Photo Credit: mortsan via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: mortsan via Compfight cc

During presentations the comment:

“So you think we should do away with all physical books?”

comes up from time to time. Do I?

When it comes to non-fiction books I believe at the Middle School and High School level we need to start thinking hard about where we spend our money. On non-fiction books that are outdated before they’re checked out, or take that same money, buy devices, show students how to find quality non-fiction up-to-date information on the Internet within their reading level? I think the latter is a better choice.

Now when it comes to pleasure reading….I don’t care what form the material comes in. Books are great…there is a physical connection that some people have with books and so physical books are great…fill your library up with books kids want to read for fun.

But here’s the thing…no matter where you are in your own transition into a digital reading world we all read more digitally. Emails, Facebook, News, this blog post (unless you printed it off). Just sit back and reflect for a moment how much of your day is reading digital text. Even if you like to read before bed you probably read more online during the day.

Of course this all focused on our generation. A generation that in our childhood and schooling years grew up with book based media. The strategies we were taught, how we read, what we read all goes back to those early years.

What happens however when your early years include digital text as much as, if not more than, print text? What happens when you can look not too far into the future and take a pretty educated guess that the majority of your reading life will be done digitally. I’m not saying it’s right…I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m just saying that’s the way we’re trending.

So if we’re really concerned about students and preparing them for their future we need to start teaching them the skills of reading digital based text.

When Pennington’s seventh graders took the Smarter Balanced Assessment in English Language Arts on new Chromebooks last April, Pennington didn’t teach them how to use the test’s annotation feature. Students would have been able to highlight reading passages and take notes on the text to help them answer test questions. He thought it was too complicated for them to learn how to use well in time for the test. ~ Mindshift

Photo Credit: Kathy Cassidy via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Kathy Cassidy via Compfight cc

This quote is taken out of context a bit as the article is really good and pro digital reading skills. What worries me is that we are testing students using digital means but we’re not teaching them the skills of reading digitally. If we’re going to use testing systems like the Smarter Balanced Assessment that’s fine….but allow teachers and students access to the platform all year long so that they can teach the skill of digital highlighting and note taking so they can be successful.

“Wolf is optimistic that we can learn to navigate online reading just as deeply as we once did print—if we go about it with the necessary thoughtfulness. In a new study, the introduction of an interactive annotation component helped improve comprehension and reading strategy use in a group of fifth graders. It turns out that they could read deeply. They just had to be taught how.” ~ Mindshift

Yes…we can read deeply online….many of us have adapted to doing it already. But if we want to have students read deeply online we can’t use the same skills of reading print media as we do reading digital media. The skills change, you can look up definitions on the fly, you can copy and paste, you can click on hyperlinks, you can make notes, highlight passages. There are a ton of things that are built into most online reading platforms that are never taught to students. Or we try to teach them the same way as we did in a print world and that doesn’t work.

Of course educators need to know these new skills for reading online as well. There’s not being taught to new teachers, and very little PD is being offered to teachers to learn how to teach digital reading skills…but don’t worry we’ll continue to test students reading ability on a digital platform.

Being a Better Online Reader ~ Worth your time

A teacher brought this contest ran by the New York Times to my attention the other day as they were starting to prepare for teaching summer school. This is the third time the New York Times has ran the contest where they ask students to submit 350 word responses to articles they read on the site or in the newspaper. 

Each week they will choose a winner who’s winning response will get posted on the website as well as shared on Twitter and Facebook. A great way to promote student work through the NYT.

Also not a bad way for parents to get their students involved in reading and writing over the summer. Reading and writing for a purpose around a contest. 

But I think it could be more….what if…..

CC: By Mike Licht

What if students had a blog where they could write as much as they wanted and linked back to the articles they were writing about? From what I can tell the New York Times doesn’t show/allow trackback links which kind of stinks as then students would automatically be linked to the piece they were writing about. Of course the way around this is to simply leave a comment on the article or piece of media you are writing about. Just like I’ll do on the link above in a comment. What if your child or students where responding to articles and wrote 1000 word responses or 1500 word responses or 200 words? What if we connected those responses to the articles they were writing about, reflecting about and learning from? What if some other readers of those articles followed the links to the students’ blogs and continued to read their reflections there? What if someone left a comment, or tweeted, or shared on Facebook one of the students’ responses to an article? What if we taught students how to build a network, how to use hyperlinks, and how to write for the audience that reads the New York Times. Of course students could still enter the 350 word contest and in writing blog posts probably make those 350 words more precise giving them an even better chance as winning the contest one week to the next. Once students realize they’re writing is linked to the New York Times and they start getting readers, then we start talking about improving the writing, working on technique, voice, grammer, etc. Because now there’s a purpose to be a better writer….you have readers. 

