Archive for the ‘digital storytelling’ Tag

Tar Heel Reader

Over the summer I met literacy researcher Karen Erickson. Karen specializes in the most complex issues related to literacy development, and I was fascinated by her work. She asked me to share with Maine teachers a new tool for creating preprimer/primer level texts for students. It launched in May and there are already over 900 books across numerous topics. It’s called the Tar Heel Reader, having been researched and developed at the University of North Carolina. Karen explained to me that the books can really serve as study tools for some students while meeting the reading level of others.

For content creation, the site is linked to Flickr Creative Commons, but images can also be uploaded (and Flickr images are served from the site, eliminating firewall interference.) Each book can be speech enabled (selection of 3 voices), and the site is compatible with assistive technologies and augmentative/alternative communication.

What’s more, the Tar Heel Reader is continually supported and updated based on user comments and feedback.



Build-A-BearMy kids love the Build-A-Bear store as much as I hate the mall (I teach my kids not to use the word “hate” but there’s really no adequate synonym here). Build-A-Bear served a useful purpose in our lives for a couple of years – perfect gifting. What relative wouldn’t want an adorable, cuddly, stuffed creature that is selected, created, and personalized by a loving niece, nephew, or grandkid? Now that everyone in our family and annual gift-giving circle has a bear, we’re left to having to think creatively again (and happily avoiding the mall).

Kids love Build-A-Bear because they “own” the process – from choosing the particular bear, to inserting its heart (not a highly delicate procedure), stuffing it, bathing it, clothing it, naming it, and completing its birth certificate. My kids insist on adding the little (read: big price) personalized recorder on which they compose a message of “happy birthday” or “congratulations” or whatever the occasion may be. In the end (if you’ve managed to ride out the overstimulation caused by the crowd, bright lights, loud music, and mind-numbing noise from the “stuffing machine,” not to mention the shock upon check-out), kids are tickled to walk out of the store, carrying the box that houses their creation, anticipating the joy it will bring to their loved one. Truly, I’ve never encountered a problem with my kids handing off the bear to its rightful recipient. My theory is the “pride factor” – they really look forward to the smile on “Poppa’s” face.

Book Builder

Our students gain the same pride in academics when they’re given the opportunity to create something of their own and to share it with an authentic audience. Teachers share this pride. This element of co-production is one of my favorite features of UDL Book Builder, an online host for writing, illustrating, and posting one’s own stories. Developed by CAST, teachers can create, design, and customize their own digital books for their students’ use. Alternatively, students can create their own stories for digital publication (creations can also be downloaded).

On the surface, the Book Builder interface appears to be geared toward the elementary and middle grader. I encourage teachers of all grade levels to examine Book Builder, however. We can learn a lot from its promotion of literacy techniques, particularly how it simultaneously scaffolds both the reading and writing processes.

One area of the site provides guidance on how to go about writing and illustrating a story, focusing on considerations related to the introduction and content, genre, audience, and media (see Tips for Authors and Illustrators).

The guide includes a review of required reading skills (i.e., decoding, fluency, and comprehension) and how associated support strategies can be embedded within the story you’re about to create. One of the most compelling applications of the promoted techniques is the availability of reading coaches to “extend your teaching reach.” These little fellas come pre-named by default but you can personalize them, as well as adapt them for your own coaching purposes (they’re you – only animated!). For the sake of example, here they are as their default selves:

PedroPedro (“P” for “prompting”): prompts readers to actively think about the text using one or more comprehension strategies

HaliHali (“H” for “hinting”): provides hints in the form of a peer’s response to Pedro’s prompts

MontyMonty (“M” for “modeling”): offers models of expert strategy use and think-alouds that show how he is actively making sense of the text

Now, I realize that these guys look elementary, but it all depends on the words you put in their mouths. To see what I mean, check out this impressive range of books (each is available in the Shared Books Library):

  • Shakespeare’s Shylock (Grades 9 – 12/ ELA)
  • Still I Rise (Maya Angelou) (Grades 9 – 12/ ELA)
  • Multiplying Binomials (Grades 9 – 12/Math)
  • Fracturing Fraction Frustration (Grades 6 – 8/Math)
  • Gettysburg Address (Grades 6 – 8/Social Studies)
  • The 500 Million Year History of Vertebrates (Grades 4 – 8/Science)
  • Animal Parade (Grades 3 – 5/ELA)
  • The Majestic Migrating Monarch (Grade 2/Science)
  • And Suddenly Spring (Grades 1 – 3/ELA)
  • A Rainforest Adventure (Grade 1/Science)
  • Transportation (K/Social Studies)

Other features you won’t want to miss while exploring Book Builder:

  • Your story vocabulary can be captured in a hyperlinked glossary, which can include sounds and images
  • You can add your own media to your books
  • Created books can be added to a searchable, browseable Shared Books Library
  • The Resources section has valuable and highly relevant information that will improve your and your students’ stories

It’s important to note that Book Builder does not have its own built-in text-to-speech program. The books are compatible with both free and commercial text-to-speech tools, however. Alternatively, you can choose to add an audio narration of the text on each page of your book.

What better way to create a gift for our students? And what better way to engage our students in the creation and publication of their own stories, which is a lasting gift in and of itself. All that with no trip to the mall. Yeah!