Educational Language Fluency

In this post on Literacy Beat, DeVere Wolsey explains that in the field of education, different terms can represent the same idea. Parents and teachers can increase their educational language fluency by learning the various terms used by educators across the country. View the post to read about resources that can help.

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Literacy Beat’s Most Popular Posts from 2015

Take a look at the Literacy Beat blog to see its most-read posts from 2015.


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Case Study: Two e-Textbook Readers

by Elizabeth Dobler

In trying to understand the habits, preferences and strategies of college students who read e-textbooks, I embarked on a two-phase research study a few years ago. Phase I of the study surveyed 56 preservice teachers in a language arts methods course using the e-textbook Teaching the Language Arts: Forward Thinking in Today’s Classroom, a book I co-authored with my blog partners Denise Johnson and DeVere Wolsey. The results of that study were published in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy in March, 2015 (see citation below).

I am in the midst of writing a manuscript for phase II of the study. This time I am using a case study model to delve into the literacy practices of two college students, Kylie and Aaron, both participants in phase I. I love case study work because I can really get to know the participants and, in a very small way, begin to understand what makes them “tick” as learners. I find the results fascinating, and I want to share a bit about my initial thoughts in this blog post.

Neither Kylie nor Aaron are avid textbook readers. Both skim, although for slightly different reasons. Kylie is unengaged with most textbooks and views textbook reading merely as a required task to be checked off a list. Aaron sees himself as a slow reader, a self-diagnosed affliction that started in the early elementary grades. Aaron prefers to read small chunks of text where he can quickly pick out bits of information. For this reason, the textbook is preferred to a lengthy novel, and the e-textbook is preferred over the print textbook because the layout presents information in bite-sized pieces with media, images, and web links in between to break up the text.

Both Kylie and Aaron indicate e-textbook tools that seem to facilitate their learning. For Kylie, the digital highlighting and notetaking tools let her apply strategies similar to reading print textbooks. For her, the e-textbook serves merely as a substitute for the print textbook, albeit a less expensive and lighter alternative. Kylie does not view multimedia or web links as useful tools for supporting or extending her learning and only accesses them in a limited way.

In contrast, Aaron enthusiastically describes his interactions with the media embedded within the e-textbook. He chooses to watch videos, listen to podcasts, and click on web links when he wants to learn more about a topic. In fact, this is Aaron’s preferred way of learning information within the e-textbook. He can process information more quickly than by reading text, thus he is able to keep a reading and learning pace consistent with the others in his study group.

The results of this case study emphasize a key idea that all teachers, including myself, would do well to remember: Each learner is an individual with his or her own set of learning preferences, habits, and strategies. Students should be given choices in textbook format, so they can make the choice between print or digital textbooks to best match their own learning styles.

Dobler, E. (2015). e-Textbooks: A personalized learning experience or a digital distraction? Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 58.6: 478–487.

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Web Literacy Map

by Elizabeth Dobler

What do students need to know to effectively read online? When discussing effective reading of print texts, teachers generally focus instruction on phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Certainly these concepts also apply to online reading, but additional skills and strategies are needed to locate, evaluate, and understand information found online.

Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map describes the core skills and competencies required to read, write, and participate effectively online. This site’s development is led by digital literacy leader Doug Belshaw and Mozilla, a global nonprofit that “uses a community-based approach to create world-class open source software and to develop new types of collaborative activities.” You may be familiar with Mozilla’s web browser, Firefox.

Many educators have contributed to the ongoing development of the Web Literacy Map. This knowledge and feedback help to refine the understanding of the online reading process. Ian O’Bryne, a leader in the field of digital literacies, created a video, Web Literacy Map 1.5, to describe how the Web Literacy Map was created and why it’s important:

The Web Literacy Map is organized into three strands: Explore (Reading the web), Build (Writing the web), and Connect (Participating on the web). For each strand, five competencies are identified as sub-skills that more clearly describe the actions of a Web-literate person who is able to successfully participate in our digital society.

Teachers can use the Map to guide curriculum development and classroom instruction. Lately I have been toying with the idea of a web literacy curriculum – a scope and sequence of skills across grade levels that would build the knowledge and skills our students need to be successful now and in the future, when they are no longer students. For further help in understanding how to teach web literacy skills, Mozilla has also created instructional resources and podcasts that teachers may find helpful. These useful tools, along with the Web Literacy Map, encourage us to “think forward” as we teach.

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Literacy In the Disciplines

Author Thomas DeVere Wolsey and his colleague Diane Lapp have added a new tab to their blog at Literacy Beat. The new page contains posts and information focusing specifically on literacy across the disciplines. Posts may include discussions about literacy in reference to technology, entertainment, and the arts, and about language in music and the sciences. A link at the bottom of the page directs users to a list of reference resources that are accessible online to help students learn field-specific terms in the areas of art, business, literature, math, science, social studies, and technology.

