Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It's All About Plasticity!

The Reading Ready Brain (2009) mainly focused on how to help struggling readers. The correlation was made between poor reader’s drop-out rate and behavior problems. Which is not really any new information but the article focused on a technology program called Fast ForWord, a reading intervention software package from Scientific Learning, that allowed students of any age to build cognitive skills.

Again this article focused on the brain’s plasticity. The brain has the capability to learn at any age, so that if students miss out in elementary school there is still time to learn at the secondary level because they brain continues to learn throughout our entire lives.

This software is based on 30 years of neuroscience research and focused on building the following cognitive skills: memory, attention, processing rate and sequencing. These skills not only help when reading but learning as well. This software developed “computer-based brain fitness exercises” (52) which not only improved their reading but their motivation, attitude and behavior changed as they had success in reading.

Reflection: The two cognitive skills that I was interested in were attention and processing rate. These are two areas that have been identified in many articles so far. This software helped students to focus on information and tasks and ignore distractions (51) to gain better attention. It also addressed processing rate, “the rate at which a student is able to accurately perceive and manipulate information” (51) which is also critical in digital reading. It looks like they have had a lot of success with this program because it does focus on the basic cognitive skills. We know that in order to learn and remember that we need to build on prior knowledge. If students do not have that prior knowledge or skills we are only building frustration when it comes to reading. Again, it all about plasticity!


Kolonay, D. & Kelly-Garris, K. (2009) The reading ready brain. Principal Leadership 48-53.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Anime and WebKinz to evaluate reading?

At first look this article appears to be the perfect match to what I am researching! Only time will tell! This article premise is that if we want to know how to teach digital literacy we first need to understand the difference print and digital text. Authors, Rowsell & Burke (2009) will focus on the multimodal design and the reading path. Their goal is getting best practices for incorporating digital reading into the curriculum. An interesting point is that online reading is student/learner centered. It also describe as other resources have, of the advantages of the collaborative learning approach.

In the literature review, Mary McNabb (2006), from Literacy Learning in Networked Classrooms, describes three curriculum benefits of the Internet:
1) designing Internet-based activities to help meet the diverse of students by engaging them through personal interests, 2) customizing teaching-learning cycles in ways that motivate students, and 3) fostering self-directed learning (107)
These are very 21st century focused advantages of using Internet in the classroom with a focus on motivation and learner centered learning.

The information in this article is based on two case studies one a student who is struggling reader and the other who is very proficient at reading digital text. It is important first to define a couple of key terms that are the focus on this study. First, they define “multimodal” as “…the use of different modes of communication to create an effect” like the actions/gestures in an anime are as meaningful as the visuals and dialogues. “The point is the modes work in concert with one another.” (107) Next, the term “reading path”, which talks about how the reader looks at the text—where are they drawn to first, then where to next and finally where does the reader end up at (107). In printed text the reader can move around on the text but there are no real deviations from the printed page but digitally reading is “constructed” as the reader moves through the site. They also use the term metalanguage and multiliteracies—that we are not just dealing with text anymore but readers have visual modes and audio modes to deal with as well.
This study was conducted while the students were working on their computer. They used “stimulated recall” (108) which meant the students would talk aloud as they moved through websites. The researcher taped the student responses, had a follow-up interview and also interviewed participating teachers.

Peter is a 14 year old special education student who shows a high interest and motivation in digital worlds but who is a loner and is struggling in reading at school. He shared a very in depth knowledge of an anime characters, Yu-Gi-Oh cards and Lego Star Wars that he has gained from the internet. The other student is 13 year old, Patty, who is a straight A student and is very involved at school and in her spare time likes to take care of Webkinz virtual pets.

To analyze their reading they used a Multimodal Framework that included looking at four steps: discourse, design, production and distribution, which allow these authors to analyze and understand multimodal text. (110)
The researchers looked at two websites of the student’s choice. Peter’s website is “Naruto which carries a storyline and can be viewed as a televisual online text or a videogame.” Patty’s is Webkinz “which is an interactive site where users find an online identity and community through their stuffed animal avatars.” (110) Their analysis of Peter was that he “can decode, and he understands plot, setting, characterization. He builds on prior knowledge to understand other, related texts and uses design principles to understand the plot. Peter is a capable reader in this setting, yet he continues to underachieve in his school reading assignments. Patty excelled in site where she can play games, win Kinzcash, design, advertise, build, shop and care for virtual pets. Patty showed frequently how she used prior knowledge and new knowledge to construct her virtual world. (115) The reading that these students did on these websites made reading more real to them, thus engagement. Patty was able to take the knowledge and decision making skills used at her site to apply to real world (probably adult level) situations.

