Some Thoughts on Digital Reading

On the heels of Amazon’s new Kindle Fire and the passing of technology visionary Steve Jobs, I wanted to share some thoughts on digital reading that were inspired by a recent question from a colleague. Here, in part, is my response to her email:

As you invite your students to explore digital reading, I think that you are asking a smart question: how can we help students generate meaning from these texts? You note two kinds of digital texts — ebooks and online texts — and I think we can probably even tinker with those categories even more. For ebooks, we might include different kinds of ebooks (ones that are simply a PDF-style copy of the book and those that are interactive and allow for highlighting and other notations, as well as audio narration to be played, not to mention syncing across devices). Also, we might include the new interactive magazines (like Wired) and newspapers (like NYTimes.com) that are read on mobile devices and tablets. Then, when we consider “traditional” online texts like web pages, audio and video clips, and databases, we have a really broad range of text types that students are drawing from.

We consider all of this about digital reading in an era where teaching reading has been influenced, for years, by socio-cultural perspectives on literacy development as well as many, many educators working on a strategies-based approach to help kids comprehend texts. For socio-cultural theorists, we can see the traces of their work showing up in the way we use lit circles, explore contemporary themes in YA Lit, begin to see illustrations as important to children’s lit as the words on the page, and a number of other social influences on how and why we read. For comprehension strategists, we see an increasing number of them looking at text types and features, as well as helping students connecting information across texts.

It is interesting to note that the new standards simply note literature and informational as the broad text types from which we can choose. I know that there are points in the CCSS that indicate that we should be using technology in appropriate ways, and that the reading strategies that we employ can help in both print and digital texts. Yet, here we are, in a time of reading where Pew Internet reports that 93% of teens are online, where ebooks have outsold regular books for the first time, and where mobile devices and services continue to amaze us with their ability to track and save our information across time and space. Reading is changing in so many ways, yet — at its heart — still remains a process of creating meaning from words and images.

So, where do we go to begin to understand all of this? I think that you can get some good theoretical background from researchers like Colin Lankshear and Michelle Knobel, and their book New Literacies, as well as from this paper by Donald Leu and some of his colleagues from the New Literacies Research Team at UConn: “Toward a Theory of New Literacies Emerging From the Internet and Other Information and Communication Technologies.” This perspective suggests that reading online and with hyperlinked/multimedia text is a very different, more social and interactive experience than reading on paper alone. And, while you already know that, these two texts really help explain why in much more detail.

Then, to get more to the heart of your strategy question, I think that you can look in a few directions. First, one of the UConn team now at Rhode Island, Julie Coiro, has done some great work on online comprehension. For instance, in this piece in Ed Leadership, “Making Sense of Online Text,” she highlights strategies to navigate a website, question the authority/authenticity of the text, and synthesize information. An NWP teacher, Kevin Hodgson, has written a similar piece for Instructify called “Strategies for online reading comprehension.” In all of this, the researchers and theorists begin with the idea that online reading is different partially because we have to search for and sift through lots of information (not that we didn’t have to do that in the library, but the floodgate seems so much bigger). I think that it is interesting to consider the effects of RSS, too, and how students can set up their own list of prioritized readings (and listening and viewing, for that matter) from blogs, news sites, and other feeds (For instance, here is a recent blog post called “Really Simply Structured: My RSS Feed Strategy“). The thing that I think is missing from both of these types of articles is a list of tools that you can use — such as online book sites (Google Books or Good Reads), social bookmarking tools (Diigo), notetaking tools (EverNote), and bibliographic managers (MendeleyZotero), to help students take what they have been reading and to save, annotate, and cite their work. Also, we need to think about how this reading changes when it moves from a computer screen to a mobile device, as many websites are now formatted to read easier on a mobile device, but you may lose some of the context of the rest of the page since things are so small.

