Technology: Not Just the Internet

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Frances Dixon

When educators think of technology, they most often think of digital tools—computers, iPhones, and the Internet, for example. Students need these technologies to learn, but they can also learn from technologies behind (or on top of) the school building and around the grounds.

In this TILE SIG post, we invite you to meet some courageous teachers, students, and volunteers, who, through a desire to learn and serve their communities, transformed a single school into a thriving community of educational energy, cultural celebration, and purpose. Welcome to Maya Jaguar Center for Education. Read more on Literacy Daily.

Maya Jaguar

Maya Jaguar Campus, Aerial View

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:

Connecting Multicultural Education and Multiliteracies

by Thomas DeVere Wolsey

During the last year, Dr. Diane Lapp and I had the opportunity to work with several prominent thought-leaders to explore how multiple literacies and multicultural education intersect and promote greater learning and understanding amongst our students. The result, under the guidance of Dana Grisham, was a themed issue of Reading and Writing Quarterly that was just released online. In the introduction, Diane and I wrote, “Digital technology, whose users comprise ever-changing communities, permits previously disconnected worlds to find commonalities and explore differences. Technology has the potential to connect students and educators across cultures, and, at the same time, make it possible for students to participate more fully in their own cultures” (Wolsey & Lapp, 2015, p. 97).

cover of Reading & Writing Quarterly  journal

The six articles in the current special issue of Reading and Writing Quarterly each address topics that demonstrate how technology can facilitate learning, build students’ understanding of their culture, and construct bridges across and to other cultures. The table of contents may be found below. Please take a few minutes to visit the special issue on the Taylor and Francis website (preview and abstracts) or through your university electronic library resources.
• Imagining Writing Futures: Photography, Writing, and Technology by Cheryl A. McLean & Jennifer Rowsell

• Fostering Students’ Science Inquiry Through App Affordances of Multimodality, Collaboration, Interactivity, and Connectivity by Richard Beach & David O’Brien

• iPad Deployment in a Diverse Urban High School: A Formative Experiment by Nancy Frey, Douglas Fisher & Diane Lapp

• The Council of Youth Research: Critical Literacy and Civic Agency in the Digital Age by Antero Garcia, Nicole Mirra, Ernest Morrell, Antonio Martinez & D’Artagnan Scorza

• Multicultural Education and Multiliteracies: Exploration and Exposure of Literacy Practices With Preservice Teachers by W. Ian O’Byrne & Shane A. Smith

• A Digital Tool Grows (and Keeps Growing) From the Work of a Community of Writers by Nancy L. Roser, Melissa Mosley Wetzel, Ramón Antonio Martínez & Detra Price-Dennis

Wolsey, T.D. & Lapp, D. (2015). Introduction to teachers and students as creators in blended learning environments. Reading and Writing Quarterly, 31(2), 97-101. doi: 10.1080/10573569.2014.963906

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.

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 and search for the current November 2014 issue, or click on 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

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

Recommended Preschool Apps for Literacy Learning

By Dana L. Grisham (with thanks to Darah Odelson!)

In this blog, I have focused from time to time on the literacy experiences of my own family. You probably know I am a grandmother with twin granddaughters who will soon turn five and that I have a grandson who is almost two.  Having been both a teacher and a professor, I have long been fascinated by the acquisition of literacy in our young and the changing literacy landscapes as technology becomes more prevalent in all our lives. Most of us, myself included, struggle with the rapid and dramatic changes. The field of education is similarly in flux.

My granddaughters will attend kindergarten next fall, but they have also spent two years in a good preschool environment. They are lucky to have parents who are actively involved in providing them with rich language experiences, too.

In my September 18, 2013 post, I showed a photo I called “Digital Morning” with the twins and their dad engaged on iPhone, iPad, and laptop. The girls are adept at using electronic devices, but they have traditional literacy skills also.  I decided to find out what is out there for preschoolers and write a post on the preschool apps that my family likes (and thos that are recommended by “experts”). So here we go!

First, let me emphasize that there are MANY (!!!) apps for all age levels.

I want to review two that I particularly like here.

Reading Raven is one of the Apps that I, personally, love.  The cost for the app is $3.99, which makes it more expensive than most, but it does a lot for the money. It has been reviewed favorably by many review sites.Reading Raven 1

There are five levels in the app as shown in the screen shot below:

Reading Raven 2

Level 1 is relatively easy, but fun. In the first part, a bird flies over the top of the screen with a letter in its beak. Then letter is dropped and a voice makes the sound of the letter. The child uses a finger to touch the letter as it falls  (there is a voice that makes the letter sound) and drag the falling letter to a flower at the bottom of the screen with the same letter. If the child does it correctly, the voice says the sound of the letter, the name of the letter, and a picture of a word that begins the letter (example: “n” is “net”). The raven smiles from the bottom of the screen as he moves through the levels with you. The part my granddaughters liked most was tracing the letter on the screen. A green arrow tells you where to start and end. A child’s voice encourages you.

Level 2 features a circus motif where letters are dropped from a high wire into the mouths of hungry lions. Level two also adds small decodable words such as rat and mat.  Also beginning in Level 2, children can record their voices reading the words and the program reads the child’s voice back (hat, mat). The focus moves to onsets and rimes. (h-ot, c-ot). Toward the end of level 2, the child has the opportunity to read and record a short connected sentence such as, “ant in can,” where the words match the patterns already learned. Level 2 finishes with  multiple word sentences to read and record. See the screen shot below:

Reading Raven 3

Children can earn stickers to decorate a treehouse when they complete portions of a lesson correctly.

The colorful scenes with animated movement and narration  (as well as childrens’ voices that encourage the learner, are all attractive features.

A second app appreciated by my daughter for her twins is Hooked on Phonics.Hooked on Phonics 1

 Based on the original Hooked on Phonics (the print version), this one has been updated with the same types of interactive reading games as Reading Raven along with embedded eBooks with audio, musical soundtracks, and the ability to track the child’s progress. This one is also rated 4 Stars plus, but costs a great deal more, ($49.99 for the entire program, although you can purchase portions for as low as $4.99) aside from the free trial offer. In the trial, I listened to the sound of “t” to the doo-wap sound of Earth Angel:

Hooked on Phonics 2

Like Reading Ravens, a great deal of time is spent on phonological awareness and phonics, with catchy and engaging ways to make words.

HOP Staircase HOP word families

The student goes up a staircase to each new level.

HOP Staircase

As mentioned there are numerous (!!) apps for literacy learning on the iPad. There are also groups that are dedicated to helping the consumer judge which apps are good quality for the money that parents will spend.  A brief and partial list of such websites concludes this post.

I hope that parents and educators can agree that today’s children need both traditional and digital learning for their development as literate beings!

A Brief List of Websites for Preschool Apps:

1. 10 Best Apps for Preschoolers

2. Apps for Homeschooling

3. KinderTown Educational App Store for Parents

4. Slideshare (50 free apps & early literacy)

5.  I can teach my child! Top 10 Educational Apps for Preschoolers

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!



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. 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 

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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