The simplest addition of technology to my 5th grade Language Arts classroom made the greatest difference in the level of engagement of my students, especially in our non-fiction unit, in which we rely heavily on paper articles. Even though the material is true, real life, and exciting, I still found my 5th graders, who are bombarded with technology outside of the classroom, bored to tears when I passed out an article for them to read and mark up with a pencil.
This past year we had been reading digital texts from our online reading curriculum, Journeys, and I noticed how much my students were engaged when reading from our "digital textbooks." For our non-fiction unit, all articles from Toolkit Texts are available on our district network in word doc form with beautifully colored photographs that accompany the text. I thought it was such a shame that my students could not also enjoy the real-life colored photos, as that alone would engage them way beyond black ink on white paper...that is when the simplest thing I decided to do made the biggest difference in my classroom.
I brought together a few of the technology elements that I had been using throughout the year to deliver digital articles to my students...and there were so many benefits to this process that I want to share with you.
From our network drive, I saved the article to my computer converting it from a Word doc to PDF format. I then shared the PDF with my students through Edmodo. This saved a ton of time in the morning- no more printing, copying, etc., I just uploaded to Edmodo from my computer. They then opened the PDF using Adobe Reader, which was installed on all the tablets.
We looooved Adobe Reader for annotating on our non-fiction articles! I stuck with my district's curriculum and guided my students in ways they could mark up their document, but they remained dedicated to the task because they had choice in which way they wanted to annotate. Adobe Reader annotate feature has options for highlighting, using a marker/pencil to underline/circle, adding text directly to the doc, and adding a text bubble which they could click on and add a more lengthy comment to show their thinking beyond the text. They not only chose which way they wanted to annotate, but they could also change colors!
I know it does not seem like such a big deal, but these tiny things made the biggest differences in my students' reading engagement level. Spontaneous collaboration also happened between students while they were working- they loved to check out each others' work and discuss it! They would show each other how to use the different tools in annotate as well. Students were eager to share their thinking and collaborate with peers after they had been given time to read and annotate.
Another plus was that the PDFs automatically save in Adobe Reader with their annotations, so a few times throughout the year they would go back to reread something they had previously done and add new thoughts or learnings, comparing what they had done before, which was huge! If the first time they read the article they might highlight in yellow and the second time when they reread or were completing a new task I gave them with the same article, they would use a different color.
Another resource we used DAILY for digital texts during independent reading time was the website Tween Tribune. I found this through my PLN on Twitter and it saved me the past two years, and my students thought it was the best thing they had ever seen. They would literally beg me to READ Tween Tribune for independent reading and in their free time if they finished early! They were recommending articles to each other and having great conversations!
TweenTribune is a free website that has non-fiction/current event articles geared towards students. The articles are leveled K-4, 5-8, 9-12. They have SPANISH and students can also browse articles by topic! I loved when they would call me over to tell me about something they had just learned or try to gross me out or show me something crazy from their article. The website has an option that allows teachers to create accounts for students which then allows the students to log in and comment on articles, interacting with other students from around the world. That is on my to-do list for this year!
Last year in one of my homerooms, my students reached 100% reading on a 5th grade level! I also saw improvements in student reading levels like I had never seen before. I strongly believe that reading digital texts on their tablets greatly contributed to them reaching their reading goals!