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.

A post from Bernadette: LEA meets Book Builder

The Language Experience Approach (LEA) (Hall, 1986; Stauffer, 1970) is to my mind an organic approach to the teaching of reading. Organic in three ways: firstly, LEA constructs a reading curriculum based around the lived and shared experiences of children; secondly it welcomes the cultural backgrounds of children; and thirdly LEA affirms the child’s own language diversity and language patterns within the developed reading materials. LEA helps to develop early literacy skills such as, phonological awareness, phonics, concepts of print, word identification strategies, vocabulary, oral language development, reading comprehension and reading fluency.

My students have used the LEA approach successfully with children on Teaching Practice placement in schools. Lately, we have begun to use online ebooks as a way to create, share and publish our LEA stories. This has helped to accommodate the LEA approach within the 21st century classroom.

We have developed ebooks with audio, video and image support. In addition, we have begun to use Book Builder, a free downloadable digital tool, developed by the CAST organisation (http://bookbuilder.cast.org/).

Book Builder offers a “scaffolded digital reading” environment (Dalton & Proctor, 2008) and is underpinned by principles of universal design for learning (UDL) (Rose & Meyer, 2002). In essence, this means that reading is accessible to all through the provision of a myriad of learning supports, multiple means of representation in audio and visual modes, and ways to build engagement and expression. Book builder is easy to use with a comprehensive how to Tips and Resources page.

Katie Murphy and her 1st grade students have been crafting the story of Karl the Teddy and his Adventures. So far in chapter one he has been to the St. Patrick’s Day parade where he took part in festivities (an experience that all of the children can relate to); and in chapter 2 Karl the Teddy has met Lucky Duck and together they are saving Easter from an evil bunny who has stolen all of the chocolate (luckily they succeed!). I visited the classroom today where Karl and Lucky Duck take pride of place on Karl’s adventure table. The children were clearly engaged in writing and illustrating the story and loved the avatar coaches who prompted them to add details to the story; to forge connections between their own lives and those of Karl, to make predictions or to read the story aloud. You will have to wait a while to read the story on the public domain on the CAST website, as the children informed me they are already planning more adventures for Karl in chapter 3!

Lucky Duck took the bad Easter Bunny to jail and splashed water all over him and he was a good Easter Bunny again.

In the meantime, take a look at one of my favourite books on the CAST web site: Play Ball with Me! A Joel and Angel Book written and illustrated by Ann Meyer. The book features Anne’s two dogs in a story of the trials of friendship and is beautifully illustrated by her own digital photographs of her two charming dogs, with audio links, and a helpful illustrated glossary of terms. It features a text-to-speech feature but develops more than just listening comprehension.

copyright Ann Meyer

copyright Ann Meyer

One of the strengths of Book Builder is the presence of avatar coaches. These coaches can be customized, by the teacher, to the learning needs of the child where each coach can help the child to develop response; expand vocabulary, build strategy usage (e.g. making predictions, forging connections, asking questions). (Elmo is the sweetest avatar coach of all!) The children can also craft their own responses to answer teacher provided questions. Therefore, in providing a customized reading environment it affirms the uniqueness of the child as a reader, writer and thinker.

Percie, Emo and Can-do coach avatars

Emo a coach avatar

Google Lit Trips

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

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

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

Url links used in Blog

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

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

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