Tag Archives: reading

Classroom Libraries in the Digital Age

by Tom Nieman

classroom library

Classroom library | image courtesy Lizmarie_AK via Flickr (CC BY)

Last year, in an effort as a consultant to help a school with huge reading deficits among its students, I suggested that they look closely at Dick Allington’s What Really Matters for Struggling Readers, which recommends that students spend 300 minutes a week just reading. Like so much other advice in this world, it was ignored.

After all, to reach that amount of reading would require a huge effort and redirection of what schools normally do. They had other plans already slotted in place. Besides, to reach 300 minutes each week, here was the kind of commitment that was needed:

  • 30 minutes each day of “sustained silent reading” (SSR) in reading/ELA (for a total of 150 minutes a week)
  • one day each week reading trade books in either social studies or science to complement the core instruction (for a total of 50 minutes)
  • 20 minutes each day after school as homework or as an after-school program (for a total of another 100 minutes)

To many educators, this quantity of reading seems unachievable. It is also out of sync with today’s digital classroom, where students are spending time making movies, mastering Google Docs or Edmodo, or playing “educational” apps on their tablets. (And, no, I don’t think reading on websites and apps is the same as reading Charlotte’s Web or Old Yeller.)

Why Is a Classroom Library Needed?

Years ago, schools worked to build classroom libraries sufficient to instill a love of reading in their students. In “The Importance of the Classroom Library,” Susan Neuman cites the research that supports the building of classroom libraries—namely, the time spent reading increased 60 percent and the number of literacy-related activities doubled. According to different authorities, the recommended size of classroom libraries was around 300 different titles in each classroom, or about 10 titles per student. The wide selection and high literary value of these titles were important to their effectiveness. Students like to choose what they read, and they like to read good stuff (at least by their standards).

Yet the classroom library in today’s tablet-laden schools is still largely paper. Digital classroom libraries have proven hard—read “extremely difficult and expensive”—to come by. Why? Because creative works such as children’s books are controlled by authors who hold the copyright, and acquiring the rights to large libraries of titles has become very difficult. Digital ebooks cost anywhere from $9.50 (Lois Lowry) to $12 (David Macaulay) per copy—about comparable, in other words, to what it cost to buy a paperback book.

What Are the Options for Digital Reading?

Many of the new education startups offer a digital reading experience, but few of them do so with literature. For example, Newsela and Achieve3000 license news stories and rewrite them to different readability levels. ThinkCerca offers lessons woven around provocative topics, but the reading isn’t exactly literary.

Scientific Learning Reading Assistant boasts more than 300 titles, but I do not believe any of them are what teachers would call “authentic” literature. Likewise with Learning A-Z, with more than 1,000 leveled titles, the books are of good quality but definitely not authentic trade books like the ones that constitute most classroom libraries.

The book distributors—Follett, Book Source, Perma-Bound—who once supplied many of the classroom libraries with paperbacks, have yet to provide compelling ebook solutions, and the ones they have are pricey. Much the same can be said for the traditional educational publishers, who license rights from trade books for their anthologies but do not own the titles outright.

From my perspective, one good option is MyOn, a digital program available from Capstone, that now claims more than 6,000 predominantly nonfiction titles and seems reasonably priced. Another option is OverDrive, an app that allows borrowing of digital books from the local library, just like with paper books, except popular titles Skylark and Island of the Blue Dolphins are usually checked out (by the vociferous reading types like my nephew who brings books to the college football games we “watch” together in the fall).

Other options exist but seemed to me very difficult to use—for example, Scholastic’s Storia or Subtext, where teachers need to bring their own literature. One could get worn out simply trying all of the new digital solutions out there. I tried last year at the International Reading Association conference, but found few real solutions currently exist. “Free” books—the ones in public domain—are readily available, yet these titles are appropriate mostly for older readers age 12 and up.

But Is Having Class Libraries Really that Important?

The short answer is “yes.” Students need authentic literature to read, and teachers know that. They are not giving up their multiple paper copies of Number the Stars, Holes, or Homeless Bird. Paperback libraries still exist in classrooms around the country because an adequate digital substitute has yet to appear. What is important to understand is the educational value of these libraries. The multitude of books in them generates interest in and a love of reading; they create conversations about books among students who share titles they have read; they serve the all-important function of building students’ vocabularies and reading fluency; and they extend the school day by being portable and accessible in and out of class.

With so much emphasis now on innovation, flipped and 1-to-1 classrooms, it is easy to forget that the majority of student reading occurs from paper books in classroom libraries. The 300-minutes-a-week will not come from apps or Google Docs that teachers post for their students to read. The real reading of students has, and probably still will be for a while, in the paperback libraries they sit next to every day and cart around back and forth from school in their backpacks.

Tom bioTom Nieman is president of Green Light Professional Development and Nieman Inc., a privately held company that specializes in developing curriculum materials for educational publishers.

