology offers a means of motivating students; and waiting for research is a losing strategy.”

We have a lot to learn, a lot to accomplish, and we need to pick up the pace! I found this issue both practically valuable and thought provoking.

Please go to the Kappan website http://pdk.sagepub.com/ and search for the current November 2014 issue, or click on  http://pdk.sagepub.com/content/current to go directly to the table of contents. I’ve listed the table of contents below (note that Jill has a piece on online inquiry and I have a piece on eText and eBooks). Enjoy!

Literacy Instruction in a Brave New World – Table of Contents

Michael C. McKenna, Literacy instruction in the brave new world of technology

Joan Richardson, Maryanne Wolf: Balance technology and deep reading to create biliterate children

Christopher Harris, Fact or fiction? Libraries can thrive in the Digital Age

Samina Hadi-Tabassum, Can computers make the grade in writing exams?

Melody Zoch, Brooke Langston-DeMott, and Melissa Adams-Budde, Creating digital authors

Bridget Dalton, E-text and e-books are changing literacy landscape

Diane Carver Sekeres, Julie Coiro, Jill Castek, and Lizabeth A. Guzniczak. Wondering + online inquiry = learning

Gail Lynn Goldberg, One thousand words, plus a few more, is just right

Kristin Conradi, Tapping technology’s potential to motivate readers

Multimedia digital books: Forward Thinking

Teaching the Language Arts: Forward Thinking in Today’s Classrooms by Elizabeth Dobler, Denise Johnson and Thomas DeVere Wolsey. Published by Holcomb Hathaway, ebook available via Inkling platform.

forward thinking

  When I received a copy of Forward Thinking I was immediately struck by the calibre of the authors (Elizabeth Dobler, Denise Johnson and our own Literacy Beat blogger De Vere Wolsey). In turn, each author is well respected within the literacy community for situating their research in classrooms and making strong research-to-practice connections. The six modes of the Language Arts- reading, writing, listening, speaking, viewing and visually representing provide the organisational framework of this etext. However, it is the enhanced etext publishing format which I want to particularly draw attention to in this post.

A number of distinctive features encourage active learning environments by combining traditional and electronic content. These features allow the reader to transact with the text in multiple ways through media elements such as, video, graphics, and audio which are embedded in the etext. Readers can watch lessons being taught in real classrooms; have instant access to multiple resource ideas that are shared through video clips (e.g. writing workshop); listen to podcasts of teachers and students; view graphics of work samples and follow hyperlinks to websites. In addition, links between research and practice are featured in interviews with scholars like Don Leu, Dorothy Strickland and Nell Duke. Finally, the etext incorporates a note sharing feature which could be used to create pathways to learning through listening, reading and viewing within a community of learners.

The authors of Forward Thinking note that the book models ways in which electronic resources can be integrated with and used to augment traditional classroom instruction. Forward Thinking  allows us  envision the possibilities when technology is integrated in meaningful ways to enhance literacy and learning in the 21st century classroom.

Using Technology to Improve Reading and Learning

Book  cover of Using Technology to Improve Reading and Learning

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

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

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

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

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

Table of Contents

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

Literacy Beat @ IRA (Sunday)

Last year at IRA, Dana was awarded the TILE-SIG Research  Award. This year, she is the keynote speaker. The title of her keynote is “Changing the Landscape of Literacy Teacher Education: Innovations with Generative Technology.”  Congratulations go, also, to our friend and colleague, Denise Johnson at the College of William and Mary, who is the TILE-SIG Research Award recipient this year and next year’s keynote speaker.

Bloggers Dana and DeVere with colleague Linda Smetana discussed their work with Vocabulary Self-collection Strategy Plus (VSS+) at the Meet the Researchers Poster Session on Sunday. Their poster (via Slideshare) you can view here:

VSS+ Poster Session at Meet the Researchers
Learn more about VSS+ on this blog here and here.

View video examples of students’ VSS+ work below.

Dana and Linda Smetana presented research on the manner in which preservice teachers approached and used ebook formats.

