Goal 4: Supporting the Reading Habits and Curiosities of Students with Wandoo Reader

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Lindsey Hill, educator superstar from Evanced Solutions, visited our library to help us with goal 4 for the library this year, “Supporting the reading habits and curiosities”.  In fact, this goal is so important that it is a part of our school improvement plan.  We believe that one of the best ways to become better readers is to read, read, read.  More importantly, we believe that finding books that we are interested in that match us as readers is an essential part of building stamina as a reader.  This year we are piloting a tool called Wandoo Reader to see how it supports us in tracking our reading habits and curiosities.  This tool is still in development for schools so we are figuring out what works well and what needs to be adjusted.

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Wandoo reader is a “game and a reading tracker”.  It follows the story line of a robot who stumbles into a library but is low on power.  In order for the robot to power up, the robot needs kids to read books.  Students read books or really anything of their choosing.  In the online reading log, students submit the reading material title, amount of time read, and whether or not they finished reading the material.  Each time they log reading, they earn credits which allows them to purchase parts to the robot.  There are over 8,000 combinations of parts, so it’s pretty difficult for students to ever be truly “finished”.  Wandoo Reader also allows the administrator to setup incentives or prizes as well as secret codes for completing various challenges.

Our goal for Lindsey’s visit (and next week) was to get all of our 3rd-5th graders setup with accounts in Wandoo Reader.  Lindsey and I met with many classes.  I kicked off each session by sharing the news with students that we are the only school in the world currently using Wandoo Reader.  I wanted to emphasize the potential in this.  I brought in a conversation about empowering student voice in this opening (goal 3 for this year).  Students have an opportunity to test out a tool, figure out what they love, get frustrated with what doesn’t work, and point out what they just don’t like.  Each observation or failure that they make goes directly to Evanced Solutions for consideration in improving Wandoo Reader for future schools, so our student voice really matters and makes a difference.

Lindsey did a demo of what Wandoo Reader would look like once students registered.  She show them how to log their minutes, how to earn credits, and how to purchase a robot part.

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Then, we started the long process of getting students registered.  It didn’t take us long to discover that this process is not quite ready for schools and will need some adjustment.  Each student had to create a username, password, confirm password, and select the difficulty level for the game.  Then, students had to type my email address to send an email confirmation.  Each email had to be clicked on to activate each student account before they could proceed.  Bulk uploading is already in development and it is essential for schools to have this feature because the wait time students felt while I clicked on each email was too long.

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Once students have accounts activated, Wandoo Reader takes them through a tutorial which reveals the story line of the game and shows students the different buttons they will click to log reading, purchase parts, build a robot, etc.  This tutorial is text-only for now.  Some students read every word, others clicked through without reading at all, and others really tried to read but got frustrated without the support of audio or an adult’s help.  Again, this was an area where students and teachers offered feedback about their experience and observations and would really love to see an audio feature or simpler text.

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After the tutorial, students come to another screen where they have to put in their name, birthday, zip code, gender, and select their teacher.  There was a lot of learning here for students because it revealed that most students had no idea what a zip code is.  It was a great lesson, but it did slow down the registration process.  Our suggestion for this page was to cut out much of this page.  The essential information is the student name and the teacher.  These are the two pieces that will be used the most when running reports for data from Wandoo Reader.

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Once students made it through registration, the fun began.  Students practiced logging some books that were recently read, earned points, and started building robots.  Every student logged “Wandoo Reader” as a book if they read the tutorial.  There were smiles all around as each robot looked a little bit different than the next.  I loved how this feature gives students a sense of personalization, which is so important to students.  Once kids got into the program, we heard things like:

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Students were really engaging in goal 1 from the library this year, “dreaming, tinkering, creating, and sharing”.  Of course, some students started testing the system to see how many points they could earn for more parts.  We can always clear that out through the administration portal, but they had permission to tinker.  They figured out how things worked, how things didn’t work, and also revealed to us what Wandoo Reader might need in order to focus kids on the true goal of the tool which is increasing student reading ability.

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Students were so proud of their robots

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We closed our time by talking about the importance of the data that Wandoo Reader will produce for our school.  I gave specific examples.  For example, if I see that a student clicks “still reading” on multiple books and never clicks “finished reading”, it might reveal to me that the student isn’t finding a good match for reading.  If a student reads the exact same book over and over, it might reveal to me that I need to have a conversation with that student to find similar books to the trusted favorite.  If I notice that several students are reading a lot in a particular genre, it might reveal to me that I need to purchase more of that genre for our library collection.  The list could go on and on because the data that Wandoo Reader can produce for me as the librarian as well as for classroom and collaborating teachers is something we have never had access to in a single location shared across the school.  If kids use it with “fidelity” as our superintendent says, then we can start to notice and really pay attention to the amount of time that our students are spending reading.  If we want to close the achievement gaps in reading, then one of the most important steps is getting the right books in kids’ hands and giving them time to read and have fun with that reading.  Wandoo Reader has great potential for this.

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Ms. Spurgeon record feedback for Evanced while supporting a student

Looking back over the day, there were many frustrating moments in the registration process.  In fact, there were times that it was that level of frustration where you just want to say “no thanks” and move on.  For students, there were moments where meltdowns, shut downs, and giving up could have happened.  However, the thing that sticks out to me most about the day is that there weren’t any tears.  Not a single student gave up.  I won’t pretend that they didn’t get frustrated because they did.  However, it is more important to me to see what they did with that frustration and it makes me ask “why?”.  Why didn’t they crawl under tables, cry, close their computer screens, or say I don’t like this?

I can’t prove why at the moment, but I can’t help but wonder about the library goals for this year.  We began each session by giving students permission to tinker and fail (goal 1 dream, tinker, create, and share).  We established a sense of purpose by helping them realize that their failure and feedback was contributing to the greater good of the world (Goal 2 global thinking & collaboration).  We empowered them to notice what wasn’t working as well as what they loved and share that into Lindsey’s recorder to take back to the developers (Goals 3 empowering student voice).  We talked about reading multiple kinds of text and logging everything and even gave them permission to log Wandoo Reader as a book (Goals 4 supporting reading habits).

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When I started the day, I really didn’t plan for every library goal to be evident in this one lesson.  As we moved through the first session, it became very clear to me that I needed to be transparent with students about the multiple layers of why we were using Wandoo Reader.  When I did that, the library goals naturally came to life because they are a part of my thinking every day.  If I can continue to replicate experiences like today, I feel like our students will continue to develop perseverance and stamina as well as feel like their voice matters in our school as well as the world.

Now the students who are setup are ready to start logging everything they read and building robots.  I told them to not worry about what they have read in the past but instead start with what they are reading right now.  Many will probably log minutes this weekend by visiting our Symbaloo page where we keep all of our resources.  Others will start logging minutes at school next week.  Regardless, the task now is to continue to tinker for a bit until we all figure out the best process for having kids log their minutes.  I will also follow up with teachers to see how they are feeling about Wandoo Reader and see what our next steps really are.

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Even with the frustrations of registration, I feel like we all gained so much from this day to support us throughout this school year.  Thank you Evanced for this opportunity, and we can’t wait to see the changes to Wandoo Reader based on what was learned from these first student users.

Reflections on the #Wandoo5: A Visit to Evanced

photo 4 (2)This has been a whirlwind summer.  Across 9 days from June 22-July1, I visited Evanced in Indianapolis, became a Google Certified Teacher at the Google Teacher Academy in Atlanta, and experienced the awesomeness of ISTE in Atlanta.  My brain was so exhausted that it has been hard to pull out the strands of what I actually learned.  However, I’m going to slowly start letting the learning soak in and write about each of those experiences here beginning with the #Wandoo5

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During the past school year, a small group of 5th graders began beta testing a tool called Wandoo Planet.  Wandoo Planet is an interest genome project like Pandora or Netflix where students share their interests in a game-like environment.  In return, Wandoo Planet offers book, movie, and game recommendations to them based on those interests.  We loved this tool so much that we used it to kickoff our summer reading at the end of the year.  Lindsey Hill at Evanced Skyped with every class in 2nd-5th grade and families, UGA students, and Barrow student ambassadors assisted me in getting every student signed up for an account.

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Other schools were also exploring Wandoo Planet and hosting the Banishing Boredom Tour at their schools.  Thanks to some informal conversation between Sherry Gick and Rob Cullin, President of Evanced, and making our work public, 5 library leaders were chosen to visit Evanced Solutions, a DEMCO company, in Indianapolis for a Think Tank.  The details of the Think Tank were really not specific, but when you have an opportunity to get together with Matthew Winner from Maryland, Sherry Gick from Indiana, Shannon Miller from Iowa, and Shawna Ford from Texas, you don’t say no and you expect nothing less than awesome!

Before we even arrived, a name had been created, the Wandoo 5 (#Wandoo5).  It felt like a giant signal had been activated in the sky and we were climbing aboard our planes to assemble at headquarters for a secret mission.

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We all arrived in the afternoon on June 22 and had a chance to hangout, have informal conversations, and enjoy downtown Indianapolis.  Lindsey Hill (@thelindseyhill), Reading Engagement Innovator at Evanced, made us feel right at home from the moment our planes landed and she didn’t stop even when our planes were returning us home.  You can tell that the people at Evanced truly care about libraries, librarians, and especially readers.

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On Monday June 23, the Think Tank began.  I was amazed by how we started because we didn’t start with the products that Evanced offers.  The very first question asked of us was to describe the landscape of school libraries and librarianship and to think about what some of our biggest challenges are.  Where would we start?  Our attention immediately turned to our students and access to information.  This particular strand of the conversation went from access to quality devices to access to Internet outside of school.  Our attention turned to the teachers within our buildings and the wide range of experiences and comfort levels with using and taking risks with technology.  Finally our attention turned to our colleagues around the world and how we support one another.

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Some Takeaways from Think Tank Part 1:

  • As we take risks as teacher librarians, it is more important than ever to show our work in a public way.  It isn’t about always showing the polished product at the end.  It’s about showing the process that it took to get there, even if it wasn’t successful.  We never know who we are mentoring along the way by showing our work.
  • It is more important than ever to build your own Professional Learning Network (PLN).  We all come from a range of support systems.  Some of us are fortunate enough to work in districts that are supportive of our work and have administrators that respect and value what happens in the libraries.  Others don’t have that support system.  Regardless of where we are, there is a vast network of librarians ready to support us.  From following #tlchat on Twitter to watching the TL Virtual Cafe webinars to tuning in to TL News Night to building your own network of librarian colleagues on Twitter or Google Plus Communities, it is more possible than ever to build your own support system that pushes your thinking and enriches your work rather than feeling like you are living on a deserted island in your school.
  • Evanced listens!  To sit there and share the landscape of libraries and the challenges we face was overwhelming, but it was nice to know that there is a company that has the word “solutions” in their title on our side.  They may not be able to solve all of the challenges we face, but we at least had a voice and impact into future solutions that they may explore in the landscape of libraries and librarianship.

The next part of our day was looking at the landscape of Evanced.  Matt Sheley, Vice President of Evanced, shared the journey that the company took in arriving at Wandoo Planet and Wandoo Reader as solutions to a challenge.  The company looked at reading data that showed a population of students who weren’t reading beyond elementary grades.  They wanted to develop a tool that connected learners with materials that resonated with their interests in the hopes that it would grow them into lifelong learners and readers.  It was truly amazing to see the process from notes in a journal to the tool that we are using today.

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During lunch, we got to view Wandoo Reader, which is primarily focused on public libraries for now, but we had the opportunity to brainstorm what this tool might look like within a school.

 

 

To me, one of the most interesting conversations centered on collaboration between school and public libraries.  While we acknowledged the importance of data confidentiality, we also considered how powerful it would be if school and public libraries could share data.  Since students mostly read based on their interests during the summer, being able to see that data as a school librarians would help us improve our collections to match reader interests as well as advise our library members on next reads.

We also got a chance to walk around the Evanced office.  Some parts were very quiet with coders at work.  We also saw some of the displays that were taken to schools and conferences.

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Some Takeaways from Think Tank Part 2:

  • In our libraries and in our schools, we should take time to identify the major challenges that we face.  Rather than try to “fix” them all at once, we should select the one(s) we want to focus on and think beyond just the next steps or even the “research-based” strategies that we always turn to.  While these are certainly things to consider, we should also give ourselves permission to dream and create something entirely new that we build together as we go.  It should be a solution that truly matches the needs of the learners involved and pierces to the root of the challenge.
  • We should never feel done.  I could tell that Evanced is the kind of company that doesn’t put out a product and say “This is it. Take it or leave it.”  They constantly listen, fine tune, and add new features that respond to the needs of the users.  Isn’t that what we should be doing in our libraries and schools?  We are never done.

Our day ended with “Our Whys”.  We each took time to reflect on why we do the work that we do in school libraries.  It was a mixture of the #whylib conversations that took Twitter by storm in April and a series of short TED Talks.   It was very intimidating to me to go last during this sharing because I was blown away by the whys that my colleagues shared.  Our whys included keeping students at the heart of what we do, empowering student voices in the global community, creating a participatory culture that gives all students an opportunity to contribute, and listening to each student that enters our doors and allowing the library to be a home within our buildings.  If these statements had been recorded, I think I would listen to them every day on the way to work to frame my day.

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Some Takeaways from Think Tank Part 3:

  • We each need to be able to share our “why”.  It reminds us why we come to work every day.  It focuses the hundreds of decisions that we make on a daily basis.
  • Again, we need to share the work that we do within our libraries and within that sharing we need to embed our why.  It needs to shine through in the successes and the failures that we share.  When it does, it becomes one of our greatest advocacy tools.

I went to Indiana thinking that I was just going to give a company feedback to improve a tool that they had created and get to hangout with some of my closest professional learning network.  However, I realized that this was much more.  This was about thinking big, dreaming big, and (since I’m Googlified) solving for X through moonshot thinking.

The people at Evanced are listening.  They are dreaming.  They are searching for solutions to some of our biggest challenges.  This was such a rewarding experience, and I’m thankful to all of the people at Evanced for this opportunity.  I look forward to many more conversations in the future.