A Reflection on the Changing Nature of Literacy and the Implications for Teaching and Learning

LABELING AND DEFINING LITERACY IN 2016

Scholars have used a variety of terms to describe how literacy has changed:

  • digital literacy
  • digital literacies
  • new literacies
  • online reading comprehension
  • digital inquiry

In trying to put a label on new concepts, educators/scholars are stuck trying to account for existing frameworks for thinking while simultaneously creating new vocabulary that accurately describes the fundamental differences between the existing and the new. Nobody sits down at a big meeting and makes a decision that everyone sticks to–the meanings of words may originally be envisioned by their creators but those meanings are complicated, negotiated, and transformed by everyone else who uses the words as well. The existence of a multitude of words to describe a series of similar concepts isn’t surprising–language in general functions this way (and the fast-paced change visible in the language of internet slang is a perfect example of this continual creation, complication, negotiation, and transformation in word meaning).

I think the plural form comes from an implied expansion of sorts–the idea that “literacies” includes a wider range of ideas than simply “literacy.” Corio (2003) asserts our definition of literacy has expanded from “traditional notions of reading and writing” to include a larger variety of mental activities (p. 458). Hammerberg explores the idea that literacies are multiple as a consequence of being connected to a variety (plural) of sociocultural contexts (2004, p. 649). Castek, et al. (2015) suggest there are additional “literacies” involved in online research and comprehension. All of these suggest a broadening of our original notions of literacy beyond simply reading and writing, and the term “new literacies” implies that these are relatively recent developments (which is true in a historical sense if you consider the length of time the “new” literacies have existed compared to the length of time the historical literacy/ies of the printing press have existed).

In defining what scholars consider to be “new” about literacy, we can look at a number of different definitions. At a broad level, Hammerberg (2004), drawing on Gee (1996) defines reading as “knowing how to be and act and think appropriately with the type of text, situation, or discourse at hand,” though this is true about both traditional and new literacies (p. 649). Coiro (2003, p. 458) suggests new literacies are “active, strategic, and critical process of constructing meaning” (p. 425). And finally, Castek, et al. (2015) suggest the following is true of new literacies (p. 325):

(1) The Internet is this generation’s defining technology for literacy and learning within our global community;
(2) The Internet and related technologies require additional new literacies to fully access their potential;
(3) new literacies are deictic [context matters];
(4) new literacies are multiple, multimodal, and multifaceted;
(5) critical literacies are central to new literacies;
(6) new forms of strategic knowledge are required with new literacies;
(7) new social practices are a central element of New Literacies; and
(8) teachers become more important, though their role changes, within new literacy classrooms.

I agree with the above quoted descriptions of how various scholars conceptualize new literacies. In particular, I think the most important traits to remember are that the new literacies are much more process-based than traditional literacies and inherently social.

I struggled with Lankshear and Knobel’s (2008) distinction between newness in the ontological sense and newness in the paradigmatic sense. After consideration and discussion during an online meeting for our class on October 6th, I decided my definitions are as follows:

  • Ontological newness refers to a difference in how the task of literacies has fundamentally changed–it is a different way of perceiving the performance of literacies
  • Paradigmatic newness refers to the way we might think about literacy’s existence, and by extension to the ways we teach and learn about it.

Both conceptions of newness are interesting for attempting to broaden our understanding of how literacies can be new, but I don’t feel an understanding of the semantic difference between these two is necessary to grasp some of the more practical aspects of applying and teaching new literacies.

Other labels like “online reading comprehension” or “digital inquiry,” or the use of upper or lowercase versions of these terms do not necessarily create more confusion, they just refer to specific pieces of larger conceptions of the new literacies. I have taken to using the term “new literacies” because it implies recent novel development, a plurality of forms of literacy, and it is not quite so specific as something like “digital inquiry,” which could be said to represent a specific part of the new literacies. I also feel that a messiness with language and terminology is inherent as a part of communicating using the new literacies given the effect that they have on language and modes of communicating–why would it not be inherent in the very terms we use to describe them? I feel that we should embrace this messiness, as our conception of literacy is certain to become more complicated in the future, and I don’t feel that an inability to define terms precisely in the immediate term necessarily prevents us from investigating the application of these concepts and their implications.