5 Highlights from the IRA 2014 Conference in New Orleans

guest post by Trisha Beck DeOre

The French Quarter, New Orleans, during the 2014 IRA conference | photo courtesy Trisha Beck DeOre

The French Quarter, New Orleans, during the 2014 IRA conference | photo courtesy Trisha Beck DeOre

This past weekend, the International Reading Association held its 59th annual conference in New Orleans. The Crescent City proved an exciting backdrop and offered a metaphor for the richness, diversity, and resilience of students, as well as the increasingly complex world they must learn to “read,” or navigate today. The conference goals are always twofold: to help teachers, administrators, and publishers improve reading achievement and to promote a lifelong love of reading.

1. Today’s Children Are Reading Less—Even for Fun.

Based on recent studies, IRA’s goals are more important than ever. This week, Common Sense Media published a report on the state of children, teens, and reading. The data indicates that reading comprehension is stagnant among teens. In addition, “several studies show a substantial drop in how often children and youth read for fun.”

View from a Canal Street hotel during this week’s IRA conference | photo courtesy Trisha Beck DeOre

View from a Canal Street hotel during the conference | photo courtesy Trisha Beck DeOre

With the declines in reading and the politicization of education reform, it was refreshing to see speakers at IRA focusing on the basics. We need to better understand why and how we read, and how to make the reading process transparent and engaging.

2. Attitudes Surrounding Common Core Are Increasingly Complex.

Common Core was again a dominant theme at IRA. The standards have come under heavy scrutiny this year, and education leaders were cognizant of the criticism, as well as the wide gaps in professional development for CCSS among ELA teachers. The 2014 conference sessions revealed a nuanced response to CCSS and a focus on practical teaching advice.

3. Close Reading Gains Support—Even at the Youngest Grades.

photo courtesy Trisha Beck DeOre

photo courtesy Trisha Beck DeOre

A discussion of reading and CCSS almost inevitably includes close reading, although not everyone is comfortable teaching it or agrees that it’s developmentally appropriate, particularly at K–2. “How many lessons can you really have on Make Way for Ducklings?” a salesperson asked as we discussed Pearson’s new Common Core program, ReadyGEN.

Education expert and literacy advocate Pam Allyn is a strong proponent of close reading, even for K–2. At her IRA session, “The Act and Art of Close Reading,” she noted that we should teach close reading because it is natural, effective, and gets at why and how good books affect us. Allyn argued that young children are naturally drawn to reread favorite books. They are trying to understand the world, and with each subsequent reading, they become better readers as they build stamina and engage more deeply with the text. For K–2 students, Allyn urged teachers to use photos, picture books, and short texts, and to encourage students to support their conclusions with details from the words they read (or hear) and the pictures they see. Even students not yet able to read can participate.

4. New Research on Literacy Teaching Reveals Important Gaps.

In the roundtable session, “Research into Practice: What’s New in Literacy Teaching?” educational experts Peter Afflerbach and Elfrieda “Freddy” Hiebert (TextProject), among others, offered new insights into literacy education. Afflerbach noted that, unlike adults, “students cannot opt out of what they’re not good at,” so motivation, particularly in assessment, is critical. Conversely, students will actively engage with highly challenging texts and tasks if they find the work interesting.

While discussing text complexity, Hiebert noted that readability is a for-profit business in the United States, and it is an incomplete measure of text complexity. Readability measures, such as Lexile, focus mainly on syntax, leaving out other indicators, including vocabulary demands, figurative language, text length, and text features. Readability measures are particularly problematic at lower levels, and scores should not be accepted uncritically.

5. Great Children’s Literature Is Still the Key Motivator.

As the discourse surrounding CCSS grows more politicized, some states are threatening to abandon Common Core or rebrand the standards for their states. In response, even the biggest educational publishers on the exhibit floor this year seemed cautious and subdued. The slick tech booths were quieter. Yet the trade book booths were buzzing as excited teachers clutched copies of Brian Floca’s Locomotive or Peter Sís’s The Pilot and the Little Prince and crowded into long, winding lines, eager to meet the authors who still make it all worthwhile.

Trisha Beck DeOre is a senior editor and curriculum developer at Nieman Inc.

Make a Couplet with Tech and Poetry

by Mark Hansen

April is National Poetry Month. Join the Academy of American Poets in this celebration, and couple it with technology in the classroom.

Make a Poet Laureate WebQuest or Prezi

National Poetry Month lesson plan

Image courtesy of the Academy of American Poets

Have students do a WebQuest on a poet to find what social and cultural forces inform the poet’s themes and how the use of language makes the poet’s work compelling. Consider starting a template in Google Docs to get students started. Or, have students create a Prezi using the map or timeline template, to survey the background of a poet. Have students include quotes from the poet’s work in each frame that relate to places or dates in the poet’s life.

As students research, direct them to the Poetry Foundation, which has a treasure trove of digital resources. (You can also find lesson plans there.) See the Foundation’s Learning Lab, and try its free Poetry app—it begins with an engaging “spin” of poems and allows you to search by author or by matching thematic areas. (Both iOS and Android versions are available.)

Consider focusing the students’ research on a poet laureate.

National Poet Laureate: Our national poet laureate is Natasha Tretheway. Explore Tretheway’s work through the multimedia resources available online through the Tretheway Web Guide at the Library of Congress.