Next, you have to go back to the question of how to “read” ebooks, really taking advantage of the fact that they are digital, networked texts? First, I know that some of the readers allow you to interact with the text in different ways — to look up a word in the dictionary, to highlight words, to insert notes, to add bookmarks. How might we be able to use these tools to do the same types of reading and annotating that we have been doing for years with strategies similar to those described by Kylene Beers, Cris Tovani, Kelly Gallagher, Keene and Zimmerman, and others? In what ways can we use the social aspects of the ebook reader to engage kids in conversations (Kindle, for instance, will show what others have highlighted while you read — we might ask students, why is it important that so many people highlighted this particular passage in a text?) Also, the fact that students can use some of the devices to connect to the internet and then immediately share their reactions is important, too — what if you had an ongoing Twitter conversation about a book, both inside and outside of class? In other words, we have been asking students to keep post it notes and reading logs for a long time — how might we use ebook readers and social media to share, collaborate, and respond in more productive ways?

Finally, we move into ways to respond to texts. If we are taking the same old book report, yet just having students post it online, then are we really doing them any good? We must consider how, when, and why we are asking students to respond to texts. For instance, on the Youth Voices social network, they have a whole section for responses to literature and also offer their students guides for thinking as they write their responses to books, as well as write responses to each other (the guides don’t seem to be up there right now, as they must have recently redesigned their site). This kind of guided scaffolding is important, as it helps students understand how to effectively craft a response that others will be able to gain value from as readers, and not just summarize the book. Also, there are more creative ways that students can engage in reading and responding, like podcasting and role playing, as described by Robert Rozema and Allen Webb in their book, Literature and the Web.

For me, when I watch my youngest son, who is a kindergartener, learning how to read with interactive games and storybooks on our iPad, I am simply amazed. All of our children are reading, both in print and online. For them, what will reading be in a year? Two years? Ten years?

In the past 100 days, I have become a reader again through a device that, no surprise, has opened up a digital vista of books and other sources of reading to me. Of course, it isn’t too difficult to figure out that I am talking about an iPad, but the change has been more than I would have expected from a device that was billed as “magical”and “revolutionary.” When, for years, I bemoaned the fact that I didn’t have time to get to the library, it is now at my fingertips, and I can download a book and begin reading it as if I were browsing the shelves. Better yet, the cumbersome chore of converting audio books on CD into burned copies has now been replaced with the ease of a media player bringing me the latest titles. I have been able to read more in the past 100 days — at least in terms of what I would call “pleasure” reading — than I probably did in the past 100 months.

I am so glad to know that your district is looking ahead, trying to find resources and ideas to help develop thoughtful readers in a digital age. I hope that some of these ideas and resources will get you moving in the right direction.

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Notes from Erin Reilly’s “Remix Culture for Learning” at SITE 2010

The Gap Between Life and Art: Remix Culture for Learning

Erin Reilly, University of Southern California


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Cross Posts from NWP Walkabout Blog on Posterous

Earlier this month, I blogged about some sessions from the Wisconsin State Reading Association on the NWP Walkabout Posterous site and I am (finally) cross-posting them here with links to the original posts… sorry for the delay!

2/7/10 – Cinch from Coiro and Kajder

I really enjoy it when new technologies challenge me.

Honest…

Figuring out how to embed a Cinch into a Posterous, as strange as that all sounds, has been a challenge. I thought that Posterous only allowed posting from email, as that is how the technology had been introduced to me. That was my mindset, and I was struggling because I asked Paul how to post a Cinch and he said it couldn’t be done via email. I scratched my head as I worked from my iPhone, moving between Cinch, looking at Posterous on Safari, and reading Paul’s tweets… why not?

So, Gmail wouldn’t let me do it and, until I finally logged into Posterous, I couldn’t figure out how my NWP colleagues had done it. I didn’t see a “Publish to Posterous” button on Cinch, nor did I realize I could compose a “traditional” blog post through Posterous until I did some searching around today after Paul told me it could be done. Couldn’t figure out how at first, but I finally figured it out. It all goes to show that even the techies amongst us have our conceptions of how new literacies work challenged from time to time.

At any rate…

On to the real reason I am writing this post today — the Cinch recordings of Julie Coiro and Sara Kajder speaking directly to an NWP audience about their latest thinking related to reading and writing in digital environments, straight from interviews that I snagged with each right after their presentations at the Wisconsin State Reading Association Conference last week. Thanks to both of them for sharing their time and expertise.