IMPLICATIONS FOR TEACHING AND LEARNING

No matter what you call them, do you think the online reading/digital literacy skills, strategies, practices, and mindsets outlined in your readings from Week 4 and 5 are more, less, or equally important for today’s students compared to those related to offline reading comprehension, vocabulary, and/or fluency (as discussed in reading from Weeks 1-3)?

I feel the readings from weeks 1-3 on offline reading comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency are nearly (but not quite) as important as our readings on online reading and digital literacy skills, if only because foundational conceptions of literacy are helpful for providing the undergirding framework necessary for understanding and teaching the new literacies.

As an educator, in a practical sense, if I needed to pick only one set of articles to read, understand, and apply, I would choose our more recent readings on new literacies. While there were definitely parts of teaching reading that I was unfamiliar with that I learned from our first set of articles, in my mind, scholarship is most useful for driving our practice forward. While the articles from weeks 4-5 could not have been written without offline reading scholars pioneering our understanding of how reading comprehension is built and strengthened, much of the underlying theory and practice can be implied from our discussion of new literacies. In the same way that more recent software updates also contain bug fixes for all of the older versions, our more recent conceptions of literacy incorporate our understanding of more traditional print literacy.

To support my earlier point that the more practical of the two groups of readings would be the latter set on digital/online reading and writing, I would cite my new thinking about how I will expand my teaching of (the new) literacies as a result of these frameworks: Thinking about the new literacies has expanded my notion of what instruction should look like for students in a way that I might not have necessarily considered if I lived in a world with only traditional print literacies. One of the affordances of technology is the speed at which it can allow teachers to differentiate and to provide opportunities for inquiry and divergent knowledge creation–something very time consuming to do, and somewhat limited in scope when teaching using only traditional print literacies. Thinking about the new literacies and how to best apply them is an invitation to “push the envelope” so to speak, in a way that print literacies do not by themselves encourage. When new technology arrives at school, it feels somewhat disingenuous to simply use it to replicate existing print literacy practices. While the shift takes time, moving towards redefinition (SAMR model) feels like a kind of responsibility–if I have this new resource, I should be using it in a meaningful way. Additionally, the existence of new literacies outside the classroom necessitates our use and teaching of them inside the classroom. For example, if you will be faced with increasing demands for critical reading and evaluation in life outside of school, it is the responsibility of educators to provide you with instruction that will help you develop those skills.

References

Coiro, J. (2003). Reading Comprehension on the Internet: Expanding our understanding of reading comprehension to encompass new literacies. The Reading Teacher, 56, 458-464.

Hammerberg, D. (2004). Comprehension instruction for sociocultural diverse classrooms: A review of what we know. The Reading Teacher, 57(7), 648-656.

Castek, et al. (2008). Research on Instruction and Assessment in the New Literacies of Online Research and Comprehension. In Morrow, L. M., Comprehension instruction: Research-based best practices. C. C. Block, & S. R. Parris (Eds.). Guilford Press.

Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2008). From ‘reading’ to ‘new literacy studies. In C. Lankshear & M. Knobel, New literacies: Everyday pracices and classroom learning. Berkshire, England: Open University Press/McGraw-Hill Education.

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Introducing New Literacies Scholar: Dr. Amy Carter Hutchison

Today’s blog post is an introduction to Dr. Amy Carter Hutchison, a new literacies scholar who is concerned with literacy, technology, how they are integrated in the classroom, and how best to provide teachers with effective professional development for integrating literacy and technology.

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Dr. Amy Carter Hutchison

Why did she begin doing this work?

In an interview with the Voice of Literacy Podcast, Hutchison describes how her interest in this area of study was sparked when she was in a 1:1 classroom and observed just how little the devices were being used, so she set out to learn more about how teachers actually use technology in the classroom.

What kind of work does she do?

Her very descriptive online profile at George Mason University, where she is an Associate Professor, outlines the three areas her work focuses on, the research she does, and the populations she works with and for:

(1) Understanding how digital technology can be used equitably and to support diverse learners

(2)Understanding and Supporting the Development of STEM literacy among underrepresented students

(3) Understanding how digital technology can support the development of literacy skills and how to support and prepare preservice and inservice teachers to effectively integrate digital technology into literacy and language arts instruction.

Focused on these areas of interest, she conducts research across the PK-20 spectrum, across disciplines, in formal and informal learning environments, and with pre-service and practicing teachers using a variety of inquiry tools and methodologies. In her work, she has constructed and examined innovative instructional approaches and practices that are facilitated by the integration of digital technology, which most recently include the use of coding apps and augmented reality for literacy instruction.