State Poets Laureate: Each state (as well as the District the Columbia) has a poet laureate. Follow the links from the Library of Congress page on Current State Poets Laureate.

Children’s Poet Laureate: The Poetry Foundation has established a National Children’s Poet Laureate, who is currently Kenn Nesbitt.

Generate Electronic Poetry

How random is random? Try an electronic poetry generator that combines texts, such as The Electronic Poetry Kit, and analyze the results as a class. There are a few text manipulation games offered here that you can play to engage students in poetry.

Make an E-Commonplace Book

Have students use a note-taking tool such Evernote or Notability to keep a “commonplace book” of poetry quotes that they find striking. For each quote, have students describe what the quote means and how the poet creates the meaning. (Commonplace books date back to the Renaissance.)

Have a Slam!

Organize a poetry slam in the classroom. Here’s a lesson plan from Web English Teacher with background and a link to an engaging primer on writing a slam poem from Ted Ed. Have a group of students film the event using the native camera on an iPad, and produce the video using iMovie.

Read Independently

If you have access to an iPad cart or a library database such as MyOn allow students time to choose a poem and read it to join in the celebration of poetry month. Ask students to provide a memorable image from a poem they read as an exit ticket.

Aligning to the Common Core

Many Reading Literature standards in the Common Core specifically address poetry—and standards addressing literary “text” may be satisfied with coverage of poetry. Below are relevant literature standards with a shorthand description of each standard and the grade that poetry coverage begins for it.

RL.1 Read Closely, Make Inferences, and Use Text Evidence (On a “text,” starting in kindergarten)
RL.2 Determine Theme and Summarize (Starting in grade 4)
RL.4 Interpret Words and Phrases and Analyze Rhythm (Starting in grade 1)
RL.5 Analyze Structure (Starting in kindergarten)
RL.6 Analyze Point of View and Speaker (Starting in grade 6 with “speaker”)
RL.7 Integrate Diverse Formats and Media (Starting in grade 5)
RL.9 Compare Genres Treating the Same Theme (Starting in grade 6)
RL.10 Read Independently (Starting in kindergarten)

Keep poetry alive in the digital age—during April and always! Leave a reply to continue this discussion; we’ll be thinking more about the intersection of poetry and edtech throughout the month.

Mark HansenMark Hansen is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development.

3 Must-Haves for Interactive Ebooks

by Luz Chavez

Interactive ebooks on iPad

Image courtesy of adamr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Trying to practice fluency in a bustling hallway with kids whose ages have yet to reach double digits takes skill. And an iPad. The iPad mini is my hook, a way to keep the kids engaged and give them something to look forward to in our next session.

Choosing the iPad was easy. The kids were already intrigued with my iPhone and Macbook, two tools I used to time their read-alouds and calculate and track their CWPM. What wasn’t easy was finding the right apps worth gobbling a slice of my 16 gigs. As a fluency tutor in a dual language school, I need a variety of ebooks in Spanish and English (preferably both) for second and third graders. The App store has hundreds of them. So to guide me through the haystack, I needed to come up with some strict criteria:

3 Must-Haves for Any Interactive Ebook

1. Storytelling trumps interactivity.

If you wouldn’t read the story in print form, don’t waste time downloading the app. Students need to be engaged because they are reading a compelling story, not poking their way through a shnazzy app.

2. Interactivity has a purpose.

Interactivity either moves the story forward or plays a subtle role in piquing readers’ curiosity without distracting them. That’s a fine line to walk. Think of a good interactive reading app as a digital pop-up book. Creative pop-ups blend in with the story and enhance readers’ comprehension of the story.

3. Students can choose to read aloud or listen to the story.

Having this choice allows you to use the app with a wider range of readers. For example, while more fluent readers can jump in and answer comprehension questions, less fluent readers can hear the story several times before attempting to read it on their own. Watch out for apps that use automated voices; choppy robotic voices are exactly what we don’t want kids to model! Also, find apps with built-in read alouds that highlight the words as they’re read aloud. Having the option to record is a feature kids love!


My Favorite Interactive Ebooks

The pickier you are about sticking to these criteria, the more delighted you’ll be when you find some real gems. Check out a few of mine:

1. Who Stole the Moon? This award-winning app includes 17 languages, a must-have for any teacher with a diverse EL population. The engaging story, vibrant illustrations, and subtle intuitive interactivity make this ebook my all-time fave.

2. The Adventures of Peter Pan This ebook includes 7 languages and has a built-in movie that can be turned on and off, words that are highlighted as they’re read aloud, pop-up images that illustrate vocabulary and characters, and even a font tool that lets you select the font most comfortable for the reader. The developer Chocolapps has a variety of books in a similar format available in multiple languages.

3. The Dog and His Reflection This is another award-winning app based on a popular Aesop fable and includes interactivity that enhances the story. It’s only available in English, but this lovely app is still high on my list. Anything by developer Mindshapes is a winner.

Check out these ebooks and let me know what you think! Share some of your faves as well!

Luz Chavez is a consultant for Green Light Professional Development.