Enjoy!

(Additional note: even though the Cinchs are appearing as Flash embeds in my web browser, they don’t seem to be showing up when I actually post this. So, here are stable URLS for each, too. Coiro: http://www.cinchcast.com/hickstro/wsra-2010/21082 and Kajder: http://www.cinchcast.com/hickstro/wsra-2010/21096

http://www.cinchcast.com/cinchplayerext.swf

http://www.cinchcast.com/cinchplayerext.swf

2/5/10 – Notes from Sara Kajder’s Session on Bringing the Outside In

1. Instructional challenge – find readers. Engage reluctant readers to create a book trailer via digital movie making in three class periods.

– examining movie trailers and dissecting them
– discussing how to craft a trailer for the book
– creating the book trailer in movie making program (or via the sims and using Jing to create a video)
– “Dr. Kajder, I don’t like to read and write, but I like to make movies… You tricked me!”

2. Instructional challenge – summarizing. Creating podcasts. What do you have to say about this book? It is a synthesis -you need to teach something to the other kids in the room. Then, the entire school votes to decide which podcasts go up on the school website.

– example of fifth graders podcasting about the six traits of writing

– in inviting other people into classroom literature circles via skype

– podcast with an expert (submarines in the American Revolution with Harvard Professor); listened to interviews on NPR as examples

– want to make kids “googleable” for the good, smart work that kids do (ala Bud Hunt), depends on where we save things and how they are archived

– creating visual “mentor text” via iMovie. Choose just a small portion of the text. Recite from the text (checking for understanding) and also thinking aloud with text-go-world connections. It is an assessment, but this is the least “assessy” assessment they have ever done.

– using delicious and diigo with kids to create their reader’s identity. This gives digital readers a way to hold on to texts and show what is important to them.

Many resources and ideas. We need to appreciate the ways in which kids work and play. How do we figure out a way to build curious readers?

Kajder’s “Promise into Practice” Wiki

Sent from my iPhone

2/5/10 – Notes from Julie Coiro’s Session in Internet Reading

Listening to Julie Coiro talk about “How Does Reading and Learning Change on the Internet? Responding to New Literacies” at WSRA 2010

Examing students’ reality of multiple and overlapping literacies – how can we capture some of that same excitement in schools?

She just cited Tom Freidman’s “The World Is Flat” as the source for the phrase “racing to the top.” I didn’t realize that, but sitting here next to Sara Kajder and we both agree that this makes the clear economic focus of RTTT

Online readers and offline readers are successful in different ways. What’s the difference?

1. Identifying important questions – yes, we have a curriculum to follow, but students can ask questions that they are curious about that will likely meet the objectives, too. For instance, why do cats cough up hairballs? As this moves into MS and HS, the questions become deeper and more substantial.

2. Locating information – for instance, finding a website bit then searching within it (can’t rely on a site’s navigation bar alone any more, espe ially with graphical interface). Teach kids to be flexible to take what they know about layout and design to seek out new info. Using kid’s search sites vs regular search engine. What about limited engines or visual searches like Kartoo? Tag clouds?

3. Evaluating Search Results – how many sites found? Who sponsors the sites? What sites may not be available in a few months? How can you tell, in the results, what search terms are used? What disadvantages would visiting the sites have?

— play a game with kids to make the number of search results go down (refining the search) of making it go up. Looking at the number to make it go up or down is a process of adding and subtracting words to refine.
— Teaching about context clues to help students to read URLs — why is it important to know who sponsors the site before you even view it? Do you make predictions when you read inthe Internet? We do so all the time with stories, sometimes in content area texts, and rarely online? Put a label on it — call it predicting, and help them know what they are doing? This can “take all the fun out of searching,” but if helps students pause to think. Need prior knowledge about URLs and how sites are housed. — prior knowledge if the topic used to be critical to comprehending texts, but know google can give you prior knowledge in a snap and bring you to that level.

4. Where do I read first? — am I on the homepage? Like a book walk, help students take the “brain steps” to preview a website. Who is the author?

Great ideas, had planned for two hours, but had to end!

Sent from my iPhone


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