It was concluded that digital reading is very complex—decoding may be the same for both but educators need to “understand the design inherent in digital texts, one comes closer to bridging the gap between the digital realm of literacy and the traditional.” (117)

Reflection: Okay so this wasn’t the perfect article but it does draw my awareness that students have to take in a lot more than just text when they read online. These websites, although they were games and an interactive site, show me the huge impact that students are not just reading anymore they are doing constructing of new knowledge on many levels. I don’t think this is happening to the same degree when reading text. Another important point I take away from this article is that the level of understanding and motivation is very high using digital text.

Rowsell, J. & Burke, A. (2009). Reading by design: two case studies of digital reading practices. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(2) 108-118.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Can We Teach How to Read Digitally?

This is a qualitative research study (Walsh, Asha & Sprainger, 2007) focused on looking at the differences between reading print text and digital text. The study examines how students read and navigate digital text and when students are taught a “metalanguage of visual grammar” (40) does it allow them to discuss and understand digital text better? They cite it is important to study this because there may need to be new theory and pedagogy developed for students to read and fully understand digital text.

Literature review: Looked at the advantages of digital text: The use of visuals, graphics, images, sound assisted students in skills of “prediction, comprehension, and vocabulary knowledge” (42) which greatly enhance reading skills. Disadvantages is that students were then always looking for that assistance from digital text and they were distracted by games, animations etc. What was agreed on is that studies need to be specific, in order to develop strategies for reading digital text.
Study: This would not be able to be generalized due to the small number in this study, however important information was gathered on the way students navigate and read on screen! Also they established methodology for making observations of students who were digitally reading.

Teachers from 5 different schools paired up with another teacher and made observations of primary grade students, in small groups, reading digital text. This study had 3 stages. Stage 1 observed and videotaped students as they read and navigated a WebQuest (all non-fiction). Stage 2: Teachers were taught what was called, “metalanguage of visual grammar” which explained terms and vocabulary like “use of color, angles, perspective framing, salience, vectors, reading pathway…” (43). Stage 3: Was then teaching this “visual grammar” to the test group of students and then record observations again.

Observations were recorded in four different areas which are Luke and Freebody’s four reading practices (43). They were looking at: Coding Practice, Semantic Practice, Pragmatic Practice and Critical Practice. Coding looked at navigation of websites—did they know how to decode information on search engines, website home pages—generally moving from page to page. Semantic Practice looked at “drawing on background knowledge, different levels of understanding and making intertextual links.” (43) The Pragmatic Practice was looking at the social purpose of digital text. Critical Practice was using the visual grammar when talking about the digital text.

Results: That digital text is highly motivating and students used basic techniques for navigating but “their reading responses and understanding seemed to be at a literal, often superficial, level with little evidence of inferring, evaluating or critical thinking.” (51) The conclusion ended with there is much study that needs to be done in regards to transfer on knowledge from print to digital.

Reflection: The terms that they were using to record observations were new to me so I spent some time looking up information to see what kind of information was being collected. Although they taught this visual grammar to students and some students were able to use some of these same terms--there was not much difference in the actual depth of reading and understanding digitally. Since they were primary grade students perhaps they are not ready for some of the more abstract ideas and terms since they still operate under a fairly concrete idea scheme.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Okay, I Confess!

I am confessing now that I am printing all articles and research studies that are over 2 or 3 pages long!

So why do I do that? Is it because I am a “digital immigrant” and am not used to reading on screen? Perhaps it is because I have a short attention span and need to walk away and come back? What I do know is that I like to highlight main points and quotes that I want to use. Sometimes I like to write reflections in the margins of the paper. I tend to have visual/kinesthetic learning style. I learn best by doing and making connections then I am definitely a visual over an auditory learner. I feel highlighting helps me to read deeper and come away with a better understanding/comprehension. Okay, so I can highlight digital text too! But for me it is just not the same—I like the physical part of highlighting.

I guess I can never go all the way green with this obsession of having to print all lengthy articles! So, a question I am asking myself is---even if I teach great strategies for reading digital text---will there be some students who will need to print? What about students with learning disabilities? What will be the best strategies for them?

I know that technology rocks my world! I could not live without email, texting, having immediate information available to 24/7 but yet I still wonder how much I am really absorbing. I chuckled when I read the article, Is Google Making Us Stupid? Just after speed dial came out, I put my kids and others who I call frequently in speed dial. Then when I lost my phone (just misplaced it—really) I had no idea what anyone’s phone number was—I had not written them anywhere so I was really at a loss---I kept thinking how stupid is that? I can remember old phone numbers from 40 years ago, yet I couldn’t reach my kids because I put them in speed dial. So knowing that I can always look something up online keep me from deep understanding? I think that might be part of the issue!