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e-Textbook Summit

by Elizabeth Dobler

On October 30, 2015, I attended Emporia State University’s first e-Textbook Summit. The event grew out of faculty’s interest in learning more about how to navigate the complex landscape of e-textbooks. A panel of speakers opened the event, including Nicole Guerrieri of Barnes & Noble College, Mike Matousek of Luvo (a peer-to-peer tutoring website), David Maltby of XanEdu (a customized course packet creation company), Andrea Eveland, a research consultant from PadillaCRT, and Jason Boyer, Brandi Siebenaler, and me from ESU. The panel shared their thoughts about the learning expectations and preferences of current and future students, contrasted with the changing nature of e-textbooks and course materials.

While I can’t recreate this dynamic discussion in a blog post, I would like to share some questions that were considered; in some cases I’ve added my thoughts on the topic. Hopefully these questions will spark discussions on your campus too:

What are the learning preferences of students today?

Students now, and in the future, are no longer satisfied with the sit-and-get method of college education. They want active, hands-on learning, and we must meet them where they are.

What are the challenges faculty face today, related to selecting and utilizing course content, such as textbooks and course packets in both print and digital formats? What are the challenges students face with these same materials?

What are some ways faculty can help students save money on course materials?

Some colleges are putting a cap on the amount of money students are required to spend for textbooks for each course ($75-100).

The number of faculty using Open Education Resources, available for free and usually found online, is increasing rapidly.

How is the shift to digital and evolving education technology changing the game for students and faculty today?

e-Textbooks have the potential to customize learning through the use of multimedia, web links, and the collection of learning analytics to show how much a student is understanding and guide the presentation of additional information to aid understanding.

How do faculty and students feel about this shift?


Though attendees likely asked more questions than they answered, the e-Textbook Summit accomplished what it set out to do—to prompt discussion among faculty, students, and staff about the impact e-textbooks have on teaching and learning.

I encourage you and your colleagues to consider these and other questions about the scope of e-textbooks. Only through our collective knowledge will we be able to shape technology to meet our students’ learning needs.

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Are We Reading the Web or Is the Web Reading Us?

by Elizabeth Dobler

A time indicator, similar to those found on YouTube videos, is beginning to appear on website articles and blog posts. I hadn’t noticed this until I read W. Ian O’Byrne’s article, “Tweaking WordPress to Scaffold and Empower Your Readers.” In the article, O’Byrne discusses his decision to add an indicator to his blog that estimates the amount of time it will take to read a post. His article includes an image of what the reading-time indicator looks like.

Many factors can impact reading time, including interest in the topic, vocabulary difficulty, concept complexity, and the number and type of graphics. And let’s not forget the inherent distractions that are possible when reading online. explains more about how reading time is calculated and analyzes “time points” and how they contribute to calculating reading time. Essentially, the Web is reading our reading habits and using that data to influence the reading experience.

After reading O’Byrne’s article, my thoughts quickly led me to wonder how  reading-time indicators would impact children. Would they try to time themselves and attempt to beat a reading time that was likely calculated for adults? Those who work with children may agree that this would mean less-efficient reading and less emphasis on comprehension.

In a perfect world, children would be reading websites designed specifically for young readers. But the Internet is far from perfect, and children often read articles written for an older audience. To compensate, teachers can explain that reading-time indicators are only a rough estimate and that many factors can cause a person to read faster or slower than the suggested time. Above all, students should be taught to read with purpose. Before they read online, encourage students to consider:

  • Why am I reading this article?
  • What do I hope to learn?
  • What do I plan to do with the information?
  • How closely do I need to read this article to meet my purpose?

Answering these questions can help students view reading-time indicators as a guide, and not a gauge.

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The SAMR Model

By Elizabeth Dobler

SAMRThe SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition) model, developed by Dr. Ruben R. Puentedura, helps instructors gauge how well they are using technology to maximize students’ opportunities for achievement. In my own classrooms, the model helps me conceptualize ways to integrate technology into my teaching that do more than replicate what we could be doing with a paper and pencil. Recently, however, I have begun to wonder if stages in the model are as clear-cut as they initially seemed to me. Let me illustrate with an example.

In one of my courses, preservice teachers are expected to bring an iPad on the first day to read our e-textbook and course packet. In the past I prepared a paper course packet, including the syllabus and course materials, which has now been replaced by an iBooks version. Thus, moving to an e-book qualifies as SAMR’s Substitution level. One could even make the case that this activity is at Augmentation level because iBooks make it easier to retrieve and organize notes.

