The Multimodal Independent Reading Toolkit

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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.

Given this lackluster engagement with reading, I implemented a multimodal reading program, including Reading Logs, Book Projects, Animoto, FanFiction, and Art. This inquiry includes all of the handouts, lesson plans, and other documents that I used to create a multi-modal reading program. I hope you will find it useful and that you can borrow and adapt these materials to your classroom!

What is Multimodality?

What the Experts Say

In the early part of this century, the idea of “multimodal theory” was developed, particularly stressing the idea that communication is made up of “modes,” or forms that carry meanings. According to Peggy Albers and Jerome C. Harste, “A multimodal approach in teaching acknowledges, then, that language is only partial, and that many modes are involved in meaning-making, even though one mode may be chosen to represent meaning (language, visual, spatial, digital, and so on)” (Albers & Harste, 2007).

I believe multimodality is primarily about exposure and choice: exposure, because you are introducing students to new technologies or ways of expressing their knowledge; choice, because once students are exposed to these new modes, they are able to choose which ones to use to show their knowledge.

While I fervently believe that it is important for students to be able to express themselves coherently and fluently through writing, it is no longer the only way people in the mythical “real world” express themselves. Additionally, giving students exposure to these different technologies allows them the opportunity to develop passions that they may not have otherwise developed.

I offer the example of one of my students from this previous year. Hasan was a well-behaved student, but he was not very invested in his school work. When I introduced him to Animoto, though, he was all of a sudden exploring it on his own, outside of class. He was the one who figured out how to find free background music, which he was able to share with the rest of the class. He experimented with video length and speed and began using Animoto to complete projects in all of his other classes. His grades increased, and his commitment to all of his other work increased, too, because he knew that he would be able to display his knowledge with Animoto. His peers addressed him as the expert on unlocking all of Animoto’s potential, and he went from the stupid kid who happened to be on the football team to becoming the academically respected football player.

This is the type of story that multi-modality can bring about for our students. That is why I embrace multi-modality as another tool in my English teacher toolbox, in addition to traditional modes of communication, such as writing.


Albers, P., & Harste, J.C. (2007). The arts, new literacies, and multimodality. English Journal, 40(1), 6-20.

Independent Reading: How to Scaffold

Why Independent Reading in High School?

Many elementary and middle schools have implemented a comprehensive independent reading program, with reading logs, DEAR (Drop Everything and Read), and constant assessment of students’ reading levels. Ideally, these programs will have students reading on grade level by the time they graduate from middle school so that students are ready to do high school work.

Unfortunately, I have found that many of my students are not reading on grade level when they come to me in ninth grade, and they are not ready to do high school work. Continuing independent reading in high school means that students have more structured time to, in some cases, catch up, and in others, to expand their abilities to think critically. Most importantly, though, students should actually enjoy what they are reading, in addition to understanding it, so that they learn to love the written word.

Implementing a Meaningful Independent Reading Program

Independent reading in high school shares many similarities to middle school independent reading, but it is also very different. High school students are required to do higher-level thinking in all of their content areas, and English class is a natural place to scaffold that higher-level thinking–and independent reading is an excellent entry point because it is so inherently differentiated. Below I have outlined the steps to implementing independent reading that is helpful and inclusive to all of your students.


Just like in middle school, students need to be assessed, in order for them to read books that they can truly understand and think about critically. While many middle schools use running records, that is time-consuming when you have five classes of 34 students in a high school setting. I have found that the Performance Series works well because all students can be assessed at once (providing that there are enough computers or laptops for those students), but your school needs to pay to use the performance series.

Another full-class exam that works well, and doesn’t require technology or money, is the McLeod assessment. I administer the Performance Series on the first Monday of the school year, and it is usually a three-day process. Once you have gone through the assessments, please make students aware of their own reading levels. Sometimes, this is a difficult conversation to have with students, particularly those who have an unrealistic view of where they are, but it is important for students to be reading books that they are interested in and that they can truly understand. In order to help students learn higher-order skills and think critically, it is important for them to truly comprehend what they are reading. I like to give whatever assessment I give three times per year: once at the beginning of the year, once at the beginning of the second semester, and at the end of the year. Students who are of particular concern can be assessed more frequently.

