Let the Reader Beware: Evaluating Digital Books

This week’s post is a guest presentation by Elizabeth Dobler from Emporia State University. Beth has been working in an area that looms large for all educators: evaluating digital books for use in the classroom. Beth has put together a rubric which I believe teachers everywhere will find useful for these essential evaluations. As a teacher educator, I am planning to use the rubric with my master’s level practicing teachers and I beiieve that teacher preparation programs need a useful tool like this for teacher candidates to learn about and use. It is with a great deal of pleasure that I offer Beth’s post on LiteracyBeat. DLG

Let the Reader Beware: Evaluating Digital Books

Elizabeth Dobler

Three things happened to me in the same month that led to my interest in the topic of digital books.  I received an iPad from my university, I began teaching a children’s literature course, and I watched first grade children create their own digital books.  So now, during the winter evenings, instead of watching television or crocheting, I am searching Amazon, the iBookstore, and Barnes and Noble for quality digital books for children that I can recommend to preservice and inservice teachers.

Through my perusal of many digital books, I have reached two conclusions.  First, digital books, or ebooks, have the potential to let readers interact with the book in amazing ways, which can be both motivating and distracting. Many digital books integrate multimedia elements, including text, images, music, sound effects, and narration. In Axel the Truck, published by Harpers Collins, this book for beginning readers provides simple text, colorful images, intro music, and truck sound effects. The reader may choose the narration feature or to read the book themselves.   A reader’s interactive finger tap or swipe can move objects or cause characters to speak. In the app book The Monster at the End of This Book, the beloved Muppet, Grover invites readers to tickle his tummy, upon which he giggles. Some digital books provide ways for readers to become part of the story, such as the app book Cinderella: A 3-D Fairy Tale, which uses  the camera feature of the iPad to place the reader’s own face in a mirror above the mantle.

When teachers, library media specialists, and caregivers choose digital books to use with children, care should be given to selecting books with multimedia elements that deepen the reader’s understanding and appreciation of the story, rather than distract from the meaning of the text. A study by the Cooney Center at Sesame Street Workshop, entitled “Print Books vs. E-Books” (Chiong, Ree, & Takeuchi, 2012), looked at the interactions between parents and their children when reading digital books and found that the enhanced digital book (one with multimedia elements) promotes discussion related to the digital design rather than the content of the book. Does this shift from a focus on the story mean we shouldn’t read ebooks with children? Absolutely not! Children need to experience lots of different genres and formats of books, both print and digital, to prepare them for the wide variety of reading experiences they will encounter in their future.

The second realization I had during my very unscientific-relaxing-on-the-couch study of digital books for children is the quality of these books varies greatly. With the advent of self-publishing and digital bookstores, the world of children’s literature is experiencing unprecedented change. Today anyone can publish a book and make it available in a digital bookstore. On the one hand, this change is highly motivating for our students, as they can see their ideas and writing come alive in a digital book, and this can be shared with others. On the other hand, because anyone can publish their digital book using relatively easy to use publishing software, the traditional system of checks and balances used to screen publications before putting them into the hands of children no longer applies. Books with inappropriate content or incorrect spelling, grammar, or punctuation are available for little or no cost. The book The Case of the Missing Banana, by Matthew Ryan, has bright illustrations and a simple, yet clever text. It’s also missing capital letters for proper nouns and at the beginning of sentences. The Quirky, Nerdy, and Entirely Original Elementary School Adventures of Derpy Dork by Jack Thomas, appears to be a cruder version of The Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Kinney, 2007). Lest I paint an unfair picture, many high quality digital publishing companies do exist. Nosy Crow and Callaway Digital Arts are two of my favorites.

