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Making Reading Accessible for Learners with Dyslexia June 22, 2017

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Ebooks, Online Teaching, Reflections, Tech Tips.
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Though my sabbatical classes are over for the semester, I still have a lot of information to process and apply to our library program.  I hope to post some of my presentations and other resources over the next couple months leading up to the back-to-school season.

Online Teaching Program, Spring 2017, Week 15 - Reflections, Thoughts, and Questions

My second class was called “Responding to Individual Learners,” and it was about personalizing online and face-to-face instruction for students, particularly students with special needs.  The culminating project was to choose a characteristic/disability/trait to study, write a paper on a peer-reviewed research article, and then present the research findings to the class.

I chose to research how different online reading experiences affect learners with dyslexia.  Through my research, I learned that it’s relatively easy and not very time-consuming to modify documents to make them easier to read.  Furthermore, offering modified reading materials can help not only students with dyslexia, but also students with other reading disabilities or challenges.

From my research and the many resources I came across, The British Dyslexia Association’s Style Guide and other resources for educators was especially helpful, and they are worth checking out.

You can read my paper on Google Docs, and view my screencasted video presentation on YouTube.  The Google Slides presentation is also embedded below.

One of my takeaways from the research article was that I think more teachers would take the time to modify their reading assignments to make them more readable if they had a template to use.  So I created one on Google Docs so teachers can copy and paste a text into it and share it with students as one reading option.  You get your own template by clicking the image below, going to “File” then “Make a copy” in the Google Docs menu.Dyslexia-friendly Google Doc | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

Another takeaway from this project was that the technology we have today, even very simple PDF readers and ebook apps, often have some accessibility tools built-in.  For instance, the apps I highlighted in my presentation allow student to change the background and text color of reading documents.  As part of reading instruction at the beginning of the year, I think we should be teaching all students, not just our students with special needs, how to customize these tools to what works for them.  Knowing how to “hack” their tech tools empowers students to take a more active role in their own education.

If you have a tip for accommodating reading assignments for students, or if you have a recommended app or program for online reading, please share it with us in the comments!  And stay tuned for more research-based ideas and reflections from my Online Teaching classes.  Happy summer!

Reading Aloud in School: An Endangered Practice? July 23, 2015

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Books, How to Be Brave, PSLA.
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Reading Aloud in School: An Endangered Practice? - Research & Resources | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

At the recent PA School Librarians Association (PSLA) Annual Conference, I read a worrisome tweet from a participant in a concurrent session. Some Pennsylvania librarians reported that administrators recently told them that reading aloud isn’t “rigorous enough.” Not even as part of a larger unit or with young students.

I was horrified to hear that statement, however, it wasn’t the first time, I’ve heard similar whispers about “rigor” in relation to library class time and reading aloud. It’s particularly frustrating to hear when in some districts (not mine), the teacher-librarian is viewed as “just coverage” for a classroom teacher’s planning period, regardless of how rigorous (or not) the information literacy instruction is.


littleBits in the Library: Base Kit and Premium Kit Reviews May 8, 2014

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in How to Be Brave, Library Space, Makerspace!, Reviews.
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littleBits Base Kit & Premium Kit Reviews | Mrs. J in the Library @ A Wrinkle in Tech

In case you haven’t been following my library makerspace adventures, I purchased a “Student Set” of littleBits™ this past fall to start a makerspace.  (UPDATE 2017: The Student Set is now discontinued.  Try the STEAM Student Set or Gizmos and Gadgets Kit, 2nd ed. instead). I had very few ideas about what an elementary school makerspace might look like, but I had done my research about all the available products on the market.  LittleBits™ was the product that I could imagine integrating the most seamlessly into the “centers” structure of library classes that I was moving towards for grades 3-5. 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item after clicking on a link, I will receive a small commission.  Nevertheless, I am giving my honest opinion, and my recommendation is based on my own use of littleBits™.   See Disclosures & Disclaimers for more information.

The littleBits Classroom Set comes with a Base Kit, a Premium Kit, and 2 extra Power Bits/battery cables.

The littleBits (TM) Student Set comes with a Base Kit, a Premium Kit, and 2 extra Power Bits/battery cables.

