Washington Moves Toward Digital Texts

We’ve written at length about the shift from print to digital media in higher education. Many universities are now seeking ways to ease the financial burden of higher education for its students. One route that Washington State has opted to take is to offer more online classes with online resource material. According to this report in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Washington state’s current textbook bill is financed through the state legislature, which has been facing financial hardships. The state currently has a half million students taking courses at their 34 two-year colleges. The idea was to create very accessible and affordable resources for students through online portals. The savings alone made the idea a winner. “We believe we can change the cost of attending higher education in this country and in the world,” says Cable Green, director of e-learning and open education at the Washington Board for Community & Technical Colleges.

The state received a matching grant of $750,000 from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help begin development on low-cost online resources for the two-year colleges. The state is taking an ambitious approach to providing affordable education to their students, regardless of the obstacles they may encounter along the way. This is probably just a glimpse at what could be a revolutionary approach towards the future of higher learning.  If students are already receiving their texts digitally, it’s easy to imagine younger students receiving individualized texts targeted to their own reading level.  Personalized learning systems offer a world of possibilities to the world of education.  The wide availability of digital texts bring those possibilities that much closer to reality.

A Simple Prescription: Write More, Read More – And Often

A tip of the hat to the Marshall Memo for pointing to this recent article by Deborah Hollimon in Reading Today.  In “It’s Simple: Read More, Write More, Teach Vocabulary”(subscription required), Hollimon’s suggestions are right in line with the research of Anders Ericsson.  Here’s Hollimon getting straight to the point:

What our students need are opportunities for voracious reading in classes brimming with engaging materials of all sorts, at many different levels… Reading means reading something engaging in every class, every day.

We could not agree more.  We’ve written extensively on the importance of students reading more.  First, Ericson’s research on what it takes to move from novice to expert is informative here.  Critical to the development of expertise is time on task, or practice.  In other words, if students wish to become better readers, they then obviously must spend more time engaged in reading.  Second, the Common Core State Standards has established a proposed ‘staircase’ of text complexity.  That document recommends that students face the challenge of increasingly complex texts as they progress from grade to grade.  Third, Nell Duke, among others, including, again, the Common Core State Standards, recommends that students must learn to grapple with a wide variety of texts.   To put it another way, a student brought up on a steady diet of fiction will find himself ill-prepared to face the challenge of real-world, informational text as they move into college or the workplace.  Duke, like Hollimon, recommends that students be exposed to informational text from a much earlier age.

On writing, Hollimon is even more succinct:

Writing more means writing every day, in every class, mostly without fear of red ink… Content teachers can easily incorporate quick-writes, exit slips, learning logs, or journals into daily lessons. What better way for teachers to check for understanding than to peruse the writing thoughts of their students?

We would echo Hollimon’s point on writing more.  Targeted and deliberate practice applies across a range of human activities, including writing.  Our personalized learning platforms, Oasis and MyWritingWeb were built around the very simple idea of allowing students to engage in daily, deliberate, and targeted practice in reading and writing.  Hollimon’s ideas on easy ways to incorporate writing into the content areas mirror our own belief that writing should occur across content areas and need not be limited to full-length, 3-5 page essays.  MyWritingWeb and Oasis, for example, allow students to write essays of any length, giving students plentiful opportunity to practice and teachers an easy and administratively painless way to keep students writing more.  And because both Oasis and MyWritingWeb are based on the Lexile Framework for Writing, educators have the added benefit of being able to monitor student growth in the domain of writing. 

If you haven’t yet checked out these platforms, be sure to take a look.

New York Moves Toward College Readiness

Last week, Sharon Otterman of the NY Times shared some unfortunate news :

New York State education officials released a new set of graduation statistics on Monday that show fewer than half of students in the state are leaving high school prepared for college and well-paying careers.

The new statistics, part of a push to realign state standards with college performance, show that only 23 percent of students in New York City graduated read for college or careers in 2009, not counting special-education students.  That is well under half the current graduation rate of 64 percent…

Those are troubling statistics.  Not only are NYC schools only graduating 2/3 of their students, but of those students, most are not prepared to enter the workforce, or successfully complete freshman level college courses.  Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents (the group that makes educational policy decisions for the state), says, “…if you sit on this, you become the Enron of test scores, the Enron of graduation rates.  We need to indicate exactly what it all means, especially since we’ve already said that college-ready should be the indicator of high school completion.”

