Teaching guided reading online, during a pandemic nonetheless, is a completely different experience than what educators are used to. When schools initially closed down due to COVID-19, many teachers used Epic, Read Works, Newsela, and Raz Kids to facilitate reading online. While all of these resources have an important place in the online classroom, I was still looking for a simple resource that was more specific for guided reading.
Recently, Pearson came out with a new online literacy resource called Spark. It’s a paid digital library full of books that can be used for virtual instruction, online guided reading, and at-home independent reading. Some of the book collections include Turtle Island Voices, Sails, Mathology, and Time for Kids. This resource “ignites literacy learning with exceptional books, personalization tools, and teaching/learning supports.” Spark Reading just made its debut in 2021, but it has quickly become a fan favourite with its versatility for online and blended learning.
Not only is Spark straightforward and easy to understand for teachers, but it is also user friendly for kids. When teachers first log in, they can access their “library,” which includes over 700 titles. They can then search for books based on level, the topic of interest, subject area, genre/text type, and comprehension strategy. The ability to filter and select different books based on levels and strategies is convenient for facilitating guided reading online.
Once teachers have chosen a book, they can either assign it to an individual student, a group of students, or the whole class. The students can then choose the assigned books from their “Book Boxes” or pick a book from the digital library. Teachers can also use books for guided reading with its long list of interactive digital book features and tools. You can see more of what Spark includes in the video below.
Benefits of Spark Reading
There are multiple reasons that Spark stands out. Here are some benefits I have come to recognize in just a short amount of time:
1. Audio versions (read by professional actors) are available for each book.
2. There are interactive activities and quizzes during the story, which help with comprehension.
3. Teachers can use the interactive whiteboard feature for guided reading and online instruction. These whiteboard tools include highlighting and drawing, adding text and shapes, and using the “masking” fade tool for highlighting important parts of the page.
4. Teachers can access the student dashboard panel to monitor student progress.
5. Both students and teachers can enlarge the text in the books, which is especially helpful in guided reading when students are reading on a screen.
6. Each book has teacher notes with before, during, and after reading strategies, as well as extension activities that students can even do at home.
8. Students are able to stray from their “Book Boxes” and choose the books they want to read from the vast digital library. The books are colour coded so that students are not distracted by reading levels.
Areas to Consider
When using a new tool or resource, it’s important to review all of it, which includes the potential drawbacks. Here are some areas that need to be considered and will hopefully improve as Spark becomes more developed and widely known.
1. The biggest drawback is the price. It costs money, but if your division or school is willing to purchase it, I would say it’s worth it!
2. Since it is new to the digital library market, there are features that have not come to fruition yet. My hope is that as time goes by, more tools will be added, such as a student audio and video recording tool.
3. Even though there are Indigenous authors included in Spark, it is still only 13% of the whole library. I would like to see more selection with Indigenous books, as well as collections that represent more diversity.
4. The resource is strictly web-based right now, which could interfere with the interactive activities. An easy-to-use Spark app would be beneficial and accessible for both students and teachers.
As you can see, there are many benefits to choosing Spark as your digital library. It’s also important to keep in mind the areas of concern before you or your school division purchases the resource. There is no doubt about it… we need more resources for online and blended learning because it’s not going away anytime soon. Pearson has kept up with the need for this and has quickly developed a functional online library for educators and students. As Spark continues to develop its online library, I am confident that this resource will be a top contender in the online learning world.