I am so enjoying researching this topic! 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

This article focuses on what the internet is doing to our brains—not with children but in well educated adults. Nicholas Carr (2009) states, “The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.” He cites that he reads differently online but because it makes his job infinitely easier he uses it on a regular basis. “And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.” He states he can concentrate on long pieces of writing because he thinks his mind is looking for quick bits of information coming at you in a steady stream. A doctor who is on the Faculty at Michigan Medical School agrees with Carr and says he now “skims” and often “bounces” to another site after skimming or after reading 3 or 4 paragraphs.

Carr feels that there are new forms of reading emerging like “power browsing” but even more significant we are developing new ways to think. It is this author contention that the device we use for the written language shapes reading as well. Written, typed and now word processing reprograms our reading circuits. “Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how exactly, it’s reprogramming us.”(5)

When he examines what is different it the “efficiency” and “immediacy”, the hyperlinks, blinking ads, animations, and the list goes on and on. So now the brain reacts differently and deep reading is not occurring.

The New York Times has reported that on pages 2 and 3 there are now article abstracts—so that readers don’t have to read the whole article but will still have the news they need to know (“and won’t have to flip the pages”). So this phenomenon of “Net Reading” is spreading back into written text.

Google has declared its mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. Google seems to be telling us that our brains is like an outdate computer and we better get a “faster processor and a bigger hard drive.” This world of the Net is not geared to go at a leisurely pace—it is to go at the speed of light and we better learn to adapt or else we will be left behind.
So what will be lost is the contemplation—our ability to connect, to have original thoughts is gone and with it the ability to deep think. Carr contemplates our brains will someday be artificial intelligence?

Reflection: After recently weeding non-fiction books I had a parent volunteer ask me why I was getting rid of some of these perfectly good books (albeit they were a little old)—my reply was—students will not pick up these books. They will not like to see data/facts hidden in chapters. They want short chunky articles, chapters that have a lot of subheadings and not long in length. So I think that the “Net” now influences the print industry and dictates what kinds of books that students will read. From this article, it is what well educated adults want as well. So what strategies will I need to start focusing on? The immediacy, how to focus and stay on track when reading, how to develop skills to deep read—perhaps some reflection or summary activities that will allow student to think and assimilate what they have read.

Carr, N. (2008). Is Google making us stupid: what the internet is doing to our brains.” The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Monday, July 19, 2010

Can We Get By Without Being Digital Literate?

Certainly students today could graduate from high school without being digital literate so how can we make digital literacy a priority for students and for school districts. In a 2002 study by Gupta and Ndahi they state, “About 22% of adults currently entering the labor market possess the technology skills that are required for 60% of new jobs.” (1) The focus of this article was on training the trainer to bring skill base up-to-date.

This was not a lengthy article but I was looking for statistics on jobs and technology. The statistic caught my eye. I highly suspect since 2002 there are many more advances in technology and the numbers might look really different again today if they were to do their study again. Also I would think we would begin to see some “Digital Natives” arriving to the workforce. The “natives” coming into the workforce may change how companies use technology.

I remember once hearing that we are preparing students in school today for jobs that don’t even exist yet! In any case employers are looking for employees that not only can use software but that they are digital literate—they know how to find information, they know what to do with it and how to creative, market, respond, analyze and evaluate it.

So I suppose you could get by without being digital literate but expect that you will be beat out of jobs that have qualified digital literate applicants.

Gupta, A. & Ndahi, H. (2002). Meeting the digital literacy needs of a growing workforce. The Reading Matrix, 2(1). Retrieved from

Digital Sources Destroying Our Minds?

The authors, Wolf and Barzillai (2009) in their article, “The Importance of Deep Reading,” define deep reading as, “the array of sophisticated processes that propel comprehension and that include inferential and deductive reasoning, analogical skills, critical analysis, reflection and insight.” They talk about an “expert reader” can do all of these processes in milliseconds but a student it takes many years to develop these skills. So does today’s society of instant gratification, “immediacy”, “information loading” and a process that basis is speed allow as the authors say enough time for “deliberation in both reading and thinking.”

So the real question is--will digital reading change how we read and think? There are certainly huge advantages of digital information—the world is at our fingertips. I can’t remember who said there is a limited number of things that you need to learn today but one thing you must learn is how to find the information you need to know. The disadvantages? That is what I am about to explore and what strategies need to be put in place so that we are engaging our digital readers in “deep reading”.

