Tagged: nonfiction

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Pocket + Evernote: Easy way for teachers to format news articles and nonfiction

favicon If you’re a teacher, you know this story.

It’s Sunday night, and you have a pit in your stomach because you still haven’t found a good article for your students to read tomorrow.

And then, after perhaps too long, you find it! And then you’re happy. That is, until you realize, again, that you have to spend 10-20 minutes formatting it to make it ready for student consumption.

Despite recent trends that favor readability (including Readability!), the Internet is still a mucky place for typography and design. There are ads, weird spacing, and random things that happen.

A quick example. Take a look at this New York Times article on climate change. It’s pretty nifty: It includes a photo essay, a video, and a colorful map. There’s nothing that can replicate the online version. But most teachers want to convert as much of the online experience into print, without taking with them all of the article’s sidebars, comments, and advertisements.

If you press Print on this article (whether from the webpage or your computer), you lose all the visuals. All you get is text. Now, I’m not an enemy of text. Text is my friend. But if I’m a teacher, I’d like at least one photograph to accompany the text. If I’m lucky, I’d also like the body font to be big enough for my students to read. And if possible, it would be great if I could shorten or modify the text (like Newsela does!) for English Learners and students with special needs.

Before going on, an important pause: I understand that some people may find that last sentence controversial. It’s an infringement of copyright (and maybe fair use even?), many say, to cut or modify an article. That might be true. On the other side, there may be people who ask, “Mark, why don’t you just copy and paste to a Word document? That seems easy, right?” Yes, it seems easy, but with many websites, it isn’t. I’ve found that it’s hard to strip away all the distractions, and it takes too much time. That time would be better spent thinking about my lesson.

The past several months, I’ve found a really easy way to render news articles beautifully and to make them easy to modify, if necessary. What’s great is that the process does not require any additional tools. I already use them. You may already use them, too!

My “hack” is Pocket + Evernote. Here’s what happens:

1. If I find an article I like, I save it to my Pocket. It looks like this. (Notice how nice and big and clean the text is.)

Screenshot 2014-05-07 16.47.04

2. On Pocket, I then clip it to Evernote. It looks like this. (Notice that Evernote makes things look similar to Pocket. What’s extra cool is that Evernote prompts you to “view original” in case you want to.)

Screenshot 2014-05-07 16.47.26

Also, you might not get the video on Evernote, but you still keep the photos. An example:

Screenshot 2014-05-07 16.47.41

3. On Evernote, I can also modify the text, as if we’re in a Word document. Because all the craziness has already been stripped away, it’s a much faster process than copying and pasting and cutting.

4. After I’m happy with my changes, I press Print, and that’s that. Seriously, one of the best things is keeping the body font large. Maybe it doesn’t need to be 22-point,  but your students will be so happy if you cranked up the normal 12-point to maybe 14- or 16.

And that’s that! If you’re a teacher out there who already includes a lot of news and nonfiction in your classroom, this Pocket + Evernote tip might be extremely helpful. Even if you don’t yet use Pocket and Evernote, I still think that you should consider it. It’ll save you time and anxiety.

Please let me know your thoughts by leaving a brilliant insight. favicon

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I guess I read a lot of non-fiction, too

favicon Some years I read between 70 and 80 books. Other years, like this one, I read much less — more like 30 to 40. There’s always some guilt when I have an “off” year. After all, there’s tons of great stuff to read, and especially now that I’m not a classroom teacher, there really isn’t a great excuse.

There’s a pattern, though, to my off years: I tend to read more nonfiction, especially online. It’s not the same, of course. No matter how much I read articles from Longform, my favorite curator of long-form articles, there’s nothing that replaces a book. But most of it is still good reading.

The other day, I received this email from Pocket, my favorite phone app of all time.

Screenshot 2013-12-15 16.20.10

You see? I get an A!

Apparently, I read nearly 3 million words this year on Pocket. How does it know? Is this number based on the articles I opened? Or is it based on the articles that I’ve saved? Or does Pocket actually scan my eyes as I read or determine whether my brain comprehends what I’ve read? It’s a mystery.

