When my daughter was younger, she would often plop on the floor next to our golden retriever, Mia, and read to her. I would have suspected that Mia was just being a good sport, but her additional voluntary presence during our nightly bedtime stories seemed to suggest that she actually enjoyed read alouds. Each evening, my husband or I would set ourselves up in the beanbag chair on the floor by our daughter’s bed, and Mia and our bulldog, Clancy, would lie down on either side of us, muzzles in their paws and eyes wide open, as we made our way through Anne of Green Gables, Harry Potter, and the Chronicles of Narnia. (It should be noted that, at the time, Clancy’s greatest joy was devouring books in a very literal way, so it was quite the feat to get him to calm down and actually listen to one being read.)
Pet Partners, an organization that helps to train therapy animals and match volunteers with organizations, recognizes the magic of reading to your pet. In response to the pandemic, which may have placed more responsibility on parents to encourage their children to read at home, Pet Partners has begun a new program called, “We Are All Ears.” With a reading log, printable bookmarks, and a bingo card students who may find reading to be a chore can make it more fun by involving their pet snake, hamster, bird, dog, cat, etc… The program is free, but you can also purchase a t-shirt if you like.
I’ve seen lots of pictures on social media of people thankful for their pets during the quarantine. Now you can give back to your pets while practicing literacy at the same time.
There are many tools out there for students who struggle with reading. There were several I gathered at TCEA 2019 this year, and I have been meaning to share a curated list. Here is a quick rundown (a big thanks to Leslie Fisher, who demonstrated these in her multiple sessions):
Immersive Reader – Microsoft offers this free suite of reading aids through OneNote or directly through it’s Microsoft Edge browser. If you install the extension on your browser, you can change the background, break words into syllables, search for certain parts of speech, focus on a line, access a picture dictionary, translate, and read text out loud. Thanks to Leslie Fisher for demonstrating all of these features!
Rewordify – You can change complex text to simpler language by pasting it into the box on this page. Even better, there are several free learning activities that you can customize and print that offer matching, quizzes, etc…
SMMRY – Get a summary of the text you paste into the box.
Google Docs Voice Typing – Just go to the Tools in Google Docs to access this feature and make sure you give access to the microphone.
Closed Captioning in Google Slides – Did you know that you can offer closed captioning as you present a Slides presentation? Click here to get the instructions.
Microsoft Translator – Download this app to your phone or just use it in your browser to start a conversation with anyone anywhere. Among its other features, you can use multiple microphones for a conversation, which can be translated into multiple languages at the same time! You can also use the app to take pictures of text (typed, not handwritten) and translate it.
I hope at least one or two of these tools is new and helpful to you!
I don’t take as much advantage of Newsela as I should. This service, which provides articles about current events that can be adjusted to reading levels, just keeps getting better and better. As with many edtech tools these days, there are different features for different price points. I currently have the free version, which allows me to add students to a dashboard and to assign particular articles to read. Students can also take quizzes after they read.
Newsela offers free summer reading clubs. Students can choose which set of articles they would like to receive for the summer from a menu of 12 different topics that range from Animals to the Strange but True News Club. Once they sign up (instructions are given at this link), they will receive 10 articles on that subject that they can read and take quizzes on throughout the summer.
We are always trying to get our students to read more non-fiction, and this seems to be a great way to keep them interested and informed over the break!
Just to clarify, “It’s a Zoo Out There,” was a presentation I saw at TCEA this year; I’m not making any kind of commentary on the people attending the conference 😉 In fact, I was so blown away by the incredible sessions I was able to see over the course of my three days in Austin that I tweeted something about how TCEA reaffirms my belief that there are so many unbelievably passionate, gifted teachers in our world working to improve education each and every day.
“It’s a Zoo Out There,” was a TCEA presentation by Dina Estes and Kerry Woods from Lewisville ISD in Texas. They teach a multiage K/1 class, and have done this particular project based learning unit for a few years. The students research animals, draw pictures, and use digital tools to record information to present. Then, they create a virtual zoo in the hallway to display what they have learned. Zoo visitors can scan QR codes to watch and listen to the students present. The zoo looks different each year because these awesome teachers allow the students to plan it. One group wanted to group the animals by habitats, and other groups had their own ideas. No matter what, the display is open to the rest of the school to visit – giving the students a genuine audience for their hard work.
Anyone who balks at having students this age do research, participate in project based learning, or make use of technology needs to look at this presentation. The teachers provided tools, including a timeline, that show how all of these things can be done successfully.
Thanks to teachers like these, hopefully even more educators will be inspired to try this project!
Even though I’ve already mentioned Hexagonal Learning a couple of other times on this blog, it definitely bears repeating. If you want to listen to your students having rich conversations about a topic and to discover how well they understand something they have read or that you have taught, this activity will deliver. And, although I can’t make any guarantees, I have always seen complete engagement with Hexagonal Learning – even from introverts and students who have attention difficulties.
You can find details in last year’s post (linked above). I just completed another round of Hexagonal Learning for Tuck Everlasting with a new class, and was once again blown away by the intensity of the discussions and deliberate care that went into each group’s connections. My 5th graders, who were last year’s Tuck Everlasting class, also just completed the same assignment with hexagons from The Giver.