My hunch was that littleBits™ could give students the chance to create something they cared about.  We know from educational research that when students are interested in a subject and feel that it is relevant, there are golden opportunities for engaged learning that public schools so often miss (or worse, crush).  After several months of observation and class use, I’m convinced that my hunch was right.

Let’s start with the PROS of using littleBits™ in your library or school makerspace:

  • Students can’t get enough of them!  The littleBits™ makerspace center has continually been one of the most popular centers in the library, to the point that it’s difficult to get students to complete other information and media literacy centers.
  • Despite using electricity, batteries, motors, and LED lights, there is NO way to electrocute or even shock yourself using littleBits™.  The magnets keep you from creating a short circuit by accident.  Of course, if a student is likely to put them in their mouth, they are not mature enough to use littleBits™.  Swallowing them is the only danger and probably the reason they are recommended for ages 8 and up.
  • There is no soldering, and no heat danger like there is when working with raw electronic materials like wires, breadboards, and LED lights.
  • The littleBits™ website has LOTS of great project ideas, and if you create an account, your students can also publish their own project how-to’s online.  What a great way to make their learning relevant and accountable!
  • You don’t have to re-invent the wheel for instruction.  I made a FREE set of 12 littleBits™ 101 task cards that introduces students to each Bit in the Classroom Set.  Though completing all 12 cards isn’t strictly necessary to start creating, it does give a great introduction and allows students to discover the full capabilities of the littleBits™.

Now onto the CONS:

  • Higher Cost – The littleBits™ kits and individual modules are pretty expensive.  With a lot of research and electronics know-how you could potentially make your own for much cheaper, but my guess is most librarians would rather just write a grant if funding is an issue.  Make sure to sign up for their Educator Discount too!  I recommend starting with 1 Student Set, and a few extra coin battery BitsI have 7 total Power Bits, because the number of Power Bits will control how many students can share the littleBits™ sets simultaneously.  I’m hoping to buy about $500 of more littleBits™ kits and other modules through an education foundation grant so we can expand our collection. *fingers crossed*
  • The buzzer – It will give you a headache, no doubt about it.  I don’t want to stifle students’ creativity and discovery, so when it gets to be too much, I just remind them to, “Go easy on the buzzer!”  I’ve taken it away only once for excessive use.
  • Fragile Parts – Some Bits just break too easily.  The roller switch was the first to break, though I now have it stuck together with hot glue.  It limits the movement, but I don’t lose the little metal arm anymore.  I’ve also replaced the fan, the pressure sensor, and the vibration motor too.  I have to say, however, that if a book got used as much as these littleBits™ do, I think it would need to be repaired/replaced just as often.  We’ve used them 2 to 3 times a day all year so consider your book repair budget before nixing a littleBits™ project for this reason.

When compared to other makerspace kits such as Snap Circuits® and Squishy Circuits (both of which I’ve tried), I think littleBits™ are the best fit for starting a library makerspace.  So have you tried littleBits™ or another makerspace kit?  What do you think about their educational viability?

Image credit: Student Set from http://littlebits.cc/bundles/classroom-set

TL Blogging Challenge #5 – Booktalks February 17, 2014

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in Books, Reflections.
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Pixabay and MS Office Clipart

I’m not really a huge booktalker.  I realize that’s almost blasphemous as a teacher-librarian, but honestly, it’s about limited time.  After teaching 20 classes, managing 6 sessions of RtII, supervising TV crew, ditching the Dewey decimals, managing the Android tablets, and ordering fantastic and exceptional books, there isn’t a lot of time left for dedicated booktalking.

