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The Multimodal Independent Reading Toolkit

About This Inquiry

In the Beginning

I have always loved experimenting with new forms of technology. I am not a "first adopter" of brand new technology, but I have definitely considered myself a "fairly early adopter." When my principal asked if I wanted to attend the Inquiry to Action professional development at Teachers College, I jumped at the chance to participate in the "multimodal projects" inquiry team, which seemed to focus on using technology to enhance student projects. After the first meeting, we came away with instructions to think of an inquiry to pursue throughout the year, starting with "knowing" a particular student, administrator, parent, colleague, etc. I chose a student who seemed to be more reserved and reticent than most of my others.
Multimodal theory centers around the idea of making meaning; specifically, making meaning in various modes. I knew immediately how I wanted to help my students make meaning: with their reading.

The First Steps

I chose to do my experiment in multi-modality with my independent reading program for a variety of reasons, but most importantly because in its ideal form, independent reading is inherently differentiated and inclusive. Furthermore, when I began this inquiry, I had already put the structures into place for students to respond to their reading in project form, so it made sense to expand that aspect of my current classroom setup to make space for my inquiry.
Originally, I asked my students to read independently for an hour every day, and I gave no other homework, other than studying vocabulary words for weekly quizzes. Students were to fill out reading logs each night, answering questions that were based on reading skills explicitly taught in class. At the end of each marking period, students would create an original book project to demonstrate their understanding of the book. The original ideas for book projects that I presented to my students were creating a new book jacket, writing a diary from the point of view of a character, a sculpture or piece of art, and a poem or song. The first marking period, prior to introducing the multimodal project ideas I learned about in my spotlight, the projects were lackluster. The students didn't take ownership of them, and they were just another project that they had to complete in our project-based school environment.
Once I introduced Animoto, things changed. The kids were delighted with the opportunity to set up professional-looking video slideshows. Their enthusiasm was reflected in the quality of the output, and students took a lot of time to explore the capabilities the site provided. They searched for the "perfect" pictures, and even came up with free website to find the perfect background music. As their comfort grew, the length of their videos grew, too. Additionally, students started using Animoto for projects in science, history, and advisory, in addition to using them in English class.
There was just one problem, though: the videos were basically glorified book reports. They contained mostly summary, and very little higher-order thinking. Going forward, I will need to scaffold how to include higher-order thinking into the video slide shows, in order to truly assess student knowledge.

And the Missteps

Another type of multimodal project that I introduced, with less success, was the idea of fan fiction, or fanfic. Fanfic refers to stories, poems, or songs of varying lengths that are written or created by fans of an original work, using the characters and sometimes settings of the original, though often incorporating original characters and settings. Some works that are used by fanfic writers as starting points are the Harry Potter septology, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Twilight series, various works of anime and manga, and the Star Trek television series. What is wonderful about fan fiction is that there are tons of communities on the internet for publishing different works, so students can quickly become published authors when they write their fanfic.
Fanfic is a truly excellent way to assess understanding of a book. In order to write a successful piece of fanfic, the author must have a deep understanding of character traits, setting, plot, and conflict in the original work, while also having an understanding of how to create all of these elements in their own works. Writing anything takes a lot of struggle, revision, and time. I had a few students who wrote short pieces, but I had one student who took the idea of fanfic and ran with it, publishing a multi-chapter novel that she published on Going forward, I will give students a lot more time to write their fanfics, the opportunity to revise and continue them, and a great deal more scaffolding on all of the necessary literary elements for writing them.

Practice Makes Perfect

Reading logs were instrumental in the growth of many of my students as readers. However, they were not differentiated enough to truly help all of my students grow. The students who were reading below grade level grew significantly, but I do not feel that the reading logs I used last year helped the more advanced students, who were already independently analyzing and evaluating the works that they read, rather than only comprehending them, grow. Going forward, I will have different ways for different students to keep track of their reading, depending on the skills they currently possess. You can see my ideas for differentiated reading logs on the reading logs page.
The other pages in this site will include all of the handouts, lesson plans, and other documents that I used to create this multi-modal reading program. I hope you will find it useful and that you can borrow and adapt these materials for your classroom!