My Digital Reading Practices, Part 3

With another set of helpful comments and questions from colleagues and readers, I am again thinking about my digital reading practices today, as I did both Monday and Tuesday this week. Kristen has again prompted my thinking for this morning’s post:

Excellent. I’m changing a few practices of my own now. Still curious about when you choose to annotate, and I’m also thinking about the line you’ve drawn between pleasure reading and research/professional/learning reading. Why do we make kids annotate fictional texts?

I’ll tackle the last question about why we ask kids to annotate fiction (or any text, really) today. Tomorrow, I move on to describe the choices that I make when annotating, describing a bibliographic management tool that I use: Zotero.

1. Annotating Texts: Why

As the field of English has shifted from a “New Critical” approach of reading and interpreting literature where all meaning resides in the text to broader forms of socio-cultural approaches (including feminism, Marxism, and so on) where meaning is generated between the author, the text, and the reader, the specific sub-field of comprehension strategies has invited students to interact with the text in a variety of ways, both for fiction and non-fiction reading.

While this could be an entire literature review, I will keep it brief and mention one report and a handful of practitioner-oriented authors that thousands of teachers have found useful in teaching comprehension. So, the report is Carnegie’s “Reading Next: A Vision for Action and Research in Middle and High School Literacy,” released in 2006. The first recommendation in this report states:

Direct, explicit comprehension instruction, which is instruction in the strategies and processes that proficient readers use to understand what they read, including summarizing, keeping track of one’s own understanding, and a host of other practices

 These practices have been documented by numerous educators through books including, but not limited to, authors such as Kylene Beers, Bob Probst, Cris Tovani, Stephanie Harvey, Anne Goudvis, Kelly Gallagher, Jim Burke, Ellin Oliver Keene, Harvey Daniels, Jeff Wilhelm, Michael Smith, and many others (my apologies for omissions). In the broadest sense, comprehension strategies, as I define them, are the ways in which a reader takes a stance on a text. For instance, this article from Choice Literacy sums up seven main comprehension strategies:

  • Activating background knowledge
  • Questioning the text
  • Drawing inferences
  • Determining importance
  • Making mental images
  • Repairing understanding
  • Synthesizing information

While I was in grad school, my former advisor and current NCTE leader, Ernest Morrell would sum up his approach to comprehending academic texts as four ways of reading, ways that I think are useful for us to consider across all kinds of texts:

  • Reading upon text – Attempting to understand the context of the piece, who the author is, and with what authority he/she has to speak about the topic.
  • Reading within text – Following the logical of the argument and the evidence that the author uses to make claims. In other words, does the logic hold up given the evidence that has been presented and the claims being made?
  • Reading beyond text – Extending the text by asking questions and comparing to what others have said – do the claims made hold up in the broader ways that the topic is discussed? Does it make sense in the field of study?
  • Reading against text  – Pushing against the text by asking questions and contrasting it to what others have said – do you agree or disagree with the claims that the author is making? Why? Are there critiques you can (and should) make? This may likely require multiple readings!
Strategies that Work Cover Image from Amazon
Strategies that Work Cover Image from Amazon

So, why annotate texts? To accomplish all of the above. In our efforts to help our students become active readers, we may ask them to do any one of these activities and — in the process of doing so — document their thinking. It’s really that simple. And, as illustrated in this image of Harvey and Goudvis’s first edition of Strategies that Work, we can see that sticky notes have, for many educators, been the preferred method of having students engage in textual annotation. Besides increasing 3M’s market share over the past two decades, I have heard of teachers collecting annotated books to review students’ thinking. More recently, Kelly Gallagher has adapted this practice of annotation into his “Article of the Week” strategy, asking students to both annotate and respond to shorter, non-fiction texts on relevant topics.

2. Annotating Text: Another Way How

On Monday, I documented strategies for using Diigo and Crocodoc for annotating texts. One reader replied quickly to remind me of Evernote, and I am sure that you could find many more at Cool Tools for Schools. Many ebook readers have annotation features built in, and I am a big fan of using Good Reader on my iPad. These are all nice for writing “sticky note” style responses, and yet there are times where you want to have the ability to do more when annotating.

