Review by Polly Conway, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2012

CAST UDL Book Builder

Sensitively designed so any student can write and share books

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Teachers say (1 Review)
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1-7 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: A commitment to a variety of learning styles makes this a great tool for kids and teachers.

Cons: There aren't many bells and whistles -- no font choices or way to resize photos, which makes the books less visually appealing than they could be.

Bottom Line: CAST UDL Book Builder is an excellent resource to get kids started on digital content creation; it's simple and straightforward and caters to a variety of learning styles.

While the tool could be used by all ages, it feels best suited for elementary classrooms. Teachers could use Book Builder for a creative writing project, giving students time on the computer to publish their own stories. Kids can easily save their work and return later to continue the project. For younger students, the program lends itself well to simple illustrated children's books. Teachers may choose to use the books on the site (or create their own) for early literacy lessons.

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CAST UDL Book Builder is a free online tool that lets kids create, publish, share, and read digital books. The tool is designed around Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an educational framework meant to support diverse learning needs. Books can include a range of visual, audio, and interactive supports for readers. Many books in the Book Builder library include learning guides to help parents and teachers facilitate discussion and enhance the reading experience. Kids can also use the tool to publish their own stories, which can incorporate original illustrations and photographs.

Kids and teachers can access a variety of templates for book creation. Simply write text directly onto the page, add a photo or drawing from the computer, and voila: a digital book! Teachers can also use these templates to create lesson plans or guides for classroom use; it's very versatile. Once completed, the books can be saved and then shared with a chosen audience (public, friends and family only, etc.).

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The site features Terry the Giraffe, a helpful sidebar "coach" who shares Terry's Tips (available through both text and audio) on how to best use the tool. Book creators can add animal coaches to their own stories to provide various types of guidance to readers, which is pretty cool. The finished books form a library, which is a great asset for learning, as kids can browse other books for inspiration or just for the fun of reading. Supplemental guidance also helps parents and teachers facilitate discussion and enhance the reading experience for all kids.

On the downside, the site's design is somewhat dated and plain, which may be a turn-off to media-savvy kids. Also, because anyone can add content to the site's library, the quality varies. Teachers will want to scout out the best stories to use as examples.

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Overall Rating
4

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
3

Kids will get engrossed in writing their own story within the site's simple format, and the ability to share their finished book and read the work of their peers will keep them engaged.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
4

The combination of text, audio, and video caters to all types of learners, which is helpful in the classroom as well as at home. Kids learn the basics of storytelling when they create a book.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
4

There's a lot of support for teachers along with information about UDL practices and how to implement them. Kid users will find step-by-step guidance through the book creation process.


Common Sense Reviewer
Polly Conway Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Mary F. , Technology coordinator
Technology coordinator
University Park Elementary School
Denver, CO
3
A great basic story creator for beginners or second language learners

True, there aren't many "bells and whistles," so tech-savvy students may not care to use it for long. But those without a comfort level with creating online stories, or students with a limited command and the language or writing skills, can find success. The structure of it can allow lower literacy kids to work fairly independently, so extras can be less important that actually creating an online work. I would use this for elementary kids, although the more advanced students won't like it after a while.

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