CAST’s Science Writer: A free, online tool to scaffold students’ writing of science reports

A post by Bridget Dalton

Before joining Vanderbilt University, I had the good fortune to serve as the Director of Literacy and Technology at CAST, a non-profit research and development organization dedicated  to  improving student learning and engagement through the integration of universal design for learning (Rose & Meyer, 2002), technology, and subject matter content and skills.

Today I want to feature Science Writer, a free online writing tool developed by Tracey Hall, Elizabeth Murray, and CAST colleagues.  It’s a wonderful example of how to scaffold students’ writing in relation to the demands of a particular writing genre, in this case, the science lab report, or more generally, the science report.  The tool is designed for use with middle school and high school students, but might also work for upper elementary students, depending on their skill.

screenshot of Science Writer

Screenshot of CAST’s Science Writer. http://sciencewriter.cast.org

How does Science Writer work?
Science Writer steps students through the process of writing a report with  introduction, methods, results, and conclusion sections. Students draft, revise, and edit their report, using just-in-time support from pedagogical agents who offer models and information about how to write each section. They may also access content and editing checklists to help them evaluate  their writing and make revisions. And finally, students can use the embedded text-to-speech tool to listen to their writing to see if it “sounds right” and to listen to any of the directions and instructional material, as well as accessing vocabulary definitions. Each student has their own Science Writer account and teachers are able to view students’ work and provide feedback throughout the writing process.

Screenshot showing Science Writer features

Science Writer supports students through their writing process.

Is there research support for Science Writer?
In a study funded by the US Department of Education, Hall and Murray (2009) found that students using Science Writer improved writing and science comprehension skills. A field test study is underway and results should be available soon. You can find additional information about their research at http:///www.cast.org/research/projects/tws.html.

I recommend you check out Science Writer – if it’s not the right fit for your grade level or subject matter, please share it with your favorite middle school or high school science teacher!

screenshot of Science Writer video

This brief video for students explains how the Science Writer features can help them write a more successful science report.

video link

Resources
For additional information about Science Writer: http://sciencewriter.cast.org

To learn more about universal design for learning: http://www.cast.org/udl/index.html

Rose, D. & Meyer, A. (2002). Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age. ASCD. Available free online: http://www.cast.org/library/books/tes/index.html

The 4 R’s of Collaborative Writing: Reading, Rating, Remixing, and Revising

A new post by Jill Castek

For the past several months I’ve been working with fifth and sixth graders in two urban schools in Berkeley and Oakland, CA. The project is designed to enhance integrated literacy and science learning and to explore how iPads can be used to support student engagement, self expression, and learning.  Although I’ve been involved in using laptops extensively with students in classrooms, shifting to explore science learning through iPads has been a true learning experience.

I’ve discovered that many applications and strategies for collaboration I’ve always drawn from aren’t directly transferable to working with a small touch screen.  However, because collaboration is a vitally important part of learning,  I’m dedicating this post to  approaches for facilitating collaborative writing.

One free platform I’ve used for collaborative writing is Mixed Ink www.mixedink.com.  This educator friendly tool allows small groups or the whole class to reflect on several versions of a text written on the same topic and to weave ideas  from peers’ work into a single text that credits multiple authors.  An overview of how the Mixed Ink tool works can be seen in the short video clip below entitled Mixed Ink for Educators.

Collaborative Writing with Mixed Ink:  A 5th Grade Example

Ms. Kretschmar’s students completed a waste audit to analyze the waste their school produced. Prior to beginning the collaborative writing assignment, students discussed their experiences with the waste audit and shared ideas about how to communicate the surprising results they found to the school and community at large.  The five phases  the class engaged in as they documented and shared their experiences included:  1) writing;  2) reading; 3) rating; 4) remixing; and 5) revising.  Not only is each aspect an important part of productive collaborative writing, these steps also address the Common Core State Standards that emphasize the use of digital technologies for reading and writing as support process skills such as collaboration, listening, and speaking.

Ms. Kretschmar’s students draft their waste audit letter to the school community.

With the aim of helping the school and community become more mindful about their output of trash, Ms. Kretschmar structured a five paragraph writing assignment for her students and assigned each table group to complete one paragraph.  Once she distributed Letter4School (a set of graphic organizers to support students when drafting), she encouraged table groups to discuss ideas before writing their paragraphs as individuals. Then,  students used the graphic organizers and iPads to complete a first draft.

Next, students learned about online collaborative writing using Mixed Ink and discussed the process of peer support for adding content, revising language choices, and reorganizing their presentation of ideas.

Then, students read each other’s work (staying within their original paragraph groups).  After presenting the purpose of reading and rating, Ms. Kretschmar had students rate each other’s work using a system of stars which ranged from 1/2 star (needs more development) to five stars (very well developed).   As students read their peers’ work, they looked out for ideas  and language they could incorporate into their own piece to improve it.

Using their peers’ pieces as mentor texts, students remixed new drafts  by incorporating in elements of each others’ wording and language into their own piece (creating co-written pieces with multiple authors).  The image on the left shows how the crediting process works (with each author recognized as contributing an element to the piece).

Students then rated each of the new paragraphs again.  Mixed Ink uses a specially designed algorithm that surfaces the most complete and well-written piece based on student ratings.  This featured “featured” version can then be discussed in terms of its organization, use of language, organization, or other characteristics.

With help from the students, Ms. Kretschmar compiled the top rated five paragraphs into a completed piece that incorporated all students’ voices.    The final version can be accessed by clicking on 5thLetter2Community.  It takes advantage of the collaborative writing process in the creation of a well-organized, well-structured final product.

A full set of slides documenting  Ms. Kretschmar’s collaborative writing lessons can be viewed here.