What does she hope to accomplish with her work?

Also according to her George Mason University profile, with her work, she hopes to “[encourage] teachers to examine their instructional practice, to understand the ways that digital technology transforms what it means to be literate, to understand the importance of providing equitable access to high-quality instruction with digital technology, and to understand the interconnected nature of reading, writing and digital technology.”

She’s also the creator and director of The Technology Integration project, “a program designed to support teachers in designing effective and innovative instruction with digital tools” (Hutchison, 2016).

She’s won some awards (more than a few):

For her work, she has received a number of awards–most recently the “Literacy Research Association Early Career Achievement Award” (2014)–all of which are listed in her Curriculum Vitae.

What are some of the things she has published?

On her personal webpage describing her research, Hutchison outlines the themes flowing through some of her published research.

Hutchison conducted a national survey that examined how teachers use technology in their literacy instruction. As part of this survey, she looked at challenges and barriers teachers faced to implementing technology effectively.

After completing this survey, she concluded that teachers need more effective professional development to learn how to effectively integrate technology for literacy instruction, so she started studying how educators perceive their professional development related to technology and how to best conduct professional development to teach educators to integrate technology (particularly through blogging).

She has also focused on using iPads to “innovate and transform” literacy instruction.

Her academia.edu page also lists links to the full text of her published articles. I found her article, “Using Coding Apps to Support Literacy Instruction and Develop Coding Literacy” to be particularly interesting. After the URI Summer Institute in Digital Literacy, I wrote a cool-tools review of Ready that explored some of the same ideas (though at a much smaller scale–my review was just a blog post) explored by Hutchison, et al. (2015).

What unique idea(s) has this person contributed to the field?
What from her work has resonated with me and my previous experience and personal interests?

I think the idea of using coding to support literacy instruction is somewhat unique, and Hutchison et al.’s exploration of the idea provides several clear examples for how to bridge the gap between code and literacy, particularly in the English/Language Arts classroom. I attempted to explain how I might bridge this gap with my cool-tools review of Ready, but Hutchison’s article (linked above) does that much more effectively than I did. I think coding is latent with potential as a tool/framework/discourse, but it is usually relegated to the domain of math and science teachers. On a personal level, I am interested in learning more about how coding can be integrated into the English/Language arts classroom, as I am an English/Language Arts teacher, have many years of experience with coding as a hobbyist, and feel that the integration of these two areas is still in its infancy but holds a lot of possibility.

Another idea I found unique was the notion that, as part of effective professional development, teachers should engage in authentically using the same tools for learning that they want students to use. According to an article that Hutchison co-authored on using blogging as a literary response, “engaging teachers in literature response projects that utilize social networking blogs provided first-hand experiences that opened up a consideration of how such activities might be employed in language arts classrooms” (Colwell et al., 2012, p. 241). This idea resonated with me, because my experience going through a National Writing Project summer institute demonstrated to me just how effective becoming a writer myself was for improving my teaching of writing. Good professional development is not just sit-and-get (which it unfortunately often is). Good professional development is going through the same learning experiences you will eventually want your students to go through.

How might this person’s work be of interest to classroom teachers or the students in our class as we study digital literacy and online reading comprehension?

Hutchison’s work aims to discover how classroom teachers can better use technology in literacy instruction, and how best to teach teachers to use that technology. Her scholarship can inform teachers on how to use iPads, blogs, coding, social networking, and wikis (among other tools) in the classroom, but it can also inform teachers and teacher leaders not just how to use these tools, but how best to train teachers to adopt these tools and to integrate them fully in the classroom so they are not just used to maintain existing pedagogical structures but to create a completely new learning experience for students.

Do you think he/she represents more of a cognitive or sociocultural frame of mind in relation to literacy (based on what you’ve read so far)?

Based on my limited reading of Hutchison’s work, I think Hutchison represents a sociocultural frame of mind in relation to literacy, particularly when it comes to using coding to support literacy instruction. In “Using Coding Apps to Support Literacy Instruction and Develop Coding Literacy,” Hutchison describes the social context surrounding video games and coding apps (which are related), and argues that there is a clear bridge between learning the language of a game and content-specific academic language: “Gee (2013) contends that to participate in video games, players must learn the technical or specialized language of the game, which can prepare them to learn content-specific academic language in the future” (Hutchison,  et al., 2015, p. 5). This acknowledgement of the ways that the particular Discourses and language situations attached to the social context of a video game or coding environment can be used to bolster literacy represents, I think, a vision of learning as never separate from a particular social context.

