Saturday, October 04, 2008

Freedom to Read

The Book Fair Safari filled our school library all week as it was the host to The Scholastic Book Fair - one of the most popular events in our school. Kudos to our school librarians and community volunteers for encouraging our students to Read, Dream, and Grow (this year's book fair theme). Today was also the the last day of Banned Book Week (September 27 - October 5) which

"celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even
if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the
importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular
viewpoints to all who wish to read them. After all, intellectual freedom can
exist only where these two essential conditions are met "
And if Doug Johnson's suggestion was adopted we would also be displaying Blocked Bytes Week Posters and be promoting the Freedom to Read more than just books. A year ago, Wes Fryer posted a chart comparing Internet content filtering he experienced in China, and the Internet content filtering he was experiencing in a U.S. public school district. And earlier this spring, Bud The Teacher, posted a request for designs for a 21st Century version of the “I Read Banned Books” buttons which yielded some wonderful designs and a campaign for reducing filtering constraints in our schools at NECC 2008. All you have to do is read the 90+ comments responding to Will Richardson's recent post - Filtering Fun, to realize that the freedom to read continues to be challenged in our schools today.

But filters are not the only thing limiting our childrens access to 21st century reading. In my work with teachers, I often hear that there is not enough time for using computers in the school day because the school's researched based curriculums mandate large blocks of uninterrupted time working with prescriptive strategies to improve reading and math scores.

When I suggest strategies for integrating technology into classroom literacy time, some teachers question whether these strategies would be "approved" activities. Many of the research based materials were developed around teaching students to read using print media. We need literacy specialists offering professional development in schools to also include strategies that integrate reading digital media. This year the Vermont Reads Summer Institute for teachers included workshops by reading specialist, Julie Coiro, that gave our teachers 'permission' to integrate technology into their literacy time. Our teachers came back from this summer institute with their own print version of Reading the Web by Maya B. Eagleton & Elizabeth Dobler which added credibility to the tech integration strategies I've been promoting for years. Thank you, Julie, Maya, and Elizabeth!

There are many strategies you can learn from these and other reading specialists that can give students the skills and access they need to read in a digital age. Here's one small step you can start with. Try allowing the computer stations in your room to be a choice during sustained silent reading time. Here are a few sites to get you started.

    The Screen Actors Guild Foundation reads stories aloud to children. This site includes videos,related activities and downloadable activities guide. What a great listening center activity.
    Give students access to some online fiction and nonfiction books with pictures for younger readers to read online from Starfall- a site full of reading resources targeted for early readers.
    Roy the includes guided reading stories, interactive whiteboard reading activities, literacy lessons, and resources that have been developed to help emerging readers learn to read.
    Big Universe is a web community devoted to beautiful children's picture books. READ hundreds of offerings from today's best children's book publishers, CREATE e-books with the help of an easy-to-use Author Tool, and CONNECT with other Big Universe members to share your creations and to learn what books they have read, created, or recommend. Parents, teachers, kids, authors, and others can share and learn while they enjoy this educational and entertaining website.
    Have you tried giving students print and audio access to books in the public domain?
    Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books, or eBooks. Look for Huckleberry Finn, Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes… and many many more. For sites that offer audio versions of some of these books check out:
    Or how about having your students record themselves reading aloud and contribute to the project itself.

And don't forget students for whom increased access means having the ability to see and hear what they read online. Try using one of these free websites that read text aloud to students, or install a free utility like Zoom It for students who need help seeing the screen.

Thank you to all of you who are promoting increased access to reading materials for our students and those of you teaching our students the skills they need to read more than books! I've mentioned only a few here, but would love to hear from readers about more resources and strategies to give our students the access and skill to be 21st century readers.