Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated February 2019

Actively Learn

Empowering reader keeps kids actively, independently engaged

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • English Language Arts
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Skills
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
4–12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (15 Reviews)
Privacy (See details)

Pros: An easy-to-use tool with excellent standards-aligned questions built right in.

Cons: Some of the best features for customizing the platform are only available with a paid subscription.

Bottom Line: Far beyond the average e-reader, this tool helps students connect and stay engaged while teachers easily measure progress.

Using Actively Learn can help you manage and monitor how students engage with what they read. Within the tool, discussions about a text can develop organically, fostering more authentic participation. Reluctant hand-raisers might enjoy the option of responding in the margins and thinking through their remarks. For example, students can rotate the responsibility for adding key questions to a text, and the class can have a self-directed or teacher-led discussion on the student-proposed topics. This process might not come naturally for your students, so be ready to teach and model effective annotation skills and productive discussion practices. Have your students take over and ask questions, annotate, and start discussions to help your classroom develop more student-centered, student-led reading practices. Rely on your own expertise to help students chunk readings, and keep adding questions along the way to help guide the conversation and improve students' understanding.

For more ideas, the extensive teacher resources section and blog feature a lot of resources and inspiration for how to adapt Actively Learn to your classroom. 

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Actively Learn is a reading platform for the web where students can highlight, annotate, and discuss text as they read. Teachers can assign texts to students solo and in groups so that whole classes can read, annotate, and interact around texts at their levels. The site contains thousands of free ELA, science, and history texts, from "The Picture of Dorian Gray" to George Washington's Farewell Address to recent news reports on climate change. Don't see what you want? Teachers can upload any text of their choosing, from online articles to their own media. If you or your school spring for a paid subscription plan, you can also access copyrighted materials through the platform, like full books.

Most titles include Common Core-aligned and NGSS-aligned discussion questions for students to interact with. These detailed, engaging questions and media make it easy to chunk readings and draw students into the text. Also, students can add their own questions, ideas, and annotations to spark class interaction, although this could be challenging for students with less experience in digital reading. It's also possible for teachers to monitor their students' progress, or even see students' notes as they're writing in their own "copies" of texts. The app's developers continue to add features that make the reading experience more flexible and accessible, including language translation options and flexible text-to-speech features. Plus, the developer's website features videos, blog posts, and extensive guidance on thoughtful ways to integrate this tool into the classroom. 

Full Disclosure: Actively Learn and Common Sense Education share a funder; however, that relationship does not impact Common Sense Education's editorial independence and this learning rating.

Actively Learn offers seemingly boundless options for what students can do inside a text: adjust, annotate, edit, share, and collaborate. Students can also view their progress in reading proficiency and vocabulary reports. Throughout, students are engaged both in reading the texts and also in the thinking processes that surround this type of active reading experience. It's the kind of interactive tool that, if used well, can open up some deep, high-quality communication among teachers and students alike.

In terms of text selection, it's great to see so many excellent public domain classics available in one place; there are thousands of articles (including current events and news) and books available with embedded questions, and there's solid integration with Google Classroom and Canvas, and those features alone may make the free version a good fit for some teachers. However, it's more likely that the two paid plans (called Prime and Unlimited) will be a more powerful and ultimately useful solution for teachers, since most of the features for uploading content, differentiating instruction, promoting student collaboration, and assessing student progress are available only for a fee. Moreover, the free version's limits on uploading content (just four items per calendar month) could feel especially limiting to teachers who want to do a lot of customization. If your school or district springs for a subscription, there's a lot of potential here, and while there's still some room for the platform to grow (e.g., by adding a better recommendation engine for texts), it's a stellar option. 

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Reading feels lively with features for annotation and communication with peers. Options for engagement and collaboration abound, but teachers will need to model the process.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Students can dive deep into a text by adding questions and reactions. They can also respond to multiple-choice and open-ended questions from their teachers. Students can check rubrics, data, and teacher responses too.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

Videos and a help center answer most questions. Texts include an impressive range of accessibility tweaks, from text-to-speech to text size to a dyslexic-friendly font. 


Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

Teacher Reviews

(See all 15 reviews) (15 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Christi C. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Wise Primary School
Wise, United States
Amazing Platform for Differentiated Reading
Overall I felt that this platform was wonderful for providing struggling readers with opportunities to feel successful. This platform allows teachers to personalize the reading experiences and provide students with choices. Having the opportunity to tailor reading selections to meet student needs is crucial for growth and development. I am now able to provide students with better opportunities to develop and enhance their reading vocabulary. I can assess student understanding and mastery of key ...
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