Tech Tuesdays: Owl Eyes — Read, Annotate, and Collaborate

Making literature accessible to all students can be a difficult task. It’s hard to have enough time in class to fully read texts and dive into analysis, which results in a lot of the material being read at home. Owl Eyes can assist with that process for teachers by saving them time while still supporting students while they read outside of the classroom. Owl Eyes offers different annotated e-books that can be shared with students while still allowing teachers to track their progress.

Once you create an account, you will be brought to the main homepage, which allows you to select between browsing books or creating a class. You’re also able to see what books you are currently reading and a list of suggested books is offered. If you click “Browse Library” a drop-down menu appears with different options to choose based on your classroom needs.

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If you select “Annotated Books,” you are brought to a list of all of Owl Eye’s already annotated novels and texts.

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When you have found the text you want to view, you will select it and the main access page will appear. Initially, you will be met with a synopsis of the text. In a blue sidebar, the literary period, publication date, Flesch-Kincaid level, and average reading time will be provided. You will have several red button options, including the opportunity to begin reading, adding the text to “My Books” for later reading, or the chance to download the text as a PDF. A drop-down menu under “Table of Contents” will allow you to jump to a specific point in the text. Analysis resources are provided in that drop-down menu and there are even teaching resources, although some of them require a paid membership.

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If you select “Start Reading” you will be met with the first page of the text. The text appears like an e-reader with the different icons for navigation at the top of the screen.

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Some of the text will be highlighted in yellow as you read, which is an indication of where Owl Eyes has made annotations to enhance comprehension and understanding. If you select the funnel on the navigation menu, you can filter through different types of annotations based on your interest while reading. The types of annotations vary based on the resource, ranging from persuasion devices, historical context, literary analysis, symbolism, and characterization, among others.

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Returning to your homepage, you can create a class for your student and assign them texts. Click on the “My Classes” tab on the homepage and then select the red “Add a Class” button. You will be prompted to name your class and provide information about it. To have students join, you can either send them an invitation through their email or use a class code provided by Owl Eyes to have them join themselves. There is even the option to send the invitation to students through Google Classroom.

When you assign a text to students, you can add your own annotations to help them. Go to the text you want and highlight the necessary words or phrases. Three icons will appear that allow you to highlight and write your own annotation for students to view. Highlight the text you want to stand out and then select the comment icon to add your own annotation. You can give it a tag so students can filter through your annotations easily. Then save your annotation. Students will be able to view the annotation when they are reading the text now.

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Students can reply with questions or comments to your annotations as they read, which can lead to in-class discussions and opportunities for teachers to help students at home or promote peer assistance.  

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When students are enrolled in your class, you can also monitor their progress through the text and see which page they are currently reading. You can also view any annotations the students are making on the text themselves. This view is through the “My Classes” tab from the homepage. You can see the progress and annotations by selecting the student’s name. You can even reply to their annotations without leaving that page.

Owl Eyes is a collaborative tool that allows for student support as they read outside of class. Teachers can provide resources to help students as they read and can track the progress of their students, determining who may need extra assistance in class. This resource would allow teachers to also determine points of review for the class period based on the progress of the class in the reading assignment. Owl Eyes covers a wide range of literature used in English courses at both the middle and high school level. While some of the tools require a premium membership, the majority of tools are accessible through the free account.

New Jersey Council of Teachers of English, the New Jersey state affiliate of NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English

Tech Tuesdays: Owl Eyes — Read, Annotate, and Collaborate

Book Review: Personalized Reading by Michele Haiken

Personalized Reading coverby Audrey Fisch

As we enter into the final days of summer, I know I’m full of the usual feelings of aspiration and trepidation for the new school year. Weeks of course revision and planning are under my belt. Still, in these last few weeks, I’m still open to more inspiration and new ideas/tools to make my new school year more successful.

It was in this frame of mind that I turned to Personalized Reading: Digital Strategies and Tools to Support All Learners by Michele Haiken (with L. Robert Furman). I know Haiken and her excellent work on gamification (Gamify Literacy: Boost Comprehension, Collaboration, and Learning), so my expectations for Personalized Reading were high. Her newest work did not disappoint me.

Indeed, I must admit that I consumed (inhaled) her latest work nearly in one sitting. And indeed, I find the brevity, simplicity, and practicality of the volume to be its greatest achievement. Haiken has written a slim and eminently readable book on digital strategies and tools that combines references to a research base, a focus on different kinds of learners, and practical and easy-to-follow examples and suggestions. All of this is combined in Haiken’s refreshing, practical, authentic teacher voice. She is using these tools to help the young people in her world succeed and sometimes reflecting on her own journey as a reluctant reader whose own love of books and readings was not ignited until college. This book invites us to look over her shoulder, into her classroom, and learn from her. Who would turn down such an invitation?

The volume is usefully divided into chapters based on types of learners: struggling readers, reluctant readers, English language learners, and advanced readers. The final chapter, “Teaching All Our Readers at the Same Time,” reflects Haiken’s practicality and wisdom. As she notes, the “cacophony of students in our diverse classrooms benefits all student learners, because we learn from each other” (90). Classrooms are not made up of one narrowly defined group of readers, and the labels are useful only up to a point. As Haiken notes, “Bored students are at risk to become reluctant readers” (5). ELL readers can also be reluctant readers. You might select a particular idea in an attempt to support struggling readers in your classroom, for example, but Haiken reminds us that the other students may be just as intrigued and supported.

In each chapter, Haiken cites scholars in the field, but she doesn’t get bogged down in the research. She uses a choice quote or two from some of the major researchers to serve as a scholarly context for the strategies she discusses. For example, in her chapter on reluctant readers, Haiken focuses on the importance of visuals that can “serve as a bridge to print texts” (26). Here she discusses tips (from Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey) for close reading and their application with visual texts, visual literacy resources like The Jacob Burns Film Center, practical tools for uploading videos and embedding questions and interactive activities, and more.

Among many ideas in this chapter, Haiken highlights her own use of Tara M. Martin’s #BookSnaps. #BookSnaps are created on Snapchat, with photos combined with annotations, reactions, decorations, which can then be shared on social media with classmates. Included is an example from a student, so we can see exactly what Haiken (following Martin) means.

And at the end of the chapter (and for every chapter), Haiken includes a simple, useful table, pairing the teaching strategy (here, using visual texts to teach reading strategies) with suggested technology tools (like #BookSnaps) and relevant links.

There’s so much information, but again, Haiken is both wonderfully inspiring and practical. Her discussion of her Twitter book clubs for her middle schoolers includes specific directions (designate a specific hashtag for students to follow) and critical templates (like a Twitter Permission Letter and Code of Conduct for parents and guardians). And again, there is a sample of the teaching tool in practice – here, a piece of a chat about Leland Melvin’s Chasing Space among Haiken’s students, herself, and her school’s Earth science teacher.

If I were a teacher educator hoping to get my pre-service teaches to think creatively about using technology to reach the widest range of readers, if I were a novice teacher looking for a few new tools to help me reach a few more students in my classes, or if I were a veteran teacher (I am!) looking for a new innovation to introduce in the new school year, I would find Personalized Reading everything I wanted and more. If you are enjoying a few more days of personal development, check out this wonderful text.


Don’t forget to register for the NJCTE 2018 Fall Conference: Approaches to Writing, K-12! Featuring keynote speaker NCTE President Jocelyn Chadwick, the conference will take place September 29 at Kenneth R. Olson Middle School in Tabernacle, NJ. Register today!

Book Review: Personalized Reading by Michele Haiken