Friday, January 10, 2014

Excited about Subtext

Seems like I change my lesson plans every year. If I don't scrap the previous years' content, I usually at least do some heavy duty modifying. The process keeps me fresh, and there isn't a lot in my classroom that is the same year to read the Tell Tale Heart is an exception, though.  About 6 years ago I came across this interactive website where students can read and listen to Poe's story, while they also add their own annotations to specific parts of the text.  The annotations we then save and use for class discussion on subsequent days. It is always an engaging and productive where students' literacy is concerned.

But this year technology forced me to change up this lesson.  The website uses flash, our iPads don't.  In searching for a solution, a replacement for this website that I liked so much, I came across an app that met the same needs for the interactive reading piece of the lesson, and even opened up some new possibilities for interactivity and social interaction.

With Subtext, I was able to create a group for each of my classes and having students join them was a breeze.  They just signed into to Subtext with their Google account (a great recent update) and entered the group by typing in the code that the app assigned to each class. I uploaded and shared a pdf version of the Tell Tale Heart, that students in each class were then able to access.

The lesson that I planned had students re-read the text (we had read it the previous day, before I started experimenting with Subtext), and insert their own questions and reactions directly into the text of the story. These annotations could be seen by the rest of the class as students entered them, and during and after students' rereading of the text, they took time to read and respond to the questions posted by their classmates.

While the asynchronous online discussions that transpired in response to these questions lacked the energy and flow of our face to face discussions (which we still had the later part of class), I really liked how this feature of Subtext facilitated conversation that was closely connected to the text and enabled students to move between questions, revisit the text as needed, and respond at a pace that best worked for them. Often during the f2f conversations, some voices get left out and the flow of the conversation keeps students from being able to revisit and/or dig further into ideas. 

I played a little with the feature that let me create, distribute assignments connected to the text.  I made one where students had to select and tag lines that contributed to the mood of the story, then explain how the author's word choice in those lines contributed to the overall mood.  This was also awesome, but I didn't like how that since this was a premium feature, I had to distribute and redistribute student licences every class period because Subtext only provided me with 30 for free. That was about the only complaint I had. I'm a big fan of free.

Overall, I'm way excited about how Subtext met the need I had for finding technology that allowed for an interactive reading of the text. It's on my list of keepers for our class, and I'm looking forward to trying it out for other texts and purposes in the months ahead.