The 1st steps to a connected reading classroom [with screenshots and videos]

Who thinks the term “English teacher” is accurate? Here’s why I ask…

We teach many skills in a class named after a language.  We teach students:

  • Reading literature, informational texts, images, and videos
  • Writing to inform, entertain, argue, explain and narrate
  • Public speaking skills, research skills, and listening skills.

That’s a lot lumped under the heading “English.”

So, we excel at some of that list and struggle with other parts of it.  I’ve struggled as a reading teacher and excelled as a writing teacher.

Reading instruction challenges me because I find it hard to make a student’s thinking visible in creative ways.  I  get the feeling that students understand more or less than I gather from conversations or written responses.

Though traditional reading challenges me, connected reading plays off something I love–solving problems with technology.  By creating a “connected” reading classroom, I’m trying to improve my reading instruction by leveraging my comfort with technology.

In this case, a connected reading classroom means using communication, collaboration and connecting to let students share thinking when they read.

This type of reading is an addition to print reading and not a replacement of it.

As Troy Hicks and Kristen Hawley Turner write in their NCTE Book Connected Reading: Teaching Adolescent Readers in a Digital World:

[W]e view reading in the twenty-first century not as an either/or, but instead a both/and; we need and want students to read traditional print texts as well as digital texts. We are concerned, however, that the digital gets lost in discussions of reform, policy, and implementation. And, if we are being totally honest about it, we wonder if teaching students to read digital texts, specifically, has been marginalized in classroom instruction, too. Even our colleagues who use technology regularly and for purposeful learning in their classrooms have told us that, sadly, they don’t spend much time teaching the skills needed for students to comprehend digital texts.

This last point resonates with me. I use technology purposefully in the classroom, but usually for scaffolding the writing process for students and facilitating independent research projects.  However, a quick glance around the classroom or the hallways shows that students do plenty of connected reading all day long.

So shouldn’t students practice connected reading to prepare them for the world they’ll enter after leaving the classroom?

Here are a few examples of the steps I’ve taken lately to create a connected reading classroom:

Below is a screenshot from a chapter of the book How to Read Literature like a Professor in a Google Doc.  I shared copies of the Doc with small groups of students, so they could read the chapter and make comments.


Students collaborated to annotate a digital text by defining unknown words and references

Then, students annotated the chapter by researching, defining and explaining those words and references using the comments feature.  Students scaffolded learning for each other by defining words that they knew and on some occasions discussed references or determined the best information to use when the same word or reference was explained twice.

The end result was a hyperlinked chapter, rich with information about the vocabulary and references used within the chapter.

This can serve as a reference for these students later in the year or for other students in the future.  More importantly, it emphasizes to students that reading is an active mental process, and that reading a text with unknown words and references is managed through actively seeking to fill gaps in knowledge.

I’ve written previously about articles of the week, and how it seemed that students disliked the lack of choice and the repetition involved in the assignment.  Reading about current events and practicing skills of close reading and annotation is important, though.

Now, students can use Feedly to create curated reading lists, and use annotation tools like Scrible or Diigo to annotate the documents and share them with me (for the future I’ll probably just stick with Google Docs for this).  The students have the choice of what articles to read and have more space and options when making responses (they can use colors, include links, etc.) I get to see what independent reading choices students make, and I’m no longer the one selecting, copying, distributing and organizing 80-100 pieces of paper.


A student selects an article on Feedly then shares his thinking using Diigo.

Finally, this think aloud screencast was an example I shared with students for a project that they did earlier in the year.  The assignment asked them to choose a passage from their independent reading books worthy of a close reading, annotate the passage by making literal, inferential and critical responses, and then present their annotations.  The presentation could occur through an audio file, video file, or in-class presentation.

Though many students are still uncomfortable with making a screencast, several students chose to record their think aloud using the voice memo apps native to most smartphones.  The assignment allowed students lots of room to explain their thinking about the texts they read, and gave me a great insight into the mental processes that students do while reading challenging text.

These three examples are simple ones, though hopefully they’re indicative of a larger shift that I’d like to make in reading instruction.  While the examples do rely on technology, it is the mix of reading with communication and collaboration that I find most valuable in making the steps towards a connected reading classroom.

By blending the time, choice and response that traditionally works best in reading instruction with the connectivity and room for elaboration that technology allows, I hope to help students make their thinking visible, and be a little more balanced of an “English” teacher…whatever that is anyway.

I go deeper into connected reading in the Google Docs for Social Learning Workshop.

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One thought on “The 1st steps to a connected reading classroom [with screenshots and videos]

  1. Mr. Dawson,
    I had you as a student this past year and I wanted to let you know that your teaching style in reading worked greatly for me. Typing out my ideas on articles helped me to get a clearer understanding on the messages I was getting from the text. Although defining the HTRLLP words and novels was a hassle to get through, it really did help for a definite understanding of the author’s point. Your teaching style is great because it allows students to learn without even realising they’re gaining knowledge!

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