What if during class time you pulled up a blog post written by a student and read it together as a class? What if you had a discussion about the writing; what you liked? What could be improved? What does the author (seeing they are sitting there in your class) thinks about the piece? What if you looked for the strongest sentence, or the weakest sentence and gave the author feedback on how to improve their writing the next time? What if you have a couple different students respond to the same article and their responses were different? What learning could happen from this teachable moment?

What if a blog posts gets tweeted or shared on Facebook? Can you track how many people saw that link? Or how many potential readers a student might have had? Can you teach about the spread of information within social-networks and then apply that to where status updates go when you post them on Facebook and how quickly a readership can multiply?

It’s strange all the learning that could come from a simple online contest that incorporates social-networking and sharing.

Just a thought…. 


As I started talking about in my last post, we’re in the process of setting every high school student up with a blog to use as an e-portfolio. To help you wrap your head around why we’re using blogs as our container for this, I suggest downloading and reading the Free PDF I produced at the end of last year.

Once you wrap your head around the idea that these blogs are just a container that we can link into and out of then we can build our portfolio taking advantage of all the Web 2.0 world has to offer.

You’ll be able to find everything I’m talking about on my school example blog here. I would suggest opening it in a new window so you can see how we integrated all the parts together making the blog the central location of content/knowledge storage. Our “one stop shop”.

Independent Reading Tracker:
First the teachers wanted to have a way for students to track what they were reading and what genres they were finding themselves pulled towards. On top of that they wanted to be able to encourage students to read genres they might not always read, and of course they wanted it in one place that was simple to use and see.

Using our schools Google Apps account. The English Department, our high school librarian, and myself came up with a template that satisfied everyone’s need for information. I then took that template and created a Google Spreadsheet using it. I shared that template with the students at our school so that they could make a copy of it.

Once each student had their own copy we shared that copy with their English teacher and then we made the document public, copied the link, and linked it to our blogs. On the example blog you can click on the IR Tracker page at the top to be taken to the template. Student blogs work the same way. Now readers to the blog can see what each student has been reading, and the teachers can see in their Google Docs account what every student has been reading. Picture if you will these 9th graders blogs and Google Spreadsheet four years from now when they are seniors. Think about how much information they will have, colleges will have, and teachers will have about how much they are reading, what their interests might be, etc. Powerful stuff!

Finding and Reviewing Books:
There are some great Web 2.0 sites out there that teachers can use to help students find, connect, and share ideas about the books they’re reading. LibraryThing, Shelfari, and Goodreads are the three that we considered. What I was looking for in reviewing the three sites was which one was visually appealing to students (design matters) which one allowed student to connect within the site, and more importantly outside of the site.

We decided to go with Goodreads for three reasons:

  1. Simple and quick to use
  2. Allows you to “friend” other members and get updates on what they are reading
  3. Allows you to connect to Facebook and instantly blog your recommendations

Those are the main reasons we choose to go with goodreads. You’ll have to make a choice which one is best for your school/students.

Now, when you head over to the example blog you’ll see how this all comes together. A student will go to goodreads, find the book they are reading or have read and add it to their shelf. They will then rate the book and write a recommendation to others about it. As soon as they click “save” on their recommendation, it is sent to their blog as a blog post with all the information about the book attached including a picture of the cover of the book (yes…I used my own book as an example….cheap I know! 🙂 ).

Next the student heads to their blog and quickly puts the new blog post into the category English-IR Reviews (Independent Reading Reviews). Next they copy the URL to that review on their blog, log into their Google Docs account and paste it in their IR Tracking document under blog post review and then fill in the rest of the information.

Yes…that sounds like a lot, but these are high school students and this is on their independent time meaning homework, so we’re not taking class time for much of this (although we’re hoping to set some time aside each month to talk about it in class….completing the circle). Also, teacher’s time of keeping track of student’s reading will hopefully be minimized by having all of the student docs in their account. They can open a doc, look what a student has been reading, click on the link to go read the review if they choose, and move on.

So the blog becomes the central gathering place. Connecting the goodreads to the blog on one end and the Google Doc to the blog on the other. In this way the blog becomes the container that just holds the links and information together.

So far the kids seem to be down with it, and the teachers are excited as well. I’m excited because it will also force teachers to meet with me to learn to organize their Google Docs, and spend some time understanding how the whole set up runs (there’s always a method to my madness 😉 ).

It’s important to find a system that works for everyone, and I think we have a pretty good system here that is sustainable using our school programs. Goodreads is the only site out of our control and that’s a risk will take. If for some reason they go away we’re not out much. The blog posts will stay, the tracking is still there and we move on to another book site.

