Blogs about Reading
Connected: Literacy for Generation 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. Her book Literacy Online: New Tools for Struggling Readers and Writers (Heinemann) demonstrates how digital-based lessons encourage growth in core literacy skills. Join Julie each week as she shares best practices in using educational technology and media in the classroom and at home. Julie will be blogging for Reading Rockets in the Spring and Fall of 2012.
You might think that with all the talk about customizing digital tools for young children with individual needs, we'd hear even more about specific technologies that can help. I was mulling this thought over the other day when I discovered an unread Marshall Memo on my coffee table from a couple of weeks ago. I love the Marshall Memo, especially since Kim Marshall takes the time to read 44 journals every week and report back on the big take-aways. Sometimes I put it aside to read the New Yorker or click around on the Huffington Post, but it's a mistake. When I do get around to reading the Memo there are always a few gems that I can put into practice immediately.
Here's what I learned (issue #449). There are several amazing websites that do an excellent job of incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. As you know, UDL is all about creating learning environments that meet the needs of all types of learners—closed captioning for the hearing impaired, read-aloud capabilities for the visually impaired, for example.
- For learning tools—everything from text-to-speech, writing tools, and writing aids specifically designed for children with handwriting issues, visit the UDL Tech Toolkit Wiki
- To help children create and publish their own books, as well as have them read back to them, see CAST's UDL Book Builder. Try it out by sitting down with a child and helping him create an original book. Then share the book with friends. Or begin by reading books other people have created for the world to see.
- To view stories told in sign language (with subtitles and an audio option) visit Signed Stories. The literary categories you'll find here include: Adventure, fairytales and folktales, slimy scary books, and funny stories. Delve in!
- Go to the award-winning The Mother Goose Book Club to find children's nursery rhymes sung aloud by fun characters. Also, see "Rhyme Activity Tips for Parents and Teachers" to learn more about how reading, reciting, and singing along with Mother Goose rhymes can give beginning readers a boost.
Oh, and one more! I just learned of a free app called TapToTalk, currently featured on the Common Sense Media website. TapToTalk can help children with limited speech capabilities communicate their ideas. Children can point to digital pictures in a broad range of categories (places, things, and actions, for example) and the app will respond by saying a sentence out loud.
Visit some of these websites let us know what YOU think! What additional resources have YOU found to be particularly beneficial for the preschoolers in your life, especially those with individual needs? Write back. Share your ideas with the group!
Did you know that boys often underestimate their ability to read? That boys, on average, read less than girls? And that boys are often less motivated to read than girls? Not only that: By the time boys reach high school, roughly half of them will describe themselves as "nonreaders."
Several theories may explain why these facts are true. It may be that boys have a different cognitive style than girls, preferring action-oriented activities rather than more traditional classroom tasks. It may have to do with what boys see as a lack of personal choice in reading materials. Research also suggests that many boys view reading and writing as the province of girls. Left to their own devices, they often distance themselves from books and writing assignments that don't grab them. For more on these theories, see the enlightening article by first-grade teacher Nicole Senn titled "Effective Approaches to Motivate and Engage Reluctant Boys in Literacy" in the November 2012 issue of The Reading Teacher.
So. Where does this leave us? What can we do to entice boys to read and write? And how can digital media help?
We can begin by giving boys more choices about what they read. Boys often like action, adventure, and (sometimes outrageous or salty) humor. They also enjoy nonfiction topics that relate to their lives — animals, cars and trucks, and exciting weather events — to name a few.
Given that most boys love digital devices (right along with girls), iBooks and eBooks offer new ways to capture their interest. Look for titles with high boy-appeal and invite students to choose the books they want to read. Six-year-olds, for example, might enjoy the iBook app version of The Magic School Bus: Oceans (Scholastic, $7.99). Older boys might be captivated by the digital version of the Goosebumps books by R.L. Stein, via Scholastic's digital eReading app called Storia (see Scholastic for information on pricing).
What about boys and writing? If the boys in your life enjoy comic books, introduce them to tools that can help them create and narrate their own comic books. One excellent choice is the "Monsters Vs. Superheroes" app by Duck Duck Moose, for five-year-olds and up. (Note the companion product, "Princess Fairy Tale Maker.") For younger boys (four-year-olds and up), try the "Draw and Tell" app by the same company. It's also fun, but simpler in design ($1.99 for each of these apps).
Also, check out one of my favorite websites, Guys Read. Created by the popular children's author, Jon Scieszka (The Stinky Cheese Man, The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, and many more delightful picture books), this site is hard to resist. Take a few minutes to browse the various book genres together, such as "Ghosts," "Cars, Trucks, Etc.," and "At Least One Explosion." You might also explore the "For Little Guys" section, which offers a great collection of mini-book reviews.