Tisch and other members of the Board of Regents have already begun taking steps to remedy this situation.  Just last month the group announced new assessment standards they plan to implement in addition to their adoption last July of the national Common Core State Standards.   As we’ve mentioned before, the Common Core provides educators with valuable resources to help move students toward college and career readiness.  The Lexile Framework for Reading is one such tool which allows educators to place text demand and student reading ability on the same vertical scale.  This provides an opportunity to not only measure individual growth, but also defines how much growth is required for an individual to be prepared to meet post-secondary demands.  Kudos to New York for taking action to move their students toward college and career readiness.

No Right Brain Left Behind

Related to yesterday’s post, FastCompany is asking for the best ideas on reinventing education.  A coalition of groups has formed No Right Brain Left Behind, a campaign developed to promote creativity in education.  The campaign is offering a contest built around the idea of attracting minds from a variety of industries to propose solutions for promoting creativity in education:

As part of Social Media Week 2011, next week in New York City, No Right Brain Left Behind is challenging industry teams (advertising, interactive, marketing, design, what-have-you) to come up with products and approaches that work within or outside the existing school system. These will be piloted by the end of 2011.

“What drives us is the possibility of a platform where the creative industries put their differences aside for one week out of the year to collaborate on something that is larger than ourselves and our business goals,” says Viktor Venson of multimedia and interactive agency Stopp, a driving force behind the campaign. ” If adopted, this would be an annual challenge asking the creative industries to respond to a burning issue or cause.”

Here’s the No Right Brain Left Behind presentation highlighting some of the most interesting ideas in education to date.  Be sure to take a look.

Remaining Relevant with Personalized Learning

Scott McLeod over at Dangerously Irrelevant is concerned about the lack of technological literacy within public education and is asking a long list of important questions.  To mention just a few:

  • 7 billion people on the planet; 5 billion cell phones. 2 billion people on the Internet. 500 million people on Facebook. 200 million on Twitter. 85 million on LinkedIn. 5 billion photos on Flickr; 50 billion photos on Facebook. 17 million Wikipedia articles. 500 billion mobile phone apps were downloaded last year. 6.1 trillion text messages were sent last year. Apple will sell 20 million iPads this year. 35 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute (or 176,000 full-length Hollywood movies each week). When are we going to start integrating technology into our schooling lives like we do in our personal lives and in our non-school professional lives?
  • What percentage of your school technology budget goes toward teacher-centric technologies – rather than student-centric – technologies?
  • How are you (or should you be) tapping into the power of technology to facilitate differentiated, individualized, personalized learning experiences for your students? (emphasis added)
  • When e-books or e-textbooks now can contain hyperlinks, embedded video, live chat with other readers, collaborative annotation where you see others’ notes and highlights, and/or interactive maps, games, and simulations, does it still make sense to call them ‘books?’ How might we tap into their advantages and affordances?
  • Electronic versions of books on Amazon now are outselling both their hardback AND paperback counterparts. Reference materials are moving to the Web at an exceedingly fast pace. When all of the books in your media center become electronic, will you still need a physical space called a ‘library?’ Will you still need ‘librarians?’
  • What percentage of my job could be done by robust learning software that not only delivers content in a variety of modalities to students but also assesses them on their mastery of that content? What percentage of my job could be done by a lower-paid worker in another country who is accessible via the Internet? In other words, what percentage of my job requires me, the unique, talented human being that stands before you?
  • Do I truly ‘get it?’ Am I doing what really needs to be done to prepare students for a hypercompetitive global information economy and for the demands of digital, global citizenship? In other words, am I preparing students for the next half century rather than the last half century?
  • Readers concerned with McLeod’s last point on the emergence of a hyper-competitive global elite should see last month’s cover story in The Atlantic, which illustrates well the new world in which students will soon find themselves.

    McLeod’s other questions are similarly provocative and serve as good reminders of why education must embrace these important shifts in technology.  The focus on technological literacy need not come at the expense of an ability to handle increasingly complex texts.  Students should be able to improve literacy skills across a variety of formats and genres. 