 

References

Baker, E. A. & Hutchison, A. (2011, November 7). U. S. National Survey: Teachers’ Perceptions of Integrating Literacy and Technology. Voice of Literacy. Podcast retrieved from http://www.voiceofliteracy.org/posts/44575

Colwell, J., Hutchison, A., & Reinking, D. (2012). Using blogs to promote literary response during professional development. Language Arts, 89(4), 232-243. Retrieved from http://iastate.academia.edu/AmyHutchison/Papers/1561285/Using_Blogs_to_Promote_Literary_Response_during_Professional_Development

Hutchison, A., & Reinking, D. (2010). A national survey of barriers to integrating information and communication technologies into literacy instruction. In Jimenez, V. Risko, M. Hundley, & D. Rowe (Eds.), Fifty-Ninth Yearbook of the National Reading Conference (pp.-230-243). National Reading Conference. Milwaukee, WI. Retrieved from http://iastate.academia.edu/AmyHutchison/Papers/384319/A_National_Survey_of_Barriers_to_Integrating_Information_and_Communication_Technologies_into_Literacy_Instruction

Hutchison, A., & Reinking, D. (2011). Teachers’ perceptions of integrating information and communication technologies into literacy instruction: A national survey in the United States. Reading Research Quarterly, 46(4), 312-333. Retrieved from https://www.academia.edu/1503253/Teachers_Perceptions_of_Integrating_Information_and_Communication_Technologies_Into_Literacy_Instruction_A_National_Survey_in_the_United_States

Hutchison, A. (2012). Literacy teachers’ perceptions of professional development that increases integration of technology into literacy instruction. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 21(1), 37-56. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1475939X.2012.659894

Hutchison, A., Beschorner, B., & Schmidt‐Crawford, D. (2012). Exploring the use of the iPad for literacy learning. The Reading Teacher, 66(1), 15-23. doi: 10.1002/TRTR.01090

Hutchison, A. (2014). My Research. Web site retrieved from https://sites.google.com/site/isuliteracy/my-research

Hutchison, A. Curriculum Vitae. (2016). Retrieved from https://cehd.gmu.edu/assets/files/cv/2608.pdf

Hutchison, A. (2016). Hutchison, Amy Carter. George Mason University College of Education and Human Development Faculty Directory. Retrieved from https://cehd.gmu.edu/people/faculty/ahutchi9 

Hutchison, A., Nadolny, L., & Estapa, A. (2016). Using coding apps to support literacy instruction and develop coding literacy. Reading Teacher, 69(5), 493-503DOI:10.1002/trtr.1440

A Reflection on Strategic Reading Comprehension and Motivating Contexts For Developing Offline Reading Comprehension

Strategic Readers

What makes a reader strategic?

A strategic reader can develop a plan for reading, execute that plan, and modify and adjust the plan when necessary. In order to develop an effective plan to execute, a reader must have a base level of knowledge and skills necessary to approach a reading task with not just the ability to begin but the mental tools for handling the inevitable challenges that will present themselves along the way. These mental tools can be (loosely) categorized into two domains: specific comprehension skills, and dispositions/attitudes that influence engagement, which affects comprehension.

Strategic Readers
Skill based comprehension strategies
(drawn from Duke and Pearson (2002))
Dispositions/attitudes
(drawn from Swan (2003))
  • Identify a purpose for reading
  • Preview a text before reading
  • Make predictions before and during reading
  • Activate background knowledge
  • Think aloud or in one’s head
  • Create or imagine visual representations of the text
  • Separate main ideas from details
  • Summarize what was read
  • Sense of competence/self-efficacy
  • Feelings of responsibility derived from choice/autonomy
  • Sense of belonging and value to community
  • Desire for conceptual knowledge
  • Opportunity for social interaction surrounding reading experiences
  • Self-monitoring, metacognition, fix-up strategies (could fall under “skill based comprehension strategies”)

 

How do more strategic readers differ from less strategic readers?