What strategies have YOU used to encourage the boys in your life to read and write? Have you found any media products and/or websites to be particularly helpful? Share your ideas!
In writing this blog post I drew upon the thoughtful reviews posted on Common Sense Media.
What if your students could share a popular work of children's literature with other students around the world? Fourth-grade teacher Jan Wells has blown the lid off her small school in Meriden Kansas (population 813) by taking advantage of (free) projects offered by the educational community on Edmodo that allow her to do just that.
Picture this. Wells and her students are participating in a Global Read Aloud. According to Elizabeth Dobler, in Reading Today (February/March 2012), Wells's students are blogging, video conferencing, and participating in online discussions through Edmodo. Younger readers read Flat Stanley, by Jeff Brown, a perennial favorite. (Last year Wells's students participated in a read aloud focused on Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt.)
Wells's experiences with Edmodo didn't end with these two books. According to Dobler, Wells also uses the online community as a way to engage with teachers and students in Louisiana. The teachers joined forces to arrange a joint Skype session involving a guest speaker. Wells's children were able to text their ideas and comments on the presentation — which took place hundreds of miles away.
How can you take advantage of Edmodo? Inspired by Wells and her explorations, you might by exploring free, secure websites designed to support several curricular areas. See, for example, Spelling City where students can engage in online games activities to reinforce their vocabulary development. You might also connect with a teacher in a completely different geographic area from yours and collaborate on your own Global Reading Aloud Project.
Or, as Dobler suggests, if you're just getting started with online communities, join one that focuses on subjects that interest you — language arts or technology, for example. You can jump in with both feet, or spend some time getting acclimated to other teachers' perspectives.
Are you a newbie with online communities such as Edmodo? A major player? Or somewhere in between? Let us know how joining one did (or didn't) add to your teaching repertoire.
I confess. I've had a Twitter account for over a year, but I'm just really getting started. I've been following several cool, innovative educators for several months. But I've also been following media gurus, such as Arianna Huffington, Tina Brown, and Anderson Cooper. Oh yes. And Steve Martin. President Obama. And Close Reads Café. So, you could say I'm a little all over the place and you'd be right.
Not so educator and Twitter enthusiast, Marc André Lalande, who takes a much more focused approach to Twitter. Lalande is organized. He uses Twitter for professional networking with other educators and saves all of his social networking for Facebook.
Lalande is so convinced that Twitter is not just a passing fad, but an important tool for educators, that he created a short, humorous video on YouTube called "To Tweet or Not to Tweet." I highly recommend that you go to the Edutopia website and spend a few minutes watching it.
In the video, Lalande walks you through the various ways he's benefitted from the far-reaching exchange of ideas that Twitter offers. He makes it sound like a giant cocktail party where you can find all sorts of exciting people with great ideas and resources. In fact he offers up five educators who he thinks you might want to follow, from @InnovativeEdu, by Lisa Neelson, to Sir Ken Robinson (@SirKenRobinson), an English author, speaker, and international advisor on Education, to his own tweets @malalande.
All this in 140 characters? Well, yes.
While you're there, why not check out the other videos about Twitter on the Edutopia site, including "Twitter Search in Plain English," "Twitter for Teachers — What Do I Post?" and "Four Great Twitter Apps for Teachers Using Twitter in the Classroom"?
What do you think? Could Twitter be a game-changing for you? Or a rabbit hole leading to wasted time and missed deadlines? Let us know!
Children today are writing more than ever. But what are they writing? Is it all as ephemeral as the latest text and the next tweet? Or are they writing anything enduring?
Well. Yes and sometimes. While some of what they write disappears into the ether, it turns out that many children are writing their own eBooks. And there are several resources that can help them publish and share their ideas.
Let's check out a few together.
This visually exciting website is creating a buzz among teachers and librarians. Take the tour to see all that you can do, from reading lavishly illustrated stories (with relatively simple text). Then make your own story through drag-and-drop. A cover will be generated for you, which you can customize. Children can also choose to collaborate on a book (with parent/guardian approval). I especially like their motto: "Make stories in minutes and enjoy them for life."
If you have an iPad, then this app is for you. If not, read on to find other options. StoryPanda is similar to Storybird in that children and parents can read, create, and share books together. Again, many fun graphics are provided as a springboard into storytelling. This YouTube video explains.
KidPub: Books and stories by kids, for kids since 1995
Many free options here! Browse eBooks others have shared; create your own eBook; Convert an eBook (you upload your document and the website does the rest); or sell your ebook. Pretty amazing.
Children who are members of the KidPub Authors Club ($12.95 per year) can post stories to the website's "Never Ending Story," comment on others' work, and more. Children can have their work edited and formatted, and be guided through a creating a full-color cover design (for a fee).
Children from all over the world (with an emphasis on Northern Ireland, Britain, and Europe) mix it up with jokes, "fun food" ideas, writing contests, and a "Dear Ashley" advice column. For writing contests for adolescents (ages 11-18), visit here.