Those who teach, love, and care for children must be the gatekeepers, teaching children how to make wise decisions about book selections of all types, and making these selections for children when necessary.  In order to do this effectively, we must be able to identify quality digital books.  I have shared my interest in digital books with fellow educators, and with their help, we created a simple tool for considering the quality of a digital book.  The Digital Book Evaluation Rubric guides teachers to consider the reading options, user friendliness, appropriateness, and polished appearance of a digital book. Please take the tool, use it, and send us feedback.  In fact, the process of evaluating an digital book works really well if you find a comfy spot on the couch, curl up with a blanket, your digital device of choice and enjoy a book or two.

Elizabeth Dobler is a literacy professor at Emporia State University, in Emporia, Kansas. edobler@emporia.edu

References

Chiong, C., Ree, J., Takeuchi, L., (2012). QuickReport: Print Books vs. E-Books. Joan Ganz Cooney Center.   http://www.joanganzcooneycenter.org/publication/quickreport-print-books-vs-e-books/

Kinney, J. (2007). The Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Amulet Books.

Quality Digital Books

Axel the Truck: Rocky Road (Harper Collins) by J. D. Riley, Illustrated by Brandon Dorman. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/axel-the-truck-rocky-road/id472125985?mt=11

Cinderella: A 3-D Fairy Tale (Nosy Crow). https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/cinderella-nosy-crow-animated/id457366947?mt=8

The Monster at the End of this Book (Callaway Digital Arts/Sesame Street Workshop) by Jon Stone; Illustated by Mickael Smollin. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/monster-at-end-this-book…starring/id409467802?mt=8

Questionable Quality Digital Books

The Case of the Missing Banana by Matthew Ryan. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-case-of-the-missing-banana/id442569924?mt=11

The Quirky, Nerdy, and Entirely Original Elementary School Adventures of Derpy Dork by Jack Thomas. https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/quirky-nerdy-entirely-original/id452819761?mt=11

Digital Book Evaluation Rubric

Type of Digital Book (check all that apply):

_____  traditional (print book turned digital)                            _____  gamified (book has embedded game elements)

_____  original (book written for mobile device only)           _____  movie and cartoon inspired

_____  uncertain/unknown

Robust Quality Adequate Quality Limited or Weak Quality
Reading Options Readers can choose options for reading, listening, viewing, or interacting with the text. I can adapt the way I “read” this digital book depending on my reading needs and interests. Or if I cannot choose, I at have several options available (read, view, listen). A limited number of reading options are presented, but the reader has no choice (i.e., audio and text). I can read and listen to this digital book, but cannot choose between one or the other. Reader has no choice of options beyond reading the text and viewing the illustrations. I only have the option of reading this digital book.
User Friendliness Provides various prompts, such as arrows or sounds, for accessing special features (i.e., turning pages, moving objects). Guides the reader towards interaction with the text. I can easily understand how to access all of the bells and whistles available in this digital book. Provides a limited number of prompts for accessing special features.  I can find the special features of this digital book with some exploring. No prompts are provided for accessing special features. The reader must dig to discover the features. I have to search to find the special features of this digital book and even then I may not find them.
Appropriateness The text (vocabulary and ideas) and illustrations are appropriate for the age level of the intended audience.This is an appropriate digital book that I would recommend to the children in my class. One or two questionable elements are present in the words and/or illustrations.  I should provide an explanation prior to sharing this book with my class. The topic, language, and/or illustrations are not appropriate for the age level of the intended audience. I would not share this digital book with my students because it is inappropriate.
Polished Appearance The text has been carefully edited for spelling, grammar, and punctuation.  No errors are present. The illustrations are placed near the appropriate text. I can recommend this digital book to my students with an assurance of high quality. One or two small editing errors are present in the entire digital book, and these do not detract from the text. Illustrations are placed close to the appropriate text. I am aware of the miniscule number of editing errors, but feel the value of the digital book provides a balance. Numerous spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors are present in the text. Illustrations are repeatedly not placed near the text. There are so many editing errors in this digital book, I would be not share this with my students.