And great news! Bloggers Jill and Bernadette with colleague Colin Harrison wrote a new book that debuted today.

image

Colin, Bernadette, and Jill presented shared resources and ideas excerpted from their new book published by Shell Education.  The IRA session entitled Transform Your Literacy Practice Using Internet Tools and Resources: Meeting Students’ Instructional Needs while Addressing the Common Core State Standards.  Click here to access the presentation materials and website for the session.

In the book, readers will discover how to effectively use technology to support students’ literacy development. New classroom uses for technology are introduced in this easy-to-use resource that help educators enhance students’ attention, engagement, creativity, and collaboration in reading and learning. Great for struggling readers, this book provides strategies for making content-area connections and using digital tools to develop reading comprehension.For more information about the book, click here.

 

Literacy Research Association Conference 2013

All five authors of this blog on literacy attended the Literacy Research Association’s 63rd Annual Conference in Dallas, Texas this past week. All of us are long time members of LRA, with my attendance dating back to 1992. This year’s conference theme was Transformative Literacy: Theory, Research, and Reform, a theme to which the five of us can really relate.

In our posts over the past three years, we have discussed many of these issues and contributed what we can to the discussion. The conference offered a broad spectrum of literacy research–from more traditional elements to the latest thinking in technology applications for literacy. The conference was amazing–the Omni Hotel is new, clean, elegant, and most important–FRIENDLY. There were numerous instances of kindness and care from the staff of the hotel that touched us–particularly as we all became somewhat “housebound” by the freezing weather front that swept down from the arctic.

When most of us arrived on Tuesday, December 3, the weather was a balmy 79 degrees Fahrenheit, but by Thursday, the temperature never rose higher than 27 degrees and by Friday, the high was 23 degrees with winds that exacerbated the cold. It was ironic to look out at the heaters on the outside patios and see icicles!  Contrast these two views  a view from the hotel. The first is Wednesday and a similar view on Thursday. Brrrr!

photo(1)

photo(2)

Inside, it was another story. This conference was put together with wonderful sessions–thanks to all the Area Chairs and Reviewers who selected the sessions and to all the presenters for their literacy research!

A highlight of the conference included a Presidential speech by Rick Beach of the University of Minnesota on the possibilities and affordances of online literacies. In addition, the speech was broadcast live to YouTube and links were provided during the speech so the audience could follow along. http://tinyurl.com/pgnbp2u Log in an take a look at a very valuable resource for online and multimodal composing! If you want to try Google Hangouts, go to Ian O’Byrne’s test flight at https://plus.google.com/u/0/111576401886299659895/posts/aKsxDawviHA?cfem=1 

The President’s Reception was held on Wednesday evening and the Literacy Beat bloggers were there. In addition, many of the people who work hard to make the conference a success, such as Board members and committee chairs were in attendance. Ian O’Byrne and Greg McVery, both essential to the new technologies for communication at LRA and Andrea Boling (Chair of the Technology Committee and e-Editor at LRA) at the President’s Reception on Wednesday evening.

kThree Tech

The next picture is of the five of us–Literacy Beat authors:  from the right, is Bernadette Dwyers, Bridget Dalton, Jill Castek, DeVere Wolsey, and yours truly. We always treasure the opportunities to interact in the same space and time (as we mostly always communicate from afar) and this conference was no exception. It should be noted that Bernadette is on the Board of the International Reading Association and that DeVere is the incoming LRA Publications Committee Chair. photo(4)

We all made presentations at the conference, caught up with our colleagues, and participated in various interests group throughout the conference.

Because of the freezing conditions, getting out of Dallas was somewhat challenging. One group of colleagues from Vanderbilt University, their flights cancelled, rented a car and drove home–a trip of 12 hours! Almost everyone experienced a delay, a cancellation, or a complete disaster. One colleague went to the airport in the middle of the night, put herself on the standby list and waiting almost 12 hours, eventually making it home.

For those of our readers who attend conferences, we’d like to encourage you to attend next year, if possible–on Marco Island in Florida, December 3-6, 2014. Hope we won’t have snow and hope to see you there!

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