Collaborative writing in a digitally enhanced way has several benefits.  First, it is a process that draws upon the strengths of the collective. Although one student may be stronger in critical thinking skills, another may excel in organizing or adding detail to a piece. By working in groups, students learn from each other while they complete an assigned task in ways that benefit the whole group.  In addition, students working in collaborative groups can take advantage of other group members for  peer review as they complete writing projects.  More and more workplace activities involve working in these sorts of collaborative project teams. Giving students opportunities to work collaboratively can help prepare them for the advantages and pitfalls of collaborative work on the job.  I’ve seen collaborative writing activities such as the one featured here, support students’ abilities to work together and problem solve while providing the context for content-rich conversations.

We are eager to promote an exchange of ideas on this forum.  We invite you to please add a comment to share experiences you’ve had with collaborative writing.

Open Badges in Education

A guest post from W. Ian O’Byrne, University of New Haven

We are delighted to have a guest post from W. Ian O’Byrne  this week on the intriguing topic of “Open Badges in Education”.   Ian is an Assistant Professor of Educational Technologies at the University of New Haven. He is also a PhD candidate at the University of Connecticut and formerly a Research Fellow at the New Literacies Research Lab. His research examines the literacy practices of individuals as they read, write, and communicate in online spaces. You can connect with him on Google+, or on Twitter (@wiobyrne).

Open Badges in Education

One strand of current dialogue online and in the blogosphere revolves around the subject of Open Badges and their use in education. Over the past year I have been investigating the use of Open Badges in education and their possible use in a higher education program. There are challenges and opportunities involved in bringing an Open Badge initiative into a higher education program. This blog post represents my thought process up to this point in trying to think through this decision.

The Open Badge Initiative   

The Open Badge initiative includes earning “badges” that are awarded by an agency or organization. The agency or organization could be your school, a club, or colleagues. The Open Badges represent what would be qualified as “good” work by the granting organization. As described by Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation, Open Badges “provide visual representations of 21st Century skills and achievements.” Open Badges can then be proudly displayed across the web and on social networks of your choice.

Open badges photo from haberdashery, Creative Commons

The Open Badge initiative has been a hot topic for discussion over the last year as the Mozilla Foundation, the HASTAC Initiative, and the MacArthur Foundation (along with many other brilliant people and organizations) launched a competition to develop these badges. In reviewing the Stage 2 Winners from the teacher competition, I quickly identified one of the winners of the competition that outlined a badge system that included the elements I value in digital media and learning education. The “Building Toward Mastery: Teachers and 21st Century Literacy Skills” submission from the University of Michigan, School of Information outlined a continuum in which learners build up their skills to the level of mastery of informational and digital literacy skills. The submission outlines the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that teachers will need to effectively include emerging concepts associated with 21st Century Literacy skills in inquiry based learning activities for students. What I like most about the “Building Toward Mastery” submission is the modular components of their badge system. The badge is comprised of multiple components that the teacher can build up over time, while understanding their own progress as they build toward mastery of 21st Century Literacy skills.

Open Badges: Challenges and Opportunities

As stated earlier, I have been considering the use of Open Badges and their ability to motivate, guide, and assess learning and mastery of informational and digital literacy skills. As coordinator of an Instructional Technology & Digital Media Literacy (IT-DML) program at my University, I have been thinking deeply about this concept and its relevance for our program as it starts up this summer. The IT-DML program will strive for an open source curriculum, and use free, Web 2.0 tools for all curricular materials and student work. The goal is to provide this work and output of the program free for use in classrooms all over the planet. I would potentially see the Open Badges initiative playing a role in our program. The primary consideration in including an Open Badge initiative in the IT-DML program is whether or not the students and faculty would value the badges. During the first year of the program we will survey students to understand the value they would place in Open Badges as a supplement to grades in the courses.

The concept of Open Badges and their role in education, and the IT-DML program specifically, has captured my imagination over the past year as I’ve read several blog posts unpacking the topic and potential consequences. I would suggest reading through several of these posts to gain a better understanding of the development of the Open Badges initiative. They have helped me think through these issues and gain insight into the value of badges in 21st Century learning. Insightful blog posts have come through my Google Reader feed over the past year by the following individuals: Bud HuntTony BatesMark SurmanAndrea Zellner; and Doug Belshaw.  .

As we come closer to the commencement of the IT-DML program, I’m leaning toward the involvement and granting of Open Badges as part of the IT-DML program. The rationale for this to me is very simple. I have been conducting research over the past couple of years in assessment of online reading comprehension and online content construction. One of the biggest challenges in using and assessing these literacies and skills is the complexity of online information and the fact that it is constantly changing. Additionally, in conducting research on the knowledge, skills, and dispositions students’ use in this informational space it is difficult to validly and reliably assess skill or quality. This point was hammered home to me by Dan Hickey in a 2011 session we presented at the American Education Research Association Conference in which he acted as discussant. He maintained that we were not actually assessing work, quality of work, or knowledge, skills, and dispositions in our instruments. Instead we were measuring the “residue of learning.” To me this means that the students had already come through, completed their work, and had moved on. The instruments that we had created were trying to inefficiently measure this learning by scraping up the learning that had already happened using multiple choice items, Likert scales, rubrics, or open response items. As a researcher and educator, I would like to more effectively and efficiently assess the quality of process and product of student work. For more insight into assessment of online literacies and the Open Badge initiative, please visit this post by Dan Hickey.

The final sticking point for the use of Open Badges in the IT-DML program revolves around their authenticity and value to our students. Some of the critique of the Open Badges has been that they will be viewed as online “gold stars” for student work product, or that adults don’t need this form of motivation to complete work. In my mind the goal of the Open Badges would be two-fold. The first would be a better assessment tool to help guide and inform student work process and product. The second would be a form of “abstracted replay” in which students consider their own knowledge, skills, and strategies employed and then compare them to those that would be utilized by an expert. In this regard, abstracted replay is defined as a postmortem analysis, or comparative metacognitive activity in which students reflect on strategies employed during the work process and how these relate to those employed by an expert.

