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

Generative Technology for Teacher Candidates: The Assignment

Generative Technology for Teacher Candidates:  The Assignment

Dana L. Grisham

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

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

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

TPACK

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

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

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

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

The Generative Technology Assignment

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

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

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

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

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

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

Technology Web Resources Provided to Teacher Candidates

VoiceThread http://www.voicethread.com.

Animoto http://www.animoto.com/education

ComicCreator http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/interactives/comic/index.html

Edmodo http://www.edmodo.com

Glogster http://www.glogster.com

Prezi http://www.prezi.com

Popplet http://popplet.com

Slidepoint http://www.slidepoint.net

Storybird http://storybird.com

Strip Designer http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/strip-designer/id314780738?mt=8

(iPad app)

Stripcreator http://stripcreator.com

Screencast http://screencast.com

Screencast-o-matic  http://screencast-o-matic.com

Cool Tools for Schools http://wwwcooltoolsforschools.wikispaces.com/Presentations+Tools

Toontastic http://launchpadtoys.com/toontastic/

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

Questions to Guide Reflection

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

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

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

References

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

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

Reading Complex Texts In Digital Environments: Four Teaching Practices

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

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

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

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

MNOP

Model, Name, Overcome obstacles, Probe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference

Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2010). Common core state standards for English/language arts and literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/CCSSI_ELA%20Standards.pdf

Images source

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

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

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

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

Why Do Digital Texts Get an F?

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

An image from Clickrmedia: Eye Movements on a Search Page

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

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

F-shaped Pattern

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

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

Is F-Shaped Reading a Problem?

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

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

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

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

A Challenge to Readers of Literacy Beat

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

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

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

“Close reading is characterized by the use of evidence from the text to support analysis, conclusions, or views of texts. For example, responses to the definition of text complexity would begin with a reference to the place in the text where the term is defined” (Wolsey, Grisham, & Heibert, 2012, p. 2).

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

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

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

References

Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS). (2010). Appendix A: Research supporting key elements of the standards; Glossary of key terms. In Common Core State Standards for English language arts & literacy in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_A.pdf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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