More strategic readers will have a wider range of these mental tools at their disposal, and they will be able to work through comprehending text that might be considered above their reading level because they are able to use these strategies in tandem to climb the metaphorical mountain that is a given text. Acquiring these tools requires years of diverse reading experiences, is probably (certainly) aided by instruction in how to use these mental tools, and develops as procedural knowledge, not as specialized content knowledge like knowledge in math or science (Johnson, 2014). More strategic readers are more comfortable and adept with all of the mental tools at their disposal. An analogy: it is the difference between a new driver who might need to think consciously about a driving procedure like changing lanes or checking a blind spot, and a more experienced driver who has built automatic habits for these procedures.

What appears to be some of the key research that informs how we currently define reading comprehension and how to teach it to learners of various ages?

Swan (2003) focused on the CORI model, and what struck me about this model was its concern with so many of the emotions related to reading processes. It considered effective reading comprehension to be inextricably connected to movtivation and engagement, which are driven by autonomy, inquiry, social learning, and intellectual curiosity.

Johnson (2014) introduces the idea that while there are differences between reading comprehension when it comes to a traditional print text and a digital (particularly online) text, digital text appears to augment existing print based material rather than replace it with something completely novel. Additionally, it appears that some of the reading skills necessary for comprehending print text (like sustained focus on longer texts) can be useful for counteracting some of downsides of online text (namely the overwhelming choice available and the short nature of many online texts).

Duke and Pearson (2002) give an overview of a variety of approaches to teaching comprehension, all of which show evidence of improving students’ reading comprehension abilities. A connection among them that I notice is that they all make explicit what are usually “hidden” thinking processes, and the strategies give students gradually more independent practice at those thinking processes. Duke and Pearson end their piece with the following advice, which rings true to me based on my experience teaching: “Although we can now point to a litany of effective techniques, that does not mean that using a litany of techniques will be effective” (235).

Connections

What connections do you see across the texts and ideas?

Swan (2003) examined CORI, which–based on the short videos and the description of “Margaret’s” classroom–shares many of the same hallmarks of our definition of inquiry from the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy. In particular, the notion of student autonomy as essential to motivation and engagement resonated with my experiences and learning from the Summer Institute, and the questions students asked in the videos reminded me a lot of the Question Formulation Technique.

Across all texts (Swan, Duke and Pearson, and Johnson), I notice that there is an appreciation for the complex and understandably messy procedure that is comprehending a piece of text, as well as an appreciation for the difficulty in teaching how to comprehend text. There is an acknowledgement of the many pieces of mental machinery that work must work together for a reader to comprehend a specific text, and also a sense that reading comprehension can be improved through specific techniques designed to strengthen individual pieces of this machinery with “Coach O” (Johnson, 2014) serving as a model for identifying just which pieces need polish and how to do so.

Given the messy nature of comprehending text and teaching reading comprehension, it doesn’t surprise me that reading comprehension is not taught as often or as effectively as we might hope–and that I have not yet learned how to teach reading comprehension as effectively as I would like.

What connections do you see between these ideas and things happening in your teaching/learning/working context? Teaching practices? Learner behaviors? Classroom (or other setting) climates?

The description of CORI in Swan (2003) reinforced the notion that I need to improve my implementation of a few concepts I made the goal of incorporating into my instruction following the Summer Institute: teaching students to ask their own questions, giving students more autonomy/choice, increasing the amount of social learning time I give to students, and building in opportunities for reflection.

Implications/Questions/Critiques

What implications do these ideas have for your work in education?

A point Johnson (2014) made was that we need to prepare learners to be strategic readers in ways that will give them the skills they need not just to be strategic readers now, but in a few decades when they graduate, go to college, join the workforce, and engage in their communities as active citizens. This point shifts my thinking from putting an emphasis on skills students will need to read specific kinds of texts in their immediate context to putting an increased emphasis on developing the kinds of mental tools described in part one of this post. Having specific knowledge for how to read a certain kind of text is great; having the procedural knowledge for how to respond when you encounter challenges with a brand-new form of text is better.

