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Friday, April 20, 2012

Socially Complex Text and The Common Core

A lot of hay is being made about the Common Core State Standards, and the biggest hubbub revolves around text complexity.

I am not sure why one anchor standard, number ten if your counting, is getting all the attention. It could be the debate around leveled books versus grade level texts. Some believe that the idea of giving an 11th grader with a 3rd grade reading level an on level book is detrimental. Others believe that limiting students based on their lexile score actually dumbs down the curriculum. This debate ignores the massive amount of scaffolding called for in the CCSS for below grade level reading.

The other debate around text complexity may swirl around some folks who call for severely limiting pre reading activities and the teaching of reading strategies. This of course flies in the face of thirty years of comprehension research. The authors of CCS toned down their initial disdain for pre-reading and the standards now read,
“Care should be taken that introducing broad themes and questions in advance of reading does not prompt overly general conversations rather than focusing reading on the specific ideas and details, drawing evidence from the text, and gleaning meaning and knowledge from it.”
Defining Text Complexity

Neither of these critical issues, however, are the root of my woes. I feel the standard, "Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently" simply ignores the digital texts and tools that will shape the literary lives of today's youth.

I know the Common Core claims to embed technology across all of the standards:

To be ready for college, workforce training, and life in a technological society,
students need the ability to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and
report on information and ideas, to conduct original research in order to answer
questions or solve problems, and to analyze and create a high volume and
extensive range of print and nonprint texts in media forms old and new. The
need to conduct research and to produce and consume media is embedded
into every aspect of today’s curriculum. In like fashion, research and media
skills and understandings are embedded throughout the Standards rather than
treated in a separate section.

Yet if you do a  close read of the standards the Internet only makes a strong appearance in the writing standards. It is treated as a publishing tool not a text for reading. I do not see digital texts and tools mentioned explicitly in a definition of text complexity.

You could of course, infer that technology is embedded into standard 10, but if you look closely at the definition for text complexity I do not see it.

Quantitative- This involves standard measures of reading difficulty. Anyone who has tried to determine the reading difficulty of websites knows that this is problematic. Navigation links are often read as one word sentences, multimodal texts are ignored, and texts are often multigenre. I know websites I assign will be well above the grade band standards called for by the CCSS but will have low reading difficulty scores.

Qualitative- This base of the triangle refers to the meaning, structure, and knowledge demands. These qualitative text factors shift constantly online; especially as students engage in "self-directed text construction."

Reader and Task- Teachers can find the most freedom in defining text complexity in this base. One could argue that online inquiry would fit in the task. Yet I find even defining the task as involving the digital text and tools does not capture the socially complex nature of texts.

Socially Complex Text

I define socially complex texts as concurrent arguments that unfold in print and social media with varying degrees of authority and amplification. Basically socially complex texts are authored by opposing focus discussing an issue with equal passion and mutual disdain.  

I would add a fourth rung to text complexity and include socially complex.

How do I find and use socially complex texts?

I would begin with Twitter. I view Twitter as an endless hallway of doors that open to countless texts. If you choose a socially charged issue you can find opposing views.

Then you can follow the links back to the articles that the different positions cite in their tweets. From those articles you can go to the comment sections. These comments are great exemplars for explaining the differences between persuasive texts and argumentation. While these comment sections are full of vitriol and persuasive techniques there is often a lack of evidence.

On the articles you can also highlight how the authors use evidence from outside sources to back up their claims. You can also note who wrote the article and the studies.

The final step is to find the primary sources and investigate the points of view and biases of the authors of the articles and the study.

If you want to step up the complexity of the text you can than have the students complete an inquiry task on both positions. Even more complex would be to have students role play from different positions.

How do I use socially complex text in the classroom?

I am assuming Twitter is blocked in most schools. This does not have to limit your use of socialy complex text.

-You could find the sources ahead of time and create a search engine using Google Custom Search.
-You could take screenshots of the twitter feeds.
-You could recreate the twitter feed using a table in word.

The bottom line: the social nature of today's digital texts and tools are the most complex text students now read. It is impossible to claim your curriculum is addressing the true nature of text complexity without using the Internet to read and write.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Teaching Phonological Awareness on the iPad

As I wrote in last week's post I believe the iPad, and tablet computing, if it is to play a part in transforming schools, will have one of its biggest impacts on early childhood education. One area ripe for touch manipulation is the building of phonological awareness.

Sharon Walpole and Mike  McKenna point out that phonological awareness is a progression from basic alphabet knowledge, letter sounds, and then using letter patterns. In their book on differentiating K-3 literacy instruction they highlight the importance of direct and explicit instruction for basic reading skills.

I thought the whiteboard apps would be great for introducing and providing direct instruction in phonological awareness. I have had success using the magnetic letters app but I have been intrigued by the idea of using the iPad as a replacement for interactive white boards...So I gave the white board app a try.

The Letters

The first problem I encountered was the lack of a typing tool in most (at least the ones I tried) of the whiteboard apps. I tried Screenchomp and educreations and I could not find either. So I had to create a series of images for individual letters, onsets, and rimes.

I have made these publicly avaialable in my dropbox account as a zip file. Currently they are limited to a few onsets and rimes for CVC words. I hope to add blends, digraphs, CVCe, and other sound combinations in the future.

The images are also not perfectly sized. Basically I typed the letters in Word and used skitch to capture a screenshot.

If you would like the images visit my public dropbox folder (If you come across letters that need to be reformatted or would like to request specific elements drop me a comment)

The Apps

I must say I was underwhelmed by the whiteboard apps I tried (Screenchomp and educreations). If anyone uses a better app please let me know. First the good. Both the apps allowed me to import images from dropbox.

However, with Screenchomp, I could only have one image on the board at a time. The ability to manipulate multiple images is either nonexistent or not intuitive. Not something I am looking for in an app.