Choosing Books

Once students are assessed and are aware of their reading levels, it’s important to direct them towards resources for picking out books, whether that’s a classroom library, school library, public library, or bookshelves at home. If you have a leveled classroom library, that’s helpful, but libraries and bookstores are generally not leveled. I like to direct students to the Teacher Book Wizard, where you can enter a title or author, and get reading level equivalents in Fountas and Pinnell, Lexile, and actual grade level measurements. In addition to the Quick Search function, which shows the reading level, the BookAlike function serves as a Pandora for books. These do not work, though, for books that are above the 8th-grade level. Students who are reading above middle school are a little bit tougher to find book recommendations.

Reading Logs

Now that students actually have books that are appropriate and interesting to each individual, it’s time to keep them accountable. My students have generally been familiar with the concept of reading logs from middle school, but I take it a step further in high school. Rather than just recording time and page numbers, students must also answer questions about what they have read.

Reading logs serve multiple purposes. It serves as a tool to track student accountability in an independent reading program, by asking them to record the amount of time they spend reading and the number of pages they have read. These numbers are excellent for ensuring that students are reading a book that is appropriate for their levels (generally, one page every two minutes indicates the appropriate level), but those numbers don’t tell the whole story of a student’s reading life. Including questions to answer on the reading log shows whether students truly comprehend what they are reading, and asks them to think more deeply about what they are reading.

Reading logs are extremely helpful, as they provide information for both the teacher and the student. It demonstrates growth in reading level, comprehension, and higher-level thinking, and it is a scaffold for book projects, as much of the information students write down in reading logs can help students with their book projects.

I have divided my reading logs by reading level, with the hope that students will grow as readers and thinkers and be able to move up through the levels of reading logs.

Reading Log Level 1

This is the first level of reading log, which I use for students who come in reading below a 6th-grade reading level. It resembles a regular reading log, with space to record time and page numbers, but also gives students the space to answer questions about what they have read. Depending on each student’s individual skills you can adapt the questions, and also change the size of the space (for example, a student who struggles with fine motor skills might need a larger space for answering questions). I found that this reading log worked very well for these lower-level students because they were thinking about their reading, but simultaneously increasing their reading skills. A particular student with multiple disabilities in one of my classes, who tested below a second-grade reading level in September, tested on a fourth-grade level in June.

Reading Log Level 2

This is the second level of reading log, which I use for students who read on traditional middle school levels. It resembles the level one reading log, with spaces to record time and page numbers, but the questions are more complex, focusing less on comprehension and more on higher-order thinking. This type of log, with its continued emphasis on time and pages, also helps me, as the teacher, to track growth, while still increasing higher-level thinking. This is the reading log I used with my students who read at a 6th-grade level and above, and those who were reading on the traditional middle school levels improved the most, growing several grades.

Reading Log Level 3

This is the third level of reading log, which I plan to use for students who are on or slightly above grade level. Rather than recording time and page numbers, this log focuses more on student thinking, with choices for questions and an expectation that students will be thinking about their reading. This will be an experiment this year because I did not use this type of reading log last year. However, I found far less growth from students who started out on grade level, because they were using the same reading logs as their less-advanced classmates. Hopefully, this will make a difference.

Reading Log Level 4

The fourth level of reading log, which will be for students well above grade level, is not a true log. Rather, this asks students to write short analyses of what they read. There is less accountability here, but a greater expectation in terms of student output. I experimented with this type of reading log with one very advanced student, and it seemed to work well for her. In a six-week marking period, I hope that students are able to do at least three of these short pieces. This type of accountability gives more advanced students a little bit more space and freedom to contemplate what they are reading, as well as teaching time management skills: essential for reading and thinking about more complex literature.

Common Core State Standards

Reading Logs can be used the meet the following standards in the CCSS:

Book Projects

Rather than asking students to create traditional book reports to assess their reading, I like to ask my students to think about what they have read and show the thinking that they are doing on their reading in a more meaningful way, using different technologies and forms of self-expression.

How Can Book Projects Be Used in My Classroom?

I use book projects to assess students’ higher-order thinking skills, to keep them excited about reading and sharing their knowledge, and to allow students the opportunity to work in both familiar and new media.

How Do I Introduce Them to My Students?

Independent reading and book projects need to be scaffolded over a period of several days, or even weeks. Just as they do with any other skill, students need models and practice on the different types of book projects, prior to completing them independently.

