Actively Learn is a freemium online education platform that allows students to read a book (or some other document), make comments, answer questions posed by the teacher, and even collaborate with others. Quickly, it is becoming the close reading tool of choice for teachers because of its ease of use, differentiation of needs, depth of tools, and variety of resources.
What is Actively Learn
Actively Learn is a high-functioning e-reader for ELA, social studies, and science students in grades 2-12. It provides reading resources either uploaded by the teacher or selected from the platform’s library of thousands of fiction and nonfiction books (some free; some through Prime plans), Common Core-aligned lesson plans, videos, or simulations. These are filtered by topic, grade, length, reading level, keyword, or standards (i.e., CCSS) and can include embedded questions, scaffolded notes, and topical media. These can be targeted to select groups, individuals, or the entire class, providing scaffolding for some and enrichment for others.
While reading the ebooks, students can take notes, highlight, jot down questions, share ideas with each other, and respond to the comments of classmates. They can look up words they don’t understand and translate the text into a long list of languages that may be their native or a secondary language they are learning.
Actively Learn is becoming recognized as an effective inclusive tool that involves all students–from gregarious to shy–in student-centered, student-led discussions.
How do you get started?
Once teachers create an account, they set up their classrooms either by importing student lists from Google Classroom, Microsoft, Clever, or Edmodo or by providing the class join code to students. Assignments are created and made available to individuals, groups, or the entire class and teachers can monitor progress, check the gradebook, respond to student questions, review student input, and view class data through their teacher dashboard.
Students, too, have their own dashboard where they access teacher-assigned materials and more. If this is the first time they’ve logged in, they can start with a quick how-to on using Actively Learn.
Actively Learn & the SAMR Model
Substitution: Students read a digital text on Actively Learn (instead of a traditional print text)
Augmentation: Students while reading online assignments can look for definitions in real-time and even have a time-real translation. Also, students can discuss (with notes), in a synchronous and asynchronous setting, the same reading.
Modification: While students are reading the digital text, they can interact with classmates and collaboratively annotate key words and phrases.
Redefinition: Students’ reading experience is scaffolded, personalized, interactive, multimodal, and engaging.
Features of Actively Learn
This is a feature-rich platform but I want to highlight a few I found particularly useful:
- Students can read the text or have it read to them, a step to address equity among all learners.
- Teachers can add ‘knowledge checks’ within assignments to confirm that students understand what they’re reading. These nicely replace the quick formative assessments that are currently so popular (and time-consuming) in classes.
- The Actively Learn library includes short stories, textbooks, poems, primary sources, plays, novels, and non-fiction, as well as materials specific to the science and social studies content areas.
- I like that student research done through Actively Learn can be merged into Google Docs. In fact, Actively Learn integrates fully with Canvas, Google Drive, and Google Classroom.
- Actively Learn is compatible with any device, any web browser because it’s web-based. Students can start on one device at school and smoothly transition to a completely different one at home.
- Students must answer assigned questions in the reading assignment before advancing to the next level. This is a great way to be sure they understand content.
- Because teachers can upload a single article from a magazine or website, this minimizes student distraction from unrelated content.
- Teacher notes on resources can include images or videos as well as text.
- Reading can be chunked by adding questions at points throughout the reading. For some students, this is a great way to improve comprehension and keep them focused.
- Actively Learn includes a Professional Development corner (with the Prime plan) where teachers get slideshows, samples, and demonstrations on topics such as “Ask higher-order questions”, “Facilitate discussion”, “Encourage strategic annotation”, “Model close reading”, and more.
Actively Learn Accounts: Free versus Prime
You can create an Actively Learn account for free by clicking “Create Free Educator Account.” From there you can sign up with Google, Clever, or Microsoft, or you can manually enter your information to sign up. Then, you’ll just need to enter your school information, and you can create a free account.
With a free plan you can create an unlimited amount of interactive reading assignments in ELA, Social Studies, and Science. Furthermore, you’ll have access to thousands of free articles, videos, etc., 3 text imports per month, and you can embed questions, notes, and media into an assignment. The free version also has an automatic grade book and a Google Classroom integration.
The prime version allows you to import unlimited texts as well as provides you with real-time data about student progress, and allows you to set up assignments for small groups, amongst other useful features.
Rostering Students in Actively Learn
Before creating and assigning interactive articles, you’ll need to add your class roster. Next to “classes” click the “add” button and click “add new class.” One option is to “import courses from Google Classroom.” If you don’t use Google Classroom, you can also just manually create a class. If you do sync your class through Google Classroom, you’ll just need to select which classes to import, select the grade level, and then click “import.” Then, students will just need to log in with their Google accounts to get in.
If you manually enter a class, you’ll just need to give students a class code they can use to sign in. Once you’ve created your class, you’ll see a list of the students who have been added to your roster.
Creating and Assigning Interactive Articles in Actively Learn
Back on the Content dashboard, you’ll see that you have many ways to search for articles, including an open search, curriculum units, topics, and news & articles. If you have access to a Prime school account, you’ll also see a “school library” option. You can also filter articles based on grades, Lexile level, or standards.
Lastly, “my imports” allows you to bring in your own static texts and add interactivity features to them. After clicking on an article, you’ll see that it gives you ideas for teaching the text on the right-hand side, as well as assignment directions at the top. If you have a Prime account, you’ll see an “extra help text summary,” but with a free account, that option won’t show up. On the top left-hand side of the screen, you’ll also notice text settings that you can use to adjust the way the text appears on the page.
For example, you can change the text margins and spacing, the text size, you can choose from a few different font types, as well as change the background color. You can also choose whether or not paragraphs are numbered, which I like to leave on because it makes it easier to reference specific paragraphs in the text, and then lastly you’ll see that there are also dyslexic settings that will auto-adjust the font type, size, margin and spacing, and color.
To return the text to the way it originally was, choose “restore defaults. Next you’ll see that each article already has pre-written interactive questions, such as this opening poll question. In addition to the pre-created questions, you’ll also notice that this article already has different words highlighted, and that each highlighted word corresponds to a pre-made teacher note that either provides students with definitions of words, or gives them additional relevant background information, such as this informational blurb about Babe Ruth.
As you continue to scroll down the page, you’ll notice that there are additional pre-created interactive questions. This one is multiple-choice, and you’ll find pre-created open-ended questions as well.
The Actively Learn Gradebook
To see how your students did on each assignment select your class and choose “Gradebook.” If you choose an individual assignment you’ll be able to get a detailed breakdown of how students responded to different questions, as well as give them direct feedback. In addition to seeing how the entire class responded to each question you can also see how individual students answered each question.
When you get to the short answer questions, you can give students a quick formative grade as well as leave them written feedback. And if you want students to revise their responses and resubmit them, you can enable that function as well.
Actively Learn is a powerful program that helps teachers achieve what would be next to impossible without it: making every piece of content interactive. Transforming texts and videos from static to interactive learning experiences is one of the most clear ways technology can enhance be used to enhance instruction and improve educational outcomes for students.