Technology and Reading Can Complement Each Other Well, With a Little Conscious Design
Reading is multidimensional: it entails decoding of each sound, reading those sounds at an appropriate pace (fluency), then knowing how to interpret each of those word parts in order (morphology and syntax) to understand what you have read (comprehension). Beyond that, it requires you to bring in prior knowledge, to make connections, make inferences, and revise your mental picture.
Students can experience difficulty with any of these stages of reading, thus differentiation is essential to support students with diverse skills and needs. Even schools that are not fully integrated with Google Apps for Education (GAFE) can incorporate these useful tools as they are free, and can be accessed on a teacher’s account, or a single, class account. Below are 5 Google Tools to Support all levels of reading, regardless of skill level or age.
1. Google Docs & Add-Ons for Decoding and Annotating
Google Docs are a one-stop shop for writing, so how can it support reading? For one, writing and reading are closely intertwined, so many writing exercises directly impact reading. More transparently, Google Docs has text-to-speech tools that support students with decoding and fluency difficulties (such as dyslexia, also referred to as Specific Learning Disability with an Impairment in Reading). Use add-ons like Read & Write for Google Chrome TM by TexthelpTM, Select & Speak by iSpeech, or several other text-to-speech add-ons to allow all students to access complex texts, so that they continue to learn complex syntax and content.
Google Docs can also be used as an individual or group annotation tool: students can add comments and highlight passages to become active readers instead of passive consumers. Use Google Docs as-is, or use an add-on like Read & Write for Google ChromeTM by TexthelpTM to annotate within a Google Doc, or annotate any website with extensions like Diigo Library or Imagine Easy Scholar.
2. Google Forms for Learning Text Structure
Google Forms is primarily a quiz or test-generating tool, but it can also support reading in diverse ways. For one, you can provide chapter-ending quizzes, which will highlight important themes, characters/people, and events for students. This creates goal-directed readers, which is particularly useful for nonfiction reading. Google Forms can also be used more generically, however- initially, you can create a generic “article quiz” or “chapter quiz,” in which you can use the same questions for each article, thereby teaching text structure and the phases of reading (before, during, after) along with content. A nonfiction example would have students make note of headings/subheadings, pictures & captions, other graphics, and the opening and closing paragraph.
Students can also create their own generic Forms to demonstrate their knowledge of text structure, and so they can have all of their own responses in one place (which makes for a handy reference or study guide). Here is a “TWA”* example:
*TWA: Think before reading, While reading, and After reading. Above, some “before reading” strategies for nonfiction texts
3. Google Drawings for Visualizing Reading
Google Drawings are the perfect, replicable graphic organizer tool. You can create Venn diagrams to compare and contrast books (e.g. The Lorax vs. The Wump World, two perfect Earth Day companions) or nonfiction ideas (e.g. Democrat vs. Republican, two possibly-flawed election year companions).
In addition, Google Drawings are excellent ways to make infographics (e.g. a timeline of events from a novel or history, any cycle or system in Science or Social Studies), or literature tie-ins. Some of my favorites include making a movie poster (for a book) or making a meme or (political) cartoon about a Social Studies concept. Annotated models can help ensure that students demonstrate their deep understanding, instead of simply picking out surface concepts.
If needed, students can annotate their own visuals to show their depth of thinking (e.g. create a picture or caricature of a character, and include 3 quotes about that character that is depicted in that image).
4. YouTube for Enhancing Reading Fluency and Comprehension
We tend not to think of YouTube as a Google Tool, but YouTube is owned by Google, and it has several customizable features, a hallmark of many Google tools. YouTube videos support reading in multiple ways: to support reading fluency, turn on Closed Captioning (on the bottom right “cc” button for any video; sometimes it is inaccurate, however, so you can also filter by videos that have “Closed Captioning”).
YouTube is also a useful way to support students’ content knowledge, which is particularly useful for students who have difficulty with reading comprehension, or lack background knowledge of the topic. As a bonus, embed a YouTube video into a Google Form to have students answer questions or reflect on a video they watched to ensure comprehension.
5. Google Slides for Reflecting on Reading
Google Slides are a useful way to accumulate information to create a study guide or end-of-unit project. For example, if students are using Google Drawings to make memes or cartoons about Social Studies concepts, by the end of a unit, they could have several. Similarly, instead of movie posters, students could make chapter posters, and then their culminating project would be their Google Slides, which would demonstrate their understanding of the book.
Google Slides is also a spectacular collaboration tool– students can each be assigned a character, historical figure, or political party to focus on and each can take up a slide or two in a group project. As always, models and a rubric or checklist ensure that students demonstrate their deepest understanding and analysis.
A model slide about the character, Via, in Wonder by R.J. Palacio
This blog post has been adapted from excerpts of Differentiated Reading Instruction: Strategies and Technology Tools to Help All Students Learn. Pre-order yours today via Amazon or the publisher, Routledge.
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