Educreations provided a workspace much more suitable to my needs. However I could not save whiteboards for later use. Worse still, each time I tried to record the activity I got an error message and lost the slides I had just spent time working on.

I must say both of these apps are young in their developmental lifespan and I have had a few conversations with either PR folks or developers and more feature rich (and hopefully stable) versions will be released in due time.

My solution: I used educreations, but I mirrored onto my laptop with reflection and did a screencast.

The Activity

For the lesson I focused on different elements of phonemic awareness (which is a subset of phonological awareness). Basically I wanted three activities that focused on the individual sounds of phonemes in words. I tried to create an example of onset and rime awareness, sound isolation, and phoneme manipulation.

First I put letters on the board. Specifically, m, r, and r. 
-Open the whiteboard app.
-Choose dropbox.
-Select the letter.

Next I found images of a rat, a map, and a rag. I saved these to my camera roll on the ipad.
-Go to an image search engine.
-Search for the required image
-Navigate to the image source (if quality is a concern)
-Hold down on image and select save image.
-Go back to the whiteboard app
-Add an image
-Select camera roll.
-Select image.

Next I added the required rime.

From there students could go in and draw lines from an onset to a rime. They could also move ending letter sounds to their corresponding image. Finally they could switch letters and sounds to make new words.

The Example

This is a real quick mock-up I did with my son. I hope over the next few weeks to create a variety of these examples with my pre-teaching students. Note: Even though I set out to build a lesson on phonemic awareness the letters and the semantic clues (pictures) does expand the activity beyond the realms of just phonemes (sounds) and into letter and sound relationships. In fact separating out lessons focused specifically on phonemic awareness without highlighting other elements of phonological  is rare.

Either way the iPad provided a great outlet to focus on sounds, letters, and the sounds letters make.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The iPad and Early Childhood Education

I do think tablets are a game changer for education. Moreover I think the rules for early childhood education  will change the most. No longer having access tied up in a mouse or keyboard cord.

When I watch my 3 year old, or any toddler on an iPad, I am just amazed. They have access to a wealth (that is if they are lucky enough to be born in a family with enough wealth) of information and literacy practices.

The possibilities are endless. I just hope to highlight three: science ed, music ed, and writing.

Science Education

In pre-school my son is currently studying the solar system. It just happens to be one of the topics he latched on to with a passion. Its one of what James Gee so aptly titled an "island of knoweldge" for my son.

John has recently become enamored with the iLearn Solar Systems app  on the ipad. There is information about each planet and satellite. John skips over these and goes right to the quizzes. Over time he has tried enough that he starts to remember some of the esoteric facts. All this to hear an animated alien make the most annoying sound in the Milky way.

Music Ed

When John and I were traveling on the train he wrote his first song using Garage Band. We discussed how all music is patterns. He created a song with a violin, cello, guitars. The pattern he chose was more alphabetical than musical. John then added some drums. I lost the song he made, and boy do those multitrack songs eat up memory.

Luckily today though he didn't want to sing a song. Just wanted to JAM.


In early childhood writing instruction usually revolves around three basic components. Letter formation,  inventive writing through drawing, and oral language. I use an app called magnetic alphabet for John to practice his oral storytelling. This is turn will help to improve not only his writing but also his reading compehension (I also use the app to practice onsets and rimes and phoneme manipulation but that is for another post). In the meantime enjoy the tale of the buses versus the garbage truck.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Using Picture Books on the iPad

Picture Books

I have always been an advocate more picture books in the classroom. As a sixth grade teacher I relied on picture books as a cornerstone of my curriculum.

For example I'd use picture books, such as The Wretched Stone to explicitly teach and model new comprehension strategies. I would model and have students make inferences as we tried to unravel what happened to the crew.

 I would also use picture books to build background knowledge for novels we read set in our turbulent past to allow students to build background knowledge, well  more empathy than knowledge, on subjects such as genocide, racism, and slavery. In my sixth grade class we read Sounder every year. My students struggled with the tribulations of sharecropping and Jim Crow so I would use picture books about slavery, civil rights and Jim Crow. I would then create my own picture books using images of sharecroppers found online.

Picture Books on the iPad

I thought the iPad would be a perfect tool for sharing picture books. So when I was prepping my lesson on using picture books I hopped right on to the itunes store and into the children's section.

I was dismayed.

Most of the titles I found in the store were garabage of the supermarket variety. Most of the titles were connected to children's TV shows. None of the classic picture books have been made available or atleast were easy to find. I searched by titles and author.

 I am sure this has to do with publishers, authors, and illustrators trying to figure out digital royalties, but it saddened me to know that for many of today's readers the classics are not available.

Luckily I was able to purchase The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco. It is a story of a Jewish family that has passed down a keepsake for generations.

Using the iPad for picture books was a natural fit. I was able to zoom in on pictures when we wanted to analyze illustrations and zoom in on words as we read.

The story itself was fantastic for my pre-service teachers who really witnessed the power of using picture books to learn about other cultures compared to a text book.

I have a quick clip of some of the activities we completed as a class.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Add Hyperlinks to Keynote on the iPad

Add Charts to Keynote on the iPad

Creating Screencasts on the iPad

I have been spending some wonderful time with teachers doing professional development associated with using iPads. One of my biggest challenges is the lack of screencasting. I now have a solution. Reflection.

Reflection ($15.00) allows you to mirror your ipad or iphone to your computer.

Creating Tutorials

Projecting from iPad

The other benefit of Reflection is untethered projection. This will allow you to use apps like Screenchomp, Showme, or Educreations as an interactive whiteboard. It is not as robust as an Apple TV but the price of an iPad and the fifteeen dollars for Reflection you can have an IWB for thousands less than the major brands.