What questions do you have? (e.g., clarifying terms, broader applications, extended wonderings, critiques)

Swan (2003) examined coherent versus fragmented instruction, and reading that section made my heart sink a little, because I know how challenging a process it can be to integrate specific strategies across grade levels at the secondary level, much less across disciplines. The CORI model was described in various elementary classrooms where an individual teacher may have control over the various subjects of the curriculum (though I realize this is not always the case), and while a great deal of what was described is directly applicable to my work with 9th and 11th graders in an English classroom, my particular context in a traditional high school by nature creates a fragmented learning experience for students, where the day is separated into seven 45-minute chunks where the learning in each class usually has nothing to do with the learning in any other class.

There is a real challenge to creating a less fragmented environment for students in a setting specifically designed for that fragmentation, but some of the ideas introduced in Swan (2003) are already part of the conversation for how to improve reading instruction in my school. There has already been discussion about integrating more teaching of reading into the various subject areas in my school, and in the last two years we have hired (or trained) two new reading specialists. In the near future, this discussion will continue–now I have something to add to it!

 

*Note: When it comes to reading digital text, a whole slew of complicating factors come into play. I might add the following list as a companion to the description in part one of strategic readers when considering skills involved in comprehending online text (drawn from Johnson’s (2014) discussion of Corio and Dobler (2007) and NCTE’s 21st Century Literacies Framework (2008)):
  • The ability to self-regulate in an online environment, particularly by moving between 1) information generated through quick online searches of short texts and 2) more traditional reading of longer texts
  • Take risks, work independently and collaboratively, create new knowledge, engage with diverse perspectives
  • Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia
  • Use inquiry to ask questions and solve problems
As seen from the above list, comprehending online text is not simply a more advanced reading process–it is a two way street in the world of Web 2.0, inextricable from writing, where a reader is no longer simply a processor of information but an active participant in the creation of knowledge using another author’s text as a stimulus.

Teaching Computational Thinking With Ready – Student Created Simulations to Deepen Understanding of Evidence for Argumentative Writing

For most people–even those who consider themselves relatively tech-savvy–coding is an arcane skill reserved for dedicated specialists. There’s a sharp learning curve involved, and seemingly little reason to learn to write code given the seemingly endless abundance of free apps available for anything you’d reasonably, or unreasonably, need. But last week, Jeff Immelt, CEO of General Electric, wrote the following:

“If you are joining the company in your 20s, unlike when I joined, you’re going to learn to code. It doesn’t matter whether you are in sales, finance or operations. You may not end up being a programmer, but you will know how to code.” (Source)

Why would we want everyone to code? Because…

Coding Teaches Computational Thinking

“Computational thinking makes it possible for transplant surgeons to realize that more lives can be saved by optimizing the exchange of organs among pools of donors and recipients. It enables new drug designs to be analyzed so that they are less likely to create drug-resistant strains of diseases. Artists, when given the tools to think and express themselves computationally, can create totally new modes of human experience. Users of the Internet, when empowered with computational thinking, can demystify privacy technologies and surf the web safely.” (Source)

Computational thinking is not just a skill desired in the workplace. It is a mental tool that can empower students to solve complex problems through higher order thinking skills like breaking information into pieces, observing patterns, generating principles, and developing methods for solving similar problems. Regardless of what you teach, your students would benefit from doing computational thinking.

I teach English, and I want my students to use these mental tools, particularly when it comes to understanding evidence they can use to support a perspective in argumentative writing.

But coding is really hard.

I don’t have time to learn to code, much less time to teach it.

I teach [English/History/whatever]. Coding is just for people in math and computer science classes.

Wrong. Enter Ready.

What Its Got Going For It

Ready is a program that allows students to practice the skills of computational thinking without having to write a single line of code. The interface is drag and drop, colorful, and clearly organized. It is designed to be simple enough for a child to learn through exploration and play. The program and runs on iPads, Windows PCs, and Macs, and the free version is powerful enough to create actual programs.

The object palette in Ready.
The object palette in Ready.

Ready’s interface is visual and focused around manipulable objects. Once a student has created a visual layout in which objects can “behave” and be manipulated, students can then engage in designing processes and behaviors for the objects to perform. Students use computational thinking to create whatever virtual world they want to create.

Ready's "events" window.
Ready’s “events” window.

Students can choose from a wide variety of behaviors for their objects and “program” behaviors for them using many of the powerful features that computer languages offer like if/then constructions (called when/do in Ready) and classes (used for object-oriented programming).

I teach high school students, and the visual design of Ready makes this kind of computational thinking accessible to them.

In brief: Ready is visually appealing, easy to use, quick to learn, and contains many powerful features of programming languages.

