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Connected: Digital Literacy for Gen Z

Dr. Julie Wood

Julie M. Wood, a former public school teacher and reading specialist, is a nationally recognized educational consultant with a special interest in digital learning tools. Join Julie in 2012 as she shares best practices in using educational technology and media in the classroom and at home.


May 8, 2012

Greetings Friends and Colleagues,

Please allow me to introduce myself as a new blogger on one of my favorite websites, Reading Rockets.

I'm a former elementary school teacher, reading specialist, editor of children's books, faculty member of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and contributor to digital projects for young children. That's a lot of careers, but when you figure that I've been an educator for several decades (let's just say that bellbottoms and love beads were part of my early teaching wardrobe — and warm sweaters, since I taught in New Hampshire), it makes more sense.

I love anything that has to do with teaching and learning, especially when it comes to struggling readers and writers. I truly believe that all children can learn and it's up to us to do whatever we can to help them succeed.

Through this blog I hope to reach out to you as teachers and parents of young children. We can think through some of the biggest questions "out there" in the digital age, given that we have no official guidebook or roadmap. The world as we known it is changing too rapidly for the research to keep up with the trends and innovations! How much screen time is okay?  Which apps have the most educational value? Is the time children spend reading a book that glows in the dark any less valuable than the time they would spend reading traditional books with you? And if it's not quite as beneficial, is it okay for children to read e-books once in a while when you're really, really busy?

Let's put our heads together and come up with a few guideposts for the educating children who some refer to as Generation Z (or Gen Z), meaning children born between 1995 and the present. (Believe it or not Gen Z is 46 million strong!) I've been thinking about this subject quite a bit lately for the book I'm coauthoring with Nicole Ponsford, an award-winning teacher in the U.K., called "TechnoTeaching: The Ultimate Guide to Taking Control of the Global Classroom." But more on that later.

For now, we'll tell of our experiences and give our own thumbs ups and thumbs down about digital tools — as well as more traditional ways to get children excited about reading and writing.

I'll start.

E-Books are great! I-Books, meaning those that are "i" for interactive, can be even better, especially if the activities deepen the plot or mood of the story. Often children can opt to have the books read aloud to them, with the text highlighted as they go. And while children can experience digital books on their own, a shared reading is so much richer. A shared reading allows you to ask "What do you think will happen next?" "What kind of a bear is a persnickety bear?" "Did anything like that ever happen to you?" Questions like these help children understand and interpret what they read, as well as give them extra practice with language. They also make reading even more fun.

What experiences have you had with children and digital books? Write back and tell us what you think!



Hi! I'm a reading specialist in a low-income school. I have used ebooks in the past and the children loved them. Like others, I am also looking for apps and onlinen programs to enhance my instruction.My next comment may sound crazy. I work in a low-income school and our technology resources are limited. Most of the children with whom I work do not have computers at home. Sometimes I fear using ebooks because I'm afraid once they've had a taste for that they won't want anything else. I don't want to turn them away from printed text. Is this crazy?

I'm a mom and a 4th grade reading teacher. There are several apps my kids love. Millie books are popular with my 1st grader, 3 Little Pigs by nosy crow is great for my 3 year old, they also love Sock Puppets where you can create your own puppet show, and I second the vote for the Grover books. I'm sure I'll remember more later:) Thanks for this great column.

I provide E-books for children through Tumble Books, a subscription database at the public library where I work. They can be accessed with the patron’s library card on their home computer. Children love them. They can be used in many ways, as Ms. Wood described. All formats of books allow a positive experience for children. It is important to read to children and allow children time to read.__Hi Jacqulyn,Great to learn from your experiences with e-books—Tumble Books in particular. Other readers may want to check with their libraries to see if they can access these books for their children and/or students. Lots more to come on the subject of e-readers as we all figure out this new world we live in. Keep chiming in. - Julie

I am a mom with a second grader just diagnosed with a reading disability. I'm anxious to hear of resources that we can use at home to augment what is learned at school. We are tech savvy and extremely motivated - please consider having a short list of resources as a link from your blog! I'm sure other parents would really value having a list of different sites and services to try out. Hopefully one of them will stick with our son and help him bridge the gap and learn to read.__Hi Kristin,Thank you so much for telling us about your second grade son. Given your enthusiasm—and his—you are well on your way to pioneering some new digital products to support your son’s literacy development. Stay tuned. I plan to write a blog that will address the questions you raise. That said, there is no silver bullet. Sharing high-quality literature with your son (in any format), developing his vocabulary, and passion for reading and writing is the way to go. But new tools can help. Let’s continue the conversation! - Julie

