by Paul Morsink
In the March 23, 2012 TILE-SIG feature, Thomas DeVere Wolsey wrote about curating a Personal Learning Environment (PLE)—a personalized digital pegboard where students and teachers can hang links to all the digital tools and resources they use. A free interface such as Symbaloo makes creating such a digital pegboard even easier than, well, hanging your do-it-yourself tools on an old-fashioned pegboard.
The benefits of PLEs are that they “provide entry points [to the Web], organization, and a network that makes sense; these entry points serve as a table of contents to an individual user’s multiple digital interactions.” Further, PLEs are easily shared. Students can assemble their own PLE and then share it with the class. Teachers can create specialized PLEs for different topics or units. With a tool like Symbaloo, users can own any number of PLEs (one for each subject area, for example) and switch between them at will.
Which brings us to the logical next step: assembling your digital Personal Reading Environment (PRE).
Think of the PRE as a more specialized PLE. It’s a curated collection of the digital tools, supports, and other resources you like to have within reach specifically for reading—and/or that you’d like your students to have at their fingertips when they read.
Today, such digital tools and supports for reading abound: online dictionary tools (many different ones worth comparing); text-to-speech engines that will speak aloud a selected section of text; virtual tutors that provide reading strategy tips and advice; specialized glossaries; grammar tools; translation tools; digitally annotated pages from Shakespeare plays and other specific texts of interest; various online encyclopedias for quick access to helpful background information; tools to “clean up” webpages and remove from view everything but the text you want to read; and much, much more.
Having your personal mix of favorite tools and supports always at your fingertips is convenient. But it can be much more than that. With the Common Core State Standards (2010) now calling for K-12 students to read more challenging texts at younger ages, digital reading supports (DRSs) need to be part of the conversation. DRSs can help students improve their on-the-spot comprehension of a given difficult text. Over time, DRSs can also be part of an overall plan for building students’ stamina for challenging texts; empowering students to be active, can-do, problem-solving readers (with and without digital tools); and nurturing their motivation to read.
With September approaching, one idea might be to have every student you teach start the year with a blank Symbaloo Personal Reading Environment. During the first week, you might introduce the idea of the PRE and find out what digital reading supports, if any, your students are already using. Over time, have students add new tools and supports they find useful—and have students explain to you and their peers why they’ve added a particular DRS and how exactly they use it.
I predict you will find these discussions about DRSs to be a valuable addition to the conversations you’re already having with your students about reading strategies and how to tackle difficult texts. Having students talk with each other about their PRE, about the DRSs they find most useful, and about the DRSs they wished they had, is a great way to foster metacognitive reflection about reading.
One final nice thing about using Symbaloo to host your PRE: it’s web-based, so a student can instantly access her Symbaloo PRE from any computer or other device that has an Internet connection. So your PRE really is a toolbox you can bring with you wherever you go!
Paul Morsink is a doctoral student in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology at Michigan State University, email@example.com.
This article is part of a series from the International Reading Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).