Exploring Open Badges through my Personal Fitness Project

To determine how authentic and effective the use of badges can be in affecting motivation and achievement, I’ll test it out in my own life. I’m in the process of trying to get back in shape and relieve stress. As part of this process I’m using an app on my phone called Runkeeper, which tracks your running, walking, and fitness activities. I also will be using Fitocracy, a fitness social network that includes elements of gaming to motivate individuals. For more information on Fitocracy please read this excellent post from Wired Magazine. Both of these apps use real world game playing, technology, and badges to inspire individuals to progress in their fitness routine. I’ll play with these two products to see how they support and motivate me as I continue on my fitness mission. This in turn will help me understand the role that motivation and Open Badges may play in education of the 21st Century student.

Personal Learning Environments: Making Sense and Keeping it All Under Control

PERSONAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS: MAKING SENSE AND KEEPING IT ALL UNDER CONTROL

I’d like to thank our guest poster, Thomas DeVere Wolsey, for a great blog on Personal Learning Environments! Dana

Guest post by Thomas DeVere Wolsey

Meet Dionisio

What? Another digital technology I need to learn? What is a personal learning environment, anyway? To answer that, I want you to meet Dionisio.  He is one very interesting 10th-grade student, much like those you know in 10th grade, 5th grade, and many other grade levels.  There are sides to Dionisio that are not readily apparent at school most of the time.  He plays guitar and records music using a Korg synthesizer app for his iPhone® and iPad® which he then shares with others at SoundCloud. SoundCloud is his favorite sharing site for music because he can sell digital recordings of his work there, and it is always rewarding when someone buys his songs.  Sometimes he posts his work to his YouTube channel, as well.   When he posts work on SoundCloud or YouTube, he often Tweets the URL to his followers and his Facebook friends see the new link, too.

Dionisio really likes music and sharing his creations with friends, but what most people don’t know about him is his interest in the United States Civil War. His interest in the lives of soldiers far exceeds anything his state social studies standards requires.  He subscribes to many Civil War blogs using an RSS feed to keep him updated on new posts.  In his social bookmarking account on Delicious, he has bookmarked almost every website for important Civil War battlefields in order to make them easily accessible.

In addition to his interests that sometimes match school curriculum and sometimes do not, he also maintains a Diigo page and several of his teachers use Edmodo.  A few of his friends use EverNote to keep track of readings assigned by teachers, collaborate with Dionisio on class projects, and catalog information they found on their own. Some of his school presentations appear on Prezi, and some he posted on YouTube.  Many of his teachers ask him to submit work on the school’s course management system (such as Moodle or eCollege).  PowerPoint® projects he created with others in his classes are often uploaded to Box.net as they collaborate over the Internet to be ready for class.  Dionisio kept most of the tools and websites bookmarked on his laptop, and then he met a teacher who changed his thinking.

View the YouTube video on the 21st Century student to understand a little more about Dionisio and students like him.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwM4ieFOotA&feature=youtu.be

Dionisio’s Personal Learning Environment

You might wonder how Dionisio keeps track of all those online sources. At first, it wasn’t easy; Dionisio found it all a bit overwhelming.  However, one of Dionisio’s teachers recognized that literacy in the 21st century involved more than just reading paper pages and answering questions.  Much more is involved in new literacies (Leu, Kinzer, Coiro & Cammack, 2004). Organizing, synthesizing and constructing meaning from online and traditional resources are critical cognitive skills made even more important as students navigate the digital environments they choose and in which they are asked to participate.  Dionisio’s teacher suggested to him and to his classmates that one way to make sense of all the information they create and that they gather is through the online tool, Symbaloo.  With Symbaloo, Dionisio created a personal learning network with a matrix that included the blogs he followed, the websites he found useful, the classroom management systems his teachers used, and many social and collaborative networking environments.

Because Dionisio realized that some of his learning was associated with specific classes at school, some was his own learning that overlapped with school sometimes, and some was related to personal interests that rarely overlapped with school, he set up his personal learning environment to keep some elements private, some shared with his network outside of school, and some shared with his teachers and classmates.  These networks often overlapped, but Dionisio decided which elements to share and with whom.

In the YouTube video, notice how a 7th-grade student created a personal learning environment in Symbaloo  http://youtu.be/YEls3tq5wIY

Welcome to my PLE

How do Students Organize the Personal Learning Environment?

Wouldn’t it be nice to just tell students how their personal learning environments (PLE) should be organized? Include elements A, B, and C, and you’re done! But that would not be very personal, would it? Personal learning environments are organized in a way that makes sense to the person doing the organizing.  Michelle Martin (2007), an adult blogger, organized hers according to the information she gathered, the information she processed, and the actions she takes based on her learning.  Two things are worth noting in her approach: 1. She changed the tools she used to organize her PLE after awhile, and 2. She included traditional paper-based text in her PLE.

The EdTechPost wiki includes many diagrams that illustrate how personal learning environments might be constructed. On the wiki, the diagrams are organized toward orientation: tools, use/action/ people, and hybrid/action/other.  Every personal learning environment is different because each reflects the way the person who created the environment perceives and organizes their learning and the worlds it represents.  Dionisio quickly realized that Symbaloo was a great tool, but he needed multiple entry points for his PLE representing the way he organized his own learning.  He created an About.me account to provide a more public access point for his music and interests in the Civil War.  The About.me page did include links to his Symbaloo and other pages, but some were password protected, and not all his school pages were linked to his About.me page.

What are the Elements of a Personal Learning Environment?
The Learning Technologies Centre at the University of Manitoba includes several elements of a personal learning environment. These include production tools, collaboration tools, aggregation tools, and so on (for the full list, click the link).  EDUCAUSE (2009) points out that a key attribute of the personal learning network is that it is learner centered.  Attwell (2006, pdf file) further explores the learner-centered feature of the personal learning environment. He suggests that they are characteristics of life-long learners and that they are informal in nature.  Another key element is the aspect of community (e.g., Grisham & Wolsey, 2006), the idea that much of our creative and intellectual work is part of a larger group, as well.