I am disturbed by the dichotomy that is being created when we talk about e-books and i-books vs. print books. I think this is dangerous as it says that one is better or more educational than the other. I don't see it that way. Reading a print book and reading digitally still involves comprehension and all of us need to understand what changes when we read online vs reading a print book, if anything. My point is that there is nothing inherently wrong with digital books or inherently great about print books. I think we need both and it is up to the reader to determine which he prefers and why. We would be better off teaching this to our students than bashing one or the other. Regards,Elisa__Right on, Elisa. What you say makes perfect sense. Comprehension is the absolute main goal of literacy instruction. Children need to be able to understand and interpret what they read, regardless of the medium. Here’s to the end of bashing either print or digital books! - Julie

In my district we use Scholastic's Bookflix and Trueflix which offer ebooks. We have been using these two programs for the last 4 years and what a great way to engage students in ebooks. We use them to differentiate our instruction by using them with student's one on one, small groups or in large group instruction on a SMARTboard. I am so excited about this blog!__Hi Terri,We’re excited to have you join us. I just looked up Bookflix and Trueflix. They sound like a terrific combination of fictional video storybooks with related nonfiction e-Books—47 titles in all organized into 8 categories. I’ll bet kids really enjoy this approach. Thanks for telling us about them and how you use them for different teaching contexts (individual, whole-class, etc.). What other digital resources do you use? - Julie

For children with language processing differences like dyslexia there are some terrific digital tools, both for direct intervention and assistive technologies for accommodations. I invite you to view our previously recorded live broadcast by Learning Ally and join our up-coming broadcast on 5-31-12 by GingerSoftware Also check out for direct, online(teletherapy) services and clinician-customized review & reinforcement online games See the publicly available Forums articles for articles and references concerning best practices.__Hi Sandra,How great of you to share with the group all these helpful resources for children with language processing difficulties. They look really interesting. Nice to see that you’ve included some links to games as well. Thanks for making us all a little smarter today! - Julie

I am so eager to read your blog! I am a new reading specialist this year. I am searching for ways to incorporate technology. I just purchased an iPad to familiarize myself for implementation with my small groups and literacy instruction. So overwhelmed with searching for apps in the store. I have been searching and heard of a couple. Interested in hearing how others/to incorporate iPad technology into literacy instruction/small group intervention. __Dear Fins,Always great to meet a fellow-reading specialist. How old are the children you’re teaching? Here are a few literacy-oriented apps that I just learned about at a presentation at a conference. They’re all intriguing (not free, though, unfortunately).• Monster at the end of this book (Sesame)• When I grow up• Meanwhile (Graphic novel--choose your own adventure)• MorrisCome back and tell us what apps you’ve found to be the most beneficial for your students re: literacy development. Thanks, Julie

Awesome. This is in deed a conversation in which I like to participate. I have been both a reading specialist and a tteacher of studets with special needs for more years than I want to admit. I enjoy working with struggling readers, but I have never tried the e-book resource. I hope to learn from others as they blog this topic.__Hi Beverly,So glad you’ve joined the conversation. Have you had success using any particular technology tools with your young readers and/or struggling readers? Any aspect of digital media that you feel ready to try? Others in this group may be able to lend some guidance. Tell us more about your media-related goals for the end of the school year. - Julie

This is awesome. Teaching ought to be interactive and I think blogging has the education capacity to do that. My students with special needs, I mean those with low vision and blindness will not only love it but benefit substantially from it. I will therefore polish my technological skills and join colleagues in the discussions and contributions. Thank you!!!__Hi Daniel,Thanks for writing to us from Ball State. Yes, teaching should be interactive, shouldn't it? So often teachers feel isolated in their classrooms. I like your spirit. As you research adaptive technologies for your students with special needs, how about sharing your most interesting findings with us. We'll be all ears! Also, let me recommend the Center for Applied Special Technologies website ( as a great jumping off point for your research. - Julie

I am so excited to have this resource. I have also used Reading A-Z and found it very useful with many grade levels. I am learning more about the newest Kurzweil program and will keep the group informed as I learn. I am looking for writing resources for 1st and 2nd graders with dysgraphia. Notability is an application that can be used by older students to take notes in lectures and simultaneously record the audio elements. Sound Literacy is a great application for phonemic awareness and sound symbol correspondences. __Hi Sasha,Another vote for A-Z! And Kurzweil! And I completely agree with you about giving children lots of auditory experiences to help them develop phonemic awareness and sound symbol correspondences. What have you learned about using these teaching tools with children in various age groups? We want to know! Thanks. - Julie