Created by Elizabeth Dobler and Daniel Donahoo

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

A Framework for Effective Technology Use in Online Teaching

Since my retirement from the California State University system, I have enjoyed teaching online at several universities. My field is literacy and I am a teacher educator, but I have always been interested in the intersection of literacy and technology. Thus my students, usually practicing teachers who are returning to the university for advanced degrees and meaningful professional development are usually eager to learn about new “tools of the trade,” especially for use their K-12 classrooms.

All of us know that today’s K-12 students tend to be intensive media users who use the Internet for many social purposes. Students use media and the Internet to respond to literature, create compositions and fanfiction, and to connect with others in interest-driven communities, both outside of school and in classrooms (Grisham & Wolsey, 2006; Wolsey & Grisham, 2012). But what are we doing to prepare teachers to address the learning needs of today’s tech-savvy students? In the context of the classroom, teachers choose the content. We know what we want to teach and what we want our students to learn. Can we (should we) try new technological tools to reach and teach our tech-savvy students? When looking for new technological tools, I look for ease of use, application to curriculum and instruction, and positive impact on affect and learning of mystudents. This is what we (Grisham & Smetana, 2011) call “generative technology.”

In the online teaching environment it is relatively easy to answer that, as teachers (and teacher educators) must learn to use some new tools in order to participate in online coursework. But I would argue that we need to be both savvy and strategic about the tools we require them to learn. It is not new, but I like to use the TPACK model in my planning (Mishra & Koehler, 2006) as shown in the figure below.

The TPACK framework or model suggests that three elements must be considered in planning instruction:  content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and technological knowledge. Where the three intersect may be referred to as the “sweet spot” of TPACK and where we should direct our attention when we plan instruction.

I’d like to give an example of this from my own work. I have taught research methods for many years, originally in the brick and mortar environment of Washington State University, where teacher candidates did action research for their certification and MA degrees. I taught it for almost a decade at SDSU, and recently I have been teaching it online for two other universities.

Content Knowledge:  Teachers need to know about research paradigms and how action research fits into their practice. They need to know how to frame a research question, how to do a literature review, collect and analyze data and how to present and discuss their findings.

Pedagogical Knowledge:  As the instructor, I need to engage these teachers in both learning and applying their new knowledge. The key is engagement.  I can lecture, using a PowerPoint presentation (and I do some of that), but I want them to think and interact with others over the content.

Technological Knowledge: I want to find a tool that is relatively simple to learn and use that will provide my teachers with something “new” and useful to them beyond their own immediate learning (hopefully, something they will use for their K-12 students).

In my research classes, then, I have used another fairly well-known tool called Voicethread to provide an opportunity for my teachers to think and respond to what they have read about action research and use a visual to prompt their reflections.

I created a 4-page Voicethread and provided audio directions for responding to each page. Then I suggested my students should respond to the prompt via audio, which they did. The following screen capture shows the initial page of the Voicethread and if you follow the link below, you can view the page itself.

http://voicethread.com/share/2802061/

Students responded thoughtfully and appeared to enjoy the process from the feedback I received. Several of them also talked about using Voicethread in their classrooms (the Voicethreads can be kept private) with their K-12 students. Their action research projects also seemed to reflect a deeper understanding of the purposes of action research and evidence-based instruction.

In the same classes, I asked students to prepare Glogs and Prezis to summarize their research reports and have been really pleased with the results. I’m grateful that I have the TPACK model to remind me that technological tools have to be used meaningfully.

In a prior blog posting I made the following recommendations for distributing technology throughout teacher preparation and professional development programs, but I think they bear repeating here:

Whether or not you are teaching online, I would suggest the following guidelines for teacher preparation (and teacher professional development):

1)   Work collaboratively within the university to distribute technological use across the teacher preparation programs instead of relying on stand-alone  “Ed Tech” courses.

2)   Seek workshops on technology use for themselves and to learn at least one new tool each academic year to apply to their own teaching.

3)   Where possible, seek student teaching placements for teacher candidates in classrooms and schools where technology is being used productively.

References

Grisham, D.L. & Smetana, L. (2011) Generative technology for teacher educators. Journal of Reading Education, 36, 3, 12-18.