Why do Personal Learning Environments Matter?

A characteristic of humans is that they try to make sense of the contexts of their lives. The tools they use and the purposes they establish for learning may be the defining features of learning in the coming decades.  How will you encourage your students to create and maintain personal learning environments the promote mastery of appropriate standards and foster lifelong learning as well? Dionisio relied on his teacher to help him learn to organize and make sense of the many online tools he used. Like him, many K-12 students and adults create environments that serve their own purposes that include formal and informal contexts.

At the beginning of the post, we asked what a personal learning environment is.  Simply, it is the approach that users take to individual aggregate content, organize it, and lend context to it. Content may be created by the owner of the PLE or gathered from the Internet and other sources. PLEs are informal mashups, elements of which may be shared with others in the user’s network and learning communities. Finally, educators sometimes provide a basic framework or tool that students might use to start building their own PLEs.

More to Learn:

To continue your own exploration of personal learning environments, visit http://delicious.com/stacks/view/Qeck9Y  Also, read more about the related concepts of personal learning networks (which overlap with personal learning environments), social bookmarking, and content curation.

References

Attwell, G. (2006). Personal learning environments—The future of elearning? eLearning Papers. Retrieved from http://www.elearningeuropa.info/files/media/media11561.pdf

EDUCAUSE. (2009). Seven things you should know about personal learning environments. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7049.pdf

Grisham, D. L. & Wolsey, T.D. (2006). Recentering the middle school classroom as a vibrant learning community: Students, literacy, and technology intersect. Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy, 49(8), 648-660. DOI: 10.1598/JAAL.49.8.2

Leu, D.J., Jr., Kinzer, C.K., Coiro, J., & Cammack, D.W. (2004). Toward a theory of new literacies emerging from the Internet and other information and communication technologies. In R.B. Ruddell, & N. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading (5th ed., pp. 1570-1613). Newark, DE: International Reading Association. Available: http://www.readingonline.org/newliteracies/lit_index.asp?HREF=leu/

Martin, M. (2007, April 11). My personal learning envirornment [blog post]. The bamboo project. Retrieved from http://michelemartin.typepad.com/thebambooprojectblog/2007/04/my_personal_lea.html

Exploring the TextProject Website and Text Complexity

“A picture is worth a thousand words.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_picture_is_worth_a_thousand_words

“The learning from complex texts in content areas and literature needs to be the centerpiece of schooling in the 21st century” (Hiebert, in press).

For the past twenty years, I have been working at the university level with preservice teacher candidates and practicing teachers in master’s and doctoral level courses. My field—and my passion—is literacy learning and there is nothing more exciting to me than the thrill experienced by teachers learning something new professionally that they may use to teach their K-12 students to enhance literacy learning. Part of that joy is the discovery of new resources to share with my students and my colleagues.

For each of us there is an amazing “aha!” in learning that just because something is published doesn’t mean it is “the truth.” Many experience it earlier than I did—in grad school! It is sometimes most confusing to locate websites with reliable and accurate information and resources for teachers. How does one know that what is out there on the Web is truthful? Eagleton and Dobler (2006) provided us with the QUEST model to use with K-12 students to teach them how to critically evaluate websites. But what about the rest of us? How do we know when we find a truly useful and genuinely valuable website?

Recently, I have become involved with Freddy Hiebert and Charles Fisher’s TextProject (www.textproject.org). This is a website I have spent a great deal of time exploring and one I am willing to recommend to my colleagues. The TextProject focus is on increasing literacy levels of beginning and struggling readers through access to the “best possible texts.” TextProject is a non-profit organization that provides three types of resources for educators: TExT Products, Teacher Support, and Research. There is so much on this website that I’m breaking it down into three components, which are listed below. You can spend quite a bit of time exploring each of these. For me, as a literacy teacher educator and researcher, I loved the research library. I have recommended this website to my teacher candidates and master’s level students, particularly the TextProject topics. I believe they get a new viewpoint on reading fluency!

             TExT  Products

TextProject creates reading programs and products based on the TExT model of text complexity. (Click the link and read about the linguistic and cognitive demands of texts for beginning readers.)

1.  SummerReads, This is TextProject’s free summer reading program that helps at-risk readers avoid the summer slump.

2. Talking Points for Kids This is a free program designed to increase meaningful discussion among students.

3. BeginningReads This program is designed to connect children’s knowledge of oral language with written language.

4. QuickReads and ZipZoom are two commerical reading programs based on the TExT model. (In other words, you have to pay for these!) ZipZoom, in particular, is a research based reading program for English Learners created by Hiebert and Fisher.

Teacher Support

TextProject helps teachers improve students’ reading achievement with materials and lessons.

1. E4: Exceptional Expressions for Everyday Events This is a set of 32 free vocabulary lessons that builds on words that students hear every day in their classrooms.

2. QuickReads: Word Pictures Here is a set of free lessons that develop critical words in content areas, especially helpful to English Learners.

3. Benchmark Texts is a free list of tradebooks that support grades 2-3 students’ capacity for complex text to meet CCSS.

4. WordZones for 5,586 Most Frequent Words is a free word list focused on vocabulary needed to be successful in reading.

 

Research

TextProject publishes reviews and reports of research on pressing issues in current reading education.

1. Reading Research Reports Here you will find summaries of original studies. The latest report looks at the measurement of text complexity under the guidelines of the CCSS.

2. TextProject Library offers a decade’s worth of articles, presentation slides, and more from TextProject founder Elfrieda H. Hiebert and colleagues.

3. TextProject Topics are clusters of resources on topics such as:

• Common Core State Standards

• Texts for Early Reading

• Vocabulary: Morphology

• Vocabulary: Informational and Narrative Texts

• Reading More / Silent Reading

• Fluency and Automaticity

In the time I’ve spend exploring the site, I’ve also come to value the TextProject as a key to learning about the Common Core State Standards mentioned above and the role that text complexity plays in both reading fluency and reading comprehension. On the site, you can download Karen Wixon’s article on “what” the CCSS are and you can also download Freddy Hiebert’s editorial (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/are-21st-century-5-year-olds-cognitively-ready-to-read/2011/08/11/gIQAV3Vm9I_blog.html) on problems that may be associated with their implementation, particularly at the early grades.

