Friday, October 2, 2015

Picturebooks in the Digital Age

The design, publication, and features of contemporary narrative picturebooks have been impacted by the digital revolution and the emerging popularity of digital reading devices. Digitally produced texts may resemble, in some basic ways their print-based predecessors; however digitally produced picturebook apps provide access to additional features, information, and types of interactivity that print-based texts may not support (Schwebs, 2014). Picturebook apps are sometimes thought of as enhanced versions of print-based picturebooks in that they offer additional content, features, and navigational options not available in printed texts.
Readers of digital picturebooks must work through the presentation of a fictional narrative using physical, cognitive, visual, emotional, and embodied capabilities, among others. As picturebook narratives in digital formats evolve and become part of the reading curriculum in more classrooms, picturebook scholars, literacy educators, and classroom teachers will need new lenses or frameworks for analyzing these texts and developing pedagogical approaches that support classroom instruction and readers’ transactions across digital and print-based platforms. In this article, we will consider the features and designs of picturebook apps and some challenges and possibilities these digital texts offer elementary grade teachers and students.
Interactive Features
Every act of reading, whether in print-based texts or on digital platforms, can be considered to some degree interactive. Readers must evoke the text through their transactions with written language (Rosenblatt), attend to the visual images and design elements (Hassett), and work across modalities to make sense of the multimodal resources (Serafini) that are part of every picturebook regardless of their materials and/or platform. It has been suggested that picturebook apps vary according to their level of interactivity, ranging from basic electronic formats to sophisticated hybrid and cyber ensembles (Turrion). Hyperlinks, embedded video clips and animations, sound effects, background music, open-ended storylines, and voice over narrations all add to the types of interactivity these texts present the reader.
A further distinction needs to be made between enhanced texts that have predetermined paths and outcomes included in the digital file that limit readers’ interactivity, and picturebook apps that require the reader to actively co-construct the narrative based on their choices and responses to hyperlinked and open-ended selections and options (Aarseth).

Monday, August 31, 2015

Excerpt from new Language Arts article

Serafini, Frank. (2015). Multimodal Literacy: From Theories to Practices. Language Arts. 92(6),
p. 412-423.

Using the above mentioned tripartite framework as a lens for investigating the nature of the multimodal ensembles that our students are exposed to in contemporary classrooms, multimodal ensembles are conceptualized as: 1) visual objects, 2) semiotic events, and 3) cultural artifacts (see Figure 1). This reconceptualization of the nature of multimodal texts from three different perspectives provides a foundation for the instructional approaches used to expand students’ interpretive repertoires. It is through these various lenses that we can begin to move beyond the literal or denotative aspects of written text and visual images to consider the semiotic and ideological dimensions of the multimodal ensembles encountered in today’s classrooms.

Three Perspectives on Multimodal Ensembles
Multimodal Ensembles
Instructional Approaches

Perceptual Analytical Perspective

Multimodal Ensemble as Visual Object
Noticing and Naming Visual Elements
Creating Perceptual Inventories
Attending to Peritextual Elements
Considering Basic Art Elements
Considering Design

Analytical Perspective

Multimodal Ensemble as Semiotic Event
Considering Visual Grammars
Ideational, Compositional, and Interpersonal Metafunctions
Vectors, Actors and Objects
Composition and Spatial Relations

Analytical Perspective

Multimodal Ensemble as Cultural Artifact
Considering Sites of Production
Considering Sites of Reception
Critical Lens: Gender
Critical Lens: Race
Critical Lens: Power

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Building a Classroom Library

At the beginning of every school year, I open one or two boxes of books each day during the first few weeks of school. It takes about that long to open all of the boxes of books I now have available. Each day brings a new adventure as we open up a new box to find out what books are inside, what literary treasures await us. This opening of the library boxes is a yearly ritual in my classroom and is designed to help students get a sense of the variety of books that are available. I also do this to help students understand that the books are there for them to read and are not there merely for display purposes. The books in the classroom are there to be looked at, thumbed through and read. Every book is available to everyone.
            As we open each new box, the contents are placed on tables around the room to allow students in small groups to spend time investigating each title. We stop periodically to share favorite books we know and love as a whole class, and introduce each other to new titles we haven’t seen before. We get excited sharing the books we remember from previous years, as well as any new titles I may have purchased over the summer. Old favorites and new books are strewn across the table tops, the conversation is lively, and children are beginning to feel like a part of our community of readers. Students use their writers' notebooks to write down any special titles that they want to be sure and revisit soon. I also ask students to write down any categories or genres that they are noticing. I want them to begin to think about ways to organize the books in the library. This organization will be our next class project.
            As students are going through the books scattered around on the tables in the classroom, we begin to make a chart of all the types of books or genres that we are finding. Using a large piece of butcher paper, I list all of the names the give to the books in the room. Art books, nature books, funny books, books about friendship, poetry books, fairy tales, counting books, alphabet books, family stories are just some of the names given in the past. After we go through all of the boxes and have listed all of the types of books we have found, I take each name and make a separate card for it. This way, we can move them around so we can begin to develop categories based on the common features in the names we have selected. For example, nature books, rock books, space books and geography books are categorized into a group called "Science Books." This category then becomes one of the shelves or one of the boxes in our library. We have worked together to organize our library, and in the process have had some great discussions about genres and categories of books.
            Of course, there are some books that I keep “hidden away” for surprises during the year, but for the most part all of my books are available to my students from the beginning of the school year. I do keep some extremely valuable books and some autographed copies of certain titles on a special shelf near my desk, but these are also available for students to read, they simply have to ask. I want students to feel free to select any books in the classroom, while at the same time teaching them to assume responsibility for caring for the classroom book collection.
            As the various boxes are opened during the beginning of the year, small groups of children assume responsibility for the creation of the library, the checkout procedures, the signs and posters for the library walls, the arrangement of the library furniture, the plants that will decorate the library and any other library jobs that we decide are important. We decide together what jobs are needed and what routines and procedures should be created. I feel that any jobs or procedures that students can handle by themselves, without teacher involvement, should be given over to the students as soon as possible. The more students are involved, the more books will be handled, read and cared for. Eventually, everyone in the class is assigned a job. In this way, I hope to make each child feel like an important part of our community. 
Although there is a central library area for a majority of the books to be housed in the classroom, books are also displayed throughout the room. For example, books about weather are located near the windows along with selections of nature poems, while books about plants and insects are placed near our terrarium. Various titles, displayed in colorful book boxes, are arranged by author, topic and theme throughout the room for easy access and organization. Some boxes are filled with Dr. Seuss books, while others may be filled with books about rocks and minerals for our geology study. During the year we have long discussions about the organization of these books and the contents of the various book boxes. The discussions that occur around these organizational efforts are excellent opportunities to discuss the concept of “genre” and the distinctions between narrative and expository texts.
End of the aisle displays, along with other point of sale displays near the checkout aisle in many local supermarkets, are used to draw attention to various products. These same marketing techniques can be used to draw attention to particular titles, genres of books and authors in our classrooms. Books that are displayed with the covers facing the students tend to get selected more often than books where only the spine is showing. The graphics and artwork on the covers of new books are marketing tools in and of themselves. By creating aesthetically pleasing visual displays and providing easy access to a large variety of books, we are able to entice children into discovering new titles, authors and genres.
One idea I have used in our library, is to buy some metal rain gutters to hang along the wall to display picture books. These rain gutters can be purchased from one of the large retail home improvement stores quite cheaply. They hold a large number of books, are easily mounted on the walls, and provide a nice display of the covers of various picture books. They are also easy to store and re-hang each year.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Fidelity to What?

A Question of Fidelity
(originally published in the Arizona Reading Journal)

In many elementary classrooms, teachers are being directed to ensure the commercial programs adopted in their districts are being implemented with fidelity. In fact, the word fidelity has become one of the current buzzwords in reading education. Often associated with Response to Intervention models, “Fidelity to the Core Program” is described as a prescribed curriculum that provides teachers with greater certainty about what and how to teach, enforcing strict adherence to the texts, pacing guides and scripts outlined by the authors and publishers of commercial reading programs. To others, it suggests a rigid, subservient adherence to demands of educators far removed from one’s classrooms, and a decrease in one’s professional autonomy. In either case, many reading teachers are mandated to follow adopted core programs, and not to stray from the prescribed tasks associated with each lesson or instructional component.

Lately, I have begun asking the question, “What about “Fidelity to Children’s Literature?” If we assume the same allegiance to fidelity concerning the children’s literature we use as an instructional resource as we are being asked to do with the commercial programs being adopted, what might become our new charge? How might the concept of Fidelity to Children’s Literature help us find ways to incorporate children’s literature into our current curriculum and instruction?
Fidelity to Children’s Literature would require an adherence to the intention of its creators, hopefully the same level of adherence given to the intentions of the creators of commercial programs. Unfortunately, authors and illustrators of children’s literature have much less influence over how their work is utilized than the creators of commercial reading programs. Once published, pieces of their work can be abridged and adapted into commercial anthologies, computer assessment programs or as part of reading instructional materials. These rights are often signed away with initial publishing contracts. Many authors and illustrators of children’s literature could have not possibly foreseen some of the ways their writing and artwork have been incorporated into various reading programs and curriculum.

As an author and illustrator of a series of non-fiction picturebooks, I did not intend my books to be simply used as an instructional device for teaching predicting, nor do I look forward to the day my books appear as part of some computer-based assessment program. My goal in writing my series of nature photography books was to invite children to explore the natural world around them, to share my books with family members and friends, to expand their curiosity and to get children off the couch to explore the wonders of nature all around them. It would be a shame if these intentions were underscored by a rush to use my books as a prompt in an instructional sequence.

To begin, Fidelity to Children’s Literature would honor books as a work of art and literature. It would take into account readers’ initial transactions with the words, images and design in a book above its potential as an instructional resource. In other words, we need to be careful how quickly we turn a work of children’s literature into a resource for a comprehension strategy lesson. Books should be read, discussed and savored long before they become a prompt for teaching predicting or summarizing. Before being used as an anticipatory set for a thematic unit on spiders, Charlotte’s Web should be simply read and enjoyed. And before we turn the book into diorama, we should allow readers the freedom to share their ideas and connections to this wonderful story in an open discussion. For teachers, this requires finding more time and space in the day for read alouds and discussion.

In addition, the art and images in picturebooks should be treated as a system of meaning, not simply as a prompt for decoding the written text during a picture-walk. Teachers and students will need to extend their knowledge of artistic styles and techniques, basic elements of visual design and visual grammar to better consider the visual and design elements of picturebooks. A focus on the elements of book design and the visual devices used to illustrate picturebooks, needs to assume a prominent position in our discussions and analyses of the books we read. Going forward, teachers will need as many instructional strategies for teaching students to “read the visual” as they do for teaching predicting, summarizing or inferring. Fidelity to Children’s Literature would suggest acknowledging the role of the illustrator and the book designer with the same rigor as the words written by the author.

Fidelity to Children’s Literature would suggest the concept of main idea be replaced with a more open agenda, one that considers multiple perspectives and interpretations. Authors are often reluctant to tell readers what they are supposed to “get” from reading their books, but commercial programs are replete with series of questions and answer keys that decreasingly allow for variance. In other words, answers don’t vary in many teachers’ manuals anymore. There is certainly more than one worthy idea in any work of children’s literature. The questions we ask students need to move beyond literal recall to inquire into what students really think about a book.

We must also understand that readers, texts and interpretations are constructed by social, historical and political factors. In addition, we need to view texts as vested versions of reality and invite readers to examine the ways they respond to their readings. As we include more authentic literature in the classroom, we need to examine which texts and interpretations are privileged and why. In order to ensure Fidelity to Children’s Literature, we need to examine the books contained in our school and classroom libraries to ensure the voices of a diverse group of authors and illustrators have a place in our students’ reading lives.

Fidelity to Children’s Literature would suggest that points should not be awarded for reading books. Reading should not become a competition among those best able to identify surface level or literal understandings. Various assessment programs turn books into “reading trophies” children simply decode in order to score points. Fidelity to Children’s Literature would suggest reading great literature should be seen as a way to illuminate the human condition, not a classroom scoreboard. Spending less time on these inauthentic assessments allows more time for reading and discussing literature.

What is done after reading a book should not become more important than reading and talking about the book itself. Building dioramas, writing book reports, and creating mobiles from magazine pages should find their way into a “Museum of Reading Activities,” not today’s classrooms. Fidelity to Children’s Literature would suggest the focus remain on the book being read and readers’ transactions with it, not the cute response activities that too many classrooms feature as part of their instructional repertoire. The amount of time spent in “seat work” or completing irrelevant response activities takes away from the time children can spend actually reading and thinking.

A focus on Fidelity to Children’s Literature would help create a space in today’s reading instructional framework for books to come alive, not to be pushed into the shadows of the reading curriculum. Rather than reading the abridged, fragmented versions of their favorite stories, children would be provided access to entire stories, complete with accompanying illustrations. Authors and illustrators want their books to be read, enjoyed, considered, shared, discussed and read again. I believe that we should consider these intentions before we devise ways to incorporate their works in our daily reading lessons.

Finally, Fidelity to Children’s Literature would suggest that teachers need to become more sophisticated readers themselves if they are to become more sophisticated teachers of reading. Until we as readers ourselves curl up near the fireplace with a commercial anthology, or take phonics worksheets with us to the beach on vacation, we need to reconsider what we are asking our students to read, what we provide in our classroom libraries, and what we ask students to do after they are finished reading. When we give our students the same rights and freedoms we expect for ourselves as readers, we open up new spaces for our students to immerse themselves in literature.

It is my hope that children’s literature will move out of the shadows, the periphery of the reading curriculum, and once again take center stage in today’s classrooms. The concept I have proposed, Fidelity to Children’s Literature, is offered as a guide for helping children’s literature resume its rightful place alongside other instructional resources. If we treat a novel or picturebook first as a work of art and literature before we see it as an instructional device, we may be better positioned to create life long readers in our classrooms.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Monday, June 8, 2015

Ed Week Commentary

Here is an excerpt from a blog I wrote curated by Larry Ferlazzo of Ed Week

Available at:

Print-based student portfolios have been used, misused, discarded, and reintroduced by many schools and districts over the past thirty years. Keeping track of students' work, storing these collections, evaluating them, and using them to drive instruction has had its ups and downs in literacy education. Online and digital portfolios have been used with similar outcomes in elementary, high school, and college settings.
The biggest challenge for portfolio advocates is whether to apply normative or criterion-referenced standards for evaluating the contents of students' portfolios by creating rubrics or other grading processes, or allowing individual students to use portfolios to document and demonstrate their learning and development over time. The second approach, a learner-referenced approach, has not been widespread in schools since so many assessment programs are designed to compare children to other children or schools to other schools.
Portfolios are collections of one's work designed to provide opportunities to reflect on progress or change over a period of time. In most "real-world" instances, for example interior designers, architects, photographers, or artists, portfolios are used to demonstrate competencies and accomplishments. This type of portfolio is rarely scored using a rubric.
As the requirements for being proficiently literate (of course defining proficiently literate is problematic in itself) continue to expand and grow more complex in the digital age, the assessments we use to understand students' abilities and performances need to expand as well. Portfolios and other performance assessments offer possibilities in this arena. For me, the challenge is not how to collect and evaluate portfolios but why to collect and evaluate portfolios. In my book, Classroom Reading Assessments (Serafini, 2010), I proposed three essential aspects of portfolio assessment:
  1. Help teachers teach more effectively
  2. Help students learn more effectively
  3. Provide information for stakeholders
In order to do this, classroom-based assessments should: 1) utilize a variety of sources of information, 2) involve students in evaluating their performances, 3) focus on abilities, not deficits, 4) be conducted over time, and 5) respect the teacher as knowledgeable observer in the assessment process. There are ways of using portfolios as performance assessments that align with the above-mentioned criteria. Unfortunately, most designers and implementers of portfolio systems are too busy trying to scale-up or standardize what goes into the portfolio. More complex systems of evaluation will be needed to understand the complexities of student performances beyond the collection of artifacts or bubbling in answers on a standardized test.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Vermont Reads Institute 2015

Vermont Reads Summer Institute


Vermont Reads Online Event Registration

August 3, 4, 5, 2015


Keynote Address: Reading Workshop 2.0: Supporting Readers in the Digital Age by Frank Serafini

Serafini-Frank-157X213This presentation will focus on the changes happening in reading instruction in light of the Digital Revolution. We will look at the features of new texts being used in contemporary classrooms, the lessons necessary for comprehending digital and multimodal texts, and the digital resources available for reading, sharing, discussing and analyzing print-based, digital and multimodal texts. A framework will be shared that demonstrates how the reading workshop structure provides instructional opportunities and reading strategies to help students comprehend and interrogate digital and multimodal texts. Various online resources, and student examples will be shared.
Dr. Frank Serafini is an award winning children’s author and illustrator, a landscape photographer, a devoted guitar player, and an Associate Professor of Literacy Education and Children’s Literature at Arizona State University. Frank has recently been awarded the Arbuthnot Award from the International Reading Association as the 2014 Distinguished Professor of Children’s Literature. Frank has published six books with Heinemann Publishers including: The Reading Workshop, Lessons in Comprehension, Around the Reading Workshop and Classroom Reading Assessments. Frank’s new book is entitled: Reading the Visual: An Introduction to Teaching Multimodal Literacies with Teachers College Press. In 2008, Frank began writing and illustrating a series of non-fiction picturebooks focusing on nature with Kids Can Press. The Looking Closely series contains books about the desert, garden, pond, rainforest, shore and forest. In 2009, Looking Closely Along the Shore won an International Reading Association’s Teachers’ Choice Award, and Honorable Mention from the Society of School Librarians International.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Reforming Reading Instruction

When asked recently to describe the changes needed to reform literacy education in the elementary classroom I offered the following four areas for consideration:

1. THEORETICAL: shift the focus from teaching to learning - too often we focus on how well our mini-lessons go (if they are in fact "mini") and not whether our students have learned anything from these lessons. Round robin reading instruction and other crappy ideas focus on how we teach, not whether students are getting anything from these experiences.

2. PEDAGOGICAL: You cannot teach children to read and write if they are not engaged in the acts of reading and writing. We need a context to teach into. If students are working on a piece of writing or trying to make sense of a text, we can work with them in that context to do things.

3. ASSESSMENT: We have to try and figure out what children can do, want to do, and are trying to do as readers and writers. In order to do this we have to watch them read, listen to them read, and systematically collect information about what they are doing.

4. CURRICULUM: We have to organize our reading and writing curricula into units of study that provide a context for reading and writing particular texts.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

New Picturebooks for 2015

These books will be released sometime in 2015 - Can't Wait for new titles from some of my favorite authors and illustrators!