However, this is the first experience many students have had with reading and taking notes in an iBook. Some appear to be motivated to explore and use the iBook features, but many are also apprehensive. In general, students are used to learning from print text. Some may view iBooks as a nuisance or even a roadblock to learning. Some may become frustrated with figuring out how to do things digitally, rather than using the spiral-bound paper-packet and stack of sticky notes they are used to.

Because students must overcome their apprehension to technology, I wonder if this activity would move up the SAMR scale as an activity that modifies and transforms learning. Could the challenge of navigating digital text add a dimension of complexity not found with reading print texts, thus requiring a higher level of thinking from the reader?

Part II of this column (to be shared soon) will focus on extending my questions about the SAMR model to online text.

I would appreciate feedback from readers. What do you think of the SAMR model?

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Back to School? There’s an app for that!

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

School is starting for students across the country. Encourage your students, after they have purchased backpacks, pencils, and notebooks, to also stop by the App Store. Here are four great apps to help them through the new school year:


Flashcards are an old standby in schools everywhere. They are useful in helping learners make connections and in reviewing information that is best committed to memory. Flashcards+ is the creation of Conner Zwick, who came up with the app when he was 16 years old. The decks of flashcards span many topics and are used throughout the world. Flashcards+ depends on its users to keep the decks current and accurate. It is available for iPhone and iPad, and the basic app is free.

Watch the developer talk about his product here.


I have written about Evernote before because it is so useful and syncs across devices. Students can use Evernote to sort and tag online references via bookmark, as a screenshot, or in full page format. Using tags and notebooks, it is easy to organize those references by topic and project or assignment. Teacher Buffy Hamilton provides several suggestions for students’ use of Evernote, worth reading here. Evernote has both free and paid versions. It works on iPad and iPhone, as well as on PC or Mac. Get it in the Google Play Store or from the iTunes App Store.


Students always have their smartphones, and carrying around an additional planner just doesn’t make sense. Several apps allow students to keep track of assignments. MyHomework works across several platforms, including Kindle, and is available in school versions in addition to the free or paid versions. It even works when students are offline. Never lose track of an assignment due date again.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Everyone needs a dictionary, and which better than Merriam-Webster? Merriam-Webster has been in the word business since Noah Webster first published A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language in 1806. It is no surprise that their 21st century app includes speech recognition capabilities. Just tell the app the word you want and it will do the rest. Certainly this is a helpful improvement for students who have heard a word but have not seen it in print, or cannot remember how it is spelled. The app includes versions for iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Android. Free versions with ads or paid versions are available.

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The Digital Reading Process

by Elizabeth Dobler

The convenience of reading digital works, such as e-book novels, informational websites, and e-textbooks, interests me. Don’t get me wrong, I love to read on paper too. The feel of the morning newspaper or a glossy magazine in my hands represents both a lack of obligation for me to read every word, and an opportunity for slow, satisfying perusal. I also enjoy reading novels in paper form and like the feel of a hefty book as I walk into a doctor’s office waiting room. While both print and digital works have advantages, they utilize different thinking processes.

I am fascinated with what occurs in our minds when we read digital text. I don’t know nearly enough about this process and I am eager to learn more. Thus I am curious about the folks who are questioning whether digital reading is good for us – for our minds and our thinking and the process of reading.

I first noticed this line of questioning in 2008, when I read Atlantic Monthly’s article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr. It discusses the concern that we are espousing the tendency for pointing and clicking, rather than cultivating a slower, more thoughtful reading. In her book, Proust and the Squid (2008), Maryanne Wolf also questions if technology, and more specifically digital reading, shifts the way our brains are wired to receive and express language. These are important questions to consider.

In 2015, we seem to have barely inched closer to understanding the digital reading process and its implications. Naomi Baron, in her book Words on Screen, believes digital reading has inherent characteristics that work against a reader’s attempt to reach a deep understanding. For one, the organization of text on a website utilizes an F pattern; it encourages the reader to view the title, skim or skip the explanation, then pop down to the next title and skim or skip again. In addition, we often read digital text on a device that supports other tasks, such as receiving messages, listening to music, and sharing a photo, all while reading an e-book. The potential for distractions is limitless.

Paul Mason’s 2015 article, “Ebooks are changing the way we read, and the way novelists write,” also explores these barriers and questions further whether authors are responding to the tendency to read on a surface level by creating works that facilitate less-than-deep reading. He wonders if the changes in the format of texts and how we read them signals a digital transformation of reading and writing.

There is much to ponder about the pros and cons of digital reading and it is this type of collective exploration that will help us examine and understand these complex processes as we continue to grow in the digital age.

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