I’ve been thinking about Subtext for about a year now–I’ve played with it, I’ve discussed it, but I never committed to using it in class until now, mostly because I wanted my students to feel comfortable with all of our school-wide core apps before I introduced another one. A few weeks ago, I decided to populate my Subtext group with the short stories from my “Women Writers of the World” unit, and we were off! In a nutshell: love. it.
Here’s what I did, and here’s what I’ve seen Subtext do for my students’ reading and collaboration skills:
1. First, we had a discussion in class about what it means to “read actively.” This is not a new phrase, as we often talk about reading actively, so this was more of a reminder. Students discussed the importance of not just annotating while reading but also asking questions, looking up vocabulary, recalling information, and simply stopping and thinking.
2. Then, we talked about how when we are busy with so much homework, that we often skip most of #1 and skim. This is bad, they all decided.
3. Thirdly, I introduced Subtext to them, expressing that if they want to make sure they’re accomplishing #1, and therefore becoming stronger readers (and writers), then this will be a good tool for them. All were on board to try it, and, well, they loved the owls that pop up on the screen when you open the app.
4. After a short digression about how owls are “so in” right now, we began reading our first short story in class and played with all of the Subtext tools. With a little guidance from me, they picked it up in less than 5 minutes.
Every night, here’s what I have my students do:
1. Answer all of the questions that I have already posted throughout the story (~3 questions–some discussion questions, some multiple choice, and, coming soon, a poll).
2. Write and publish 2 discussion questions as they read and make public to the class.
3. Answer 2 discussion questions of their classmates and make public to the class.
4. Highlight (and tag if they wish) and keep private.
Here’s what I find when students come to class every day:
1. My English classroom has been brought home. Students have a smart, thoughtful discussion on the text with each other every night.
2. Our conversations in class are even more thoughtful and complex because students have already thought deeply about the text.
3. Questions about plot have almost diminished; the majority of our conversations are more in depth because their plot questions have been clarified by reading other students’ answers to questions.
4. Students take ownership over their thoughts. They come in already proud of what they’ve accomplished with the text, and they are ready to contribute in discussion.
5. We have a lot to discuss that stems from what they did the night before.
Here’s what I wish Subtext could do:
1. Handwriting. Some of my students still love to write in the margins, and I don’t blame them. This is an on-going struggle with some of my students when we use eBooks in general.
2. Audio. One thing I love about using Notability and Explain Everything, although not eReaders, is that students can record discussions or add audio to their writing.
Overall, I’m thrilled with the app, especially when reading short stories. The students don’t mind spending more time reading with these shorter stories. I also see Subtext being valuable when reading articles and/or essays.
Holler with any questions!