Family photo albums
Maybe you've taken a different approach altogether. Perhaps you're creating original photo books, as a family, using publishing tools on sites such as Apple and Snapfish. If so, how's that going? Does your child help by writing the introductions and/or captions?
Write back! Let us know what you think! Now is a great time to start thinking about how you and your child can collaborate on illustrated books about the upcoming holidays.
All of you teachers out there? Have you ever set up a wiki for your classroom? If so, how did it work out?
I've been thinking about the potential of wikis ever since I interviewed a second-grade teacher for the book I'm co-authoring.1 The teacher, Golriz Golkar, who teaches at the Lycée Français in San Francisco (a French immersion school), is big fan of wikis. "I was so excited about creating a wiki for my classroom. I was able to set it up in one weekend after I attended a workshop," Golriz said. "Parents love it too. They ask to join the network. They log on and are able to access the site. Blogs are available too. So are calendar functions." Golriz has also found the wiki to be a great way to share weekly spelling lists and photos of her students.
What else can you do with a wiki? Golriz points out that it's easy to create an avatar of yourself and record your own voice. Then when children log on to the wiki page, there you are — virtually — introducing them to the site. You can also set up discussion threads and a personal page for every child. "Children could draw using a paintbrush tool, post photos from the weekend, and tell what they did. Parents got on and looked around at what other children were doing and talked it over with their child," Golriz said. "They loved it."
Since wikis are password protected, everything you post will only be shared with the community you've created (children, parents, and the principal, for example). As a digital teaching device, she's sold on them. "It's incredibly easy to do [to set one up]. Create a password. You don't need any programming skills. I used templates and learned from other teachers in the room when I took a workshop."
Robert Simpson, an educational technology specialist I spoke with, is impressed by teachers in his school in Malden, Massachusetts who created a math wiki. The idea was that through the wiki, parents could reinforce math concepts — especially word problems — at home. Parent approval of the wiki ran high, especially among English Language Learners. They asked for more.
I'll bet some teachers reading this post have their own stories to share. Tell us what worked for you (and what didn't!).
For those of you who are just getting started, check out these free resources:
1 My co-author is Nicole Ponsford, an award-winning teacher in the U.K. The book is tentatively titled "TechnoTeaching: Taking Control of the Global Classroom," Harvard Education Press.
Are you a parent who has a preschooler at home who longs to be in kindergarten? Are you a teacher who is preparing for Open House? Are you an early childhood teacher who is searching for relatively low-cost educational materials to recommend to parents?
Do you have access to a tablet or two, a play station, a computer, and young children who are eager to get their hands on them and learn?
Well then. Do I have some resources for you! Whether it's learning the alphabet, developing healthy habits for life, understanding the world and how it works, or practicing social skills — digital media can help.
Have you tried any of the following educational media resources?
Elmo Loves ABCs for iPad
Winner of the Parents' Choice Silver Award, "Elmo Loves ABCs for iPad" invites young children (2-3-year-olds) to trace letters, watch short film clips, and find hidden objects while learning the alphabet.
This award-winning program offers a wealth of games and activities for children (ages 3-5+). Children begin by visiting the home page, which is a simulated classroom. Then they click on the subjects that interest them — reading, math, science, maps and globes, and/or the arts. Several different levels of play allow children to succeed at their own pace.
Sesame Street: Ready, Set, Grover!
(Nintendo NS and wii)
Consistent with the national "Let's Move!" campaign, "Ready, Set, Grover!" gets kids off the couch — jumping, dancing, and running — and encourages them to develop healthy habits. Have fun with your child while engaging in lively mini-games and activities.
Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood
Children can visit this famous neighborhood to develop their social and emotional skills as they play games, sing songs, watch videos, and color. Children are also encouraged to write stories and respond to open-ended questions. Be sure to see the guide for parents and teachers, as well as the new feature: "Explore Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood." Yes, Daniel Tiger also wears a red sweater!
You probably have lots of ideas about what works with children in this age group. Share your thoughts with us so we can all learn from each other. We're waiting to hear from you!
Which are the real, worthwhile apps, and which are the mock, to borrow from Cole Porter? With so many titles, how is a busy parent or teacher to know?
Although many apps for cell phones and tablets are advertised as having educational value, is that just marketing hype? Or is it true? Are they educational?
A quick visit to the iTunes App Store can be an eye-opener for any parent. Eighty percent of the apps featured on the site are designed for children and adolescents. Within this category, 58% of the apps are targeted for young children (see the report for these findings and more about iLearn II published by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. And the market is growing as I type!
Fortunately, help is on the way. Many thoughtful media experts have weighed in on the good turtle soup, so to speak, when it comes to apps for iPhone and Android devices.