Another aspect of TextProject that fascinates me is the model of text complexity that Hiebert and Fisher explore. TExT stands for “Text Elements by Task.”

For linguistic content, the TExT model calculates the percentage of words in a text that conform to a specific curriculum, which is expressed as a combination of phonetically-regular words and high-frequency words.

Hiebert and Fisher (2003) also state that another type of words is essential linguistic knowledge for children’s word recognition—words that are easy to image and remember because of children’s knowledge of, and interest in, the underlying concept,

For cognitive load, the TExT model examines the introduction of new words in a text, as well as the repetition of new words. New words are those that fall outside of the specified curriculum. The TExT model scores a text to be more difficult if it contains a large percentage of new words, but repetition of those words reduces the overall difficulty. Informational texts in science and social studies are used to develop concepts. Multisyllabic words are repeated to assist struggling readers.

There are approximately 9,000 words (4,000 root words and their simple endings) that account for about 90% of the total words in most texts. If young readers become fluent with this core vocabulary, they can better climb the “staircase” of text complexity set forth by the CCSS.

TextProject also provides YouTube videos. For example, Dr. Elfrieda (Freddy) Hiebert describes the QuickReads Text Model (http://quickreads.org/video/in-depth-overview) in a 13-minute film. Access the film and see how TExT measure text difficulty through linguistic content and cognitive load.

A shorter (4 minute) version can be seen at http://quickreads.org/advantage/quickreads-text-model.

To understand the QuickReads program, another 7-minute video (http://quickreads.org/video/text-fluency-and-quickreads) explains the process of constructing the text for QuickReads and cites initial research findings for its efficacy.

Now, if you are wondering about the adage that, “a picture is worth a thousand words” that I placed at the beginning of the blog, I will refer you to the “high meaning, concreteness and imagery value” of words we teach our youngest readers. Words that are highly “imagable” and concrete are always the most meaningful to young students, therefore teachers need to focus on teaching vocabulary and word recognition of such words.  Download the pdf of From Seeds to Plants on the Text Project Website.

Finally, here is an excerpt from SummerReads for third grade students. Think about text complexity and the linguistic and cognitive demands of text as you read this.

Introduction

Bats and Balls

There are many games that use bats and balls. In the United States, playing ball usually means playing baseball. That’s because baseball was first played in the United States. Two other games, T-ball and softball, are very much like baseball. All three games are usually played in summer or early fall. That’s because they all need a big, flat, and open space for hitting balls and running around bases. This is hard to do in the snow!

Baseball is a team game, so you need to have two teams to play a proper game. You may not have enough people to make two teams. But, if you have a friend, a bat, and a ball, you can learn to pitch, hit, and catch the ball even in your yard or a small park.

In closing this blog, I’m hoping that teachers begin to see the complexity in text complexity, because rumbling down upon us from on high is a juggernaut of assessment being developed to measure children’s mastery of the CCSS. There are currently two assessments being developed in two different parts of the country, but they will be in place by 2014 or 2015. We need to get a handle on what this means for all of us.

Design Your Wild Self Avatar: Getting to know one another through mulitmodal composition

post by Bridget

Avatar design could be said to be a new literacy. When playing digital games and social networking, kids often select and customize avatars to represent themselves. They offer opportunities to experiment with different identities and take on roles within the specific context of the game or community. They also offer the opportunity to design with different media and think symbolically about how to represent ‘character’.

This past summer, I used an avatar design activity to launch a Digital Writers’ Workshop with urban middle school students who were participating in a summer school program. Collaborating with a group of doctoral students (Blaine Smith, Christian Ehret, Summer Wood, Tyler Hollett and Robin Jocius), we used the avatar design activity to help us all get to know one another and to introduce kids to the notion that they are multimodal designers and could communicate with different symbol systems (a key theme of the workshop).

Across a series of composing activities, we tried out a scaffolded approach to multimodal composition: Demonstrate, Create, and Share-reflect-respond, or DCSrr for short (Dalton, 2011). Below, I describe this process and share some examples of students’ work, along with their design reflections.

Getting started: Finding the “Build Your Wild Self” avatar design website

The first challenge was finding an avatar design tool online that was free, appropriate for young adolescents, and which ran on the lab computers without glitches. Blaine and I spent a few hours searching, finding some very cool sites that we had to reject, typically because they required registration with a commercial enterprise (something we wanted to avoid), the images of females were highly sexualized, or there were few multicultural options.

We hit pay dirt when we found the “Build Your Wild Self” website sponsored by the New York Zoos and Aguariam and the Wildlife Conservation Society (http://www.buildyourwildself.com/). Of course, the first thing I had to do was design my own avatar to explore the tool and think about how kids would use it. Here is the home page, which displays my avatar.

avatar home page

Here I am on the “Build Your Wild Self” avatar design website

screen shot of PPT introducing avatar activity

screenshot of Blaine's avatar design

image of avatar design

Serina’s avatar:

Antennas: I picked the antennas because I can search out things and I also need glasses to see. Those are kind of my little glasses.

Rabbit ears: So I have the rabbit ears, if that’s what they are, so know that I can hear you

Wings: …because I thought they were cool, they looked all right and also I can fly,

I can do anything I want to do and see stuff and if you mess with me, I’ll stick you.

image of avatar design

Serina’s avatar: I can do anything I want to do

Parting shot: Fun? Yes! Multimodal composition? Yes!

Try designing your own ‘wild self’ and then try it out with your students. I would love to hear how it goes (post a comment, please!).