Many people will think I’m crazy but a key factor for me was also the ability to send reviews and information to Facebook. We know this is where kids spend their social time, and if we want reading to be ‘cool’ we need it to be out there where other kids are seeing what their friends are reading and that’s it’s ‘cool’ to share that with others…..it’s a motivator of sorts and an important one at that in my opinion.

(Scribefire, my blogging platform finally updated to work with Firefox Beta 4 so now I’m back!)

I had the most incredible experience today. First of all I’m loving working with the high school kids. They just ‘get it’. I don’t have to explain things at a very deep level and we can just fly through the technology stuff and get down to business.

And when I mean fly….I mean…..at the speed of a click.

Today in a 45 minute session with eighteen 9th graders we:

  • Logged into or created a new blog
  • Had a refresher on how to blog and all the blog options
  • Logged into Google Docs for the first time
  • Searched for a Google Doc, made our copy, shared it with the classroom teacher, and linked it to our blog as a page
  • Created an account at goodreads.com, talked quickly about how the site works (Facebook for books) and then connected our goodreads.com account to our blog so that when we write a review of a book on goodreads.com it automatically posts that to our blog as a blog post.
  • Discussed why we want every high school student to have a blog and talked about the “Social You” of Facebook and the “Professional You” of the blog/efolio they are creating here.

Now….even for me that’s a lot of stuff to do, and a lot of clicks to get it all done in. I did two classes of 18 students each in 45 minutes. In fact, I could not have talked or clicked any faster. Not one kid could not keep up, in fact I had two students who followed along, completed everything while still reading a book. Are you kidding me? Follow all those directions, and read a book? Yes…this generation has just grown up clicking!


The best part was in 45 minutes we got the students ready to start tracking their independent reading using all the above mentioned tools (see next post for the layout). Now that they are all set up, we can get down to business of reading, reflecting, and tracking what and how much reading we’re doing.

One thing is for sure. When you work with a powerful team like Tara and Kim you have conversations that end up turning into a lot of blog posts. 🙂

I have a sticky note I keep on my desk with ideas. I have an idea book that I keep in my backpack, and I have thoughts in my head that keep me awake at night. All ideas and thoughts that poor Tara and Kim have to listen to whether they want to or not. 😉

At a team meeting, with the above mentioned, a couple weeks ago we got on the topic of books. Now I’m sure I’m going to get some push back on this one, but I’m hoping it helps me to frame what I’m thinking (and it might be wrong) a little clearer…so please….feel free to push back.

Up until recently books are what we have known. They were the holders of knowledge, they were the all mighty, the all knowing. If you wanted to know something you went to a book. If you wanted to drift off into a fantasy world, you read a book. If you wanted to heart felt story…you could find it in a book. It a book didn’t have the answer you went to a divine power.

Today….we just go to Google

Books are great. I love them on planes, on the beach and by the pool. Yes, I think books have a niche in today’s world. I just think it’s smaller then what we believe it to be.

Simple questions:

When was the last time you read a book?

When was the last time you read a web page?

When was the last time you read a letter addressed to you in the mail? (A real hand written letter)

When was the last time you read an e-mail?

When was the last time you looked up a phone number in the phone book?

When was the last time you looked up a recipe in a recipe book?

When was the last time you used an encyclopedia?

When was the last time you went to a book before the web for non-fiction/relevant information?

When was the last time you used an IM client (chat)?

Now, take these questions and go ask them to your class, to a kid on the street, or the kid sitting next to you. Are the answers the same? Different? Why?

In a world of niche markets I believe that books have a place, but I think we need to take a step back and find where that place is. I’ve been asking these same questions to myself the past couple of weeks. Then I walk into classrooms to see students reading books for hours on end.

Now, I have nothing against this, just that I have a feeling that the skill of reading a book is practiced much more than say the skill of reading a chat or reading a web page. Yet we spend more time in society today reading chats, web pages and e-mails than we do books. Now I don’t have any research to support this (please add links if you find some) but I have read the Long Tail (audiobook version) and understand that newspaper subscriptions have been in a steady decline. That public libraries are seeing less and less book check-outs and more people coming to use the computers. I witnessed this particular one this summer in a 4 hour visit to the local public library because they had free WiFi. Of the 20 people in the library only one (a seven year old) was browsing the books. Everyone else was there for the free WiFi or to use the library computers.

I do believe that books are still important to our society today, although I do see them evolving with devices like the Kindle. But until that becomes mainstream paper is still the way to go. There is something in holding a paper book, the way it bends, smells, and reads on a sandy beach that just can’t be replaced with my Palm.

At the same time I see a growing disconnect between what and how we are teaching students to read and where we spend our time reading. Are our classrooms changing with the times? Should we be allowing forcing students to learn to read a web-page, an e-mail, a chat? Should we force them like we force them to sit and read a book for 30 minutes of SSR a day to do the same with digital print?

