Let’s Read Together: 10+ DigiTools for Growing Readers

Next year will be a full-out iPad year for me (as opposed to the BYOD work-around I’ve been employing) , so I’ve been thinking a lot about the reading tools I can use to help my middle school students develop fluency and critical thinking skills. I want to continue to develop their love of reading through sharing with other readers, and I want to reinforce their capacities for comprehension, inference, and interpretation. Until now, I’ve only had those students who can bring their own devices to school to test some of these tools for use in the classroom. Next year, I look forward to having everyone on the same digital page.

2 Apps for Tracking Reading in a Community

1. Book Retriever: One tool I’ve started using this year is Book Retriever, which provides information about reading levels and is searchable by author, title, or ISBN. I’ve been using the app on my phone to help students track the reading levels of the books they are reading as part of their independent reading logs. I have the students write the levels in the books they borrow from my classroom library, so we will eventually have a leveled set of resources.  I can definitely see the advantage of having the students themselves download the free app so that they can track their reading on their own. The “leveling up” mentality of these avid gamers makes leveling up their reading something that students can easily buy into.

2. Goodreads: The Goodreads app is available on iTunes, Android, and Play as a tool for building a community of readers online. As a social network, Goodreads allows me to put students (age 13 and older) into groups by class. Students can set reading goals and track their progress, scan their libraries, review books read, and comment on one another’s reading selections. They can give and receive recommendations, and they can even post and share their writing in this space. They can explore ebooks, lists by genre (including young adult), and attend online events.

4 Apps for Reading and Sharing

3.  Readability: A very basic application for saving text to read offline, Readability unclutters web pages from their ads and allows students to share comments via Twitter and Facebook — which might be an option through classroom or school accounts only for my young readers. The app also allows bookmarking and archiving of works read. I can see this app as being useful for those students who might have access to the Internet at school, but not at home (the case for some students from lower income households).

4. Readmill: This app allows students access to a curated selection of free ebooks, while also providing a means for students to save and view collected highlights, track their time spent reading, and to post reviews. Students can follow one another’s feeds as a way of building community around reading, as well as giving and receiving recommendations for future reading.

5. Notability: If students are already using Notability ($2.99) to organize notes into binders for their other classes, we may wish to incorporate our shared thoughts about reading into something that is already familiar to them. Notability plays well with Google Drive and Dropbox, providing a means for shared reading and writing activities. Students can annotate, highlight, bookmark, and search, as well as add audio notes that link to the typed text — good for reading and commenting aloud.

6. Subtext: The app I’m most excited to try is Subtext, which provides a platform for creating class groups, assignments, and discussions. Teachers can supplement reading selections in ebook form with web and video links. It interfaces well with Google Drive and Edmodo. Students can share or copy each others’ notes and receive private comments from the teacher. A subscription (10 students for $29.99 per year) opens up some great features, including access to common core and other materials from the teacher community, 200 leveled texts, the ability to track students’ reading progress, and a text to speech option, for those readers who can benefit from audio reinforcement for their reading.

I plan to build on insights from these resources as I integrate Subtext into my classes:

Techie Teacher’s Tricks on “Subtext App”
Subtext brings social and gaming to ebook reading
SubText: Best eBook Reader app

4 More Possibilities for Extending Reading in the Classroom

7. Overdrive Media Console: I want to employ every opportunity to encourage my students as readers. This app connects to 22,000 libraries worldwide, providing even more e-reading possibilities for my students. If my students use this app, they will have 24-7 access to every kind of reading option.

8. LibriVox: Many students can benefit from reading silently while someone else fills their ears with the sounds of words on the page being read aloud.  This resource provides access to public domain texts read aloud by volunteers — almost as good as parents at bedtime.

9. Global Read Aloud: I am eager to connect my students with other readers around the globe, and I can think of no better opportunity to do that than with the Global Read Aloud Project. Books for 2014’s GRA are being chosen in April.

10. Read with Me Fluency App: I am intrigued by this app ($2.99), which allows teachers, students, or parents to assess their own reading levels. I can see real utility for this tool in a K-8 classroom, in which teachers can assess readers individually or by class, and track their progress over the course of a year. Reading inventories are based on 24 passages (three at each grade level), or teachers can add their own. Useful features include timing and recording options.

More at the Door

While not quite ready for prime time yet with students (it still needs an exporting and sharing feature), ReadMore ($2.99) looks promising as a place for students to time and record their reading logs.  If we could just connect it to some one sticky notes or Kidblog for sharing ideas and interactions, we’d have something really nice for students to track their reading data and share their reflections. Meanwhile, I plan to have students create a document in Google Drive which they can share with me for this purpose.  No more stacks of reading logs and sticky notes to lug home for me!

If you are using apps or online tools to help students develop their reading skills, I would love to hear from you about which ones you use and how you use them. I feel as if I am only starting the process of tapping into a wealth of tools for teaching reading. Let’s collaborate and develop a comprehensive list!

my young-adult shelf:
Susan's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (young-adult shelf)

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I really appreciate these great ideas. I was wondering how you'd work on reading with a student load of 150 students. When I see the google doc, I think, wow what a great idea. I would love to do that with my science students. But then I wonder how I'd ever read 159 shared documents.
Can you share more about how you see this working with a teacher who has multiple classes of 30+students Thanks.

Susan Davis

Thanks for your comment! I certainly understand your questions about the practicality of grading. Even in an independent school, where the class sizes can be much lower, it can be overwhelming.
I find that I can grade much faster when I receive digital copies of student work. My itchy editing finger gets a rest. Perhaps one answer is to have students curate their best work (paragraphs?) and to one document or spreadsheet for each assignment, and then make it private for grading. If there's one thing I've learned, it's that you have to get used to having students write more than you can possibly grade. When I grade blogs, I make my comments private and attach them to the blog post itself, so the student gets it directly. I copy the blog post and my comment to a word document and save (for printing) in a file for each student.

Marjan Ghara

We wanted to also bring your attention to BiblioNasium, Where Kids Flex their Reading Muscles!
We are COPPA compliant, social network that supports and promotes independent reading specifically for children 13 years and younger, who can not use Goodreads.
On BiblioNasium, children catalog books and log their reading. They also share book recommendations and book reviews with, their teacher or parent approved community. There are also reading challenges and virtual rewards. And all of this is free for teachers.
We have won awards from the AASL (American Association of School Librarians) for Best Websites for Teaching & Learning, Literacy Support COOL TOOL award from EdTech Digest and Innovation in Education prize at Milken/Penn GSE EdTech competition.
We invite you and your readers to check our sit and share it with their young readers.
Marjan Ghara

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