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.

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

Wolsey, T. D. & Grisham, D.L. (2012). Transforming writing instruction in the Digital age: Techniques for Grades 5-12. New York: Guilford.

 

Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age

a post from Bridget Dalton, Aug. 7, 2012
book cover of"Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age"

Dana Grisham and Thomas DeVere Wolsey’s new book, “Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age: Techniques for Grades 5-12”. is a wonderful resource for all of us who are striving to integrate technology and writing instruction in ways that make a meaningful difference for our students. I was honored to write the foreword for this outstanding volume and have provided it below for your information. I’ve been re-reading the book in preparation for the fall semester and was struck by its timeliness and relevance to the Common Core State Standards. This adds even more to its value!

The book is available at http://www.guilford.com/p/wolsey

From Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age: Techniques for Grades 5-12 by Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Dana L. Grisham. Copyright 2012 by The Guilford Press. All rights reserved.

Foreword
My friend calls out, “The water’s amazing! Jump in!” I hesitate. “Hmmmnn, shall I? It looks cold. Are those clouds on the horizon? I like to swim, but snorkeling is relatively new to me.” I stand at the edge of the dock, watching my friend enjoy herself. I know she is an experienced snorkeler and this is one of her favorite spots. I grab hold of my gear and step off the edge. “Okay, here goes, I’m JUMPING! Wow, this feels great!” And away we go, my friend and I, swimming over the coral reef, ready for an adventure together.

Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Dana L. Grisham have written a book about technology and writing that invites us to “Jump in!” and join them in the adventure of integrating technology into the teaching and learning of the millennial generation. They invite us to jump (or step, if you are feeling a bit more cautious) into the exciting and sometimes turbulent waters of teaching writing in today’s schools. They guide us to focus on what’s important about writing, learning, and the role that technology and media can play in improving the quality of our students’ compositions, their use of writing to transform learning, and their engagement with academic literacy.

Leaders in the scholarship and practice of digital literacies, DeVere and Dana are expert guides who share the wealth of their knowledge and experience in this book, which is designed to help teachers take the next step forward in using technology to engage students in writing that is worth doing. The book artfully combines theory and practice, presenting numerous examples and vignettes to offer a vision of what is possible, along with the concrete suggestions and practical tips that are essential to success. I had barely started reading the manuscript and taking notes to prepare me for writing this foreword when I found myself opening a second document file to take note of teaching ideas, digital tools, and resources that I knew would be useful to me in my own work. The book had a larger effect on me, how- ever, stimulating my thinking about our underlying models of composition in a digital world and the urgent need to improve both theory and practice. It also reinvigorated me. The status quo is not working for too many of our students. It’s not working for many of us who are teachers. Using technology to help students create, communicate, connect, and learn is one way to change things. I believe that teachers, literacy coaches, teacher educators, and curriculum specialists will find this book to be a valuable resource, one that provides multiple entry points and pathways to follow in accordance with their individual goals, subject areas, and levels of technology expertise. In the following section, I highlight some of the key features of the book that I think make it a particularly valuable resource.

Student learning and writing pedagogy drive technology integration, not the other way around.
I love “cool tools.” In fact, my colleague Debbie Rowe and I lead a multimodal composition research group for doctoral students that begins each session with one of the members sharing a digital tool that has interesting implications for research and practice. DeVere and Dana offer a rich array of digital tools and resources throughout their book. However, it is abundantly clear from the Introduction through to the last page that their book is about writing, is about learning, and is about engagement. Technology and media are essential to making that happen. We need the nuts and bolts to build something, but we also need to have a vision for what we’re building, to understand why it’s important, and to know how we go about constructing it. Before we begin, we want some evidence that what we’re doing is supported by previous experience and success.

Dana and DeVere set their vision in the Introduction and then extend and apply it in each chapter. They draw on Bereiter and Scardamalia’s (1987) models of writing as either “knowledge telling” or “knowledge transformation.” While they acknowledge the role of “writing to tell,” their passion is in helping students use writing for knowledge transformation. I appreciate the way they structure each chapter to open with sections on “What is it?” and “Why is it important?” before moving on to how technology can help. Theory and research are embedded throughout (and where the research is limited, they suggest practices that are promising). The continuing message is that technology is both medium and message, and that it is their particular use by knowledgeable teachers and their students that will move us forward.

Writing is not just for English; writing is discipline specific.
Often there is a divide between folks who love to teach writing for literary purposes and those who love to teach their content and view writing as a vehicle to communicate learning. DeVere and Dana offer a more integrative perspective. They make a strong case for why writing is part of academic literacy. Writing is not just a matter of genre and text structure; rather it’s a way of thinking and using language and symbol systems to communicate within our community. A real strength of this book is the range and depth of examples from English, social studies, and science classrooms that illustrate how technology and media can transform the learning process and offer new opportunities for students’ creative expression, social interaction, and learning. Students compose to grapple with challenging content and accomplish purposes specific to the subject matter. While composing tools might be considered somewhat generic, Dana and DeVere illustrate how it is what you do with them in relation to particular academic content and skills that can make all the difference between a “just okay” and an “amazing” student- learning experience and outcome.

We’re all in this together, or teachers and students are making it happen.
In public speeches about educational reform and in professional devel- opment efforts, we often hear that teachers are leaders and that our notion of “what works” should expand to include practitioners’ expertise and expe- rience. The democratization of publishing on the Internet has offered many teachers the opportunity to communicate directly with an audience that is interested in learning from and with them as they go about the daily work of teaching in schools. Blogs, websites, and wikis are just a few of their online venues. However, teachers’ voices are less well represented in published text- books. One of my favorite features in this book is the inclusion of in-depth classroom examples in each chapter. Some examples are written by teachers, whereas others are written by DeVere and Dana at a level of detail that shows their intimate knowledge of the teacher, his or her classroom, and students. It is the combination of Dana and DeVere’s expertise with the expertise of some amazing classroom teachers that give this book depth and credibility.

Affect matters—for students and for us.
Have you ever taken a course or a workshop because of the way the instructor teaches, as much as the content of the course? The importance of affect and the social basis of learning is just as true for adults as it is for children—perhaps even more so, since we bring firmly entrenched beliefs and dispositions along with vast stores of knowledge and skills to each learning encounter. Clearly, DeVere and Dana are highly expert and experienced in the field of writing and technology and there is much to be learned from the information in this book. They are somewhat unusual, I think, in the way that they have shared some of who they are through their writing of this book. Their writing style and tone are conversational as they think out loud, conjecture, joke, and share strong feelings and convictions. They respect teachers and children. They understand and have experienced the realities of real teaching, real kids, and the unpredictability and promise of teaching with technology. They are resilient and hopeful about the future of students in our schools and the role of technology and writing in making change happen. By the end of the book, I was very glad to have had Dana and DeVere’s guidance and to know that they are continuing their adventures in writing and technology. Jump in and try an adventure of your own—I know I will.

Bridget Dalton, Ed.D.
Vanderbilt University

Order Transforming Writing Instruction in the Digital Age: Teaching Practices That Work on Amazon.

What is Text Complexity: TextProject Resources

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey and Dana L. Grisham

Have you heard the term “text complexity” and wondered what it means for you and your students? Dana and I, along with Freddy Hiebert, have developed a series of teacher development modules that we want to share with you. These can be incorporated into professional development activities or course syllabi for graduate degrees and teacher education programs. The modules may also be used by individuals who just want to explore what text complexity will mean in their classrooms. Right now, a preview version of the first module is available online on the Teacher Development Series page of TextProject.  The full series of five modules will be available on August 16, 2012.  In the meantime, we hope you find this preview useful and informative.

Text Complexity

from the Common Core State Standards Initiative

More on text complexity on this blog: Follow the link.

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