ATH 5: Dealing with Digital Texts

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If you’re anything like us, there’s nothing like holding a book in your hands. After spending hours in a bookstore or a library perusing the shelves, the feeling of walking out the door with a book in tow is hard to beat. However, times they are a’ changin’ as they say. And whether we are ready to turn the page to the digital age or not, it is here, and with it has come the need to learn to deal with digital texts in the classroom.

There are two major ways that digital texts have become a part of the ELA classroom. One of those ways is through research. Even before we knew all about the cool note-taking tools that are available, we began to make the swap as students ourselves. When conducting extensive research for graduate school, we no longer dealt with bibliography cards and note cards. We printed articles and whipped out the pen and highlighter (well, Michelle whipped out the highlighter anyway). As with many things, we find that our students have it even easier than we did. Here are a couple of resources that come in handy when taking notes during the RESEARCH PROCESS:

Google Keep: I’m not sure it’s possible to go wrong with Google anything, so it’s not a surprise that Google Keep does not disappoint. Google Keep is a helpful tool for research because you can open up Keep when on any website and take notes. Keep automatically pins the website address to the note so you don’t have to worry about forgetting where you were when you had that awesome epiphany. There is also a label function that comes in handy. Remember having to number your notecards to match your bibliography cards? In Google Keep, you can just create labels for your outline points and organize the notes you take across the Internet in one location where they can be quickly categorized by label. And did I mention there’s a Google Keep app? Yes, gone are the days of sitting in the library with notecards scattered and stacked. Now you can just grab your phone out of your pocket and have all of your notes right at your fingertips in seconds. And as with all things in Google, you can share those notes with your research partner with a click or two. Google, you amaze us.

Diigo: Diigo is actually quite similar to Google Keep in that it functions as a Chrome extension. It allows you to annotate a PDF, a web-based article, or even a screenshot. Like Keep, Diigo is useful for research. You can bookmark sites you’ve annotated for future use. One unique feature is its outliner. The outliner opens up in your browser much like your Favorites or Bookmarks sidebar. This allows you to highlight and annotate specific portions of texts, then drag those sections into the outliner to create bulleted lists, brainstorm sheets, outlines, or presentations. Diigo also has features which allow Kindle users to import notes from their devices.

So we have you covered with the research process, but what about annotating? We are English teachers. Let’s face it: we annotate for fun. This may actually be the biggest reason many English nerds like us hold on so tightly to our paperbacks (well, that and the smell…what is wrong with us?). But we aren’t being nostalgic in this post; we are learning to cope…um, thrive with digital texts. Here are some cool ways to ANNOTATE DIGITALLY:

Google Docs: We can’t talk about anything digital without bringing up Google apparently. Want simple? Want to watch your students in the process of annotating? Want to keep it all Google for the sake of keeping everything together? Docs can be used for that. Depending on the format of the PDF, you can even convert some PDFs into a Google Doc very easily.

Kami: Then there are those pesky PDFs that just do not want to hold their formatting when uploaded to Google Docs. No problem! Kami has you covered. Kami is a (you guessed it) Google Chrome extension for PDFs. I won’t get into all the things Kami can do with PDFs because that’s not why we’re here, but I will say that annotating in Kami is extremely user friendly. Once you add Kami as an extension, all PDFs you open in Chrome will open in Kami. Make sure to go to your settings and click to save your files to Google Drive so you don’t lose any of your hard work. Kami allows you to highlight, underline, add comments, box, circle, draw, etc. And it’s colorful. If you’re a Google Classroom user, you can add assignments to Classroom straight from Kami. As with most free online tools, there is a limit to what you can do with the free version, but we haven’t run into a wall that will keep us from using it daily with our students (or convince us to pay for the extras).

ThinkPort Annotator: What we like best about ThinkPort is the ability to label different colors of highlighters before assigning the text to students. Also, as the students annotate, those annotations appear in a box at the bottom of the page and are color coded. So cool! Go play around with this tool. You’ll thank us.

BookSnaps: Tara Martin is the brain behind BookSnaps. She combined something she wanted her students to do (reading) with one of the things they seem to all be doing (Snapchat). BookSnaps allow students (and English nerds of all ages) to capture a snapshot of a text and then react to that text through images, text, and drawings. Students can then post these new images to social media to show that not only are they reading, they are making connections to what they are reading. Fun!


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