Thursday, July 23, 2015

#CyberPD - Chapters 6-7: Re-thinking Our Existing Tools

As I was reading through chapters 6 and 7, I was struck with the theme of re-thinking our existing tools and re-visioning them for reading in the 21st century when “reading” is so much more than just consuming text.  Most of us have the foundations of good instruction, assessment and parent communication but we (meaning I) need to spend some time thinking about how our traditional methods translate into digital modes.

Tool #1: Audio Books: Is it reading?

One discussion that was brought up yesterday on the #CyberPD Twitter feed was a conversation about audio books.  Is this really reading? 

Mandy Robek @mandyrobek had been prompted by something @MrsWeberREAD had posted and Mandy replied, “I think about shared reading and shared writing as interactions with text, why not audio.”
Heidi Weber @MrsWeberREAD said, “Makes me re-define “reading as interacting with text…”

Franki Sibberson @frankisibberson chimed in, “I like what @Professor Nana says about audiobook… “I read with my ears.’”

In his book The Little Guide to Your Well-Read Life Steve Leveen wonders if we could have a word for listening to books, and he makes up the word “ristening” to books.  In the past, I know audiobooks in schools have often been used as either a reward, a fill-in, or as remediation.  But what if we (meaning I) re-thought what is means to read and really recognized that reading is interacting with text  - any text – print, digital, audio, visual – and began to explore how to help our students navigate all the texts that they encounter in a day. 

Tool #2: The Beginning of the Year Survey: Privileging Print

Like many teachers who have used reading/writing workshop, I too used the standard survey with my students that privileged print books over any other media.  As a teacher educator, I continue to unconsciously privilege print books over other forms of text within my teaching.  Although I have explicitly stated in my syllabus that an e-book is an acceptable form of the course textbook, I have not really helped my college-level students look at the affordances or disadvantages to reading through different mediums.  In class, my students tell me that they like the search feature to return to sections they have read.  But I need to ask myself some questions: What other forms of text am I putting on my syllabus and in my coursework?  Am I privileging print over other forms?  What message does this send to my students and how will they take that into their classrooms?

Tool #3: Assessment

It may seem like an obvious question, but what is the purpose of assessment?  For many people, including myself, that answer tends to be, “To see how my students are doing.”  Frequently this entails comparing the student against a standard or grade level peers.  But, what if we (meaning I) re-thought the purpose of assessment and focused on the individual student and how he/she could increase their learning, not be stamped with a letter or number? The authors of Digital Reading state, “We believe strongly in this stance [that of the NCTE position that formative assessment is a verb] and agree that our assessment techniques should be about moving readers forward in their learning” (p. 90).

Tool #4: Conferences

Franki discusses student-led conferences, which is something I have used in the past.  However, the conferences I had my students conduct were still very paper and print based.  It still required parents to take time to visit school at a designated time that was mostly convenient for the school, not for the parents, and all of the work of the quarter was discussed in a 20 minute conversation.  Digital portfolios or blogs can be updated regularly, viewed at the convenience of the parents, and even be interactive with comments.  Plus, the work submitted can include audio and video of the student actually working, not just the finished piece.   This seems like a win-win all around.  

Now, I need to think about how this translates into teacher education.  One of the things I’ve been thinking about this summer is a way to make my coursework more integrated throughout the semester.  I think my current assignments are too much of the “stand alone” variety that, once graded, gets forgotten. I am thinking about how I could have my students create their own learning logs throughout the semester with each of the assignments building toward the overall goals of the course.  Yep, that would be a portfolio.  

Tool #5: Parent Events

Schools have a tendency to fall into the routine of “that’s the way we’ve always done it” and parent events are no different.  In each school I’ve taught at, the Back to School night followed a similar schedule – an introduction by the principal and then the parents followed their child’s class schedule with 10 minutes in each class and a reception afterwards. Although this quick meet-and-greet gets parents into the classroom, the big question is, would they want to return?  The authors of Digital Reading provide some essential questions on page 105 for planning parent events.  Now, the authors gear it to “Considerations for Parent Outreach Events on Digital Literacy” but these questions would apply for any parent event and even teacher in-service events.  The essential questions are:

  1. What is our focus?
  2.   Who is the audience?
  3.  How will this event support students as digital readers?
  4.  What resources do we want to provide our community?
  5.  Is this event for families or is it specifically for parents or caregivers?
  6.  How does this topic relate to them as parents and to their kids?
  7.  What is the call to action?

By using these questions as a planning guide, any event would be more focused and meaningful.

Final Thoughts on the Book

As I’m finishing this book, I am also beginning an online course about using Infographics in my teaching.  Several months ago I signed up for this course, not knowing I would be reading Digital Reading this summer.  But, both the book and the course have a common theme – that it is important to re-envision our teaching and our students’ learning to balance traditional reading and writing with digital and multimedia interactions but not to lose all the great pedagogy we already know are effective practices.  We just need to be reflective and adapt!


  1. I love that! Reading is interacting with text. And, like you, I love when my readings and learning overlaps, make connections, and have common themes. Everything just seems to make more sense -- reflect and adapt as needed!

    Thank you for joining in the #cyberPD conversations again! We (meaning I) enjoy your thoughts!

  2. I am so glad to see you mention info graphics! I have been exploring some apps for this and am thinking of using them in my graduate classes. I thought my students could create one based on a research study to share with the class. It's good to know there are classes about this!

  3. Your course on infographics sounds exciting! My friend attended a session on infographics at ISTE while I attended something else and shared her notes. Working with younger children, I find it is important to teach the reading of non-fiction text features so in my mind we need to really be purposeful on teaching children to read and interpret infographics!
    Thanks for including the thoughts about audiobooks. I think I am becoming a big supporter of them myself (mostly because I'm addicted to them.) Listening skills seem to be something we need to continue to strengthen and build. While audiobooks aren't necessarily helping build decoding or fluency, they are developing vocabulary and comprehension. It is still text and thinking so what a great platform for building metacognition!

  4. Suz,
    I have a million things I'd like to say here. Sometimes I wish our conversations weren't virtual, but were live. This conversation around audio books gives us much to consider. I loved this: "In the past, I know audiobooks in schools have often been used as either a reward, a fill-in, or as remediation. But what if we (meaning I) re-thought what is means to read and really recognized that reading is interacting with text - any text – print, digital, audio, visual – and began to explore how to help our students navigate all the texts that they encounter in a day." Powerful.

    Visual literacy fascinates me. All of these digital tools make me wonder how literacy will change. It seems to have already taken on a more visual quality --- and there are so many new possibilities for reading, writing, and creating meaning. I've been working more with images, sketch notes, and infographics (Yes, I want to take your class. I hope you'll share this journey with us.). I think we have new possibilities for talking with students about our decision making process. It seems the more something relies on a visual image, the more the reader shapes its meaning. As more text is added, the author has more control over the message. Visual images certainly appeal to our emotions quickly. Interestingly, when I added sketch notes to my posts I received more feedback. Readers enjoy visual images.

    There is so much to consider as we "re-envision our teaching and our students’ learning to balance traditional reading and writing with digital and multimedia interactions."


  5. Cathy,
    One of the sessions I went to at ILA was a workshop on using primary sources with all students and part of the discussion was on using images with very young learners. There is so much from that session that I still want to revisit (and I plan to buy the book Examining the Evidence written by the presenters) but if it helps, here is the doc of notes I took:
    I think images are wonderful for teaching children to infer and use them with my gifted students as a "dive in" to get them transitioned into my room and engaged right away. The more I think about images, the more I think that teaching students to "read them" effectively is so important.