Where It Is Lacking

Ready lacks some of the more complex and powerful features that real programming languages might offer, like communicating with existing internet frameworks and performing higher level math functions. You are limited to the edges of the Ready “window” when you create your project. More complex operations may exist somewhere in the program (if not, perhaps in a future update?), but if they do they are not as overtly displayed and as easy to implement as some of the other features that have to do with object properties and movement. Additionally, there is no way to go “underneath the hood” and work with an actual programming language or pseudo-language in the context of the project you are working on. If this were possible, it would be the perfect next-step for students who are ready to move on to an intermediate stage between Ready’s point-and-click programming and actual programming languages.

However, in the way I would use Ready, I don’t anticipate many of my students needing these additional features.

Unless you pay for an upgraded version of Ready, you as a teacher do not have access to any kind of classroom control panel for administration and grading, and neither you or your students can “share” any of your projects on the open internet–the program is confined to the computer it was created on.

In brief: Ready sacrifices simplicity for power when compared to actual programming languages, but “power” is not necessarily Ready’s goal. For many of the features a teacher would want to use to manage class projects, you need to pay for an upgraded version.

Computational Thinking In English Class – A Lesson Using Ready

Ready is by nature a project-based tool that provides an avenue of exploration for students to sharpen their computational thinking skills. As an English teacher, using Ready all by its lonesome in my classroom doesn’t make a lot of sense. I don’t teach programming. I want my students to gain the benefits of computational thinking skills to augment the work we are doing with argumentation and critical thinking. In this case, Ready is a tool for using computational thinking skills to explore the concepts students are investigating in their reading and discussion.

Because of its primarily visual nature, Ready is best suited for creating simulations of physical spaces and displaying representations of the consequences of actions. In my English class, I ask students to complete a community profile project where they research, synthesize and communicate issues, concerns, attitudes, values, beliefs, and possible courses of action related to an issue within their community. As a part of completing that community profile project, students could use Ready to create a simulation that:

  • demonstrates the consequences of particular courses of action
  • helps students understand cause and effect relationships by exploring the concepts through computational thinking
  • use the data generated by the simulation as evidence for supporting a written argument

To be clear: using Ready will only be one piece of the larger community profile project that involves researching, interviewing, collecting survey data, and synthesizing information visually and in writing.

In the following example, a student is trying to answer the inquiry question: “What should my community do to reduce carbon emissions?” Using Ready, the student could explore possible answers to that question by creating a simulation that allows the user to examine various pathways to reducing greenhouse gas emissions within the community and the effects of those choices. I have created a sample student product–a (very simplified and somewhat inaccurate) simulation–that you can see in this video:

Students would need to research how multiple variables influence one another before creating this simulation. Creating the simulation requires students to think computationally about the relationships between variables, which deepens their understanding of the complexity of the choices available and their consequences. As their understanding deepens, so does their ability to use evidence to advocate for a particular perspective or course of action. Students could explain the process and results of this simulation and use that as evidence to support a written argument. There are obvious interdisciplinary applications here as well for building a bridge between English, science, and statistics.

I would expect that students will need some time initially to learn to use the tool through exploration and to think about what they could simulate using the tool, and what kinds of data they would want their simulation to generate. Computational thinking will be new for most students, and it is not something that is easily described, so this time for exploration and play is imperative.

I imagine that for students exploring more abstract issues that cannot be represented quite as easily with data (stereotypes and perceptions for example), using Ready might prove a bit more challenging, and students would need to find ways to quantify data that is usually qualitative by identifying patterns or collecting data through surveys. For some students, the process of working with computational thinking related to the issue they are exploring will be more valuable than any kind of product they might end up creating using Ready.

In reflecting on the implementation of this tool in the classroom setting I would want to collect information from students on their experience. What did they find most useful? In what ways do they understand their issue of focus more deeply? How would they explain what they now know to someone younger than them?

To really see whether or not there is application of understanding occurring, I would look for indicators in students’ writing that show they are using evidence examined through computational thinking to more strongly support a thesis/perspective/course of action.

 

Here’s the link to Ready’s website where you can download the tool:

ready_r_jpeg getready.io

Licensing beyond the free account:
Maker Account: $6.45 per month
Group License: $18.85 per month (30 seats)
School License: $195.95 per month (200 seats)