Cultivating An Online Community of Literacy Learners in Your Classroom

A Post from Jill

The RAND Reading Study Group (2002) drew attention to the importance of reading comprehension as a social activity and asserted that text, the activity, and the reader are all situated within a larger socio-cultural context. The social context, in particular, influences how learners make sense of, interpret, and share understandings.

Over a period of years, Rafael, Florio-Ruane, & George (2001), Daniels (2002), and Guthrie & McCann (1996) guided teachers’ implementation of social reading activities such as book clubs, literature circles, cooperative book discussion groups, and idea circles. No matter the structure these reading activities take in an individual classroom, the purpose is the same – to create a community of learners who construct understandings together.

Group participation motivates students to read and write for a range of purposes, utilize knowledge gained from previous experience to generate new understandings, and actively engage in meaningful social interactions involving literacy. These activities tangibly illustrate to students that sustained reading and writing has an authentic, social purpose and are more than solitary, self-fulfilling activities.

Socially-oriented learning activities fulfill an important need since many students, especially adolescents, are driven by social interaction. One such indication is the proliferation of teen activity on social networking sites (Lenhart, Smith, & Magill,2007). Many adolescents spend their time connecting with friends by texting on cell phones, instant messaging, and using websites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter and are highly skilled in creating their own communities and establishing affinity groups within those networks to connect with others and exchange ideas.

Despite the proliferation of skilled Internet use among adolescents, the majority of students attend schools where they are required to “disconnect” (Selwyn, 2006) and rely solely on face-to-face communication as the primary means of sharing ideas.  This paradox brings to mind several important questions:

1)    What benefits to literacy and learning could be realized if students were encouraged to merge their powerful social networking skills to support their academic pursuits?

2)    In what ways could social networking skills, and the strong desire students possess to develop vast social networks, be used to positively impact literacy learning and academic achievement?

Integrating the resources shared in this post into your classroom can help cultivate an online community of literacy learners who collaborate, problem-solve, and negotiate multiple perspectives as they learn today’s important skills for reading, writing, and communication.

Developing an Online Community of Readers in Your Classroom:  Ideas for Implementation

The Epistemic Games collaborative (see http://epistemicgames.org/eg/) is an innovative collective that is made up of researchers, educators, and game designers who create games in which players learn ways of thinking that matter in the digital age.  One of the games they’ve developed is a simulated journalism community called journalism.net (see http://epistemicgames.org/eg/category/games/journalism-game/). Participants in Journalism.net work as reporters publishing online news magazines on community-based topics.  Within the game, they work with professional journalists, learning skills like interviewing and copyediting and become part of a simulated professional community. By participating in Journalism.net, students develop an awareness of community happenings, discover local scientific issues, and extend their writing, reviewing, and critiquing skills as they begin to see the world as journalists, all while capitalizing on the thrill of publishing their own work to inform the public.  Creating an online classroom newsletter as a space for students to report on what’s happening in your classroom, school, community and beyond serves a similar purpose (and is both fun and easy to get started).  Visit TeXt http://text.teachingmatters.org/, a  free eZine and Blogging Tools for Schools to get started.

Edmodo http://www.edmodo.com/ is a platform you can use to create a secure, school based social learning network for your classroom.   Edmodo provides a safe and easy way to connect and collaborate offering a real-time platform to exchange ideas, share content, access homework, and promote learning related student-to-student communication. Accessible online and from any mobile device via free smart phone applications, through Edmodo students can be connected everywhere they go – whether using a computer, phone, iPod, or tablet. Capitalize on the fact that technology is an integral part of kids’ lives and extend learning by implementing an educational network like Edmodo in your classroom.

Twiddla http://www.twiddla.com/ is a tool for co-browsing the Internet with other learners. This tool allows collaborators to co-browse websites in a shared, real-time whiteboard, while marking them up, sharing files, and chatting along. It’s called co-browsing; all the cool kids are doing it. It’s perfect for school use because you don’t need an account to use Twiddla. No plug-ins or downloads, are needed and students whom you invite to collaborate do not need to login to any system to share content in real-time with you.

Wridea http://wridea.com/ – Wridea makes it easy for students to become a part of a learning community.  Here students can collaborate and share ideas within a shared space. This brainstorming tool organizes and categorizes ideas onto different pages, provides unlimited storage, and allows users to comment on topics and ideas.

GroupTweet http://www.grouptweet.com/– GroupTweet is designed for Twitter users who want to be able to communicate and collaborate privately.  A perfect option for networking a classroom community to promote reflection and learning.

A Fundamental Shift From Page to Screen

The Internet has become today’s technology for literacy and learning, offering classrooms a wide-range of online reading, writing, and communication options that extend new opportunities for social interaction and collaboration. Developing communities of literacy learners online in your classroom broadens students’ perspectives and exposes them to different ways to approach and solve problems.  The tools featured here, when chosen thoughtfully and fully integrated into your classroom, can become fertile ground for students acquiring the skills necessary to communicate and collaborate in the 21st century.

References

Daniels, H. (2002). Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups. Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

Guthrie, J. T., & McCann, A. D. (1996). Idea circles: Peer collaboration for conceptual learning. In L. B. Gambrell and J. F. Almasi (Eds.), Lively discussions! Fostering engaged reading (pp. 87–105). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

Lenhart, A., Madden, L. Smith, A.  Macgill (2007). Technology and Teens. Pew Research Center Publications.

Raphael, T. E., Florio-Ruane, S., & George, M. (2001). Book Club Plus:  A conceptual framework to organize literacy instruction. Language Arts, 79(1), 159-168.

Rand Reading Study Group. (2002). Reading for understanding: Towards an R&D program in reading comprehension. Retrieved from http://www.rand.org/multi/achievementforall/reading/readreport.html

Selwyn, N. (2006).  Exploring the digital disconnect between net-savvy students and their schools. Learning, Media and Technology, Vol. 31, No. 1. (2006), pp. 5-17.