I have found ebooks to be very useful in reinforcing letter sounds and helping to build confidence in my two children. However, my daughter seem to be able to navigate better and has learnt much more with this technology than my son, who prefers the interaction with a real person.__Hi Anrea,Thanks for writing in about your children's experiences. I think an idea that your post underscores very nicely is that we must always think about different kids and their preferred style of learning. Your daughter is ready to read on her own, while your son still wants to have a shared reading experience. Terrific. As parents and teachers we need to make sure that we're offering kids many ways to access text and interact with them while they read. Do your children also read print books? Thanks. - Julie

If you have access to an ipad in the classroom, the ebooks from Reading A-Z are wonderful. They have one free book on each guided reading level which I use to get a quick read on my kiddos' reading levels at the beginning of the year. They also have packs of each level that can be purchased. Just search 'readinga-z' in the search box of the app store to find them. I like them because they have nice color pictures, a way to touch key vocabulary words for definitions, and comprehension questions at the end. There is not an option to have the stories read to you. In addition, the Smithsonian has four of it's lovely OM books on sale right now for 99 cents. They are gorgeous and have the option to be read to. I bought the polar bear book and the penguin book today.__Hi Judi,Your Reading A-Z experience sound terrific. I will definitely check out this product for my e-book blog (see above, message to Kathy). What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned as a teacher (grade level?) that would help others get started? And what is an OM book? Thanks! And let us know! - Julie

Just this year I began publishing student-authored eBooks. We've had third, fourth and fifth graders publish a variety of fiction and non-fiction. I love the way eBooks can be downloaded by parents and community members, and once you've worked out a few technical kinks, it's quite easy. Students love reading their books on iPads and smartphones, and their illustrations look great! Third graders collaborated on a book of idioms; for example "It's raining cats and dogs" shows a colorful image of dogs and cats 'raining' from a cloud. Fourth graders wrote a 'textbook' called 'A Visitor's Guide to the Solar System.' They researched in teams and wrote about the planets. Another fourth grade class created a collection of poetry they call "Random." I encourage everyone to publish their student's work as ePub documents.Janie Hobson-DupontNantucket Elementary School, Nantucket, MA__Hi Janie, my neighbor in Massachusetts,Your student-authored e-book project sounds fantastic. Can you tell us more about how to publish students’ work as ePub documents? Also, do you have a school website that features your students' projects. We'd love to see them. Thanks. - Julie

As a teacher in a virtual environment, I used a site called with my first and second graders. They found it exciting and fun to write stories that they shared with the class. The artwork on the site gave them ideas for creating their stories. __Hi Carol,"Storybird" sounds very cool and worthwhile. Can you tell us more about it (cost, age range) and what you’ve learned about integrating this tool into your writing program for young children? We’d love to know more! Thanks, Julie

Could you give some resource for ebooks? Where will you find them? What are good sites?__Hi Kathy,What I’ve learned from all of you who’ve posted comments is that you want to learn more about e-books, what makes a good e-book, where to find them, and so on. So, rather than speaking off the top of my head, let me do more research and then write a blog about e-books. Any ideas you have are more than welcome! - Julie

As you talk about ebooks, I'd like to see a clear description of what kind of "book" are you talking about. Some are really games, not books, some are not interactive at all. A lot fits under that name of e-books.__Hi Sheilah,Right! There is a lot of confusion over terminology these days, isn’t there? Can you give us a few examples of books that seem more like games? And when a produce claims to be interactive, what does that mean to you? Tell us more! - Julie

I am very excited to be part of this conversation. I am a new reading specialist and am looking for any and all information. I love the use of ereaders as they allow for so much flexibility in choices of books for all children. __Hi Deb,Thanks for writing in. We’re excited to have you be part of the conversation as well. Can you tell us more about how you think about using e-readers with your students and how you choose books for your students, or invite children select what they want to read out of, say, three title’s you’ve previewed. What have you learned from your teaching? - Julie

Excuse my ignorance, I am not too familiar with this topic, but what is the argument against eBooks?__Hi Eric, No need to apologize. We’re all running to stay caught up in a rapidly changing world. I think there are people who worry that we will soon lose touch with the printed book, which would be very sad. On the other hand, you can carry around hundreds of books with you at once on an e-reader. I think Elisa (below) hits the nail on the head about how reader preferences should be the main factor in the choices we make.What do you think? Are you a reader of e-books? - Julie

I am so excited about your blog, Dr. Wood. Will you explore teaching reading in cyber schools via community chat rooms?__Hi Eva,Thanks so much for writing in! I’m not really an expert on cyber schools. All I can say is that I’m currently taking a screenwriting course online with Gotham Writers in New York and loving it. But, the course is for adult learners who are really motivated to learn. What do YOU think about cyber schools? What have you read? Fill us in! Thanks, Julie

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"Reading is not optional." —

Walter Dean Myers