Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Actively Learn journey begins

I have been absent for a while from the blog, and I will show you my excuse:

Our second baby just turned 12 weeks old!

But, I have been back at work for a little under three weeks, and I have some new projects with e-reading beginning.

In 2012, I went to the NCTE conference in Las Vegas.  In the exhibition hall, I met a man who had just started a website called Actively Read.  He got my info and signed me up.  It has taken me two years, but the site is now called Actively Learn and I am making my first foray into using the platform.

You can watch their video on how it works, but it is an e-reading platform, where teachers can layer questions, links, and notes onto the text.

It is web based, as opposed to many similar apps that are iPad only, so my students can access it on any device that has internet.

It's free, and we are using it to read Oedipus, Antigone and Medea, using translations in the public domain.

Today, my first class of honors sophomores signed up and familiarized themselves with the format.

Do I know if this will be successful?  No.  I am trying to keep an open mind and assess how things go as we go along.  My heart wants it to work.  My heart wants it to be a great experience.  We'll see.

Today, in just introducing the program, many students were excited by it.  There are questions they must answer to progress in the text.  After answering, they can see (anonymously or not) the answers or their peers.  I can also turn that function off.  I have created a layer of notes and questions within the text to help them read it.   I have linked to sites that will help them with contextual knowledge.  I have photos of the sphinx.  I have asked them to identify poetic devices.

When students read, they can leave notes.  Those notes can be visible to the whole class or just to me, a decision the student makes when commenting.  They can define words by highlighting or even have words read aloud to them.  This was all very exciting to them.

But of course, already there are downsides, at least after just one day.  A student came up to me to ask about getting an extension.  She found that this reading was taking her longer.  By having to stop and read notes, follow links or watch videos, she was slowing down.  Bad thing or good thing?  Isn't she deepening her understanding?  Is she rushing less?  Or is it a hindrance?  Am I unnecessarily cluttering up the reading experience for very bright students?

There is an essential question underlying this experiment.  It is: is this software necessary or helpful for students are are not only proficient, but excellent readers?  Is this a software that will benefit those who struggle but hinder those who do not?  I teach honors level sophomore English at an elite independent school.  Are the benefits of this type of reading universal?

We shall see.

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