- Common Sense Media
Come to this nonprofit site to find not just informed app reviews, but also advice about children and movies ("Finding Nemo 3D" and more); books ("Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs," for example); learning games; TV shows; and YouTube videos. You might also be interested in their report on "Writing Apps and Websites," which includes "iDiary for Kids," designed for 7-year-olds.
- Children's Technology Review
Come here to find reviews of a variety of children's media, including top educational websites. Click on "Top 5 Apps Your Kids Will Love" by a veteran kindergarten teacher, Chris Crowell.
With the motto, "We play all the iPhone, iPad, and Android apps so you don't have to," this website sorts apps into: age ranges, bestsellers, and educational. See what the mom-bloggers have to say about Cartooning for Toddlers ("Cartoon ABC"), playing with words ("Word Wizard"), learning Spanish verbs ("Conjugation Nation Spanish") and much more.
But downloading high-quality apps for your child is just the beginning. The real magic that no app can replicate is the experience of sitting down with your child and exploring the game or activity together. By sharing the fun, you enrich the value of the app experience tenfold, whether reading an iBook or playing an alphabet game. Try it.
What children's apps have YOU found to be most worthwhile? How have you INTERACTED with your child? What NEW WORDS OR CONCEPTS have you learned together? Write back and let us know!
I hear you. I really do. It's hard to know the best way to raise a reader in today's digital world. E-books, i-books, apps, and tweets … Not to mention podcasts and really cranky birds!
What do we know for certain? What we've always known about kids and their reading development. Engaging with children during the experience, talking, laughing, and asking each other questions, is the still best way to go.
- Interactive reading with young children, discussing the story or cool bits of information as you go along, still adds depth and richness to the reading experience.
- Comprehension is still the ultimate goal. Children who can understand and interpret what they read have a great advantage-both in school and in navigating the world.
- Vocabulary development is still key! Any book worth its salt will have fun and interesting words for children and families to enjoy, from flabbergasted to triceratops. The more practice children have in hearing, speaking, reading, and even singing new words, the deeper their knowledge (and perhaps love) of words will become.
In a nutshell, although we have all these cool ways of engaging with books today, what we've learned about children and learning to read over many decades still holds true.
But still. Digital media have changed our world. It's not just about paper, pencil, worksheets and a paperback copy of Good Night Moon anymore. And we can't help but be curious about these changes in our way of life.
Some of you wanted to know more about the e-books vs. i-books (interactive books) debate and apps in general. Check out the findings from these two fascinating studies:
- Print Books vs. E-Books by researchers Cynthia Chiong and Lori Takeuchi at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center about the nature of parent and child interactions across platforms when reading.
- Can Your Preschooler Learn Anything from an iPad App? by Lisa Guernsey, education and technology journalist, on Slate.com
Write back and tell us what you think about the two studies, e-books, i-books, reading print books with your children and/or students. How have digital media rocked your world as a reader and writer? As a parent? Or have they … ?
We love summer reading. That wonderful feeling that comes with kicking back with a book we've been yearning to read all year. Thick books like Wolf Hall, by Hillary Mantel that transport you back to 16th century England. True stories like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. These are just of two books stacked up near my imaginary hammock.
Do the children you know love to read over the summer? Or is it a struggle to get them interested in books once the school year is over? And if the latter, how can we get children reading every single day — with big smiles on their faces?
Did you know that children who read just six books over summer vacation have a good shot at avoiding "summer reading loss." Just six! Less than one book per week! Rather than backsliding, daily reading helps children flex their reading muscles over the summer months, solidifying the gains they've made all year.
Bookmobiles and story hours
Take advantage of all the resources your community has to offer so you always have plenty of books around the house and opportunities to share stories with others. If you prefer to read books aloud in a language other than English, go for it!
Books that glow in the dark
One great feature of digital books is that they're so portable. Encourage your child to choose a few eBooks that he will especially enjoy. If you have an iPad, you might download storybook apps such as "Another Monster at the End of This Book" for the Sesame Street crowd ($3.99) or "Fox in Socks" by Dr. Seuss ($3.99). Older children might enjoy "Meanwhile," a choose-your-own-adventure graphic novel by Jason Shiga ($4.99).
Take a listen
Is listening to books read aloud also valuable for kids? Yes, absolutely. Children get to experience a wealth of books, read to them by storytellers or the authors themselves, digitally. Storynory features one new book per week that children can enjoy via multiple formats, including an iPod. The classics (nursery rhymes and fairy tales) might be a good jumping off point. Also check out Tales2Go a subscription-based trove of 1,700 audio stories (plus several nonfiction titles). Why not take several audio books along with you on vacation?
What books are YOU looking forward to reading this summer? What books are you planning to read to your children or send home with your students? What's you're strategy for keeping kids excited about reading? Let's hear from you!