I have found that dedicating several weeks to introducing students to their different project options via short stories is effective on several levels. It scaffolds the idea of reading a shared text at home, but reading a short story independently is significantly less intimidating than reading a chapter of a class novel independently. Using short texts and dedicating class time to teaching the different projects gives students the chance to play with unfamiliar technologies and to have a finished product quickly, which provides them with confidence to tackle these technologies independently.

Here the calendar that I plan to follow for the first several weeks of the school year. It is not complete, as I need to wait for results from the assessment to determine what skills my students need to be taught or re-taught. However, the calendar provides an outline for how the first several weeks of my year looks.

Books Projects Handout

As you can see, this is a two-page handout with too much text and too many options. I believe the volume is part of the reason that students turned in lackluster projects. In addition, none of these projects were scaffolded in class, and the few models that I gave them were probably not enough to give them an idea of what I was expecting.

This is the handout that I plan to use this year. It is much more streamlined and less text-heavy than the original, which you can see below. It has fewer suggestions for projects, with the option for students to come up with their own. The project ideas on this handout will be scaffolded in class.


Animoto is a free video slide show creation website. If you sign up for a free education account, your students can create slide shows that are up to 10 minutes long using pictures, video clips, and words.

How Can Animoto be Used in the Classroom?

I originally wanted my students to use Animoto as an assessment of their independent reading. However, they were so delighted by the technology that they began to use it for other purposes: to show their understanding of topics in Living Environment, to explain about different topics in US History, to demonstrate their research on different life skills in Advisory, and even as a medium to display their knowledge from an inquiry project assigned in my class. As long as they can use the technology, students can use it for anything.

As a teacher, you can also use it to introduce topics in an engaging format, as another medium for differentiated instruction.

How Do I Introduce it to My Students?

This is the lesson plan that I developed after I tried to introduce Animoto to kids this past year. My first introduction involved kids practicing Animoto by making a “Happy Birthday” video for a classmate, but those skills didn’t transfer very well to responding to literature. This year, I’m hoping that using short stories will give them the skills to use the technology and respond to literature.

Animoto How-To

This is a very explicit how-to instruction sheet for using Animoto, so students always have it as a reference. Many of the students were excited about using the site, but they were unsure as to where they could find pictures and music. Many of the sites on this sheet were found by my previous students, so I am passing that wisdom on to my new students.

Animoto Assignment Sheet

This is an assignment sheet for students. They will have step-by-step instructions of an assignment they need to complete, with stricter parameters than I had in the past. Giving students specific questions they need to answer provides less confusion when they are first learning about technology. The reflection questions also give the students an opportunity to metacognitively look at their work.

Both of these were created by students as book projects this past year. At the moment, the Animotos are basically glorified summaries. Going forward, I hope to make these videos show my students’ higher-level thinking.

Common Core State Standards

Animoto can be used to meet the following standards in the CCSS:

Fan Fiction

The term “fanfic” refers to stories of varying lengths, poems, songs, or other written works that are created by fans of original work, such as a piece of music or book. These pieces usually utilize characters and settings from the original work, though they can often incorporate original characters and settings, too. Some examples of works that are used by fan fiction authors as starting points are the Harry Potter septology, Lord of the Rings trilogy, Twilight, different anime series, and other popular books and series.

People who write fanfic generally assume that the people who read it are fans of the books or movies, and are thus familiar with the characters and settings. Thus, they do not provide backstory, which sometimes makes it difficult for non-fans to understand.

How is Fanfic Disseminated?

Fanfic can be disseminated in a variety of ways. Some people publish their fic on personal blogs. Others print paper copies for their friends and family. However, the vast majority of fanfiction is on the web on specialized websites. The largest fanfic website is, and a search of the site reveals fanfiction written on a vast array of books, music, cartoons, anime/manga, plays, musicals, and MMORPGS, such as World of Warcraft. In addition, there are websites that are dedicated to single books or series, such as, which is devoted solely to Harry Potter fic.

How Can Fanfic be used in a Multimodal Classroom?

As an English teacher, I have found that fanfic works well in a variety of settings. One is to assess an understanding of independent reading as an independent book project or a culminating project for a class novel. My ninth-grade students are required to do an hour of independent reading each day. Fanfic can be used to assess understanding of characters, setting, imagery, symbolism, and other literary terms, and also to assess grammar and mechanics, particularly dialogue. I have also used it in conjunction with class novels to assess the same thing. In addition, students don’t need to write fanfic–they can just read it! I think it’s safe to say that in any subject, we just want kids to read and increase their literacy, and this is a great way (for example there’s fic based on movies and tv shows that might appeal to non-readers).