Tweets on Cyberbullying

By Dana Grisham

Ms. Vanessa Cristobal is a high school English teacher at the California School for the Deaf. Ms. Cristobal is an innovative teacher who enjoys using technology to teach her profoundly Deaf and hard-of-hearing students using Web 2.0 Resources. Deaf students are avid users of technology, and indeed technologies such as closed captioning, Instant Messaging, and other assistive technologies are a boon to this student population.

In her honors class this year, Ms. Cristobal, did a unit on cyberbullying that taught her students some of the most important lessons about the uses—and possible misuses—of technology.

Our blog, Literacy Beat, focuses on vocabulary learning and Web 2.0 tools and the issue of cyberbullying is an important topic–and one that teachers must consider. There are significant vocabulary terms that must be learned by students and Ms. Cristobal is very aware of that.

She begins her unit with a PowerPoint on how to do Twitter (Tweeting). Then students begin to read resources on the topic and to discuss these in class. Finally, they “Tweet” about the problem using some of the new language they have learned and combining that with artistic composition language. Wolsey and Grisham (in press) have compared “tweeting” with Haiku. Both have space constraints, which make them brief, but when done well, they have quite an impact on the reader.

See this example of a Haiku (all tweets and haikus reproduced here with permission).

A yellow pencil

Left beneath a schoolhouse tree

Autumn leaves gather.

T.D. Wolsey (67 characters)

Compare with a “tweet.”

140 characters is the space limitation for a tweet and it is quite short, like Haiku, so thought must reflect the essence of communication.

D.L. Grisham (139 characters)

Ms. Cristobal used a number of resources on her unit on cyberbullying. Note below there are ten useful websites compiled on this topic. The culminating activity of Ms. Cristobal’s unit was the tweeting the students did in response to what they had learned. These were posted to Twitter, but kept private. All identifying information has been eliminated from these student examples.

Five Student Examples (edited a little for grammar):

It really hurts to be hated and makes me so angry, but I can’t respond that way. Instead, I must report. I would never do this to another! (138)

A sad boy cringes from his former friends in such pain that he might suicide. It is betrayal, but don’t despair. Tell someone and escape. (137)

You must not believe the lies and the hate, but trust this will pass. Report the abuse and you will then be free. Be strong. Don’t despair. (139)

Cyberbullying is a crime. Don’t commit it. If you are a victim, report it. It is not your fault. Sometimes so called friends make mistakes. (139)

In the end, you will survive, but it can make you angry and sad. Cyberbullying is a crime, so don’t let yourself believe the bad messages. (138)

Ms. Cristobal’s honor students did an excellent job with the form and the language and cyberbullying is a topic that all students, particularly middle and high school students need to review, much like safely crossing the street for younger students.

Ten Resources on Cyberbullying

Wikipedia definitions: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyber-bullying  Includes definitions, original research, other publications on cyber-bullying.

Cyberbullying Resource Center: http://www.cyberbullying.us/aboutus.php Two researchers, Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja, authors of Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard (2009), sponsor a website dedicated to “providing up-to-date information about the nature, extent, causes, and consequences of cyberbullying among adolescents.”

National Crime Prevention Panel: http://www.ncpc.org/cyberbullying Provides a Q & A and other resources, including reporting options.

KidsHealth: http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/talk/cyberbullying.html  In the parents section, text-to-speech provides audio reading of information about cyberbullying in both English and Spanish.

BrainPop: http://www.brainpop.com/health/personalhealth/cyberbullying/  Provides a free kid-centered “cartoon” on cyberbullying. Other free programs include Internet safety, instructions for email and IMing, and cyberetiquette.

WiredKids, Inc. http://www.stopcyberbullying.org/  What it is, how to recognize cyberbullying, what action to take and how to join a campaign.

Cyberbullying Report: http://cyberbullyingreport.com/  Contains a process for reporting cyberbullies.

NetSmartz (NS) Teens: http://www.nsteens.org/Videos/Cyberbullying Video that explores cyberbullying through student interviews and cartoon.

YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fNumIY9D7uY  The experiences of a teen boy who was cyberbullied and grew desperate, but how the cyberbulling was stopped. (There are a number of other films on YouTube on this topic that I have not reviewed.)

Stop Bullying: http://www.stopbullying.gov/about_us/index.htmlStopBullying.gov provides information from various government agencies on how kids, teens, young adults, parents, educators and others in the community can prevent or stop bullying.

Images for Cyberbullying:

Google Images for cyberbullying: http://www.google.com/search?q=cyberbullying&hl=en&biw=1881&bih=949&prmd=ivnsb&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=5cglTrv8EY6WsgP8yYnpCA&sqi=2&ved=0CEkQsAQ

May be used for reports or as teacher resources, although some are copyrighted.

References:

Wolsey, T.D. and Grisham, D.L. (in press). Teaching writing with technology. New York: Guilford.

Sample PowerPoint Slides for Tweeting in Ms. Cristobal’s class (with thanks!)

Exploring digital tools for literacy

A post from Bernadette

My teacher candidate students and masters students have been weaving in some digital tools for literacy into the before, during and after reading stages of a guided reading lesson. They have explored the affordances and possibilities presented by these digital tools for literacy. The following are some of the most popular digital tools for literacy that the students have explored this past academic year.

Wordle (www.wordle.com) or Tagxedo (www.tagxedo.com ) to create word clouds. For example, drawing attention to difficult or tricky vocabulary in a text; creating synonyms and antonyms for vocabulary; making predictions using an anticipation guide for Charlotte’s Web (E. B. White) or summarising text as in I have a dream speech by Martin Luther King.

Word sift (www.wordsift.com) as a teaching tool to sift vocabulary in a text. Word Sift captures an inputted text and displays (a) the most frequent words in text in a variety of formats, e.g. in alphabetical order or from frequent to rare; (b) presents Google images and a visual thesaurus of highlighted words; and (c) provides examples of selected vocabulary within the context of the sentences from the original text. Pretty powerful stuff!

