Can the #IndieWeb Improve Better Readers and Writers Online?

I have long believed the best way to improve student reading and writing performance in online environments is to provide students with their own domain on the web. In fact in the ten years I have studied children reading and writing online I believe our skills around reading and complex problems solving have declined as we retreated into walled gardens.

Why? The rise of the silos

The earliest research in critical evaluation came not from educators but from marketers looking to improve how a potential audience would view their sites as credible. This development cycle lead to better presentation and ease of use of web based tools. This phenomenon exists in our devices and our networks. Markets will always respond this way.

Soon the users are left with few decisions  to make. Three decades later students now get fed an algorithmic news feed in an environment that behaves in ways they do no not control. Their friendships and social hierarchies get influenced by the feed. Children, and more often their parents, readily share treasure troves of personal data.

Fake news. How did we get here?

When alumni of the New Literacies Research Lab get together to talk “fake news” we shake our heads. We know how we got here.

You ignored us. Our schools were either not nimble enough or failed to heed the warning. We rang the storm bells as loud as we could.

For almost two decades now we warned of the imminent need to teach critical evaluation skills. Study after study demonstrated a generation of students could not or would not examine multiple sources beyond very surface level cues.

Worse we found with online reading comprehension we might actually amplify historically rooted and persistent achievement gaps. Children living in poverty have fewer opportunities and less quality instruction. We have found a statistically significant difference exist Even after controlling for prior reading ability students of color and low SES students, using free and reduced lunch as control variable, score below the mean of their richer peers. While the differences existed in critical evaluation you can also conclude that no student in our studies (5-7 year old data now) really paid sourcing any mind.

Others have found similar results.

We knew that the literacy spaces our students live in became increasingly networked and reading must socially complex texts unfolding in real time present great challenges to students. In fact we built a simulated internet inside a social network because we knew networks would drive knowledge. In fact our chat bots, before chat bots were a thing, tried to coach and influence students from a messenger like interface. Primarily that is how we delivered assessment items.

We knew we knew almost nothing about synthesis across these spaces except a few efficacy tests of graphic organizers and think aloud protocols. Yet we knew multiple source reading and argumentative writing were key and tried to embed learning events into role play. Important work continues in this area. We will explore a variety of tools that both assess and train students to integrate information.

More importantly interest driven inquiry or reading across perspective fueled places changes the reader and the text. We have long called for the use of tools to aid readers (Coiro and Killi doing awesome work here). In fact we have developed theoretical learning environments that combine encountering bias read alouds with social networks environment. In fact Ian and I had put in an NSF grant to build this space. This grant will build on these efforts.

While we examined the sociocognitive acts of reading others investigated new literacies from a more sociocultural perspectives and documented how students lived their literary and adolescent lives online. Originally the web was built by people as they did their identity work. Children today are no different except they do this work in social spaces designed to manipulate their interest. The algorithmic feed controls their social interactions. In today social media landscape the identity work of our students is often for sale to the highest bidder. Agency is central to reading and encouraging people to own their data in spaces they control is essential to the future of the web.

Fake News? Where Do We Go

We also believe the path to becoming a better reader relies on becoming a writer. Children excel in production based literacy environments. The critical evaluation of online sources is no different. Any classroom exercise around sourcing must involve readers reflecting on their process and interacting in social spaces for reading. Webelieve the best way to do have students understand how the web shapes meaning is to use the web to make meaning. Part of any intervention should embrace students publishing on their own domain with parents and students in control of their privacy.

We also believe that technology tools can assist in both the measurement and development of writing skills.

We also believe teachers should be central in educational research. Part of any intervention must encourage educators to build, share and remix resources while reflecting on their learning in the open. We can not tackle critical evaluation alone. Furthermore we must recognize that our teaching corps requires a basic understanding of how you read and write on the web and the lack of skills in our teachers is a national crisis. Students will never be ready for computer science classes in middle school and high school if they are taught by educators who can’t add a link in an email let alone build a web page. By encouraging teachers to network through the use of OER sharing we can address the lack of skills.

Literacy and technology is just a much disciplinary literacies than it is a digital literacies or new literacies. There is no tech industry anymore. Each field as specific ways of being and language used in online spaces. In every industry this has meld with some level of computer science. At the heart of each of these grammar and syntaxes is HTML.


Does participation in a simulated reading environment while encountering bias think-alouds lead to increased critical evaluation skills and improved argumentative writing?

What affect does writing from their own domain have on self-efficacy measures of a writer?

What affect does writing have on student opinions about the influence of media and social media on their health and identity?

Can a learning platform that assesses writing growth, coaches students, and empowers teachers to create a reflective network of student websites that driven by feedback?

My Idea. Yours Welcome Here!

I want to apply to this grant with a concentration on reading and writing. We would create a series of biased read alouds either simply using embedded videos that trigger on point or click or possibly remixamble WebVR built on Aframe where students could have greater interaction with avatars.

At the same time every student in the study will be given a domain. They will use this as their writing space. There will be specific tags for different types of writing.

Using other technologies called microsub and micropub APIs, a teacher control dashboard will be created that allows the educators to write comments to students, see comments they leave each other, give private feedback, add sources for students to read, watch conversations across chat.

At the same time meta data parsers and machine learning will be collecting and tracking growth of specific writing traits. Chatbots will be available to the teacher and the student to improve their writing.

This would be a multi-year grant.

Basic timeline:
Year One- Curriculum and Tool Development
Year Two- Formative Design Research
Year Three- Efficacy Study using Switch Replication Design
Year Four-Analysis and Tool Refinement

Get Involved

Reach out if you would like to get involved with the grant. The Letter of Intent is due 6/22 and the Application would need to be wrapped up by end of July to get all the appropriate approvals.

Hey #literacies #lra18 #engchat #nctechat Recruiting Experts for @scsu Pop Up Podcasts in June

I love using expert panels in my online classes. So much more rewarding than a narrated slidedeck.

So this year I am changing it up.

I will do a Pecha Flickr for every topic to start the week.

Then I hope to offer a 15-20 minute panel of experts. If you like doing popup podcasts here are the topics and dates:

  • Week of 5/24 Emergent Literacy, Phonemic Awareness, Concepts About Print
  • Week of 5/31 Phonics
  • Week of 6/7 Running Records
  • Week of 6/14 Writing and Vocabulary Instruction
  • Week of 6/21 Comprehension  and Dialogical Reading

If you want to join the show, either ping me on Twitter, drop an email, or better yet write about on your blog and drop a link below my comment box to create a webmention.

In Search of Ikigai: Meaning Making as Culture

Meaning making is  not as a cultural process but  culture itself.

flickr photo shared by Vegar S Hansen Photography under a Creative Commons ( BY-ND ) license

In fact this lesson just keeps coming back to me. Recently I catch glances of it in how my own perspectives  and worldviews influence the meaning I encode and decode on the world. Yet my eyes were not always open enough to see my own bias.

Over the last few years  I have been involved in many open learning experiences on the Web. We try out new things and learn out loud. It’s what Henry Jenkins has defined as participatory culture and what Mimi Ito has organized around an emerging perspective of connected learning. In my last foray into open learning I joined a bunch of others socially reading of “Participatory Culture in a Networked Era” written by Henry Jenkins, Mizuko Ito, and danah boyd.

Henry Jenkins early in the first chapter defined participatory culture as:

  • low barriers to expression and engagement
  • strong support for creating andf sharing
  • informal membership
  • sense of belonging, safety, and value
  • degrees of social connections.

Mimi Ito then pushed back a little on the term exclaiming that in all cultures the actor is always participating in some activity to which Jenkins retorted, “different configurations of culture invite or enable different degrees of participation.”

Culture, Worldviews, Comprehension

That got me thinking. Much of chapter one overall was a debate on the role of the individual versus the collective. Early in the first chapter boyd and Jenkins were debating the finer points of Kantian liberalism when Mimi Ito interjected about the influence of our mindsets.  Mimi stated:

This whole issue of opposing the individual to a collective is a uniquely Western pre-occupation that gets in the way of productive social change. As someone who identifies culturally as more Japanese, I never understood why the fulfillment of the collective is thought of as a sacrifice of the individual or individuality.

As I have become much more engaged around the participatory culture of those who want to help others read, write, and participate on the Web I have been exposed to many different perspectives such as Ito’s. In fact Mikko Kontto, who helped us shape the Web Literacy Map, turned me on to the fact that were was no word for argumentative writing in the Finnish language let alone the curriculum.

Here we are in the states and the most critical component of our curriculum, maybe our national identity, doesn’t exist in one of the most lauded school systems in the world. Mainly because it does not exist in the culture.

So through the act of participating I took on a more inclusive mindset. Being exposed to different ontological systems from across the globe makes me a better person. Ans the examples just keep coming

Then later today I was introduced to the term Ikigai. Someone cited and shared the Wikipedia image:


Ikigai-EN-optimized-PNG” by en:User:Nimbosa derived from works by Dennis Bodor (SVG) and Emmy van Deurzen (JPG) –
Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons.
Worldviews influence how you view the world.

It hit just as I was looking back on the quote from Ito and connecting it to what Mikko taught me. In many ways open, or at least my path towards open, is a reason for being. Atleast its good enough for now and one heck of a fun ride.

Live blog from #lra15 Imagining Beyond the Domesticated “New”: Creative Remixings of Literacies, Community, and Place

Michele Knobel:

I like to do a literature review to orient myself to learn what I can contribute and who are the names


Michele Knobel:


From the 1920-1970 creativity was an “elite” discourse. Montessori then came in and it was individualistic

then in the contemporary creativity discourse we started to note that literacy was a social practice.

there was also the technoogical advances Musicians did not need to know how to read music. Video makers did not need video

Then in the 80’s the economic drive of creativity aligned

A new creativity discourse emerged in 19902

The more diverse a community the more creative it is.

There is a connection to JPG’s affinity spaces.


new literacies is a socially recognized remix of creativity. JPG’s Appreciative systems. Remix takes rules and norms

You have to be recognized as a member of that practice through those norms

Michele Knobel:

Seeing idea remix is becoming a title, meaning on multiple levels, DIY transmedia artifacts, tap into affinity spaces,

Looking at remix tells us how youth are being creative and we can bring that into schools

Donna Alvermann:

our project is a journey beyond and between the planes of “reality” -a journey of becoming

Greg McVerry:

I am seeing many connections between remix and #walkmyworld. Everyone in this session should play in #walkmyworld

Donna Alvermann:

Kevin Leander wrote a fragment. You only see a small part of a poem.

@cb717 was at a Yoga pad meditating and thinking and she grabbed lines from Kevin poem

We use squarespace as our data source. We use their analytics as the main data source.

Greg McVerry:

define a unique visitor as being a different user or same user after 30 minutes. That is a pretty inflated view of unique

They also use Facebook. I am not a fan of the silos but maybe I need to go where people are.

Crystal Beach:

we started with Goldhaber’s attention economy, but it didn’t work out for us that well. There is some tension like with L33t

One of the fragments I put up changed my lens. What caused people to comment.


Greg McVerry:

@digitalvermann and @cb717 I need to teach you more about Google Analytics so you can do deeper dives into your content

Crystal Beach:

Looking at how my work was remixed made me challenge my own assumptions and stances.

there is an intimacy and exchange with remixing.

remix challenges the static notion of democratization. By allowing different perspectives it creates a field of equality

we can become a breathing element of democratizartion

Kevin Leander:

I told @netgrrrl that I was going to change my title and talk. She was not surprised


“words and things is the entirely serious title of a problem-Foucalt

This is a concept paper that we need to renew new literacies. new starting point, new discursive practices.

I know someone in this rom is playing Minecraft right now…I saw it

Greg McVerry:

@kevtweet shows off what his son Mitchell plays its a game within Minecraft. Plays on his phone. Terriaum I think is game


Kevin Leander:

Cites Barad 2007 discursive practices do not stand in relationship to externality but intra-activity.

We need to get into what types of matter. Its not virtual matter. It is matter

we have worn out starting points (words, knowers, and things). discourses are worn out, language being materialized worn

artifacts in the game embedding meaning is worn out (modes, media value power)

Final worn out out “discourses become transformed into habitus”

It is not a replacement economy. It is a matter of uses the real and the digital are the same.

We need a new middle way of being with/in material discursive practice

A reconsideration of boundary-making practices (as types of apparatus)

Judy Kalman:

World of digital hit Mexico like a storm, but the lessons are “enteractive” not interactive. All the user does is hit enter

There is very little that is different when multimodal translates to the classrooms. Its even more reductionist

The Mexican government is handing out tablets to all 5th and 6th graders. But we didn’t realize every year there is new kids

They did not think of the ongoing expense. We are in crisis as the cost of oil has collapsed. They find a map and copy.

teachers appropriation of digital technologies through practice

We had 20 junior high school teachers across Mexico City. Some techies some n00bs. Soe teachers got their first email.

Greg McVerry:

@klbz I am trying to live blog the sessions I attend using post go up when session ends. #lra15

About of third of the students in middle school leave junior high befor 9th grade. Students are the only statistcis

Judy Kalman:

teaching with technology is more about the teaching than the technology

In Mexico the curriculum is national. testing craze is in full swing.

Finished with a quote from Einstein. Lets not do things over and over aging but think about children

Rebecca Black:

Creative Literacy Practices in Transmedia Storyworlds


transmedia stories are whn text, platforms, spaces and activities cut across these

“Agents local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable, support, teach or model) Brandt, 2010 literary sponsors

The offical sponsors create scripted and constrained spaces.

The games that the official sponsor Scholastic made are shockingly bad. They should have used the money and donated books

The Lionsgate as an official channel promotes the movie but it is much more immersive

I want to look at Literacy in the Wild to see what fans are working on.

The user generated content is much more engaging than official sponsors

Lionsgate tried to shut down unofficial channels. They lost as fans mobilized

Drillable and Spredable forms of literate engagement-drillable delves into story world spreadable allows them to adapt

Greg McVerry:

Also think we can’t just “nerd” out Fantasy Football IMO is the largest MMORPG in the world. wearing a jersey if cosplay

We are trying to make point that we can’t force kids into content silos where they dot no own their identity. #indieweb







#lra15 Maker stuff and spaces with some literacy stuff

Ian O’Byrne:

We need to open up publishing by connecting to the #indieweb


Christina Cantrill

Has playdough, pipecleaners, and rubber bands for us to make and play


Phil Nichols<

Phil then moves into finding publics as a part of making

There are different ways to finding publics. The more authentic the student driven the audience the more motivation


Phil Nichols

For some students doing thing you have to do for school was their only resonation. The audience was still the teacher


Greg McVerry

I am using to live blog from #lra15 session on making


Amy Stornaiuolo

Publics as “opportunities” to participate.

making publics is not about the space. #makerspace are not inherently liberating. Need to account for histories.

the promise of makerspaces has to be read through the history of schools


Phil Nichols

making publics is about relevance. Students have to find publics meaningful. Authenticity is not universal


Jessica Parker

who are the maker educators?

We have ten years of maker as a label and it was from a corporation and ignored youth culture.


Jessica Parker:

The Maker Certificate Program is three mini-courses 50-seat hours. They turn in a maker portfolio. Open to tangible.

We send you a maker kit such as paper circuitry and then ask people to reflect on their making. They define making.

We host our classes in K12 makerspaces.

juxtaposition of rapid prototyping and slow looking.

80% of the attendants were 80% teachers. It was heavily skewed K-8. High school was math, science, digital media, art

40% of the educators were over 40 and 55% had taught more than 11 years, 23% over 20 years.

79% all self reported that their families were makers.


Greg McVerry:

this is interesting. Yet if they were reporting as being from a making family was the program already reaching makers


Jessica K Parker:

Cardboard and glue gun, and hand tools were in the top four (3d printer) was third. Low barrier of entry.

The teachers are saying it isn’t a binary. Making is not low tech or high tech.

teachers self reported that building agency was the greatest benefit of integrating maker education.

26% reported that engagement, fun, and excitement were the greatest benefits.

another theme was valuing process & iteration

#lra15 @jessicakparker: collaborating, tinkering, reflecting on their work, prototyping were the best benefits noted by teachers.

time, space, money, materials and support were the greatest challenge

This isn’t unique to makerspaces. This is true for any initiative.


Antero Garcia:

escaping from teacher pd through games and game design

This primarily going to be a story propelled by an engine of teacher inquiry

there are six elements associated wtih #connectedlearning but we need a racialized lens to look at it.

two assumptions: there are powerful learning when playing digital games, people can be pretty terrible to each other

think about #gamergate #sxsw so I use the metaphor of a table.

this took place in Schools for Community Action

principles: schools need to be student centered, innovative, community collaboration, social justice, and sustainability

teachers called it an escape from PD

I used storium an online storytelling game. Created cards based on different roles of participants.

the PD was in an escape room. You have an hour to get out of the room.

In June they hosted the game jam. Could make traditional or digital games.

Game jamming is a professional practice. At schools its hard. You have to modify to make sure they were over by 5:00pm

Students note that there is space for critical reflection, and student and teacher growth.

The students came together when students were shot. It is really hard to be in a game based environment in this context

how are teachers given the space and time to read the contexts of classrooms and communities?

How is the ecosystem of (de)professionalism being challenged?


Christina Cantrill:

As you know we (NWP) are a peer based educator community and we are increasingly working w educators outside of school

NWP came together when teachers realized they had to write themselves. I see this (1970s) as the beginning of making

We jumped in and claimed writing as making.

What are the ways we communicate. We use a broad sense of what is writing.

In thinking about this discussion we wanted to think about you all.


Greg McVerry:

Signing off now to go make.

CC BY-NC-ND. Charis Tsevis. Design Walk: Analog VS digital. Flickr
CC BY-NC-ND. Charis Tsevis. Design Walk: Analog VS digital. Flickr

We had a wonderful call today. We have begun the process of finalizing the edits to ship version 1.5.

Listening and learning from everyone who joins the calls always impresses me. Today we returned to the spreadsheet and began to hack away.

We started with Marc Lusser summarizing everyone’s general concern with the Connecting strand. Simply too much overlap and unobservable outcomes. The group decided to hold off on addressing this bug and focused mainly on the Designing for the web competency.

The competencies are now locked in this release. We are now finalizing the skills. In other words We will do our best to make sure skills fall in only one bucket for V 1.5 but won’t change the buckets until V 2.0. So for example in Connecting we will try to make sure the skills are differentiated and observable under each competency.

Turning to Designing for the Web

As a reminder this competency, “designing for the web” was split from accessibility to strengthen the weight of each. The design element of the map always felt inadequate, and if the web will be open to all  it must also be accessible to all. We had scoped accessibility well, but we didn’t get at what design meant.

Doug, Jamie, and I had a wonderful conversation over on the git issue. Then Cassie came in and dropped some deep knowledge on us from a designer’s perspective. Doug summed it up as:

Thanks @cassiemc! Really useful to think through the different types of design. Just to pull them out of your comment, they were:

  • Visual design (graphic design, branding, style, illustration)

  • Interaction design (user interface and sometimes html/css)

  • User experience design (the overall emotional and practical journey through an experience)

As we were revising the designing for the web competency today I kept those words and LRA feedback about aesthetics in my thoughts.

I think we got close on the competency:

Designing for the Web

Enhancing visual aesthetics and user experiences

  • Using CSS properties to change the style and layout of a Web page
  • Demonstrating the difference between inline, embedded and external CSS
  • Improving user experiences through feedback and iteration
  • Creating device-agnostic web resources

To test this theory out I decided to go apply the skills to the work of a design team. I went and found Cassie’s great blog posts on her teams irl meetings. I then read her reflections and tried to annotate the post using the skills and looking for holes.

An unknown is where should interaction design live? We left it out of designing for the web because it is in the definition of the competency of coding/scripting: creating interactive experience on the web. Should interaction move under design? Is it the wrong modifier for experiences under coding?

Much of Cassie’s post stressed the importance of user testing in the design process. I think we captured that well:

I do wonder if we are only improving for user experience. There is so much more we can improve upon through feedback and iteration. Maybe user feedback is only one type?

Maybe iteration should be separated out into it’s own skill. That is one thing we did not capture. When you watch the slide show Cassie posted you see iterative design in situ. Do we need a skill to speak to this process?

We also revised the screen size, mobile vs desktop skill. Looking at what the team is cooking up I think we wrote a skill to match

I didn’t annotate for the first two skills about CSS but they are all over the pictures and the aesthetic last step. It’s interesting that such talented artist consider this their last step. When you watch the slide show you see design influencing every step of the way.

Looking Forward to Connecting

One of the major take aways from the last two weeks of calls was the need to address the Connecting Strand (which is why I threw out a click-baitish title last week). There is just too much overlap in the skills and ill-defined competencies. Plus we don’t get at the knowledge work teams do. Read through Cassie’s blog. We are missing something fundemental, though I do not know what it is or how to boil it down.  We are going to hold off expending any mental capital on this until after v 1.5 ships. When we get there, though, I want to watch the spaces where Mozilla builds, learns, and leads in the open.

Exploring the competencies in the wild allows us to test the validity of the skills we try to identify.



The Literacy Research Association annual conference presents young scholars such as myself an opportunity to grow our thinking. You can challenge scholars, sit down with literary heroes and examine trends in the fields. It is home.

Each year the new president, who planned the program gets to host an integrative research review. The session, one of the most important o closes out the conference.

This year LRA focused in on  A Conversation about the Contributions of Content Knowledge and Strategic Processing to Reading Comprehension and it was hosted by Anne Marie Palinscar.

The panel included many of my heroes in literary research. First there was Palinscar, who helped to reshape the world of comprehension instruction with the work of Reciprocal Teaching. Anne Marie provided a wonderful literature review of comprehension strategy instruction.  Then Maureen Auckerman reminded us of how strategy instruction is transactional and reviewed the research on transactional strategy instruction. Rachel Brown described the current backlash against strategy instruction. Koider Mokthari, reminded us that background knowledge is just as, if not more important as a mediator during strategy instruction. Finally Shelia Valencia noted that what counts as comprehension is culturally defined.

Slide from Rachel Brown’s presentation


Why this Mattered to Me

Beyond the already stated that the four people on the stage have greatly influences my thinking as a literacy educator this session mattered because I can trace my academic lineage to the ideas of Reciprocal Teaching.

My doctoral work was completed under the guidance of Don Leu at the New Literacies Research Lab. I served as a part of a team who worked with a great cohort from Clemson under Dave Reinking. Together we developed and tested an instructional model of Internet Reciprocal Teaching that built off the early efforts in strategy instruction.  As a 6th grade teacher I often used reciprocal teaching in my classroom.

Background Knowledge Matters

I have also been thinking about strategy instruction in terms of the caveats shared by the presenters. Background knowledge does matter. Knowing more is always better than knowing less and when you read a text when you are familiar with you do better.

Culture Matters

Comprehension is also culturally defined. Knowing more isn’t just declarative knowledge. It is knowing the specialized language of discourse communities. Take Football for example. I enjoy American football and stay well read so I can be the smartest loser in my Fantasy league. My son is into the other soccer. For some reason he has fallen for Liverpool and wants to read up on games. I have tried to translate the articles from British but I struggle. I do not know the language of soccer fans nor do I speak British. Reading an article about a sport from another culture can be anyone’s Waterloo text.

This is true not is sports but in education as well. When Valencia was thinking I could not be helped to think back to David Kirklands work in A Search Past Silence where he documents the meaning making practices of black males. These practices are rarely recognized in school.

We live different literacies every day.

Strategy Instruction Under Attack

I also recognize strategy instruction is under attack. It was deliberately left out of the CCSS. Furthermore Dan Willingham,  just published a piece questioning the efficacy of strategy instruction. I have yet to read the article but Willingham, while brilliant and approachable, is the fertilizer for the well written astro-turf of conservative edreformers bent on privatizing urban education. So the issue matters.

Strategy instruction is also not without issues. Rosenshine and Meister (1994)  completed an in-depth meta-analysis and found effects sizes varying from .32 (using standardized tests) to .82 (using research created tests). Palinscar and Brown (1984) even noted the lack of transfer of these skills. I belive the wide variance in effect sizes is due to the small and meaningful bump strategy instruction has for our neediest readers, but for proficient readers we maybe wasting their time.

While the metaphor of mind as computer is not new I do not steal it from socio-cognitivists. I poach here more in line with the hacking and making communities that the educational psychologists. After all today’s Self-programmamble readers find themselves situated in contexts that constantly collapse across online and offline spaces and networked and unnetworked audiences (boyd, 2012).


Defining Self-Programmable Reading

The etyomology of self-programmable reader traces back to my dissertation. I tried to name a phenomenon building off a term I stole from Jenna McWilliams, “reading with mouse in hand.” As we moved to trackpads I remixed the term as “reading with cursor control.” I was trying to capture the comprehension monitoring and navigational skills I noticed in the most skilled online readers.

Rand Spiro challenged this construct during my dissertation defense. I had to go back and rename the construct, which of course meant reexamining my data to see if in the act of naming I messed up the “fit” on my evidence. I settled on strategic text assembly. This fit the comprehension monitoring I observed (speeding up and slowing down reading rate and more frequent scrolling) and my theoretical lens of cognitive flexibility theory.

Then came #ccourses (connected courses)  an online community started by giants in the field of #connectedlearning. The objectives of the course were to try out and encourage the values and principles of #connectedlearning into higher education. In order to build up background knowledge for one of the makes we were asked to read (Castellas et al…Fix this citation)

It was there I was introduced to the term self-programmable learner.

and a new type of personality, the values-rooted, flexible personality able to adapt to changing cultural models along the life cycle because of her/his ability to bend without breaking, to remain inner-directed while evolving with the surrounding society

Then we read a piece by Jon Udell on redefining education. Udell tells the story of a friend looking for an employee:

Another version of this same story comes from my friend and former BYTE colleague, Ray Cote, who runs his own software and consulting business. Over dinner a couple of weeks ago, Ray told me that he’s not looking for people who “know” one or another language or framework, but rather for those who can motivate themselves to rapidly acquire these and other contexts as needed.

These ideas  morphed  for me at #LRA14. I think we need strategic reading 2.0. It isn’t a set of practices good readers do in their head but the flexibility to make meaning in ever shifting contexts. A self-programmable reader can acquire and remix knowledge while traversing socially complex texts.

Self-Programmable Reading versus Strategic Reading

Self-Programmable Reading foregrounds knowledge building

While transactional strategy instruction accounted for the importance of background knowledge, in practice these strategies (deliberate goal setting actions) are often still taught out of context or with role sheets. The strategy and not the knowledge is brought to the foreground.

Background knowledge does matter. This is one of the the most stable findings in the history of reading research, but this maybe shifting. While those who know more about a topic will always comprehend more of a text a self-programmable reader maybe able to account for a lack of background knowledge. They can recognize holes in their knowledge and then know the right questions to ask and where to go to ask these questions.

Self-Programmable Reading is Production based

I am not the first, by any means, that comprehension needs to be production based. Peter Smagorinsky and Kristine Gutierrez have influenced my thinking here for a long time. More recently #connectedlearning and the focus on production centered learning has influenced my thinking of meaning making.

I agree with Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey that text based talk and text based discussion are at the center of reading comprhenension. When you make reading a production based activities these two elements get intertwined. When students get involved in makes they have to discuss and analyze the text they read.

