Exploring Multimedia Literacy Skills with Animals of the Amazon Rainforest

As a school librarian, I know that it makes sense to teach multimedia literacy skills collaboratively with the classroom teacher rather than in isolation. So I have been very lucky to collaborate with my colleague, Lisa Ross, 3rd-grade classroom teacher. … Continue reading

Libraries in the Internet Age

Thank you Common Craft for creating a video about the roles of libraries and librarians in the Internet age.

This video licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).

Liquid Learning: Using Subtext as a Digital Learning Enhancement

I was very fortunate to spend some valuable reading time every week during our third quarter with seven 5th grade students. Their language arts teacher, Andrea Hernandez, wanted to provide these students with a more personalized approach to close reading instruction. All seven students are excellent readers and we decided to challenge them with an unabridged classic, Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne. Since these students are in our pilot 1:1 iPad classroom and because I’ve been looking for a reason to give it a try, I decided to immerse our little group in a digital reading experience of this classic novel via Subtext for iPad app.

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Subtext is a product of Renaissance Learning company (yes, of Accelerated Reader software fame), designed as a “collaborative ereading experience for K12 classrooms.” I chose to use the free, basic version of the app, which provided us with enough functionality. Alternatively, for a fee, users can upgrade to the premium features, offering access to CCSS-aligned assignments, text-to-speech option, and access to leveled nonfiction and informational texts. The only premium feature I would have liked to try out is the ability to track student progress. But since my group consisted of only seven students, it probably would not have made a difference. The basic version provided us with enough adequate functionality to upgrade our novel study to a new form of a social reading experience.

The app offers access to a large collection of ebooks, some for a fee and some are free. Since our classic is available in the public domain, we all downloaded a free version of Around the World in 80 Days directly into the app. I then created a “5th Grade Reading” group, inviting all seven members to join. Instructors have the ability to “enable student restrictions”, effectively preventing students from navigating the Web and sharing notes. I am not sure what the point of such restrictions is in an ereading environment, so opted to not turn them on.

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Mostly students read outside of our limited class time. To ensure students were reading more deeply and to assess understanding, I built discussion questions, multiple choice assessments, and polls directly into the text. These features allowed me to view and assess student responses prior to our next meeting in order to then focus on those parts of the text that needed clarification. As the teacher, I had the option to hide all responses until students submitted their answers.

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Another value-added feature of Subtext is the ability to embed links to websites, images, or videos. To help build background knowledge, I linked to information about the author, the Suez canal, a map of the British colonies and another of colonial India, an image of a cow catcher mounted to the front of the old American locomotives, and more. Students also were able to embed links into their comments.

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While reading, students highlighted words or entire passages and added notes. They then had the option to share the notes with the group. Simply tabbing a word pulled up a built-in dictionary, complete with audio pronunciation of the word and links to search both the Google search engine as well as Wikipedia.

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The last feature we used is Subtext’s build-in link to Google Drive. Since our school uses Google Apps for Education, all our students have Gmail accounts and access to Google Drive. We shared a Google Doc of our schedule and this build-in link allowed us seamless access.

Would I use Subtext again? Yes! Using the app as a tool allowed students a different way of connecting with our text. Reading in groups is a social activity where students are learning with their peers. But using this digital tool elevated our small-group reading to a more inclusionary/participatory level by giving even those students who are usually not very vocal an equal voice. The lesson also demonstrates the power of liquid learning–most of the work was done outside of class. Also, the ability to build-in questions and to embed links facilitated active reading–although some students complained that the “the discussion questions…got in the way when there was a good part.” Most importantly, liquid resources like Subtext enable teachers to transcend the classroom and even school boundaries. Spending time together with a good book can include students across the room or literally across the world!

Authentic Learning: Creating I SPY Books in the Library

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Teacher Learning: 2nd Graders LOVE I SPY Books

It all began one Friday morning when I found my 2nd grade students sitting comfortably together in the library looking at I SPY and Where’s Waldo books. I thought: I must do something with those kids and those books! Turns out that Jean Marzollo, author of the I SPY series has a fantastic website. There she posted this challenge: A free 15- to 30-minute Skype visit with any class that creates “their own original beautiful I SPY pictures and write their own fantastic I SPY riddles.” I presented the idea to the kids and they were ready to take on this challenge!

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Student Learning: Media Literacy

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We spent our first lesson looking more closely at a number of different I SPY books, paying special attention to the image collages (choice of items displayed, arrangement of items, photographer perspective) and noting the beat and rhyme of the riddles.

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To help students begin thinking about their individual pages for our class I SPY book, I created an organizer. It outlines the steps to create a page in the book as well as provides a space for writing the riddle. I wanted them to just brainstorm some ideas. Several kids knew exactly what items they wanted in their collages and drafted their ideas on the back of the paper. Other kids already practiced writing riddles.

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Student Learning: Visual Literacy

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Our next lessons were all about creating the image collages. We began by talking about what to look for when creating a collage using some examples I had prepared: not crowding the picture to make sure we can identify all items, taking the photo from a bird’s eye view, leaving a two-finger-spaces border, making sure to take a straight not crooked picture. Students used poster board as background. They were free to choose any items they found in the library for their collages. However, the big hit were the two bins of toys our 2nd grade teaching assistant, DeeAnn Wulbern, supplied on loan from her two sons.

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Student Learning: Problem Solving

Some students worked in pairs, others preferred to create a collage on their own. We actually had two “gos” at this: our first attempt taught us that the white poster board worked better as background than any of the other colors. Also, its larger size provided more space for more creative creations. While I had mentioned to students that they should think of the riddles while creating their collages, none really did and were stuck when DeeAnn and I asked which items in their collages rhymed.

Finally, when the students returned the following week, we emphasized that in each collage there needed to be at least two rhyming items. Several students quickly figured out how to best approach this issue by first finding the “just right” item and then searching for something else that rhymes with it. Only then do you look for other things to add to the collage. Watch our student Talia explain the process of creating an image collage.

Once the collages were created, students took pictures using the iPad. It was not always easy holding the iPad perfectly straight and still, or even be up high enough to get the full bird’s eye view. Multiple pictures were taken and the best selected.

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Student Learning: Rhythm and Rhyme

I SPY riddles are written in a 4-beats per line rhythm and an aabb rhyme format. Our students wrote 2-line riddles. To better grasp the rhythm, we listened to some examples of student-created I SPY raps on Jean Marzollo’s website. We also clapped with the beat using some example riddles. If you’d like more information on her riddles, see Jean Marzollo’s brief video on “How to Write an I Spy Riddle”. The students then got to work using the following template:

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Student Learning: Digital Literacy

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Each student created an I SPY page using the BookCreator app for iPad. They imported their images into the app and then typed their riddles, choosing legible fonts and using the dictionaries to ensure correct grammar and spelling–because, remember, Jean Marzollo is looking for quality work!

Teacher Learning: A Project Worth Repeating

The students and their teachers LOVED this hands-on project. It highlights the four Cs of modern learning: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creation. But best of all, it is an extremely engaging project. Now we are ready to visit with Jean Marzollo via Skype for her feedback on our great product. Take a look!

Download on the iBooks store: