Apr 20 2017

Chrome Extensions Can Boost and Celebrate Literacy Among K–12 Students

Leveraging a popular web browser can help teachers explore and track new ways of reading.

Reading is more than a hobby or pastime. Reading is an important aspect of education that shapes kids into the students, people, professionals and lifelong learners they will become.

Today, with the ever-expanding use of technology impacting our lives, reading has not been immune. What kids read and even how they access reading material is evolving. Thanks in large part to technology, the reach of today's students to access texts extends well beyond printed books and periodicals.

In addition to consuming novels and magazines on e-readers like Kindle, they are reading (and writing) blogs and fan fiction on the web. They are skimming through thousands of words a day in text messages, on social media channels like Facebook and Instagram, and even in the comments accompanying YouTube videos.

As much as technology expands our access to reading, it can be equally disruptive in distracting us from reading. For this reason, it is important for learners and teachers alike to discover how to successfully and effectively utilize tech to further advance reading both for comprehension and critical thinking skills, as well as for the love of reading itself. There are different tools, apps and technologies available to teachers to help their students with this task.

Popular Browser Extensions Give Reading a Social Boost

With Chromebooks accounting for more than half of the education devices used in American classrooms, tools supported by Google Chrome have a lot of potential for classroom use. Experts have identified Chrome browser extensions that can do a lot for educators, but there are some extensions that can assist with student reading.

One such tool is Stackup, a free Google Chrome browser extension that allows users to get credit for time they spend reading online. Users can see their accumulated time spent reading, the sites they visit to do the reading and their percentile rank among other Stackup users.

The rankings, the levels users earn within each category and the competitive class reading challenges create a gamification feel, so reading isn’t just intrinsically motivating, it is also extrinsically rewarding.

Stackup also measures the reading grade level on any web page, allowing users to ensure they are reading appropriately leveled and challenging texts. For teachers, knowing the grade level of texts will help them to quickly differentiate assigned readings based on their students’ varied levels of readiness.

Another great reading tool is Hypothes.is. Also a free Chrome extension, Hypothes.is is part of a growing phenomenon called social reading. Analogous to collaborative writing — think of when our students collaborate in authoring text on a Google Docsocial reading involves the act of collaboratively reading and responding to texts. Readers highlight and annotate text and provide reactions, insights and revelations.

In addition to saving a lot of paper from becoming photocopies, the result of social-reading activities are passages that have been “uptexted” in the margins to include readers' interpretations and conversations, as well as outside links, images and other relevant media.

One of the most exciting use cases illustrating this is the initiation of “annotation flash mobs” in which students from classes in different cities converge on a given text. Within a few days, the original is transformed into a textbook-quality annotated text. The interactions that tools like Hypothes.is facilitate can be deep and powerful. By providing added meaning to texts, students are engaging in a task that can itself be more meaningful than traditional reading assignments. In the current climate of data-driven instruction and teacher evaluation, social reading also offers teachers a way to track student growth in high-level soft skills — like collaboration, analysis, synthesis and creativity — that are valued by employers but invisible on transcripts and untested by standardized assessments.


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