Self-Programmable Reading is Collaborative

If you are not familiar with the recent work of Jill Castek, Carita Killi, and Julie Coiro I implore you to seek it out. They have been investigating online internet inquiry activities in small groups and comparing this to individual readers. Suprise, surprise collaboration improves comprehension. This of course goes back to the original ideas of reciprocal teaching.

Collaboration though isn’t just about learning gains it is essential in digital spaces. Meaning making is not a singualr act. We do not mean strategy instruction. It is not about novice reader internalizing what good readers do. Instead it is more about strategy exchange. Self-programable readers use strategies like tools and fork them to meet their needs and the specific context in which they are reading.

It is Strategy Exchange Not Strategy Instruction

Self-Programmable Reading Agency and  Identity work

Agency matters in education and we do identity work when we read, write, and participate in the web. These values must be central for self-programmable readers to develop in their classroom. All the talk about lexile levels and text complexity in the #CCSS ignores this fact. The #CCSS only mention motivation once. To ignore motivation in reading is to ignore the sun in farming.

The debate around leveled texts is the same as well. Choice matters. Reading, writing, and participating give us the chance to try on multiple versions of “me.”…to be continued..and maybe actually edited someday.


Education reform should not remind me of The Great War. Yet I see a vast wasteland of vitriolic trenches dug deep through the annals of reading research. Battalions of reading experts have barricaded their positions behind barbwire as toxic tweets roll across a devastated wasteland of civic engagement.

On one side you have those who wrote and support the Common Core State Standards who argue for increased text complexity. These scholars and pundits latch on to the idea American scores on international assessments must mean previous efforts and documented research in comprehension must be wrong. They note that the level of text complexity high schoolers read has steadily declined since 1984 (interesting the same year the standards movement was born).

On the other side you have teachers who cling to their approaches to reading instruction. They reject almost anything that favors the Common Core State Standards. They draw connections from the Common Corse State Standards to corporate interests run by the oligarchs in the Gates Foundation, The Broad Foundation, and ALEC.

In this discussion of text complexity and reading instruction both sides miss the single greatest shift in literacy practices in human history. As we evolve into a network society (Castells and Cardosa, 2005)  we must recognize socially complex texts not simply lexile levels  or instructional leveled texts.


Accountability Based Reformers

Accountability based edreformers believe we need new approaches to reading as our low PISA scores must prove that strategy instruction and readers’ workshop do not work (they do not mention what happens to international benchmark scores when you control for poverty).

Those on the more conservative side of edreform argue that along with text complexity we need to focus on building Hirsch’s idea of cultural literacy. They stress over and over again the role of content knowledge.

The accountability reformers have come out swinging against Caulkin’s flavored balanced literacy and readers workshop. They cite Tim Shanahan (who has argued against leveled texts long before the Common Core). Every time they testify before a state government in support of the CCSS the conservative edreformers stress how the CCSS require students to read the America’s founding documents over and again.

What they get wrong

We do know that after decoding ability background knowledge is the leading predictor of reading comprehension. (Paris & Stahl, 2005). Even early reading researchers from Gates (1931), Huey (1908), and Gray (1939) noted the relationship between background knowledge and reading.  Content knowledge does matter.

Yet so does motivation and choice. In readers’ workshop students get some degree of flexibility in choosing what they read. Some edrefomers bemoan this activity and state it only works for the middle and upper class. They want a common read in the classroom. The idea that choice should only be available to those born in brownstones rather than those born with brown skin does not sit well with me.

We know that agency, engagement, and motivation matter when teaching reading. In study after study engaged readers outperform less engaged peers (Guthre & Wigfield, 2000). Yet the Common Core State standards do not mention reading for enjoyment. Not once. The standards  do not cite motivation when selecting texts. In fact texts should be selected using some convoluted heuristic that usually just boils down to lexile scores.

We also know from three decades of research that strategy instruction works (Duke & Pearson, 2005). Yet many CCSS supporters attack strategy instruction as a vapid content free approach to reading comprehension. They have called for an end to pre-reading activities. They only want close reading which derives from a philosophy that views all meaning “contained within the four corners of a text” (David Coleman, author of the CCSS). Granted the effect size for strategy instruction (specifically reciprocal teaching) is much larger for less proficient readers than more skilled readers but shouldn’t that be an even greater reason to keep strategy instruction in our neediest schools?

The Opposition

Those who oppose a view of reading instruction that revolves around text complexity and lexile levels cling to approaches that level texts for students as part of instruction. To be clear this is not the only form of reading instruction included in balanced literacy classroom but it is  part of the daily routine. These advocates cite the work of Carol Burris and Fountas and Pinnell.

In these approaches the teacher provides a mini-lesson (usually some strategy instruction) and then students go off and read books at their “independent level” while the teacher provides guided reading lessons at students “instructional level.” Students can choose their books, but within a limited range that is often dictated by a computer program.