Are we doing this in our classrooms?

Is this a priority?

Are we doing our students a disservice?

Is all of this over stated because students will learn these skills in spite of us and our education system?

OK…your turn!

(I have to link to Mark Ahlness’ SSR 2.0 post every time I talk about this. Cause over a year later, I’m still thinking about this!)

Off to a great year at ISB. I find myself starting our fourth week of school and still standing…which is a good thing.

The elementary school is focusing on two content areas this year. Reading and Science.

What does reading look like in the year 2008-2009?

As I’ve been training students on the new laptops these first couple of weeks I ask them a set of questions that to most probably seem out of context with a focus on reading.

How many of you have your own cell phones? (At least 3 in every class 3-5 grade)
How many of you have your own laptop? (At least 3 in every class)
How many of you have access to the Internet? (100%)
How many of you have a Nintendo Wii? (By far the leader in the gaming console category)
Play station 3?
Play station 2?
Nintendo Cube?
XBox 360?

By this time most teachers are looking at me like I’m speaking another language. Then it gets really interesting.

How many of you play Club Penguin? (About half of every class 2-5)
How many of you play Webkinz? (About 30%)

The students then get all fired up and start shouting out different websites and games that they love to visit.

What does this have to do with reading?


More to come……

David Jakes took the recent talk around School 2.0 and did a nice mash-up on the techlearning blog.

So here is my attempt at characterizing School 2.0, driven by ideas from David, Will, Clarence and Jeff:

Unlearning. Relearning. The desire and climate to do both, by all members of the school community in a constant and never-ending self-adjustment dance. Fluid. Moving in a purposeful and positive direction, and with a velocity-never standing still, always in perpetual beta, adapting, with information, conversation, ideas, creativity and contagious energy being delivered via digital tools and networks, all driving the learning experience forward to prepare kids for their world.

Now to me and probably most in the blogosphere this sounds pretty cool. But there is a lot in here that I think the average teacher would look at and go “Uh?”

How do we learn to be adaptable? How do we adapt education to ‘fit’ (for lack of a better word) into a new model?

Mark Ahlness had a great reflective post on Friday on how he is adapting his classroom to meet the needs of his students, his student’s reading habits, and at the same time expanding their knowledge.

I’d been thinking lately how my own reading habits had changed in the last couple of years, with the huge increase in blogs, online news, and so on. When was the last time I actually sat down and read a book? The last time I flew back east to see my family. Yikes! I used to feel guilty about this until I took a closer look at the net of my reading. I read so MUCH more now than I ever used to. But it’s a different kind of reading.

Teachers tease me a lot and ask, “When was the last time you read a book?” I, like Mark, usually have to ponder, and like Mark find it’s usually a time when I’m disconnected. They usually look at me and laugh and tell me I need to read more books. Why? Before blogging and RSS I hardly read anything outside of a couple of educational magazines. A book? I never read them before the web why would I read them now? Long time readers to this blog know I struggle with reading (and writing) but the Read/Write web engages me in the process…and this post is a perfect example. I read, left comments, and now I’m responding. If this was a book, I couldn’t do that…and maybe that’s why I never was a big reader in the first place. I could never stay focused on a book. I’ve tried a ton to read books, make it a chapter never to return. I find my thoughts wondering or I’ll read a page and then have to reread it because I didn’t comprehend a thing on it. The Read/Write web has changed my reading habits. To the point that I actually read…and crave it.

Admittedly I’ve been in a bad mode the past couple of days with the upcoming Tech Fest next week and trying to get everything ready for it. I’ve been stressed and it wasn’t until today at lunch when I walked down to a little cafe that had wireless Internet and told myself that I wasn’t going to ‘work’ but instead take time for myself. So, I opened up my Netvibes page and started reading the some 400 posts I’m back dated on now. I was instantly relaxed.

As I read I was relaxed…that’s not me. I hate reading, can’t stand it…and now it relaxes me. What happened to me? I like to read? I like to write? My teacher’s won’t believe it!

Mark goes on to tell about how he has adapted his Silent Reading time to incorporate this new media:

Silent reading time was one of the only times of the day when I could sit down at my desk, check my email, read through my Bloglines. Feeling guilty, and somehow feeling it was the right thing to do, I’ve turned them loose on blogs – to read. Now this is very different from our blogging time in class. Many wanted to know if they could comment on blogs, even work on their own posts. Nope, I said, this is reading time. OK, fine.

That’s what this is about. Giving people choices…students in this case. Does it really matter if it’s a book or a blog, or a magazine?

So the next time some says to me “When was the last time you read a book?”

I’ll respond with, “When was the last time you read a blog?”

[tags]reading, adapting, school2.0[/tags]

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