Last school year I stumbled upon a tool that I believe has the power to change the game for students in the area of reading comprehension; an area of learning that I wholeheartedly believe ALL teachers should concern themselves with. Actively Learn is an online reading platform with a variety of features that allow students of all proficiency levels to access high quality literary and nonfiction text. With the free version (recommended for infrequent use or trying out the tool), you have access to thousands of books, textbooks, short stories and poems. You can also upload up to 3 internet articles, PDFs, or Google Docs per month in case you can’t quite find the text you’re looking for. Once you’ve chosen a text, you have the ability to embed questions and insert additional information or media to support student background building.
With zero training, I found infinite ways to engage and support my students with this tool. However, after spending time this summer doing more intentional research, I am impressed by how it can help us address the three main shifts in ELA brought on by Common Core.
When we first began learning more about the Common Core ELA Standards we were inundated with information regarding the need for students to interact with high-quality, rigorous text. This is all well and good, but dropping a 10th grade level text in front of a 12 year old and saying, “It’s good for you!” just doesn’t cut it. Without reasonable and appropriate support, you can expose students to all the highest quality texts in the world and for the majority of them, the result with be frustration, not academic growth. Because it’s a digital tool, Actively Learn allows you to build in the necessary support for your students. For example, one of the common barriers that students face when reading rigorous text is the vocabulary that is used. With this tool, students can easily find the definition for any words, or you can jot a quick note with a definition you know your students will struggle with on the side. Here you will also see me using the note feature to model a strategy I’d like my students to be aware of as they read; think of it is a digital “think aloud.”
Evidence, evidence, evidence. I want my students to be viewed by others as critical and credible thinkers. It’s one thing to give an opinion, anyone can do that, but it’s an entirely different skill to support your opinion with facts and evidence from that which you read. With Actively Learn, my students can practice locating evidence to support their responses by engaging with the questions that I design and place throughout a text.
As I mentioned earlier, Actively Learn has thousands of texts available, even in their free content library. A quick search through their catalog, where you can filter by grade level, text type, subject, page count, reading level, and CCSS standard, should provide you with multiple options that will work for your setting. Didn’t quite find what you’re looking for? Upload any PDF, Google Doc, or simply paste the URL (up to three uploads per month with the free subscription) to the content-rich nonfiction text you DO want to use, and you are all set to start building your assignment.
I encourage you to explore this multi-dimensional tool through the lens of how you can use it to support all the readers that you teach. Whether you’re an elementary generalist, high school world history teacher, or middle school science specialist, how might you use Actively Learn in your classroom?