One of the appeals of fanfic is the community of writers who often give constructive feedback after a fic is published. This community mentality works well in a classroom in which group-work is the focus. Students can use the skills they learn in working with fanfic to help revise and provide feedback for other types of assessments, like literary analyses and research papers.

How Do I Introduce it to My Students?

See below for my instruction sheet, lesson plan for introduction, and some examples.

Introduction to Fan Fiction

This is the lesson plan I have developed for introducing fanfic. I did not actually introduce it or scaffold it last year, so this is an experiment, but I am hoping that this will allow the students to feel more secure in writing fiction, as well as ensuring that the quality is higher.

Fanfic Handout

This is the handout I will give my students in the class, giving them a short overview of what fanfiction is all about.

Fanfiction Assignment Sheet

This is the assignment I will give my students. Again, the opportunity to reflect on what they have done helps them to set goals for the future, as well as feel more comfortable with their work.

Common Core State Standards

Fanfiction can be used to meet the following standards in the CCSS

Artistic Assessments

An artistic assessment refers to using art to assess a student’s understanding of a text they have read. This can be any form of art, including drawing, painting, sculpture, diorama, music, and poetry.

How Can Artistic Assessments Be Used in the Classroom?

Many students feel more comfortable expressing themselves with art or music than they do with words. While writing is an important skill that is covered in my classroom, I also want to make sure that I am truly assessing whether my students are reading, understanding, and thinking critically about what they read. If a student struggles with words, that can be difficult. Artistic assessments allow those skills to be assessed, and for students to feel like successful readers.

How Do I Introduce it to My Students?

See below for my lesson plan and assignment sheet.

Introduction to Artistic Assessments

This is a lesson plan for introducing artistic assessments. Previously, I did not scaffold this in class and received some pretty bland posters. I hope that by giving the kids time to do it in class, that they will feel comfortable with it, and thus, produce better work.

Artistic Assessments Handout

This is the assignment sheet for the students, with the reflection questions they saw on other assignments.

Common Core State Standards

Artistic assessments can be used to meet the following standards in the CCSS:



Next Steps

I plan to continue my inquiry into independent reading, particularly by modifying reading logs and book projects. However, there is more that I would like to accomplish. The Common Core State Standards place a great deal of emphasis on reading, writing, and understanding informational texts, while most of my independent reading inquiry was based around literary texts. This school year, as I continue my inquiry, I am hoping to center it around two things: reading informational texts and independent writing. Below are some of my ideas for how I plan to carry out this inquiry.

Informational Texts
  • Provide students more parameters for their multi-modal projects.
  • Ask students to answer specific, non-fiction-related questions when creating Animotos, ie. asking about Cause-Effect relationships, any evident bias, etc.
  • Provide topic-specific pictures, video clips, texts, websites, etc., for students to use when creating their projects.
  • Provide greater support when reading an informational text.
  • Explicitly teach and practice informational text strategies, such as note-taking, headings, vocabulary, structure, etc.
  • Provide more teacher and peer support when reading an informational text.
  • Ask questions in reading logs that are specific to reading informational texts.
Independent Writing

The independent writing responses are how I plan to integrate more independent writing into my curriculum. I am still exploring how to turn these independent pieces into something multi-modal, however. Some ideas I have are:

  • Having the independent writing pieces serve as the basis for multi-modal projects, i.e. a student can turn an independent response into an Animoto.
  • Turning a multi-modal project into an independent writing piece, i.e. an Animoto, with its pictures and videos, needs to be turned into words.
  • Throughout the school year, I will explore this.
More Modes to Experiment With and Introduce
  • Glogster: This is a website that makes interactive posters. This might be nice for students to use as a form of artistic assessment in a book project.
  • Pixton: This is a website that helps students create comics. Again, could be used as a form of artistic assessment, or as a form of fanfic, creating a graphic novel. There is an education option available, but having additional features can cost money.
  • Prezi: This is a slideshow creation website, but unlike PowerPoint, Prezis are multidimensional. For students who really like to use PowerPoint to share their information, this is a great way to help them move out of their comfort zone and to show that intelligence does not need to be linear.

More about the author: Jenna Morvay