    McLeod’s particular emphasis is on the importance of personalized learning and of harnessing new technologies to facilitate targeted and differentiated learning.  Our own personalized learning platforms (MyWritingWeb and Oasis) were built around the idea of facilitating the move from novice to expert.  Because these tools are web-based students may access them from anywhere at anytime, giving students many more opportunities to write.   And because they are student-centered, these tools do not require teacher administration. 

    McLeod’s questions are worth considering.  And we’re happy to do our part to help prepare students for tomorrow’s hyper-competitive global economy.

    “Find a Book” at the Mall This Weekend

    This weekend, two Simon Malls in Miami will host “Kidgits Book Blast” events, and MetaMetrics will be there to talk about Lexile measures and “Find a Book, Florida.”

     Each of the seven “Book Blast” events will feature a variety of activities, giveaways and guest speakers to promote the joys of reading. MetaMetrics will be onsite for the first two events—Dadeland Mall (Feb. 11) and The Falls (Feb. 12)—to answer questions about Lexile measures and demo the free “Find a Book, Florida” search tool. These initial events will also include author Lisa McCourt who will read her popular book, “I Love You, Stinky Face,” which has a Lexile measure of AD1290L. Other McCourt titles also have been measured and are available in “Find a Book, Florida.”

    “Find a Book, Florida” is a joint effort between the Florida Department of Education and MetaMetrics. The Department relaunched the search tool last September to support year-round reading by allowing students to build their own book lists based on ability level (Lexile measure) and interests.

    A two-week book drive will also commence at each “Book Blast” event. Families are encouraged to donate new or gently-used books at the malls’ Guest Services Desks for two weeks following the events. Donated books will be distributed to programs and schools near the malls in conjunction with the Florida Education Foundation and the Florida Department of Education’s “Just Read, Florida!” office.

    “Kidgits Book Blast” events will be held at the following locations:

    • Dadeland Mall (Miami): Friday, February 11, from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.
    • The Falls (Miami): Saturday, February 12, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
    • Tyrone Square (St. Petersburg): Saturday, March 5, from noon to 2 p.m.
    • Melbourne Square (Melbourne): Saturday, March 12, from 10 a.m. to noon
    • Miami International Mall (Miami): Saturday, March 12, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
    • Coral Square (Coral Springs): Saturday, March 19, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
    • Seminole Towne Center (Sanford): Saturday, March 19, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

    Families can sign up for the Kidgits Club for a membership fee of $5. Membership includes a number of benefits, like a membership card and T-shirt, scheduled entertainment and activities, discounts and a quarterly newsletter. For more information, visit www.simon.com/kidgits.

    Traversing the Texts: An Appreciation of Text Complexity

    Here’s Mark Bauerlein over at Education Leadership offering a useful reminder on the importance of the ability to tackle complex texts:

    Will more technology in high school classrooms help? Not in the crucial area of reading. When teachers fill the syllabus with digital texts, having students read and write blogs, wikis, Facebook pages, multimedia assemblages, and the like, they do little to address the primary reason that so many students end up not ready for college-level reading. When they assign traditional texts—novels, speeches, science articles, and so on—in digital format with embedded links, hypertext, word-search capability, and other aids, they likewise avoid the primary cause of unreadiness.

    That cause is, precisely, the inability to grasp complex texts…

    Bauerlein’s concern is that many of the post-secondary texts with which students must wrestle are inherently ambiguous, e.g. a supreme court decision, a poem, a philosophical treatise, a contract, etc…  Their meanings are best  teased out through a deep and reflective reading.  In addition to being constructively ambiguous, many of the texts with which students must struggle (think Emerson, Nietzsche, Holmes, Freud, etc…) are not capable of being reduced to a few simple pages or bullet points (to paraphrase one philosopher, any system of thought capable of being reduced to a nutshell belongs there…).  Many of our most cherished texts and documents are  expansive, self-contained works, rich in meaning and related to a long canon of work.  As Bauerlein argues, Thoreau’s assertion that he went into the woods because he wished to live deliberately or Nietzsche’s assertions about claims of knowledge are not easily grasped by reading over the first few pages.  The reader is expected to critically reflect over the pages and to locate the writer’s meaning in the fuller context of the writing:

    When faced with a U.S. Supreme Court decision, an epic poem, or an ethical treatise—works characterized by dense meanings, elaborate structure, sophisticated vocabulary, and subtle authorial intentions—college-ready students plod through them. Unready students falter.