Here’s what I do instead:

  • Personalized book recommendations – During almost every library class, I offer to help anyone find their next book based on their genre preferences and past reading.  This takes 3-5 minutes per student, so I can’t do it for everyone, but the ones that take me up on the offer get my undivided attention.
  • Book tastings – In September, the four 5th grade teachers and I collaborated for the first time in several years.  We schedule book tastings in the library with 7 library tables of books, 1 genre per table with a mix of fiction and nonfiction.  The library was a mess for days, but it was worth it!  The classroom and several learning support teachers came with their students to help with choosing and evaluating reading levels.  By the end of 90 minutes, each student left with a list of 7-10 books they wanted to read this year.  Many checked out one or two that day.  I’d like to repeat the tasting again for the spring, but I think it might have to wait until after PSSA tests.
  • RtII literature circles – When over 60 students need to choose new books for literature circles, the gifted teacher and I decide on a few choices, and I booktalk them to the students before they vote for their favorite.  Lit circle groups are organized by student choice of books.

And that’s about it.  I used to do more booktalks when teachers did monthly or quarterly book projects/reports on a particular genre.  Book projects have fallen out of favor in our school in the past few years, and perhaps that’s for the best.  Though students were forced to read a variety of genres, inevitably the genres that were less-respected by teachers such as humor, poetry, and science fiction were overlooked.  Besides, I prefer students to read what they want, instead of what their teacher wants them to read.  I’m a reading rebel like that!

I sometimes wish our teachers and public schools could be more focused on reading for fun or for enjoyment (Rosenblatt’s aesthetic stance) instead of almost exclusively on reading for information or learning (Rosenblatt’s efferent stance).  Booktalking was always a great way to promote reading from an aesthetic stance, and it introduced students to books they might not have read otherwise.  I think students would be more likely to become lifelong readers and learners if we could.

For more information about Louise Rosenblatt’s instructional stances, check your local public or college library databases for “transactional theory of reading” or “reader response theory.”

Rosenblatt, J. M. (1991). Literature — S.O.S.! Language Arts, 68, 444-448. Preview available on JSTOR.

The TL blogging challenge is from Cybrarian Jen at Where Books and Technology Meet.  I’m going to try it out, but instead of daily posts, I’m going to try for 1-2 posts a week.  Follow and learn with us!  The participating blogs are listed in the comments of her post.

PSLA 2013 Takeaway: Flipped Libraries May 13, 2013

Posted by Mrs. J in the Library in PSLA, Reflections.
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flip flopsI’m not totally sold on flipping classrooms/schools/libraries, mainly because I think moving too quickly towards flipping can make the existing digital divide even more formidable.  I’m a staunch believer in equal access, and relying on students and parents to find Internet access on a regular basis seems unrealistic.

Still, I was intrigued by Judi Moreillon’s idea of flipping a library in a completely different and more practical way than most of the current “models” of a flipped library suggest.  She simply stated that lessons on how to use library resources can be made on a video and disseminated to students much more efficiently than by doing a 40-minute watch-me-demo-then-independent-practice lesson within the confines of the library.

It’s truly a wonderful and do-able idea, even for elementary school librarians on a fixed schedule.  By freeing up your explanation time and teaching students to find the how-to videos *precisely when they are needed*, teacher-librarians can better focus their instruction time (fixed or flexible) on content, instead of the tool.  I can focus on guiding students to more appropriate resources instead of teaching the ins-and-outs of how to

This all came together for me as I’ve been considering trying school library “centers” for at least some of my instruction time (thank you, Cari Young on TpT).  When I am teaching to “cover” a teacher’s contracted planning period (read: no true collaboration possible), I am struggling to come up with ideas that are both student-centered and promote the deep thinking that Common Core demands.

So what I’m starting to think of is to have learning centers that relate to themed curriculum areas.  For instance, at least half of the school wants to do plants as the weather warms up, so I could set up a listening center of gardening audiobooks and related books on display.  That would be one of the choices for students’ “center time,” among others.  I’ve got ideas for a LEGO building station inspired by a theme or book series (also with a book display nearby), and seasonal science centers with a Venus fly trap plant or some other cool, non-crawling living thing.

The part I’m stuck on is assessment.  If the centers are based on student choice, how do I assess that students are actually learning research and information literacy skills?  And how can I do it seamlessly and preferably with self- or auto-correction?  I’d love to know what other folks do, and how they manage assessments on a fixed or mostly-fixed schedule.  Any thoughts or ideas are more than welcome in the comments!

P.S. – The image of flip flops is mine, and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License.  Feel free to use it and/or link to it if you like.

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