This post was published on the ASCD Inservice Blog.
Secondary school students are awesome. However, a secondary classroom full of students can be a classroom sprinkled with reluctant readers and one frustrated teacher. What’s more, the students’ reluctance can come from many issues, including reading levels, lack of interesting texts, low-level questions, and lack of interactive and collaborative opportunities for learning.
Although these may seem like overwhelming obstacles, technology can help solve them and create a classroom full of engaged and excited readers. I have implemented a system in my classroom using technology and nonfiction texts that has helped create engaged readers.
I first try to head off student reluctance because of a lack of interesting texts. There are many sources where you can find interesting texts that students will find relevant. I have several favorite resources. The first, The Learning Network, is from the New York Times and describes itself as a source that “provides daily resources for teaching and learning.” This blog is a great way to bring contemporary issues into your classroom. Another source of engaging nonfiction texts is Newsela. Newsela is a website that curates nonfiction texts into different genres and lexile levels. My last go-to resource is NPR News. NPR has so many amazing articles that are written in ways that are relevant to teenagers. Check out its topic-specific collections of stories ranging from race relations to medicine to health.
Using these online text sources really does solve a huge problem for the reluctant readers in my classroom: providing texts that are actually meaningful and interesting. As teachers, we all have our favorite copy of a Time magazine article from 15 years ago, but we have to remember that our audience might not have a context for the information in the article. This isn’t to say that history isn’t important. In fact, I think that the text sources I’ve mentioned focus on history quite frequently. But, by constantly giving my students access to contemporary texts, I am able to not only find things that have a real-life effect on them but also differentiate and personalize for their individual interests. Thankfully, with the online resources available, it is easy to find high-quality texts that are engaging and relevant to students. As adults, we don’t force ourselves to read things in which we’re not interested. As teachers, we shouldn’t force our students to either.
This, however, is not enough to head off all the reasons that students are reluctant readers. Great text doesn’t solve many other problems teachers encounter, including different learning styles, reading levels, comprehension abilities, and background knowledge gaps. The way I solve these problems is by utilizing the technology that my students have in their backpacks.
I use one main web 2.0 tool, DocentEDU, and then integrate other tools within it. DocentEDU is a web browser extension and app that allows the teacher and students to turn any online text into a complete and interactive lesson. All I do after I navigate to my relevant article (from the sources above) is click on the DocentEDU extension. Then, the program allows me to add highlights and comments immediately into the text itself. You can also add open-ended questions, multiple-choice questions, live class discussions, and sticky notes, which actually allow you to embed other tools like YouTube and slideshows, into the website itself.
Using this technology allows me to head off many of the reasons that cause my students to be reluctant readers. I can differentiate for vocabulary gaps in English language learners using the highlight and comment feature. I can add higher-level questions directly into the text, which keep students’ brains engaged and challenged. I can add multiple-choice questions and provide immediate feedback (the program auto-grades multiple choice questions) to encourage and help students while they read and process. All of this helps me differentiate for students of different language and reading abilities.
I can also use DocentEDU to directly embed audio books or audio recordings I make into the actual texts using the sticky note feature of the program. This allows English language learners and students with lower reading levels to access a text with which they would otherwise have difficulty engaging. With these tools, I’ve overcome many of the obstacles that have contributed to my students’ reluctance.
I also differentiate for students’ lack of background knowledge using DocentEDU along with other web 2.0 tools. As I mentioned, I can use the program to embed YouTube videos and even Prezi presentations, Google Presentations, or Slideshare presentations. If I have my students reading an article about the election but they don’t know what a primary is, I can simply embed a video or presentation in the article explaining that concept. I can also embed mind maps, interactive vocabulary, and numerous interactive simulations for science and social studies. Doing this heads off the reluctance my students have based on lack of background knowledge while simultaneously creating an interactive experience.
With technology integration, reading is no longer a static experience. It is instead is a dynamic one that is adapted to student interest, ability, and background knowledge. Finally, I can head off student reluctance caused by lack of collaborative activities. DocentEDU allows the teacher to directly embed live-updating, full-class discussions. Students can discuss with each other while reading to have a collaborative online experience without leaving the text itself.
To be honest, does every single one of my students jump for joy when we read our nonfiction texts on Monday? No. But, I do have students who say it is their favorite part of my class, and I know that I am differentiating for multiple learning styles and reading levels all while engaging my students in interesting and relevant texts.