Annotated Screenshot from The Hunger Games
Annotated Screenshot from The Hunger Games

In this case, where you might be having students do a close reading of a particular page or passage, and you want them to annotate in more extensive ways, you might choose a screen capture and annotation tool such as Skitch, Jing, or simply taking a screenshot and using the tools available with Preview (not sure of the Windows equivalent except to Print Screen and use Paint). With each of these tools, you could have students either take a picture of a page out of a physical book, or you could have them take a screenshot from an ebook version. For sake of this example, I am using a screenshot from the Google Book’s version of The Hunger Games. I’ve used two colors to represent a personal reaction to the text (lime green) as well as a literary interpretation (red).

There are many ways that we can ask students to demonstrate comprehension; I imagine that we could extrapolate this idea into many of the comprehension strategies from these authors mentioned above, and use a number of digital tools to do so. In fact, I could see students documenting their comprehension by recording screencasts where they discuss key passages, too. They could also collect these passages and pull them into a presentation where they discuss key moments in the book, or major changes in the characters. The possibilities for using digital writing tools to document comprehension are more than I can consider in the space of this one blog post, but Kristen and I hope to find some great examples to put in the book!

More tomorrow on Zotero. Thanks all for your comments, questions, and suggestions. This has been a good week of blogging so far.

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My Digital Reading Practices, Part 2

Yesterday, I began this series of blog posts on digital reading practices with my thoughts about annotating texts, both PDFs and web-based. My colleague and co-author, Kristen Turner, asked me to step back and write about how I find reading material* to begin with:

How do you find texts worthy of annotating? How do you decide that you want to annotate (vs. read and file, read and discard, read and send to your colleague’s inbox – or perhaps send without reading…)

That said, there are two primary ways that I find new material** to read each day, a practice that I engage in for at least an hour over various points of the day, usually more than that, and across the multiple screens that dominate my work life: phone, tablet, and laptop. Thus, it is important to be synchronized, and that will show in the reading practices I describe below.

1. Curating my Own Reading: Narrowing the Flood of Information vis RSS

My Feedly Home Page This Morning
My Feedly Home Page This Morning

We all know that information is coming at us faster than ever, the amount is doubling every two years (or is it every one year now? or every day?), and that we can’t possibly keep up with it all. So, my first strategy is to curate my digital reading life appropriately so that I know what not to read. My main tool for doing so is through RSS. And, although this Common Craft video about RSS is a bit dated (we miss you Google Reader!), the principles are still accurate. So, if you want to learn a bit more about RSS before reading on, take a few moments to watch this.



In short, RSS is how we get information from the web; it’s what powers updates of news sites and apps. I receive RSS feeds in a few ways, mainly through Feedly and Flipboard, both of which are installed on my phone and tablet. And, Feedly comes up as my first saved tab when my browser starts each morning.

With Feedly, I subscribe to a variety of blogs and new sites, as well as Google News Alerts about writing and educational technology (To do this, visit Google News, then search for a term or phrase. At the bottom of that search page, you will see the familiar RSS button and you can capture the feed from there, like this one I just made for technology and writing). All of these come through in the condensed format, shown above. If I want to read one in more detail, I simply click on it. Feedly helps me scan the headlines quick and get to the actual web source for reading, which is most handy when I am sitting at my computer, so I usually check here first thing in the morning.

A Screenshot from the #engchat Section of My FlipBoard
A Screenshot from the #engchat Section of My FlipBoard

With Flipboard, you can rely on a variety of pre-populated feeds that show up in a magazine style format, and you can also create your own feeds from your Twitter, Facebook, or other searches. You can add RSS feeds right into Flipboard if you have the feed’s URL. Plus, as you click on other links that take you to new content, Flipboard will recognize new RSS feeds and give you the option to click on a subscription button right there. Overall, Flipboard makes for a very tactile, pleasurable reading experience which I find most enjoyable as my evening reading. Then — as Kristen notes above — if I find something useful or interesting, I can read it (yes, read it!) and then send out a link via Twitter or email.

Basically, RSS forms the backbone of my professional reading life. I have even subscribed to feeds for journals so I can see what articles have come out and then, later, access them when I am on my computer so I can download them from a subscription database. Yes, I could do that on my tablet, but I use Zotero for annotated and managing professional texts, a topic for another post this week.

Lastly, a few other resources for using RSS:

2. Trusting Others to Curate for Me: Twitter Chats and Email Updates/Listservs

Of course, there are many, many other smart and dedicated educators out there and, like me, they are constantly trying to find new ideas and resources. Fortunately, most of them share these resources through blogging and Twitter or, in the case of more formalized organizations, via regular email newsletters. Along with setting up Google Alerts that come right to my email (which are different than the news alerts noted above), I use HootSuite to stay on top of multiple, on-going Twitter chats. Hootsuite is the window that I turn to throughout the day when I need a quick mental break as I change from task to task. Rather than getting caught up in my main Twitter feed, I can selectively choose the chats I want to read and, if applicable, links to follow. Additionally, I put the feed for some of these chats into Flipboard, as shown with the #engchat example in the image above. Many people have written about the power of their social network/personal learning network and the ways in which other professionals can inform, entertain, and support them. I am a strong believer in that approach, too.

The other way that educators share their knowledge is through the more formal use of email newsletters and listservs. I subscribe to a few, but the most important ones for me are:

I am sure that other professional organizations have similar types of email newsletters or listservs available, and I would encourage you to search for the links to sign up. And, yes, there are FB and G+ groups with people constantly sending links. But the regular emails from trusted professional sources as well as listservs with members that share useful resources are invaluable.

Of the items I do save and share, whether by email or Twitter, I try to be conscientious. We all have too much to read, and I don’t want to add to the digital detritus. If it is something that I truly think others in my entire PLN will benefit from, then I post it to Twitter and tag it with the appropriate hashtags, such as I did with this new article from The Atlantic.

Sample Tweet
Sample Tweet

Other times, I just send an individual email to the one person who I think might most benefit from reading the article. Either way, I work to be strategic in my own reading and, in turn, in helping friends and colleagues support their reading interests, too.


Yes, this takes awhile to set up and, periodically, to update and maintain. RSS feeds go dead. Alert preferences need to be adjusted. Email lists need to have filters set up in Gmail. And so on.

But, on the whole, I find that this system delivers the news I want, when and where I want it. Most of it I skim, some of it I simply ignore. Coupled with strategic podcast listening via Stitcher, I feel that I am very much “in the know” about what’s happening. I can’t really articulate that process much more metacognitively right now, because I have been writing this post for far too long and need to get on to other work. But, I can ruminate on that more in my next post.

* Caveat 1: A brief clarification here. When I am talking about digital reading practices in this context, I am talking about items that are primarily designed for reading on the web, not e-books. That is, I am constantly on the look out for fresh web-based documents that come to me through a variety of sources. These are ways that I find digital reading materials in addition to what I would call the “normal” ways of finding out about good books to read through NPR stories, friend’s recommendations, and getting updated professional book catalogues.

** Caveat 2: Also of note is the fact that my “pleasure reading” is, indeed, non-fiction and mostly professional. The last novel I read, well, I didn’t even read, I listened to it in the car. So, I have to admit that I am not much of a fan of fiction, although I still do read a few books each year that don’t fall into the broad category of non-fiction/professional. So, yes, I am kind of nerdy that way.

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My Digital Reading Practices, Part 1

Last week, I began blogging about my thoughts on digital reading. At the encouragement of my co-author, Kristen Turner, I’m going to work over the next few weeks to document some of my own digital reading practices as we begin to draft the book. I will be visiting classrooms, surveying students, and interviewing teachers as well as some randomly selected students during those visits. Still, along with getting data about what students and teachers are doing, Kristen and I both agree that it’s important to reflect on our own practices with digital reading.