I had to laugh when the article parallels this dilemma with the Ancient Greeks. The Greeks were distraught over the written word. “Socrates cautioned society against learning to read.” (2009, Wolf p. 33) He has worried that the written word would change memory and how we internalize information. There is a lot written about higher level thinking in today’s education literature. How do students make deep connections—by analysis, synthesizing, debating, evaluating etc. so there just might be something to Socrates’ caution! LOL

Next, these authors explored how the brain works when we read. It is truly miraculous that we can read at all when you look at all the processes and all the parts of the brain that used when we read. This article explores that our mind was not born to read (like we see, speak, move and think) it has to be developed. The brain has to create “circuits and connections” which means that our brain can go beyond itself (which is really mind blowing thought). The key to reading is “plasticity, which allows the brain to form new connections among structures underlying vision, hearing, cognition, and language.” (p. 34)
All different parts of the brain are used for different parts of reading like phonemes and visual letter symbols in the temporal and parietal regions. But what is really crazy is that for Chinese reading the characters are stored in the occipital lobe. So that our brains can adapt to the type of reading that we are doing. Now let’s add on the comprehension piece of reading—this is a process of building knowledge—“readers must engage in an active construction of meaning, in which they grapple with the text and apply earlier knowledge as they question, analyze, and probe.”(34) So now readers are building knowledge and going beyond the thoughts of the words that they are reading. This is called the Proustian Principle. The authors said, “This requires a great amount of attention, effort, motivation, active imagination, and time—time for the reader and time for the brain, a few hundred milliseconds…” (34) So when you get to this deep level of reading all four lobes of the brain have become involved.

“What we read and how deeply we read shape both the brain and the thinker.”(35) They go on to say that any reading circuit can occur, even some that only use part of the brain’s potential.

This article provided a look at many possible gains for students using digital resources:
• Digital has the potential to help students analyze, locate, critically
evaluate many data rich sites
• Allows students to respond and get feedback from others
• Great potential for communication, collaboration and creating
• Allows for discovery learning
• Very accessible
• Potential for enhancing comprehension, vocabulary and background information
• Since digital literacy is constantly changing a digital learner will be a
good problem solver and a lifelong learner

What do we stand to lose?
• We can be creating multitaskers, with quick attention shifts, and who always
look for immediacy
• Deep reflection
• Original thinking

Where is the transition problem?
• Young students are no skilled in keyword searches, locating appropriate
resources and evaluating what they find which as Wolf and Barzillai state
that there will now be a higher need for skills, “decision making, attention
monitoring and executive skills.”
• The internet is often “uncensored, unedited, attention diverting with no
clear boundaries, standards and organization (36).
• We will need to teach them skills in how to self manage and monitor, to
navigate websites and databases
• Other skills needed will be how to evaluate credibility, validity, bias and
overall quality of the resource
• For some students the sheer number of sites or hyperlinks will overwhelm
them and distract them

When can we start teaching these transition skills? Wolf and Barzillai state that it can’t really happen until they are out of the concrete thinking stage. In order to evaluate information learners need to be establishing the difference between what is true/fact and what is not. So when we can begin to hit these skills hard would be middle school age learners.

They also allude to the fact that what causes not to “deep read” might also help us to develop these skills:
• Web Quests
• Online reading tutors
• Strategy prompts
• Models
• Think alouds
• Feedback
• Thinking Readers---scaffold understanding

My Reflection: That perhaps the same brain circuits are needed for reading but perhaps my strategies will need to be around evaluation, attention monitoring, keyword searching, dealing with the wealth of information etc. Interesting that this can not start until they move out of the concrete operational stage of development.

Wolf, M. and Barzillai, M. (2009). The importance of deep reading. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

My Experience

What I know after working with 7th and 8th graders for 10 years?• They want immediate gratification.
• If the online resource doesn’t answer their question in the first few
paragraphs they simply go to another article rather than read the entire
• They don’t skim the entire article—read headings
• They don’t evaluate validity or reliability
• They are easily distracted by advertising, animations, links
• They can’t tell the difference between personal, professional
• Wikipedia is always acceptable
• Difficult time with keyword searching, using Boolean operators
• They are not skilled at narrowing search
• They are not attentive to strategies that computer helps them with-----
• Many learners have never read thru an entire article
• Can’t tell you what the advantages of a database or internet search
• Many copy and paste
• Rote process—find the answer and write it down—no thinking
• Staff not skilled in asking the essential questions that make the students
collect data to support their answer
• They don’t apply the same skills in reading print text to digital text

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Digital Literacy Project

Summer Individual Investigation Program Statement
Summer 2010
Karen J. Reiber
Dr. Tim Rasinski
My Project: Digital Literacy
Background: I have spent the last 9 years working on information literacy skills (in the media center) with 7th and 8th graders in the middle school where I work and I have observed that students obtain information very differently from digital resources than print resources. Teachers teach students how to read from text books and other print sources but I have not observed anyone actually teaching strategies for reading from the internet or databases. What I have found 7th and 8th graders, although digital natives, lack in these literacy skills.
Goal: To formulate literacy strategies that I can teach staff and students to become more efficient and effective digital users.
I will review do a literature review, summarize at least 10 articles and post all sources that were reviewed.
I will keep a reflection journal (perhaps a blog) to post my thoughts and keep track of hours spent for this independent study.
I will come up with some teaching strategies for students and staff to use to increase their digital literacy skills.

Respectfully submitted,
Karen J. Reiber