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Promoting literacy (through social annotation)

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#edchatie is a discussion about topics relating to education in Ireland, held every Monday evening at 8.30pm on Twitter. Hosted by Fred Boss from the NCTE this forum has grown strongly week on week to be an invaluable part of my PLN (Personal Learning Network).

Last night’s theme was literacy and you can find the jam-packed archive here. Steven Daly from the Camara Ireland Education Hub kicked off with an important question –

Are we talking here purely about ability to read and write or about all literacies – information literacy, digital literacy etc? UNESCO definition: Literacy = ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts

Refer to the archive for a range of answers including Fred Boss’ definition –

“Literacy includes the ability to use and understand spoken language,uber driver login print, writing and digital media”

and Emer Nolan’s assertion –

“Print literacy, oral literacy, media literacy, digital literacy, etc. Non-traditional literacies [are] becoming more important.”

From there on the conversation forked along a number of different paths and it was quite a challenge tuning into coherent threads. In fact, Tweetchat was the only way I could keep pace with the various strings that resonated with me.

Ira Socol is a Michigan based Specialist in Universal Design in Education and Assistive Technology. Ira joins us every Monday evening and always has an informative input –

“For reading to be pleasurable the kids need to want the stories in the books, otherwise, its a chore”

I asked if there was any research to show whether the Harry Potter series of books has had any effect on literacy rates and Ira responded – “I think [the] long-term impact of Harry Potter will be seen in another decade. It got kids to pick up books. If the film drives the book reading, brings them to the story”.

English and History teacher Fintan O’Mahony cautioned – “Many students I know have skimmed [Harry Potter] without any depth of reading.”

Third level lecturer Bernie Goldbach added – “I’ve seen very positive results with Storytelling Alice used to promote reading and storytelling”.

Maths teacher Neil Butler aired the idea of bringing comics and graphic novels into the mix. I asked him if he could see the iPad transforming those but he expressed a preference for “the finish of the page”.

Educational consultant Leslie Graves reminded us – “Attention spans can be short, as it can be harder to access info in a book than digitally”

In a parallel thread a few of us were discussing the idea of ‘reflection’. Annette Black said, “Reflection is any thought. Any thought is wonderous. Teachers can guide to a higher level”. To which  Bernie Goldbach responded – “Reflection can be empowering students to write a different end to a story they like”. Ira Socol added, “writing their own stories, listening to their own stories can really build interest in reading”. At which point I couldn’t help but chime in, “and of course ‘writing a different ending’ is what they do all the time with video games”.

It was at this point that the parallel thread converged on a discussion about the Amazon Kindle and ebook reading. A teacher from Gortskehy National School in Mayo said their, “Mobile library stopped because of cutbacks. Using Kindle for PC to access wide variety of material to suit child’s interests”. LIT Clonmel advised, “If you want to promote reading, [the Kindle] returns more value-for-money than an iPad”. Gortskehy added, “Beauty of Kindle is whether they have mac/pc/ipad at home they can continue reading where they left off at school.”

This was a point that confused a few, as many people are unaware that Kindle is an ecosystem, not just an ereader. So as long as you have the Kindle software installed you can read Kindle books on a variety of hardware.

Bernie Goldbach went so far as to say, “[the Kindle] is probably the best cost-effective tech to spur reading in a primary school”. While Fintan O’Mahony any myself expressed a particular love for the Kindle annotations feature, which allows you to add and share notes across your online network. Social annotation if you will.

Fred Boss said he like to see the Kindle library model moved to Ireland next year, while Ira Socol added, “What you really want is a national collection of digitized books which students can use in variety of forms”.

As a result of this thoroughly engaging discussion a few  #edchatie participants have started a Kindle network. The idea is to ‘eat our own dog food’ and learn the value of social annotation. I know I’ve already found myself drawn to books and stories I would have otherwise missed or ignored. You’ll find my Kindle profile here and if you click on the Following link you’ll find more of the crew.

To summarize, the key learning I took away from last night’s excellent discussion is that reading has to be enjoyable in order to motivate and engage students. I think it’s as important to have kids writing stories (or annotating) as it is reading them.

Like Bernie Goldbach I’ve seen positive results with Storytelling Alice used to promote reading and storytelling. And I’m convinced that by using virtual worlds, the art of machinima — telling your own, dramatic, engaging stories using video games — can help take literacy to new levels.

Bonus Link: Bernie Goldbach on Promoting literacy in the classroom


Simon Lewis

July 26, 2011


Nice article and good summary of the #edchatie. I think the whole world of social annotating would be more suited to second level rather than primary.


July 26, 2011


Thanks for the feedback Simon. I really made my point about social annotation poorly by rushing the end of this (long) blog post and apparently tying the notion to the Kindle. But I’m using the Kindle as an ‘eat your own dogfood’ example which a number of us on #edchatie can experiment with. A better example for younger kids would be where Mary Ann Reilly’s son learned all he needed to set up his own Minecraft server from the ‘socially annotated’ help videos on YouTube. There’s a lot of overlap here with the ‘remix culture’ that I’m reading about now on “A New Culture of Learning”…. and really it’s the notion that kids want to be more engaged in a community of learning where they’re sharing comments on their learning (eg. the community forums on the Scratch website).


[…] resonated with me because it helps to make the point about ‘social annotation‘ much better than I managed to do in Tuesday’s blog post, which had too much emphasis […]


[…] that I think it good or interesting or important, I can annotate it and share it with others.   James Corbett defines social annotation well when writing about his take on the same […]