Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cleaning up the Distractions

I've recently attended professional developments on reading apprenticeship and teaching students how to read informational text.  One of the concerns that came up is getting quality text for students to read.  Most of the science and social studies classes at our school only have one class set of books, which means that if a students want to take a book home, they have to check one out, and hopefully bring it back the next day.  I've had good results getting online sources of information using websites like Newsela, where you can search by subject, and then adjust reading level.

Aside from being able to individualize the articles, another nice thing about Newsela is the fact that when you are reading the articles, the website is relatively clear of distractions.  Sometimes, however, you find an article on the web from another news source that fits perfectly with what you're currently working on in class - the only problem is that there are ads peppered around the screen trying to grab your attention away from what you want the students to read.  Enter apps like Readability and Evernote Clearly.  Both of these extensions, which can be downloaded to your Chrome browser toolbar, or onto a Chromebook, allow you to clean up the background of the article and just show you the text and pictures that actually pertain the the article itself.

To use both of the extensions, you first need to open an article that you want to read and click on the
extension in your browser toolbar.  After clicking on the icon, both extensions open a new version of the article and any pictures that go with the article while cleaning up any advertisement that is on the original page.  Within Readability, you have the option of "Read Now", "Read Later", or "Send To Kindle".  In order to read later, you have to create an account with Readability.

Once you have the document open, Readability allows you to change the appearance of the article by changing the font, font size, width of the article across the screen, and switching between a daytime view and a nighttime view.  You can also share the article with other Readability users, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, email or print it.

Evernote Clearly
Evernote Clearly also allows you to alter the way the article appears by changing the font, font size, background color.  The initial options available for you are relatively limited, you can choose night reading or two other light backgrounds with black text, or you can customize it to something completely your own with various fonts, colors and backgrounds.  While Clearly doesn't allow you to share the article with others, you can add the article to your Evernote account or print it.

One really nice function that Clearly has over Readability is that you can use a highlight feature on the article while you're reading it.  This feature is a great way for students to work on taking notes and looking for important text features.

While I've used Readability for my own personal use, I haven't used it in the classroom yet, but as I'm starting to look for more online resources for my students to read, I can see myself using both of these, probably Clearly, more for the ability to highlight text than anything else.

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