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Making Reading Exciting

NewsleaNewsela’s reading curriculum is used by 800,000 teachers daily and the latest update includes a library of primary sources, biographies, famopus speeches and news articles, from the Gettysburg Address to the Sooner's land rush. It all brings young readers closer to the material with primary sources and vivid images. The site still has daily features that include quizzes that can be instant homework assignments and its content is offered in several Lexile levels for readers of different abilities.

Splash-Proof Books

AuraONE_LyingLow_Reading_US_largeDo your school’s eBook readers stop working all too quickly because they’ve been accidentally dropped or dunked in water? Kobo’s upcoming Aura One is one fo the only tablets with an IPX8 waterproof rating. That translates into shrugging off a dunk in 6-feet of water for an hour. Let’s hope that this never happens to any tablet, but it’s good to know that the Aura One can survive. The $230 eBook reader has a 7.8-inch screen that just misses HD resolution at 1,872 by 1,404. It has enough space for thousands of books and weighs in at half a pound. It can display 11 fonts, can work with eBooks in any of the popular formats and can connect over WiFi.

While you’re thinking about a Kobo reader, consider that the company has a continuously updated site of the top 50 free ebooks. While it’s heavy in mysteries and romance fiction, they’re all free and all you need to do is register.



Homer Teaches

HomerLearn With Homer is an app that does one thing and does it well: raise a student’s reading proficiency and fluency. Aimed at kids aged 3 to 8, Homer is based on a pigeon teacher and delivers a wide library of eBooks for practice as well as music, nursery rhymes and digital field trips to draw students in. There’s only an iOS app, but you can try it out for free for a month. After that, it costs $8 a month.


iPad Learns to Read

Reading assistant ipad screen480x480Moving beyond the traditional Reading Assistant PC and Mac programs, Scientific Learning’s now has an iPad version. It includes everything the older apps have and kids can log on and use it wherever there’s an Internet connection for its selection of reading samples and comprehensive assessments. Teachers can tap into the program’s easy to read graphs on student progress.

Freebee Friday: Free Spring

WhooosreadingLearn2Earn’s Whooo’s Reading platform is not only a good way to keep students reading and writing, but for the time being, it’s free for three months. The full-featured trial requires at least three teachers at the school participate


Look Who’s Reading Now

Whooos reading aGetting students the daily reading and writing practice they need to become proficient can be one of the biggest battles for literacy in schools today. Learn2Earn’s Whooo’s Reading can help teachers motivate students to the work as well as get a handle on who is and isn’t reading and writing. In other words, it can get the books to open wide and the keyboards to start humming.

Aimed at students from Kindergarten through 8th grade, Whooo’s Reading provides incentives for both avid and reluctant readers. The program starts with a personalized owl avatar that follows them through their reading and writing journey. They can customize the Owlvatar with everything from choosing the owl’s eyes and hat to what the creature is holding. This yields enough combinations that it’s unlikely there will be duplicates in a class of 30. The program rewards kids with coins as they complete tasks and badges when they reach comprehension goals.

While the program doesn’t provide the actual books or reading passages needed, it does line up with popular texts and books used in today’s classroom. All the work is categorized with Lexile levels and its assessment questions are Common Core aligned.

At the moment, the service has more than 1,000 questions, but that number is rising every month. Whooo’s Reading’s Facebook page is a good place for teachers to interact, suggest techniques and share what works.

The good news is that Whooo’s Reading is Web-based and should work with just about any recent connected computer, including traditional PCs and Macs as well as Androids, iPads and Chromebooks. It also allows kids to use a school computer during the day and a home PC at night. The licensing structure allows summer use for students, making it a great way to encourage (or require) summer reading projects.

IMG_0013I used it with an iPad Pro, an 8-inch Android-based Asus Zenpad S8, a three-year old MacBook Air and a Microsoft Surface 3 tablet. The program worked well with everything from Safari and Internet Explorer to Chrome, but the browser framework (including the address bar) remains visible and might end up being a distraction. To make Whooo’s Reading look more like local software, you can set the browser to full screen mode.

The center of attention for the class is the daily Newsfeed. It’s a compilation of the highlights of the class’s comments and assignments and can end up being excellent motivation for collaboration or peer rewards.

