How I Use It
I have used Actively learn a number of times in my classroom with great success. In one lesson, I used it to deliver a written text, Fitzgerald's The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, that corresponded with the video adaptation of the text as part of an author’s choices lesson. Sign in/ start up with the website was simple and quick. Functionally, I was able to highlight different aspects of the text by embedding required questions and insights on how an author makes choices that impact both how a reader interprets and responds to a text. Students loved the fact that they were able to directly gain insight, comment on, reflect on, and annotate the text as they read. They also liked the fact that they could discuss with their classmates while reading simply adding a comment or question to a highlighted word or passage. Students also saw value in the ability to define unknown words and phrases instantly by highlighting the word or phrase.
The only thing that proved challenging is the fact that I was not able to differentiate instruction or embed different questions for different levels of students. Had I been able to do so, I could have ensured that students took approximately the same amount of time to read the text. Next time, I will prepare multiple versions of the same text with questions at different levels to force advanced students to take more time so that there is no dead time. I would assign my advanced students to one version of the text while I assign another, with more direct highlighting of important points and scaffolding to lead students toward comprehension and reflection, to my students that may struggle more.
Ultimately, by combining a traditional text with web features that improved comprehension and accessed student understanding as students read I was able to craft a learning experience that fostered deeper discussion and analysis as we compared the written text to the film adaptation.
Overall, I think this tool holds much potential for improving comprehension of and engagement with texts in my secondary ELA classes. I like the ability to find pre-annotated texts from other teachers. This potentially saves me time. My students benefit greatly from finding texts delivered in a responsive interactive forum, wherein discussion occurs in real time as students can see comments or questions for their classmates as they read the text. Also, I like the fact that I can continually check for comprehension to make sure students recognize different aspects, points, or questions sparked by the text as they read through the embedded questions that they have to answer before moving on in the text. This proves a great gain in making sure that students actually read, and making sure that they understand what they read. The only two limitations that I have faced in using Actively learn is the limited availability of contemporary literature, even when students are willing to pay to read/ explore a particular text, and the fact that the text is enlarged and reading pane narrowed such that students see a short story as novel or novella length. The availability issue could be challenging when facing a contemporary student body that often struggles to engage with or see the value of classic texts. The length issue, while seemingly trivial, draws some readers away as they see a lengthy text as an insurmountable challenge that they do not want to attempt. Even if there was some note to suggest to students the true length, as counted in MS Word pages, would alleviate this problem. That said, Actively learn, has already shown the ability to better engage students as I found that more students read and were prepared to discuss the text due to text delivery format.