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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Transformative Approaches to Literacy through Technology

Transformative Approaches to Literacy through Technology

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I work at a school where our literacy and numeracy are both areas of concern. Not because our students are not making progress - they are, often in advance of the expectations of other similar schools, but because many of our students start below average and sometimes struggle to reach that benchmark. It is what it is; an average necessarily means that someone has to be below it but I would prefer that it's not my students.

Literacy acquisition remains to me to be a deeply fascinating subject; I've worked with lots of English Language Learners and been surprised at the way that some students seem to grasp the meaning in a piece of text quickly, while others really struggle to work out what has been said. There are lots of reasons for this - ranging from pattern recognition to more complex issues, but one thing that I've found that seems to play a large role is students recognising that reading is an active process; that is, we, as readers, co-construct meaning alongside the authors. It's a two-way process - the writer or author puts words on a page, but readers have to interact and interpret those symbols and words in order to make meaning. Any break in the chain, and you're left with incomprehensibility, and not meaning.

But many weaker readers don't get that. They seem to think that reading is a passive activity. If they flick their eyes along the page, they'll pick up meaning. This kind of shallow reading works, to some extent, for basic comprehension, but when it comes to deeper reading - trying to identify authorial intent, to infer meaning and so on, then it falls flat. I've had great success in improving learning outcomes by teaching students to read more thoroughly; that is, to be active in their reading.

With the advent of iBooks, I think I've hit upon an even more exciting way of building interactivity into the reading process. I'm currently in the process of designing an iBook (Mr Hall's Class and the Apostrophe Catastrophe - coming soon) where I am trying to make use of an iBook's built in widgets to enhance interactivity. Of course, there are widgets like galleries and keynotes all of which can go some way to 'gamifying' the reading process, but I think we can think even further out of the box - using buttons with no border and no fill to create hidden object games.

It's early days, but I think that things like iBooks have the capability to build interactivity into the reading process. And if they can do it in a way that's fun and exciting for the readers, then so much the better. Once I've finished the first book, I'll post a link to it so everyone can have a look at how it works. I'd love some feedback.

Meanwhile, what ways are you using technology to transform literacy?

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

I am exploring using the RAZ Kids from the Reading A to Z website to have my students choose eBooks to read. Through this website I can have my students choose books on their "just right" reading level and read the book, have the book read to them AND record themselves reading the text. Then through my guidance my students are able to become reflective on their own reading and we can then discuss their reading during our reading conferences.

I have used an iPod Touch to have special education students dictate a story and record it using voice memos. Then they wear headphones and are able to listen to themselves dictate the story while they write down their story on paper. When we get more iPods I will do this class wide as another means of creating content for our writing.

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Teaching Middle School 'Technology, Engineering & Design' in Northfield, NJ

Teachers at my school use RAZ Kids and seem very happy with it. Kids are self-directed and confident using the site and they enjoy it a great deal. Seems to be making a positive difference.

BTW you can use the free website Vocaroo.com to easily record students with nothing more than an external microphone.


Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY

The International Reading Association has an entire Technology in Literacy Education website, so I would recommend you visit that for more ideas and references than I could ever direct you to. (http://tilesig.wikispaces.com) However, I have had a great deal of success in the past two years flipping my classroom, where students read and interact with their individualized texts in the classroom, and then students blog at home (I use Edublogs.org). I think that using technology is a great way to motivate and engage students. Check out a recent article, complete with research, on using ebooks and also online literature discussions. (http://www.reading.org/reading-today/classroom/post/engage/2014/02/21/er...)

Best of luck with your ibook! It sounds like quite an undertaking, but I am sure it will be a fruitful one.

Zoe Kinney's picture

Since I teach New Americans ELs with interrupted education at the high school level about half my students do not have any literacy in their native language. I find that simple word processing of a "story" we have written together (namely they have dictated to me and I have written on the board) helps reach students at their varying levels. We use google images to find pictures of key words we used to add to the document. They read the printed versions to each other, as they can--Very simple, I know, but sometimes it really helps to have student-generated text to help the connections in teaching.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Zoe,
I just wanted to comment that I completely agree with your comments regarding student-generated texts. It is a very powerful way of getting students engaged in their learning. Something that i've been playing around with is using various features of laptops/ mobile devices to read aloud what students have written - as a way of monitoring and checking.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

I haven't heard of RAZ - can someone tell me a little more about it? Direct me to a website? Many thanks.

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct faculty Antioch University New England, former Elementary Principal

Raz is through A to Z learning. http://www.learninga-z.com/index.html

They have many A to Z modules such as reading, science, RAZ, writing, etc. I have used A to Z reading for downloadable books to print out or project on the smart board.

For example, during my rock and minerals unit I was able to download three different levels of informational text to fit my three reading groups abilities. All three books were totally different topics but still under rocks and minerals. I printed out copies of each version of the books for students to read in their reading groups. After the students were fluently reading the books, we projected the full color version on the smart board for all to see while the reading group read the book aloud page by page and taught the class about their rock topic. Then we repeated this with the other two reading groups. Students as teachers is a wonderful thing. The kids not only loved presenting their text, the other students learned quite a bit through the process and were fully engaged in the discussions.

A to Z also has books on the exact same topic or story, but the complexity and length of the text vary so you can really target the student's reading levels. They have reading comprehension questions and lesson plans to go with.

I just signed up today for the Raz Kids module and it looks great. Raz kids is an electronic online book program that allows kids to choose from electronic books from school and at home. It allows the teacher to assign reading levels to kids for them to choose from. They can have the books read aloud to them, they can record themselves reading the books, and take comprehension quizzes for understanding. They have apps for iPads, iPods, and web based interfaces for laptops.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Thomas,
I like the idea of 'once upon a click.'

Do you have any tips for teachers considering creating iBooks?


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