Category Archives: Reading

Support for Diverse Readers and Speakers

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!

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Critical Thinking Bookmarks

I found this post from Melissa on Upper Elementary Snapshots.  She describes the Depth and Complexity icons developed by Sandra Kaplan, and includes a link to a free download for Critical Thinking Bookmarks.  The packet includes Melissa’s tips for how to use the bookmarks in class.  This is a nice resource for students in 3rd grade and up who are reading novels for literature circles or in other contexts.

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Newsela Summer Reading Club

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!

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image from The Blue Diamond Gallery

It’s a Zoo Out There – #TCEA17

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!

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image from: Pixabay 

Formative Assessment with Hexagonal Learning

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.

Of course, Hexagonal Learning can be used in ways other than analyzing literature.  Russel Tarr has a great post on how he used this idea in history class.  Tarr also gives a link to a post by John Mitchell on Visual Hexagons, which is an interesting twist I would like to try!

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One group’s interpretation of how to connect the themes, symbols, and characters from Tuck Everlasting

Thing Explainer

Randall Munroe was first brought to my attention when a parent directed to me to his fun website, xkcd.com.  One of my favorite Randall Munroe comics is “Up Goer Five,” a diagram of the Saturn V explained in simple language.  The best part, in my opinion, is at the bottom where it says, “This end should point toward the ground if you want to go to space.  If it starts pointing toward space, you are having a bad problem and you will not go to space today.”  I feel like this is the perfect metaphor for some of my lessons 😉

To my delight, I noticed on one of my “Lists That Can’t Be Missed,” that the author of The Kid Should See This, has recommended Munroe’s new book, Thing Explainer, as a great gift.  I’m one of those geeky teachers who asks for things for her classroom as gifts, and my husband kindly indulged me by putting it under the tree.

The book’s Table of Contents is called, “Things in this Book by Page.” Munroe is kind enough to put the more formal names of each explained thing underneath the titles, which you may find more necessary in some cases than others.  For example, “Boat that goes under the sea,” is a submarine.

Of course.  What do you think “The pieces everything is made of,” refers to?

Periodic table.  Maybe you got that one, but I have a feeling that, “Shape checker” won’t come so easily to you.

You’ll have to buy the book to find the answer to that one 😉

I see a lot of uses for this book in the classroom.  Have students pick a page and do research to find the actual names for each part on the diagram, for example.  Or, don’t show them a picture at first, and have them try to guess what it is as you read the descriptions. Another idea is to, once the students see some examples, have them create their own “Thing Explainer” diagram for something that is not in the book.  (Challenge them to use only the words on Munroe’s list of the “Ten Hundred Words People Use the Most.”  They can check sentences with his simplewriter tool online.)

Included in the book is a nice poster of a “Sky Toucher” which I intend to laminate for my classroom.  If you’re interested in other xkcd merchandise, here is a link to the store (which includes a poster of the Up Goer Five).

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Buy Thing Explainer here!

Newsela

I think that my brain naturally looks for trends.  Whether it’s on social media, in Flipboard magazine articles, or at education conferences, if I’ve heard about something more than a few times, my brain starts alerting me that I should try something new, already!

Newsela is one of those tools that kept turning up in educational discussions, and I finally decided to take the time to learn more about it.

One of the skills that needs some extra work at our school is summarizing non-fiction texts.  Finding relevant non-fiction at an appropriate reading level for students can be difficult.  This is where Newsela can be a huge help.

As a teacher, you can get a free account on Newsela, and set up an account with classes to which you can assign news articles for them to read.  If you are an elementary teacher, you can choose the option for the elementary version of Newsela which filters out articles that might contain “mature content.”

Once you have a class, you can have your students sign up for Newsela using your class code.  If your students have Google accounts, they can sign in using their Google credentials. (There is also a Chrome app for Newsela that you can add so students can access it more quickly.)

A teacher can find an article on Newsela, and then assign it to the class.  You can search for it by grade level and/or reading standard, or just type in a topic and see what you get.  Newsela also offers articles in Spanish.

After you select an article, you will see an option to assign it to a class at the top of the page.  When the students of that class sign in, they will find that article has been assigned, and be able to access it.

Newsela allows students to read the articles at comfortable lexile levels.  It also offers a writing activity for each article, as well as a quiz.

Another great feature of Newsela is its Text Sets.  These are collections of several articles that support many well-known pieces of literature.  For example, I found text sets for two books I read with my classes, Tuck Everlasting and The Giver.  You can also create your own text sets by using a button at the top of each article.

Newsela Text Sets

The free version of Newsela is limited, as you can’t track your students’ progress on the quizzes, whether they’ve viewed the articles, or annotations they’ve made.  Newsela Pro offers all of these options.  You can view the comparisons of the free and pro versions here. It does not list the price of the Pro version, as you must request a quote from them.  You can get a free trial for 30 days to try it out for yourself.

Newsela Pro