At least I’m reading, though, and many of the articles I’ve read have made their way to Iserotope Extras or been saved to my Evernote.

That’s good, but what I really want is a way to talk about these articles — in the same way that I like talking to people about books. Pocket doesn’t do this (yet), and comments on the bottom of articles are never very good. Maybe someone in 2014 will be the year that social reading takes off. favicon

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Using Pocket in the classroom to promote nonfiction reading

pocketfavicon I read tons of nonfiction (see Iserotope Extras), and as a teacher, I want to encourage my students to read tons of nonfiction.

The new Common Core State Standards agree with my approach.

But up until yesterday, I couldn’t quite find the best and easiest way to incorporate nonfiction into my classroom with my students.

Diigo is a great service, but it hasn’t been updated for a long time, plus it takes a lot of investment to set it up with students. Snip.it was great until Yahoo bought it. And Google Reader is shuttering soon as well. What is an English (or social studies, or science, or any) teacher to do?

Yesterday, Pocket, which lets you save content to read later, announced a major new feature: Send to Friend. Before yesterday, if you wanted to share an article with another person, you could email the article, but your friend would have to read it directly from his or her inbox or forward it, somewhat clumsily, into their Pocket.

No more! Now you can send an article directly from your Pocket to your friend’s Pocket, plus you can add a personal note. No more middle step of going through your friend’s email inbox.

So what does this all have to do with building a community of nonfiction readers in your classroom? Sure, there are other ways for students to share articles, but Pocket works easily and intuitively on phones, which students love. That’s crucial.

Here are a couple ways teachers can try Pocket out:

1. Share a class Pocket account.
You create an account and share the login and password information with students. When students find a particularly interesting article, they Pocket it to the account. In class, you read one of the articles as a whole group, or you give students the option of reading any of the articles in the queue.

I would recommend this as a first step so your students can become familiar with finding good articles, Pocketing them, and building an enthusiasm for reading. Once that happens, you can choose to move to Step 2.

2. Create and build individual student accounts.
When students have their own Pocket accounts, they have more ownership about what they’re reading. They’re more likely to Pocket articles they care about. Pocket even allows you to favorite articles, so students can keep ones they find particularly interesting.

Also, with individual accounts, students can use the Send to Friend feature. They can send an article to a peer or to the class account. Groups of students with similar interests can trade articles. Once recommended articles get shared around, you’ll likely see a nonfiction reading buzz gain traction.

I haven’t yet heard of teachers who are using Pocket with their students to promote nonfiction reading. Are there any of you out there? If so, let me know. Even if you’re not currently using Pocket, it would be great to know if you think Pocket could work in your classroom. favicon

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Beginning each class with The New York Times

Media_httpwwwascdorga_vvafkfavicon Teachers Sarah Gross and Jonathan Olsen are conducting an experiment: What if we begin each classroom with students reading The New York Times and writing about what they read?

It’s an amazing idea, especially if I teach social studies in the future. I can’t say it’s the best strategy for English-only teachers, though, because it might crowd out the independent reading of fiction (unless you go with little to no teacher instruction). (Ms. Gross writes here in her blog that it hasn’t, though Mr. Olsen says some of the newspaper reading happens in history class.)

Still, I’m really intrigued and impressed — and a bit jealous. Ms. Gross and Mr. Olsen are doing an excellent job encouraging the reading of current events and nonfiction. They’re also getting their students excited about the world and helping them build background knowledge. Their work with The Learning Network is also impressive. And they’re offering one strong model about how teachers can approach the new Common Core State Standards. I look forward to learning more about their journey.

Read the entire article here (or visit Iserotope Extras), and let me know what you think in the comments! favicon
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On the Common Core and its “informational texts”

favicon The Common Core standards call for a major shift in reading in schools, from mostly fiction to mostly nonfiction.

Many English teachers are up in arms. What about literature? they ask. What’s going to happen to the power of stories?

David Coleman, the architect of the English Language Arts standards, emphasizes that English teachers do not need to bear the brunt of the change. If non-English teachers assign more reading, then everything will work out.

When I first heard Mr. Coleman make this assertion, I felt comforted (even though I find him smug). After all, I like nonfiction, too. I do Kelly Gallagher‘s Article of the Week. I like to supplement an anchor novel with various nonfiction texts to build background knowledge and to enhance student interest.

So do many other teachers. In fact, The New York Times just launched an effort that uses newspaper articles to drive instruction toward the Common Core standards. As a huge fan of the paper, I’d love to get on board.

But then I came across a problem. What the Common Core calls “informational texts” is not the same as what I call “nonfiction.”

If you take a look at the the Common Core’s text exemplars — in other words, suggested texts —  you’ll notice that American historical texts are highly prized. There is nothing wrong with these documents. No one would take offense to the “Gettysburg Address” or “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” especially in a study of rhetoric.

But I’m worried that English teachers will feel compelled to teach Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King rather than Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

And if “informational texts” have to be old, what happens to all the excellent articles found in Time and The Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker and The New York Times? What happens to Malcolm Gladwell and Ta-Nehisi Coates and Nancy Gibbs? Do they belong in independent reading, read only by a minuscule percentage of students?

It’s clear that Common Core is going to shake up the place of reading in schools. And that’s great. I welcome the debate. But I hope that educators will be able to have an honest conversation about how to promote different kinds of reading across the curriculum. And I hope that we can take this opportunity to re-think the role of reading in our students’ lives. If we do things right, maybe we can bring back reading’s joy. favicon

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There must be more reading in schools

favicon Most high schools don’t include very much reading in their curriculum. Here are some of the reasons I’ve heard:

1. Students don’t read very well. We have to find different ways for students to access the content.

2. Students don’t like to read. In this Internet age, let’s use more technology.

3. There isn’t enough time. If we devoted our classes to reading, we wouldn’t be able to meet all the standards.

Although these claims have flaws, I won’t try to prove them wrong. After all, even if they’re true, they don’t help students become better readers. And I don’t think anyone would argue that reading is an unnecessary skill.

Most people think that the best way to get good at something is through practice. That’s what Malcolm Gladwell writes in Outliers: The Story of Success. And that’s what reading experts Stephen Krashen and Kelly Gallagher and Nancie Atwell all say.

But the problem is that young people are not reading very much at all. According to To Read or Not to Read, a 2011 study from the National Endowment for the Arts, 15- to 24-year-olds read an average of seven minutes per day.

You read that right: Seven minutes per day — vs. about 2 1/2 hours per day of television.

(When students tell me they’d prefer watching the movie over reading the book, I respond, “Of course you would. You’re good at watching TV. You’ve had so much practice.”)

So if young people aren’t reading, and practice is the best way to get better at something, that means that schools must aggressively increase the amount of reading that students do.

It’s not easy, but it must be done.

The first step is to encourage all teachers — not just English teachers — to include reading in their lesson plans every day. Reading is different in each discipline, and students need to know how reading a science text is different from reading a math problem.

The next step is for schools to commit to an independent reading program — and to make it a source of pride for the school community. Most schools rely on the English teachers to carry out independent reading, but it must be a school-wide effort. Students must choose books they like, have time to read them, and talk about what they’ve read.

(Amazing things can be done: Principal Ramón González of M.S. 223 in the Bronx spent $200,000 last year to purchase books students would like. He also hosts a principal’s book club.)

The final step is for English teachers to figure out how best to distribute the study of fiction, nonfiction, and independent reading in their classes and across the school. Right now, most English teachers teach novels, short stories, and poetry, which excludes the majority of text that people read. (No, I’m not making an argument here for Common Core.) There should be a shift away from fiction as the pretty-much-only genre in English classes.

But whatever happens, the key thing is that there just has to be much more reading. Educators like to talk about 21st century skills and how students need to learn how to collaborate and analyze various electronic media and be able to assess bias and credibility in sources. That is all true.

But to do that, students need to read a lot and learn how to read at a much higher level. And if that’s going to happen, high schools must make the teaching of reading a priority. favicon