So, this first entry about my digital reading practices essentially takes the tried and true method of highlighting and annotating the text and updates it with some digital tools. I don’t think that there is anything truly revolutionary about this except for the fact that I can annotate text easily and share it socially, which may be where the important elements of this could really come into play. For this kind of digital annotation, I can recommend two tools, although there are a variety of them out there.

Crocodoc Screen Shot
Crocodoc Screen Shot

To annotate existing documents, especially PDFs, and share them with others, I have used Crocodoc. With the same basic highlighting tools as the Preview program built into my Mac’s OS, I can highlight using different colors and insert comments as either point comments (like dropping a pin), area comments (as shown with the red square) or text comments (by highlighting a certain section of text that I want to comment on). I can then share or download the PDF with annotations. I could see a teacher using this as an option for students to mark up the text as a means of showing close reading. Certainly, students could also take a screen capture of pages from an e-book or even take a photograph of an actual book and then annotate it in a similar manner.

The other tool, Diigo, allows for the same type of highlighting, commenting, and sharing that is more suited for webpages. As a social bookmark service, teachers can create an RSS list of readings for their students, as well as groups where students can comments and highlight as well as see the annotations of others. One other benefit of using Diigo it is that it will archive a snapshot of the webpage the moment that you visited, so even if it changes later you will still have a record of the original text.

Given the number of edubloggers who have already used and documented their experiences with both of these tools — as well as many other tools such as Evernote —  a recognize that I’m not shaking the world by sharing these particular digital reading practices. What I would say though is that we, as teachers, need to be quite intentional in the way we introduce these tools outlined in the pedagogical goals. There are a number of smart books on comprehension strategies that have emerged over the past 20 years, and I can see that in digital tools like Crocodoc and Diigo, coupled with strategic instruction, could help make a difference for our students.

There will be more parts in this series of posts about my own digital reading practices, and I’m just not quite sure how many yet. As always, your thoughts about this topic are most welcome and I look forward to learning more about how others are using digital reading tools to support student learning.

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Thinking about Reading in a Digital Age
Image from San Diego State University Library

As the title of my blog says, I am certainly interested in the intersections of digital teaching and digital writing. Thinking about the ways that writers can use certain technologies to reach rhetorical goals has long been an interest of mine, and this fall I am turning my attention to the other side of the new literacies equation: digital reading.

My next project, in collaboration with my colleague Kristen Turner and many teachers that we know, will focus on how we are/are beginning to teach reading in a digital age. Here is the short summary of what’s driving our inquiry:

We wonder how this notion of rereading plays out in the digital reading of adolescents.  If the CCSS demonstrates an increased need for this kind of instruction related to print reading, we must attend also to reading in non-print forms.  We know from previous research that digital readers do not always read with focused attention on the Internet, and we can assume the same is true for their mobile devices.  How are adolescent readers navigating these spaces?  How might we teach them to read these complex texts critically?

Our work will be compiled into a new book for NCTE’s “Principles in Practice” series, and builds on the NCTE Policy Research Brief Reading Instruction for All Students. Our goal is to visit about 10 middle school and high school classrooms where we can see innovative digital reading practices going on.

As a part of this work, I am currently reading Jenkins et al’s new book, Reading in a Participatory Culture: Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom, described in more detail in this blog post. So far, I have appreciated the stance that Jenkins and his colleagues have taken in the text, one that honors the deep, thoughtful types of reading practices that most teachers would find familiar and useful while also positioning students — as members of a participatory culture — in ways that demonstrate their unique abilities to remix and interpret texts.

It’s all very meta right now — studying digital reading while doing lots of digital reading and annotating myself. I look forward to getting into some classrooms soon to see how my colleagues are continuing to bring reading to life with a variety of new digital tools and literacy practices.

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