Check out my Listicle, “Talk to Me: The Importance of Language in the Digital Age”

EDC 534:  Week 5 “Listicle”


Online Reading Comprehension: Digital or New Literacy(ies)

Labeling and Identifying Literacy in 2018

Digital literacy, new literacies, online reading comprehension: are these all different names for the same animal?  In a rapidly advancing world, it seems our names and definitions change before we can get a real handle on their meaning.  Let’s begin by addressing our understanding of literacy, singular.  In Alvermann’s 2003 book, Exemplary Literacy Instruction in Grades 7-12she contends that up until recent years, literacy has been thought of as a neutral process of reading and writing, known as the “autonomous model of literacy”.  However, Lankshear and Knobel’s work in From ‘Reading’ to ‘New Literacies’ presents literacy in a sociocultural context, whereas the skills of reading and writing are embedded within a culture; people read and write differently out of different social practices, and reading skills cannot be taught independent of cultural and social contexts.  Since reading and writing skills are applied differently in various contexts, isn’t literacies a more fitting label?

Talking about literacy, singular, can be misleading because the term implies that there is one set process or skill set for consuming new information. Using the term literacies, however indicates that there are different processes for different texts and situations, which is much more reflective of the reality of knowledge consumption and creation in the 21st century.  In Dr. Julie Coiro’s speech, Online Reading Comprehension Challenges, Coiro contends that reading on the internet presents new ways of locating information, new contexts for synthesizing information, and new ways of sharing information gleaned from reading. Hence, our previous understanding of literacy- reading and writing- cannot just be applied to online reading, but additional new literacies must be used.  This definition of the new literacies perspective of online reading comprehension eloquently describes the framework as:

a problem-based inquiry process involving new skills, strategies, and dispositions on the Internet to generate important questions, then locate, critically evaluate, synthesize, and communicate possible solutions to those problems online (Castek et al, 2015).

I prefer the term new literacies, as it indicates by name that the same old model of reading comprehension instruction cannot be universally applied to all texts. There is some overlap, of course, but teachers need to be aware that new skills must be explicitly taught so students can effectively negotiate new and different online texts.

Implications for Teaching and Learning

I will always advocate for strong, strategic reading comprehension instruction with offline text; skills like making connections, determining importance, visualizing, evaluating, etc. will continue to be relevant despite technological advances. However, I do think that education in the 21st century requires teachers to dedicate an equal amount of instructional time to the new literacies that students encounter online daily. Our society is immersed in digital information: we get our news delivered to our phones, we connect with people around the world through social media platforms, we are bombarded by online text.  The problem is, if we are not teaching the youth how to effectively navigate and make meaning from this seemingly unlimited wealth of information, the value of this information is lost.  I see this translating to my classroom practice first through explicit modeling of questioning, over-viewing sites, and evaluating for reliability, and later through Internet Reciprocal Teaching, with increased student modeling of skills.

For example, teaching research methods in my classroom looks very different today than it did 17 years ago when I first entered the teaching profession.  For three quarters of the year, my class was centered around literary analysis, where we read, questioned, discussed, and wrote about literature. One quarter of the year was devoted to the research paper, where students researched and wrote about a topic seeming separate and apart from all our other units of study.  We went to the library, scoured through thick, heavy texts, and synthesized the information to produce our papers.  Now, however, I embed online research throughout larger literary units all year; we investigate housing discrimination and redlining when studying A Raisin in the Sun; we seek information about post-traumatic stress disorder and depression when reading Catcher in the Rye; we try to understand draft-dodging and guerrilla warfare as we read The Things They Carried.  As we conduct our research, it is incumbent upon me to lead students in this process: show them how I start with my question in mind, quickly skim through and evaluate potential sources of information, illustrating the danger of accepting information as fact because it appears on the screen in front of me.  Students need to clearly see the steps of the process before the release of responsibility;  hopefully then they will see the connection between our work in class and their consumption of information out of class.  They will use that critical lens and their new literacies skills independent of their teacher.

Dr. Mary Kalantzis, renowned author and researcher of literacy and pedagogy, argues that educators must create learning experiences within the classroom that prepare students for an unknown future. If teachers begin by giving students the tools to negotiate the new information that surrounds them, we are on the right path.


Alvermann, D. (2003). Exemplary literacy instruction in grades 7-12: What counts and who’s counting.

Castek, Coiro, Henry, Leu, & Hartman (2015). Research on Instruction and Assessment in the New Literacies of Online Research and Comprehension.

Coiro (2013). Video of online reading comprehension challenges.

Lankshear, C., & Knobel, M. (2008). From ‘reading’ to ‘new literacy studies.


Reading Reflection #1: Strategic Reading Comprehension

Strategic and Engaged Readers

Strategic readers actively engage with text, synthesizing information to arrive at new meaning.  In their tool bags, strategic readers carry connections, predictions, questions, visualizations, inferences, etc.  (Buehl 5).  They are able to determine importance, wading through extraneous details to select essential information.  When a strategic reader struggles to understand a text, he/she can readily employ fix-up strategies to address the issue. A strategic reader is metacognitive, understanding what he/she does and does not know and adjusts strategy use accordingly.  As a result, strategic readers enjoy the reading process, reading for both learning and entertainment.

Conversely, a less strategic reader may be able to articulate that he/she struggles, but may not have the tools to remedy that lack of understanding.  In turn, the less strategic reader exhibits more frustration, and may have negative associations with reading. The good news here is that evidence suggests teachers can change this narrative for struggling students: “A large volume of work indicates that we can help students acquire the strategies and processes used by good readers- and that this improves their overall comprehension of text” (Duke and Pearson 206).  Not only will specific strategy instruction help the student comprehend the text in front of them in your class, but it will remain in their tool bag for the next text they encounter.

True engagement occurs when students not only read strategically to comply with class assignments, but also take a vested interest in the material they read.  Engaged readers read to explore new worlds, go on an adventure, or maybe to satisfy their curiosity. This is where the Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction, or CORI, model comes into play.  A CORI classroom at the secondary level might look something like this:

  • The larger concept explored by the class is The Holocaust in World War II
  • Students pose questions about the topic: How were so many people killed? What groups were targeted? Did German citizens know about the camps? Did anyone try to fight back?
  • Teacher provides multiple, various texts for students to explore and find answers
  • Students share their learning with peers and teacher

This ownership of the material and engagement with peers motivates students to read and learn, ensuring more meaningful comprehension.

Rand’s explanation of the relationship between Reader, Text, and Activity in a larger Sociocultural Context informs our understanding of reading comprehension instruction across age levels.  A clear purpose must be established by or for the Reader, and prior knowledge activated. There should be domain-specific instruction for the Text, and the Activity should foster comprehension before, during, and after reading. Finally, the Context within which the teacher provides instruction is critical for comprehension.  Students must have access to the same instructional resources, and “with the guidance and support of an expert, children are able to perform tasks that are slightly beyond their own independent knowledge and capability” (Rand 17).  In time, teachers can gradually release students who have internalized this new knowledge and can apply it on their own.


The common themes among the different readings appear to be the importance of explicit strategy instruction, the importance of choice in student motivation and engagement, and collaborative and social nature of making meaning from text.  I see these concepts in action in my own class; our curriculum is fixed with specific texts students must read for the first three quarters of the school year.  Quarter four offers more flexibility in text choice, so last year I scoured the “Best of” lists on Goodreads, American Library Association, etc., to find some possible titles for my class.  With so many different genres to choose from, I put the ball in the students’ court.  They had to vote on the top 7 book choices, then from there, rank their top selections. Students were then organized by their top title selection, and we formed Literature Circle groups based on title. Each day, students were excited to come in and talk to their group members about their book; discussions were rich, centering on character development, analysis of author’s purpose, symbolism, etc.  The motivation was there because students selected the vehicle for their learning- I was teaching narrative structure and author’s craft either way, and by providing voice and choice, student engagement thrived.


While I completely agree with the CORI framework and the need for student choice to promote engagement, I’m wondering how I can translate this into the rest of the academic year, where texts and curriculum are more rigid.  If the whole class has to read Romeo and Juliet for example, how can I promote ownership of the material?  Perhaps encouraging students to find their own examples of the forbidden love story in pop culture or song lyrics, then sharing out?  This is a question I will grapple with as the year progresses, always keeping in mind how students learn and achieve best.


Buehl, D. (2014). Fostering Comprehension of Complex Texts (Chapter 1 pages 3-11) in Classroom Strategies for Interactive Learning (4th Edition). International Literacy Association.

Duke, N.K. & Pearson, P. D. (2002). Effective practices for developing reading comprehension. In What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction, 3rd edition. International Reading Association.

RAND 2002 Model of Reading Comprehension.  Chapters 1 and 2 (pages 1-18)

Swan (2003). Why is the North Pole Always Cold? In Concept-Oriented Reading Instruction (CORI): Engaging Classrooms, Lifelong Learners
Swan 2003 CORI Ch 1.pdf