Digital Tools for the Intermediate ELA Classroom

One of my dear friends recently sent me a text message. Her son, entering grade six, failed to meet the benchmark on his state reading test, and is completely uninterested in reading. However, he is completely interested in technology, and “can you help?”

What a tough place to be in, as a parent. Your child has come out of the current public school system without a) a love of reading and b) the ability to achieve a proficient status on a state standardized test. Now, I could go into the many, many flaws in our assessment system, but let’s remove that from the equation. What are we doing to kill the love of reading in our classrooms?

The Book Whisperer, Donalyn Miller, has the same concerns. What she suggests is offering the students the choice in what to read. Good reading skills are not built with test prep periods and practice tests. They are built with reading, pure and simple. And the most important thing to note is that not all students enjoy the same type of reading material.

But how can you provide many different types of materials at a cost that you can afford in your middle school classroom? Or, if you are a parent, how can you provide reading material that will excite your child?

OverDrive-AppFor fiction, I highly recommend the Overdrive app. To see my full post, click here. In a nutshell, Overdrive allows you to borrow digital e-books (and audiobooks!) from your local or county library. All you need is a library card. There are no late fees. No hidden charges. There may still be waiting lists for popular books, but you will be notified and can grab your book when it is convenient for YOU.

storiaI have not tried Storia, but it is an e-book app from Scholastic. Since I am such a huge fan of Scholastic, I may install it on my devices and play with it. I think I can use my bonus points to purchase some titles. Can our students share their thoughts about their books too?

6056bd7b0a1d42163f5dec0c014f2febThere are loads of other sources for nonfiction reading. My favorite this year was Newsela. Each day, Newsela publishes five new current event stories. Every student wins as the lexile level of each story can be adjusted! Some of my students were reading on a fourth grade level, while others could handle high school wording. Newsela leveled the playing field. Many of the articles include quizzes, and a premium version ($$$) will allow you to track progress of individual students, individual classes, and individual common core anchors. The premium version will also allow you to create open-ended questions. The program worked very well for me, but the premium price is a bit steep. A customized quote is recommended.

1269245I’ve started to receive emails about the updated TweenTribune site. It is now being run by Smithsonian Education. I’m definitely leaning towards this tool as it also has an iPad app! What do you think? Do you use either of these?

20130423-1817062In addition, I’m thinking of resubscribing to News-O-Matic. I’ll be watching my free app websites http://www.smartappsforkids.com and http://www.funeducationalapps.com.   I’ve noticed that a yearly News-O-Matic subscription often goes on sale. With five days of original news/week, it might be worth it. See my original post here.

WonderLogo-MathI also absolutely love Wonderopolis. It is less conventional than the other options above, but it is a terrific source for nonfiction that is engaging and exciting! See my full post about Camp Wonderopolis here.

BiblionasiumAnother new tool that I plan on using this year is Biblionasium. It has taken me a while, but I am finally convinced that reading and writing need to be social experiences for my students. They will learn just as much, if not more, from their peers, both near and far. Bilbionasium is a safe, free, social networking site for children ages 6-13 to share their reading experiences. They can read and write reviews, post comments, search for titles, recommend books titles, etc.  I think it will be a terrific way to give my students a voice that is simple, safe, and fun!

 

Do you have any other tools that I should consider?  Please let me know by commenting below.

News-o-Matic

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Age range: 8-14

Device: iPad

Quick Line: Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

As a social studies teacher, I feel the need to use resources that are timely. But it is difficult to find articles that contain a) content appropriate for intermediate students or b) written at an appropriate comprehension level. News-o-Matic surprised me with both.

I pleasantly zipped my way through articles on Thailand’s Splash Water Festival, sea turtles in Puerto Rico (my absolute favorite animal), an app where children can practice coding, and a story about a twelve-year-old who started a bike charity for children in India. Good stuff!

I think teachers should take a look at this app. Our school currently subscribes to Scholastic News which is weekly. But I would love to have access to something that is daily. In addition, there are several features that set this app apart from most resources. Each article offers an additional FACT, encouragement to ACT, and access to a map to relate to the location of the topic. Readers can also see what happened on this date in history and “chat” with Russ in the newsroom (not in real time).

This is a free app, but regular reading will require a subscription. As I understand it, I can subscribe for a week, month, or year through iTunes. I’m thinking of using it during my day of “plugged in” learning. More information to follow!