Analytical Reading with Subtext

Subtext is one of the most powerful tools to support meaning making with an iPad.


Anyone who has attended my recent professional development sessions knows I believe  in three ways to building reading comprehension: increasing background knowledge, text based talk, and text based analysis. Subtext acts as a tool to teach content within the disciplines by weaving text based discussion and closed reading together.

It is my favorite app to support readers.


When you install Subtext you have to sign in using Google or Edmodo ID. I spoke to a representative of Renaissance learning, who purchased Subtext and she let me know that an AR log on is coming soon as well as a desktop version for the app (hoping for Chrome extension…hint…hint).



From there you can add a new book, download the user guide or make a class.



When you want to add to the library you have a few choices. SubText used .epub files (no kindle or iBook folks). So you can add any ebook or possibly check out a title from the library.

Still the epub support is amazing. Many teachers commonly mistake that the the Common Core State Standards do not dictate any specific titles. They are wrong. In the literature bands of high school students must read Shakespeare and early American literature. Most of these tiles are in the open domain. If you visit Project Gutenberg you will find many of these classics for free.

No more buying books of Shakespeare and Twain. Instead roll the savings right back into your readers. No more banning the annotating of texts. Celebrate the mark up.



Subtext  also organizes an article of the week and their premium content by grade level bands using the ATOS readability scale. This is a powerful tool that can cut down on the amount of time teachers spend sifting for grade appropriate content.



You can also turn any website  or PDF into a subtext article. This is especially useful in the disciplines. Take English for example. Many schools want to increase the amount of non fiction in the classroom.

I do not suggest an add on, another unit in an already overloaded curriculum. Instead support the disciplinary literacies of English such as theme and characterization. Reading Mice and Men in the classroom? Why not focus on the analysis of theme through non fiction. Find sources that seek to answer if the American Dream is still possible and import those sources into Subtext.

(Note you can also add the Subtext bookmarklet to your browser).



Once you have chosen a source you just click on the button to add it your library.

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You get a clean stripped down text. Students can then highlight the text for a series of options. For example you can choose highlight.

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I love the highlighting section of subtext. It is what I have been waiting for years as our talk has focused on close reading. You see close reading is not an outcome. It is not something we measure with a rubric. Key ideas and details, craft and struce, integrating knowledge and ideas, these are outcomes. Closed reading, is how we get there.

For me this means text annotation, or what I call purposeful coding of text. Most students highlight by coloring (example above). Annotation takes a purpose. Subtext allows me to track the purposeful coding of my students.

Say for example I was coding for argumentation. I could select a color and a tag for: position statement, main arguments, claims, evidence, counter-claims, and transition words.

If my purpose was tracing the development of a central idea I could code for main ideas, evidence, and my inferences.

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After I tag the highlight a color coded paper clip appears (though as someone who is red-green color blind I would prefer greater contrasts in the palette).

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You also have other options for the highlight. You can discuss, copy, and google. If you highlight one word you get a defintion (though jettisoned was not in the subtext dictionary so I might suggest Google). The discussion features are very rich. This is where subtext builds in text based talk.

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The discussion is directly connected to an element within the text. As a reader or teacher you can decide who can see the comment. You can also mark the Spoiler alert button (a feature I love) and decide who can reply.

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You also have other discussion options such as true/false, multiple choice, and poll questions. These questions can appear in the text or at the end of the chapter. A very powerful tool. I have never understood chapter and unit tests with literature. No good reader I know sys, “That was a great book now I should sit down and answer some multiple choice questions.”

Disconnecting our assessments with the texts (a tleast in English) has always made little sense to me. It isn’t a discpling specific practice. A literary critic would not write a book review without the text. Being able to include our checks for understandings within the text helps to model good practice.

You can then share a text in your library with a class by creating a group.

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This is a powerful piece. You could have a group for your class. Maybe you do leveled books or allow for choice in genre or titles. Students can be organized by group. Maybe your school or district has a common read. Why not make one big group/

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You then title your group.

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You will then be emailed a code to share with students.


Subtext has everything I love. It takes good pedagogy, text based talk and analysis, and increases its efficacy and efficiency. I would recommend the app to anyone. I am not a premium member so I could not do a full review or tutorial. I am also interested in finding out more about the reports generated by the app. I think being able to quickly track students purposeful coding of text or have access to searchable discussions is probably the most powerful way to track student learning objectives around analytical reading.