What they get wrong

Students are more than a number or letter. The idea that choice must be limited based on how well a student performs on very imperfect reading inventories simply does not make sense. I have seen many students engage in texts well above their reading level because the topic is of interest. Like the accountability based reformers the opposition also discounts motivation (albeit to a lesser degree).

These educators must recognize the importance of building background knowledge and enculturating students into the discourses that are favored by academia. When instructional minutes are precious teachers may have to recognize that independent reading is not always the best use of time nor the fastest approach for developing background knowledge.

What They Both Get Wrong

Both approaches to text difficulty ignore our shift from page to pixel. The Common Core State Standards do mention technology and call for media skills to be taught across all subjects (CCSS, 2010, p. 4) but when you read the anchor standard ten about text complexity you will find no mention of new media skills or socially complex texts.

Henry Jenkins et al. note that “literacy is no longer a set of personal skills; rather the new media literacies are a set of social skills and cultural competencies, vitally connected to our increasingly public lives online and to the social networks through which we operate” (Jenkins et al., 2013 location 1177). We need to redefine text complexity to account for socially complex texts.

Socially Complex Texts

I define socially complex texts as concurrent arguments that unfold in print and social media with varying degrees of authority and amplification. Basically socially complex texts are authored by opposing perspectives discussing an issue often with equal passion and mutual disdain.  

In order to make meaning with socially complex texts readers have to engage in network fluidity. These ideas often have a definitive volume, their is weight attached to them.  In fact the volume of texts around any issue is limitless. Yet these texts have no shape. They do not exist in silos.

Take the debate around text complexity. It is a perfect example of network fluidity and socially complex texts. Readers may have to travel to a Fordham blog, read comments on the Bad Ass Teachers Association Facebook page. They might follow the #CCSS and #edreform hashtags on Twitter. Their RSS feed is hopefully diverse and includes both perspective. They may even follow citations back to Google Scholar.

Reading in Fluid Worlds

How do we prepare students to swim in the meaning found in such a fluid environment? We have to go well beyond the positions staked out by those who support and oppose the Common Core. We need to look at #connectedlearning. Through agency, engagement and academically focused interest driven production we can teach students strategic text assembly.

Reading is no longer a closed event. Especially when we are engaging in civic discourse and activism. Students need to know how to evaluate and try out different perspectives. They need to understand and develop routines for managing external storage devices and having access to the history of human knowledge.

If educational reform debate pigeon holes the reading debate behind the battle lines of text complexity, close reading, and content knowledge then we have already lost the war

image credit: No man’s Land. Public Domain. Wikipedia.

As an e-editor for the Literacy Research Association I am part of an amazing collaborative of folks trying to connect our work to classroom practice. In order to move towards this goal we have started a series of monthly focused netcasts. Each month we highlight a current issue in literacy research.  This month we are focusing on academic vocabulary.

Twitter Introductory Chat

We begin each month by framing the issue using the #literacies hashtag. The preshow Twitter chat is held the first Thursday of the month. Four questions guided the chat

  • What is the role of direct vocabulary instruction vs. learning language through use in context?
  • What is the balance between “academic” vocabulary & technical or discipline specific vocabulary?
  • How does technology impact vocabulary acquisition?
  • What implications in instructional practices and principles should we consider?

Hangout on Air NetCast

We then hold a netcast featuring some of the most important minds in the field of literacy research. The show on Academic Vocabulary will be tonight (5/6) at 8:00 pm es.t Join Freddy HiebertJim Burke, Bridget Dalton, Thomas DeVere Wolsey, and Michael Manderino for the LRA Learning Research to Practice show.

The show is available via Google Hangouts-on-Air. This broadcasts the show live, which means you can watch the show live while it is happening…and ask questions. To get involved in the show, you can view (and ask questions) here. You can also watch it on YouTube after the show has completed, and share with teachers, students, and other educational partners that you believe would be interested in the topics, or the series.

The purpose of the Research to Practice series is to connect current research and “best principles” to what is happening in the classroom.

Twitter Follow Up Chat

Then on the third Thursday of the moth we have a follow up chat once again using the #literacies hashtag. This will be on 5/15 at 8:00 pm.

Come Join Us

The monthly series that the Literacy Research Association have developed can be very rewarding for practicing and pre-service teachers. We encourage you to watch past episodes. Most importantly please join us tonight (5/6) and use the twitter hashtag #literacies during the show.

As a teacher educator I have incorporated these monthly topics into my classroom. I know of school districts that now use the monthly series as part of personalized professional development. Whatever your purpose and goals I hope to see you there,

To get involved in the show, you can view (and ask questions) here: