Research Drives Teacher Training for Digital Reading

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As concern about technology's impact on student reading comprehension grows, some researchers and educators are pursuing strategies for promoting "deep reading" skills on mobile digital devices.

In the 3,600-student Radnor Township district outside Philadelphia, for example, officials are working to train high school teachers in ways to help students transfer print-based reading strategies to their lessons when they use new school-issued iPads.

"People tend to become much more passive when holding a digital reading device in their hands," said Joan Cusano, the district's director of instructional technology. "Instruction has to be much more explicit, both to teachers, and from teachers to students."

This school year, 11 Radnor High teachers are receiving four days of researcher-led training on "Using Literacy Strategies for Critical Reading on the iPad in Support of Higher-Level Thinking and Creativity." The focus is not on a particular app or tool, Ms. Cusano said, but on cultivating mobile-device versions of established print reading skills. Such skills include:

• Previewing and predicting. The Radnor teachers are urged to remind students how they scan traditional print texts for headlines, organization, and other key indicators in order to size up a given reading. The teachers are also taught to demonstrate how to use digital tools to perform similar tasks on mobile devices.

• Tracking thinking. In print, many teachers and students are comfortable marking up a text with colored highlighters to categorize significant information and make it easier to find later. In digital environments, researchers and Radnor administrators say, such skills are critically important, but are not intuitive for most people, and thus need to be explicitly taught.

• Drawing inferences. The Common Core State Standards now being implemented in most states call for "close reading" that involves diving into texts themselves—rather than one's own opinions—in search of evidence and meaning. Coding and annotating texts can help students read between the lines, but performing such tasks on mobile devices is an entirely different skill from doing so on paper.

E-Book Reading Skills

New technologies can help with each of those strategies, said Heather R. Schugar, an assistant education professor at nearby West Chester University of Pennsylvania who helped develop and lead the professional development in Radnor. But no app by itself, Ms. Schugar said, is transformational.

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"The first step is for teachers to be aware that they need to teach students how to read from e-books," she said. "In general, I don't think teachers have realized that what their students already know how to do [in print] is not going to automatically transfer."

In Radnor, it's still too early to gauge what kind of difference, if any, such efforts have made. But the end game is clear.

"Our overall goal is to use these devices to really focus on critical and creative thinking," Ms. Cusano, the technology director, said, "but to get there, we need to focus on reading strategies."

Vol. 33, Issue 30, Pages 24-25

Published in Print: May 7, 2014, as Pa. District Trains Staff on E-Reading Strategies
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