Text of speech by Queen Elizabeth II delivered in Dublin Castle,Ireland  on May 18th 2011

For more great evocabulary ideas see Dalton and Grisham (2011)


Electronic reading formats of texts The students have explored the affordances presented by electronic reading formats for deepening response to literature. For example, they have adapted the work of Larson (2009) to create an electronic reading workshop. Elementary school children were asked to create ebookmarks or generate ejournals to capture fleeting thoughts, construct predictions, make connections or clarify difficult vocabulary as they read.
Students have also created threaded discussions using wordpress (www.wordpress.com) to create class blogs in response to electronic ebooks. Here children can respond to teacher created prompts. In one student’s classroom the children developed their own prompts and responded to each other in an asynchronous discussion format. The class blog helped to develop a community of readers within the classroom. Analysis of the blog discussions suggested that children scaffolded, contested, affirmed or extended each other’s responses.

See Lisa Zawilinski’s (2009) article in The Reading Teacher for an extended discussion of blogging in the classroom.

Finally, my students have used Glogster (http://edu.glogster.com) to create interactive multimedia format posters. These glogs helped children to elaborate their response to ebook formats. For example, in one study the children created video dramas of weather forecasts predicting a storm as the characters in The Wildflower Girl (Mc Kenna, 1994) crossed the Atlantic; or developed meanwhile episodes where the children became involved in authorship to extend the original story crafted by the author.

Tús maith,leath na hoibre (a good start is half the work)! We have made small steps this past academic year. Next year we will extend and grow the affordances presented by digital tools for literacy in the classroom. My fellow bloggers at Literacy Beat have provided me with many inspiring ideas………..
References
Dalton, B., & Grisham, D. (2011). eVoc Strategies: 10 Ways to Use Technology to Build Vocabulary. The Reading Teacher, 64(5), 306-317.
Larson, L. C. (2009). Reader response meets new literacies: empowering readers in online communities. The Reading Teacher, 62(8) 638-648.
Zawilinski, L (2009).HOT blogging: A framework for blogging to promote higher order thinking. The Reading Teacher, 62(8), 650-661.

Digital Book Trailers: A Welcome Alternative to the Book Report

A post from Bridget.

I was an avid reader beginning in third grade, when my parents finally allowed me to ride my bike to the local library on my own (those were safer times). Once a week, I would collect as many books as I could fit into my bike basket and pedal back home with my treasures.  My friends didn’t know I was a voracious reader (I didn’t want to appear nerdy and enjoyed my private reading world).   Perhaps more surprising is the fact that my teachers were unaware of my love of reading. I deliberately kept them in the dark for fear that I would be asked to write the “dreaded book report”, a genre that I found incredibly boring. Even worse, I might be asked to stand up in the front of the class and give an oral book report.

Happily, in today’s media rich world there are alternatives to the traditional book report.  Digital book trailers are becoming increasingly popular with kids, teachers, authors, and publishers alike.  What is a digital book trailer?  While definitions vary, a popular form of digital book trailer is a short digital video (less than 2 minutes) that combines characteristics of a movie trailer and a book advertisement.

In the following section, I highlight some wonderful examples of book trailers created by students (and in one case, by an incredibly entertaining teacher and librarian), and provide some links to resources.

STORYTUBES:  Young children are in on the act of creating book trailers

The annual STORYTUBE contest is sponsored by several ALA libraries.  Open to children from ages 5 to 18, students submit their digital book trailers in January/February.  In addition to the winners selected by a panel of judges, the online audience votes for their favorite.

Take the time to view two of my personal  favorites in the 5-7 year old category.  The first features “A Snowy Day” by Ezra Jack Keats and the second features “ The Story of Edward Tulane” by Kate DiCamillo.   In “A Snowy Day’, a young girl is videotaped as she introduces the story, falls asleep to enter into the story world where she re-enacts key scenes from the book, and then wakes up to close with a message to read the book.  The Edward Tulane video is more complex in video production, involving a green screen, hand-drawn illustrations, and props.  Both are terrific!
StoryTube website

http://www.storytubes.info

http://storytubes.info/drupal/node/50

http://teacherlibrarian.ning.com/video/storytube-contest-entry-edward

Middle School Students at Veterans Park Academy post digital book trailers to their school blog

Book trailers are ideal for middle grade children who have seen and enjoyed many movie trailers and are eager to merge this with the book advertisement.  Check out the digital book trailers created by Mrs. Hansen’s students using Photo Story 3. While there is no live video,  Rachel’s book trailer for “Rules ” by Cynthia Lord shows how images, sound track, and text can work together to pique your curiosity and make you want to read the book “to find out what happens…”

http://vpaamedia.edublogs.org/2009/01/20/students-create-digital-book-trailers-like-movie-previews-for-books/

The Digital Book Talk Center 

The Digital Book Talk Center’s motto is “ Creating a community of avid readers, one video at a time”.  Led by Dr. Robert Kenny of Florida Gulf Coast University and Dr. Glenda Gunter of the University of Central Florida, this award-winning site offers 113 digital book talks (with more coming from K-12 and university students).  There is an array of book trailers that will appeal to adolescent learners, either as an enticement to read a new book, or as an introduction to a book they have already selected to read.  You may also  download the U-B_the_Director curriculum, and view other instructional resources, such as the “how to make a book trailer” video. http://www.ehow.com/how_4491963_make-book-trailer.html

 http://digitalbooktalk.com 

Everybody is doing it, even teachers and librarians!

I can’t end this post without calling your attention to a very entertaining book trailer, MouseSpace:  Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, 2008 Librareo Winner

I laugh every time I watch this video about a teacher who runs into the library moments before the bell rings for class to find the book that she absolutely MUST HAVE for her lesson.  Unfortunately, she can only remember that it has something to do with a mouse.  See how many titles you recognize as this knowledgeable librarian runs through a multitude of ‘mouse-related’ book titles!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZM3Ws0W86r4

And, that’s a wrap, folks!

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