Engaging Readers with Digital Tools

Reading Amplified: Digital Tools That Engage Students in Words, Books and Ideas
By Lee Ann Spillane
(Stenhouse Publishers, 2012 – Learn more)

Reviewed by Kevin Hodgson

I’m going to begin this  review of Reading Amplified by sharing the final thoughts found in this fantastic resource that delves into the ways we can engage readers with technology and digital media. Author Lee Ann Spillane has us, as teachers, in mind as much as our students.

To learn new technologies we have to set aside our fears—we have to be willing to try things, seek solutions, test, and ask for help. We will make mistakes. We will probably delete things we shouldn’t. Failure is part of learning. Getting lost in the new landscape will happen. Reframe your thinking and let yourself explore.” – Lee Ann Spillane

This overt encouragement for educators to explore and play without the fear of breaking things — and then for them to bring that sense of focused excitement into the classroom for learning experiences — permeates this thoughtful, useful and engaging online book (one of a new series of Read and Watch online books from Stenhouse Publishers that are presented in private website format).

Spillane covers a lot of ground here, and the videos, images, links and podcasts embedded right into the ebook itself are woven together like a comfortable quilt. And Spillane’s own video reflections bring her voice right into the reading experience, as if you have a colleague in the room with you, sharing and helping and guiding you forward.

This use of embedded media in the book (which you read online) is most effective when Spillane is sharing the experiences of her students. As she is talking about how vocabulary can be explored with mind maps, we see the mind maps. As she talks about the use of book trailers to deepen understanding, we view the book trailers. As she delves into using web comics as a tool for reading comprehension, we are examining student comics.

The book’s media element makes for a fascinating experience, and perhaps, the rich nature of blended text and media can become a model for the kind of writing and production our students might engage in, particularly given the increased access to free tools (such as the iBook app on Macs.)

Technology as a means to an end

As you might suspect from the title here, Spillane’s focus is primarily on reading with technology and digital tools. But she expands her perspective to literacy in general, too, so that we begin to notice the myriad of intersections of reading, and writing, and digital tools. By engaging our students in multiple pathways to explore text, she says, we bring them deeper into the experience and sharpen their skills as readers. Word clouds, Skype visits, podcasting, and video are means to an end – the focus is not on the tool itself, but on the learning that should be happening.

While online books like Reading Amplified encourage readers to move through the text in any way they want, I liked the sequence and navigation established here, moving from nurturing a reading community in the classroom, to the importance of vocabulary for comprehension, to the need to support student fluency with text, to connecting with other readers in the world, to the encouragement of teachers to dive in and be fearless. At least, to be as fearless as possible.

In summary, Reading Amplified extends much of the thinking around teaching strong reading skills and moves that thinking in new directions by bringing it in line with the digital world that young people inhabit.

(Reviewer’s note: Lee Ann Spillane is part of the National Writing Project, and so am I. We sort of know each other through Twitter and we have bumped into each other at NWP events.)

Kevin Hodgson is a sixth grade teacher in Southampton, Massachusetts, and is the technology liaison with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. Kevin blogs regularly at Kevin’s Meandering Mind and tweets more often than is healthy under his @dogtrax handle. He also writes about ELA topics for MiddleWeb, at a blog he calls Working Draft.


MiddleWeb is all about the middle grades, with great 4-8 resources, book reviews, and guest posts by educators who support the success of young adolescents. And be sure to subscribe to MiddleWeb SmartBrief for the latest middle grades news & commentary from around the USA.

1 Response

  1. 01/18/2013

    […] reviewed this ebook by Lee Ann Spillane — Reading Amplified – over at the Middleweb site. I enjoyed the media components as much as the content of the […]

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