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.

[iframe]<iframe width=”480″ height=”360″ src=”//″ frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>[/iframe]

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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Preparing for IRA 2013

IRA Convention Logo
The IRA Convention begins this Friday

This week, I travel to San Antonio for the International Reading Association’s Annual Convention. This is my first trip to IRA, and I was fortunate enough to be invited by Julie Coiro to help facilitate the pre-conference institute entitled, “Using New Technologies to Engage Readers and Encourage Student Voices.” My portion of the institute will be to lead the opening keynote “Raising Digital Writers” and then to talk about using a wiki as an online space for hosting a digital writing workshop.

Of course, this institute is about literacy in the broadest sense, but since it is specifically focused on reading and new technologies, I want to target my session to meet those needs. In that sense, what does it mean to “read like a writer and write for a reader,” especially in a digital context? How do we help students become more engaged in the process of creating digital texts that are meant to be read, heard, viewed, and experienced through computers, smart phones, and tablets? What is it that we want our students to know and be able to do in order to show depth of understanding and strive for meaning when creating digital writing?

These are questions I continue to ponder with colleagues, as well as with my own children. So, as I think through the possibilities for how to frame my keynote, here are a few “lessons learned” over the past couple of weeks:

First, I have been a part of the NCTE task force that has charged with the task of creating a summary document about the effects of computerized scoring and writing assessment. As we have been compiling our ideas, I have been sharply reminded of the fact that the “next generation assessments” promised by PARCC and SBAC could still be evaluating students on very traditional measures of writing such as sentence length, spelling, and grammar. Don’t be fooled. Even though the tests will be administered on a computer, students will not be creating robust pieces of digital writing — with links, images, or other media — meant for other human readers. Sadly, I think that this is a case of formulaic writing moving from pencil and paper onto a computer screen.

Second, I just finished up some consulting work with the Columbus Area Writing Project, and I was reminded of the power of intention in all kinds of writing, including digital writing. Just because a student is producing something with a computer or smart phone — whether it be a word processed document, a text message, or a video clip — doesn’t necessarily mean that they are using creative ideas in an intentional manner. They could just be filling in the blanks on an assignment or, worse yet, composing a message and sending it out to the network without thinking much about it at all, especially in regard to who will read the message and how it will be read.

Third, I was a guest teacher in two sections of my CMU colleague’s creative writing classes. During the first class, as I presented some ideas about and examples of creative digital writing, I inadvertently set up creative/digital as a dichotomy to overcome, not a duality to embrace. In the 15 minute break, I was able to rethink the way that I introduced my presentation for the second class, and this read to a much more robust conversation that was focused on possibilities, not limitations. Given recent attention in the news to such trends as state legislatures requiring cursive writing and explicit grammar instruction, I need to be careful to make sure that I am not setting up digital writing as a dichotomy.

Finally, my own ENG 315 students have been finishing up their multigenre research projects. More than ever before, I find that they are producing their products on websites rather than turning in binders (specifically, Weebly was the clear winner with this semester’s students). As we think about the options that students have available to them for producing digital writing, as well as how we will consume those texts as readers, I am becoming more optimistic that the new generation of teachers will be comfortable in a print and digital world; with thoughtful coaching and practice, they will understand how digital texts are composed and, therefore, better able to discuss text features and comprehension strategies with their own students. Because teachers are seeing themselves, more and more, as digital writers, I hope that they are becoming more comfortable with the process of digital reading as well.

All this said, I still need to get my slides in order for this week, so I welcome any comments or questions on these ideas as I think about how to condense them into a coherent 45 minute presentation that will begin a day of exploring reading and technology. What else is going on in the world of digital reading? How are your ideas changing as more and more students bring devices to school or have access to them in their own lives? What would a group of teachers who are attending this session need to know about raising digital writers (and readers)?

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Workshop on Historical Thinking and Argumentative Writing

As it always does, summer continues to slip by in a blurry mix of vacation days, professional development days, and some that are a little of both. Last week, we hosted our 2012 CRWP Open Institute, and the week before I partnered with another CMU professor, Tim Hall, to lead a three-day session connected with the Teaching American History Grant Year 4: America in Revolution and Conflict. Before the workshop becomes, well, history in my own memory, I wanted to recreate some of the planning that led up to the event, as well as my thinking over the three days as we co-facilitated the workshop.

As it always does, summer continues to slip by in a blurry mix of vacation days, professional development days, and some that are a little of both. Last week, we hosted our 2012 CRWP Open Institute, and the week before I partnered with another CMU professor, Tim Hall, to lead a three-day session connected with the Teaching American History Grant Year 4: America in Revolution and Conflict. Before the workshop becomes, well, history in my own memory, I wanted to recreate some of the planning that led up to the event, as well as my thinking over the three days as we co-facilitated the workshop.

Workshop Planning

When Tim and his ISD partner, Beckie Bush, contacted me about the possibility of co-facilitating the workshop, I was immediately interested given my obvious work with teaching writing in the broadest sense, as well as teaching writing in the disciplines. Together, we agreed that we would use two professional texts for the workshop, aimed at inspiring both historical thinking and a better understanding of argument writing.

Beckie and Tim asked me to bring a focus on argument writing, with the clear goal of integrating credible, web-based sources and, to the extent possible, digital writing with multimedia tools beyond slideware. When we first met, we immediately began constructing a working agenda via a wiki, and I knew that Zotero would be a key component of our teaching and learning. While somewhat fearful that the topic would be one that teachers would find mundane, Tim helped guide us through thinking about Truman’s decision to drop the bomb as a time-period appropriate dilemma that we could use to teach historical empathy and argumentative writing.
Thus, we decided on two main tasks for the teachers to complete over the three days by engaging in a digital writing workshop that would involve lots of research, collaboration, and development of both a written individual essay and a group multimedia presentation from one of three perspectives: Truman’s advisors who supported the bomb, those in his cabinet who were against it, and the scientific community. As Tim led the group through many exercises on historical thinking, DBQ (document-based questioning), and historical empathy, I took the lead on teaching the argument writing.

Day 1

During this day, my primary role was to begin a discussion about the similarities and differences between persuasion and argumentation. With resources from Smekens Education Solutions, and our crowdsourced Google Docs, we began thinking about the subtle differences that teachers will have to make as we move away from teaching “persuasion,” (with its strong reliance on rhetorical appeals and one-sided arguments) and “argument,” (which requires the writer to acknowledge both sides and use reason to support a claim).

Argumentation Persuasion
  • Opinion
  • Facts and Statistics (Both Sides)
  • Support
  • Position
  • Stance
  • Evidence
  • Interpret
  • Refute
  • Debate
  • Validity
  • Agreement/Disagreement
  • Persuade
  • Conflict
  • Details
  • Validate
  • Information
  • Balanced
  • Attitude
  • Acknowledgement
  • Grapple
  • Issue
  • Problem
  • Logic
  • Reasoning
  • #@!%*&? (Cursing or strong language to get a point across)
  • Position
  • Support
  • Emotion
  • Passion
  • One-Sided
  • Propaganda
  • Advertising
  • Facts and data
  • Spin
  • Influence
  • Appeal
  • Aggresive
  • Credible
  • #winning
  • LOCK
    • Loaded Words
    • Overstatements
    • Carefully Chosen Facts
    • Key Omissions

These will be big shifts in the years to come as we implement the CCSS, and I relied on a number of resources to guide us through our thinking about how to create an argumentative essay including Hillocks’ book, the NWP Writing Assignment Framework and Overview, the ReadWriteThink Persuasion Map, a small sample of They Say/I Say Templates, and the Purdue Online Writing Lab’s List of Transitional Words.

Also, on this first day, we talked about how the essay (written from your personal perspective in 2012) would differ from the group multimedia project, meant to be delivered as a factual report to a (fictitious) Congressional inquiry in 1950, built only from evidence available at that time, most of which came from the Truman Library. This was quite interesting, as it forced us to take two different approaches:

Individual Essay Group Mulitmedia Presentation
Mode Argumentative essay (reliant on logical reasoning and multiple forms of evidence from WWII-present) Persuasive presentation (reliant on logic, but also emotional appeals of the era; most evidence was textual, with some images and film footage)
Media Composed in Word or Google Docs, with use of Zotero Composed with a multimedia tool such as Prezi or Capzles
Audience Peers, teachers, general public (op-ed) Peers and teachers, set in roles at a fictitious Congressional Hearing in 1950
Purpose To create a coherent, sequenced argument for or against the dropping of the bomb based on its short and long-term consequences To create a well-reasoned, yet impassioned case for one of three positions about dropping the bomb
Situation Situated in the present, and with historical knowledge from dropping of the bomb, through Cold War, up to present Situated in the past, without knowledge of historical effects beyond 1950.Using the media of today to make a presentation for that era.

Day 2

Screenshot of "Think Aloud" for Argument EssayMy notes here on day two are brief because, for the most part, it was a work day. Lots of trouble-shooting with Zotero as people got their accounts synced up with the web plugin and standalone, connected to our group library, and worked on their multimedia presentations. There were many, many quick conversations with teachers about the affordances and constraints of the technologies — as well as many frustrations — but by the end of the day most of them felt pretty good about the work we were doing. Also, I worked with them to do a “think aloud” of my first draft of my attempt at the individual essay (look at revision history for Jun 20, 1:42 PM). This brought up interesting conversations about the trap of writing though a lens of “presentism,” the use of “I” in writing for history class, and how to best use the They Say/I Say templates and transition words as a way to get started (note the highlights).

Day 3

Screen Shot of "Final" Essay on TrumanMoving into the morning of day three, we talked about ways to effectively integrate peer response groups and did a “fishbowl” model with my essay. Again, this yielded some interesting results as this group of history teachers worked with me to think about what was valuable in terms of both historical thinking and the quality of writing.

We looked at an online rubric generator as a way to keep our conversation focused on assessment, and also discussed the “checklist” type of criteria (Five transitional words/phrases; Three “template” transitions from They Say/I Say) as compared to the parts of the essay that could be judged in a more evaluative sense:

  • State a clear claim and back it with appropriate evidence, from the WWII era through today
  • Develop three main talking points (diplomatic, social, military, political, economic), with two or three sub-points (specific example)
  • Identify and rebut at least two significant counter-arguments

In all of this, we talked about what counts as “evidence,” and many elements were listed including political cartoons, as this screen shot from my “final” essay shows. Also, we discussed the fact that we have to be open to sharing our rough draft thinking with students, even though (by nature) most teachers are perfectionists. One participant noted that if I, as an English professor, was willing to share my writing in this way and not just try to impress the crowd with an amazing essay on the first attempt, then they as middle and high school history teachers should be willing to do the same. I heartily agree.

Then, we moved into the last part of the workshop where groups presented their cases to the “Congressional Hearing.” We tried to complete a speaking and listening guide, as well as some work with Bernajean Porter’s Digitales Multimedia Evaluation Guides, but I have to say that we mostly just enjoyed the presentations. There were, of course, some creative dramatics involved, and here are a few of their results.



Much of what I have to say about this entire workshop can be summarized in the simple, yet powerful mantra from NWP in that teachers must be writers. When I asked them at the end how they felt about the process, they wouldn’t want to do the group work and the individual essay at the same time. Many felt overloaded, both with tasks and technology. So, there is some tweaking to do. But, some of their final thoughts we captured in conversation were useful:

  • What else would you, as social studies teachers, be looking for in the writing?
    • Background information about the topic: era, people, place (set the stage)
      • Historical thinking gurus: one of the advantages of this approach as a process of thinking is that it gives students a chance to apply what they have learned and then they are able to do something with it
    • Defining key terms/vocabulary
    • Key/relevant statistics/data
    • Citations: analyzing primary and secondary sources
    • Gathering data from their classmates/community
    • Cause and effect, sequential, compare and contrast

And, with that, I will put this particular PD experience in my own history, at least for now, until I have another opportunity to do a workshop on argumentative writing, when all of this will come in quite handy.

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The “Tweet Aloud” as a Tool for Comprehending Digital Texts

Thanks to Tracy Mercier (@vr2ltch) for capturing my unfolding thought process as I responded to The Majestic Plastic Bag — and invited others to do the same — during an #engchat conversation about digital mentor texts on April 23rd.

I think I may have coined a new phrase, at least in the pedagogical sense, mashing together the classic reading comprehension strategy of a a “think aloud” with the idea of viewing a video during a Twitter-based conversation such as #engchat.

The result: a “tweet aloud,” which had me and about a half-dozen other teachers sharing our thoughts on the video while all watching it on our own screens, semi-simultaneously. In some ways, it was a backchannel conversation during a social media interaction, which was kind of doubly-meta. All the same, it was interesting for me as a facilitator and, I hope, for participants, too. It gives me something to think about as I continue to understand online pedagogy.

So, I thank Tracy for capturing that all through her Storify reflections, as well as for Meenoo in trusting me enough to try something like that with #engchat.

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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 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.


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.


(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: and Kajder:

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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