Originally posted on the Reading Apprenticeship website and posted here with permission.

As many educators are faced with the challenge of teaching very diverse students online, they need accessible tools and prompts to get students reading and engaged with one another. Reading Apprenticeship seeks to foster text-based conversation; the texts can be news articles, videos of classrooms, fiction, or historical documents, but the focus is always on comprehension and collaboration.

Online annotation tools like NowComment help teachers get at process – teachers and students learn most from seeing not only someone’s conclusion by asking, “What did you make of that?” but also their process as they read/watch/respond:

  • “How did you make sense of this as you read/watched it?”
  • “What questions did you have related to specific images or words?”
  • “What life experiences have you had that support or contradict points in the text?”
  • “What did you think of what other people/peers had to say about the text?”

If you are seeking to support collaborative learning, or support your students in making their thought process visible, please check out this video featuring staff from WestEd’s Reading Apprenticeship, National Writing Project, and NowComment. Their conversation is a rare window into how expert “teachers of teachers” are seeking to support teaching in online settings. Their essential question is: “How do we get our students to interact with one another and text in meaningful ways online?

One way is using group discussion and annotation tools for online multimedia documents like NowComment. NowComment is an accessible, free tool, but as this video discussion shows, how teachers use NowComment is what counts.

If you are an educator who wants to move beyond thin, summative comments in your online classroom (e.g. “Cool!” “Didn’t like this.” “I don’t get it?”), you need to think carefully about:

  • How you might focus dialogue by narrowing your text
  • How to prompt your students with focused inquiry questions
  • How and when you prompt your students to respond to one another
  • When to direct students check back and read and respond to comments on their comments

As teacher and educator Irisa Charney-Sirott says, “What is useful about NowComment is that it gives us all a window into ‘real-time’ sense-making. Teachers can watch a video or read a text, and note—as they are watching/reading in real time—what they are thinking related to a specific frame or piece of text. This gives everyone a glimpse into human sense-making—what is it in the text or video that prompted your visceral response or analytic conclusion? This is profoundly different than a summative statement such as a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘I like this,’ and it gives all readers access to one anothers’ thought process.”

Check out the video and see Canvas courses, Inquiry Prompts, and NowComment examples for fresh ideas to get your students engaged in collaborative text-based conversations.

If you want to experience this kind of online learning, using Canvas and NowComment, sign up for one of our Reading Apprenticeship online courses.