    This is the sort of task that does not lend itself to distraction.  To paraphrase Bauerlein, a reader trekking through Locke’s political treatises is unlikely to make it very far if they are simultaneously updating their Facebook status, tweeting their latest thought, popping up a blog entry, streaming Pandora, and clicking on hyperlinks through the margins.  For this is not the sort of reading that lends itself to browsers.  Many of our most valuable and cherished texts, the ones most worth reading, reveal their import through a focused and deep absorption into the text.

    That’s not to minimize the importance of technology in the classroom or the important role that personalized learning platforms can play in differentiating texts for struggling readers.  And Bauerlein is careful to avoid nostalgic claims about the destructive influence of online reading or the Internet destroying our mental capacities.  Instead, he merely suggests that more attention should be paid to deep and meaningful reading, to the undistracted and focused reading of high level texts; and that time should be set aside to allow students to explore these sophisticated texts in a distraction-free (meaning, unplugged) zone.

    In that sense, Bauerlein’s concern echoes what both the Common Core State Standards and a study by Nell Duke have already pointed to: that American students are reading far too little informational texts.  As we’ve written before, for a student raised on a diet of fiction, a strong dose of informational texts may come as a shock to the system.  It’s little wonder then that many students graduate unprepared for the rigors of the post-secondary world, that they arrive at the university only to find that even introductory texts present a formidable challenge.   Nell Duke argues that students should be exposed to informational texts at an earlier age and the Common Core State Standards attempts to address that deficiency by pushing for increased exposure to informational texts at a higher rate and at an earlier age.

     Bauerlein’s suggestion is worth considering.  With far too many students finding themselves ill-prepared for the rigors of the post-secondary world, it’s our hope that encouraging students to tackle higher levels of targeted texts at an earlier age will move them ever closer to the levels of texts they will undoubtedly encounter in life after high school.

    Parents Connect Kids to Books with Find a Book

    We hear a lot about the various ways that schools and districts utilize The Lexile Framework for Reading and the tools and utilities on our site.  But we especially enjoy hearing about the ways that parents are using our tools to match their children to books and encourage more reading.  That’s why we love running across posts like this, posts where parent educators explain to other parents how to use our tools, like Find a Book, to help their students find more targeted books.

    Capstone Digital Personalizes Learning with myON reader

    Capstone Digital launched myON™ readerat FETC yesterday. Described simply as the “first of its kind” personalized literacy environment, myON reader is designed to help preK-8 students and remedial readers take control of their reading development by recommending books they want and should be able to read, and monitoring their progress toward goals. And it’s all powered by The Lexile® Framework for Reading.

    Capstone Digital and MetaMetrics® announcedlast week that the Lexile Framework would power myON reader’s assessment engine, allowing students’ reading scores from benchmark tests and book-end quizzes to be reported as Lexile measures. Teachers and students can use these Lexile measures to build personalized reading plans that match ability level and interests with the more than 1,000 digital books available from Capstone’s award-winning imprints. Additional features, like embedded reading scaffolds (highlighting, audio and dictionary), increase student confidence and encourage more independent reading. Students can even monitor their growth with a personalized trajectory report that forecasts their expected reading level.

    According to Capstone Digital President Todd Brekhus, “Today’s students personalize their lives digitally on a daily basis through music, games and social networks. myON reader leverages those skills to engage students in an online, integrated reading environment using the same premise: digital personalization.”

    myON reader goes well beyond the basics of personalized learning. It provides a collaborative environment in which students, teachers and parents can work together to support student reading performance. myON reader uses cloud-based technology to connect school and home through anytime, anywhere access, and to provide a safe, social network where students can read, rate and review digital books, and recommend them to classmates.

    myON reader is supported by several research studies on how students read, how technology plays a part in reading, and what motivates students to read. For more information on the research behind myON reader, check out the white paper, “Building Proficiency Through Personalized Reading,” at www.CapstoneDigital.com.

    MetaMetrics is an educational measurement organization. Our renowned psychometric team develops scientific measures of student achievement that link assessment with targeted instruction to improve learning.