On top of traditional assignments, such as describing a friendship in the book, the program has several that are a little off-beat, but are aimed at relating to the students. For instance, a kid might be asked to compose a FaceBook or Twitter posting about a character.

Teachers have a thorough Dashboard where they can add new students one at a time or in groups via an Excel or CSV file. The latest improvement is that the program works with Google’s Classroom for things like adding new students. The company plans to integrate Whooo’s Reading into other classroom apps.

The teacher’s view has a ribbon Nav Bar across the top for Home, Responses, Data, Upgrade and MyClasses. Each class has a list of students that have their Owlvatar alongside the student’s name. The class view shows the avatars sharing a couple of tree branches, but if you hover over each, the teacher can see their recent achievements.

Alternatively, the student view lets kids hover over their classmates to see their profiles. The class’s collective accomplishments are on the side and there’s a bar graph for where it stands versus their goals.

IMG_0014For newbies to Whooo’s Reading, one of the most important items is a checklist of things for the teacher to do and how to best use the program. After a while, I suspect that these will become second nature, but for those familiarizing themselves with Whooo’s Reading, it is an excellent overview and backstop.

The center of the Dashboard has a place for assignments, Student Roster and a place to select specific questions for the class. It’s organized by category or book. At the bottom is a convenient section for who’s meeting their Whooo’s Reading goals, but you can look at actual grades and who’s reading at grade level.

Dig down to the individual student level and you can see how many minutes of their reading goal has been met along with the number of questions they’ve answered. Below are the writing exercises they’ve completed. At any time, you can copy and paste anything from Whooo’s Reading into an email to parents. The company is working on a more direct method.  

Pricing of Whooo’s Reading has recently changed with the dropping of the free version; it had everything except the Dashboard and common core coordination. The $5 a month Premium version is the entry point for users, but teachers can get full use for $15 a month. Schools will likely end up licensing the service. It costs about $1,875 to get Whooo’s Reading for 250 students, or $7.50 a year per student. 

There’s a bonus for those short of cash and what school isn’t. Learn2Earn has an optional read-a-thon fundraiser that not only can get a school reading and writing but can raise some money for the school. The community – parents and grandparents included – pledge to back the effort. Of the total collected, Learn2Earn takes a 22 percent cut.

With the ability to not only motivate kids to read and write, but also act as a fundraiser, Whooo’s Reading is a bargain.


Whoos reading logo

Whooo’s Reading

$15/month per teacher with school and district licensing available


+ Well-paced personalized program

+ Lexile rankings with Common Core alignment

+ Teacher Dashboard

+ Fundraising potential

+ Google Classroom integration

+ Inexpensive school licensing


- Learn2Earn takes 22% cut of fundraising

- Doesn’t include actual reading passages

One-on-One Reading

Myon 3The latest release of myON pushes individualized reading instruction to the limit with new content, games, interactive elements and easy to find Lexile reading levels. Students get a reading journal, dictionary and graphic organizers, while the teacher’s dashboard has been improved with a bar graph that shows how many reading assignments each student has completed this month versus last month as well as the last one. Version 3 of myON is a free upgrade for current users of the program. All schools and district currently using myON will gain access to these new tools at no cost.


Down to Earth Reading

Screen480x480 (1)By combining interactive games, images and 54 short stories, version 1.1 of Planet Read can bring the skill of reading down to earth. The program not only can help kids sound out new words, but covers all the vowels sounds along the way.  While there’re versions of the iPhone and iPad, Planet Read isn’t available for Android tablets.



Freebee Friday: Teaching the Teachers

Better-readers-shari-robertson-ebookHaving well-trained teachers is absolutely essential today and PresenceLearning’s “6 Strategies to Build Better Readers” is a good place to start. Written by literacy expert Dr. Shari Robertson, the ebook has – as the title implies – six ideas on how to create lifelong readers by instilling a sense of fun and adventure.


Tales that Stay

Tales 2 goIf you like Tales2Go’s ability to read simple tales to a roomful of kids, you will love its latest update. The software still works on PCs, Android and iOS devices with 4,500 stories available but can now be run without a constant Web connection because the program can now cache full stories to be played over and over again. It also now includes a Lexile measure of the story’s difficulty.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Tech Tools are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.