Resource Review: Spark Reading Digital Library

#ECI834, EdTech Tools

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.

Image result for spark pearson

Spark Explained

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.

7. There is extensive training and support for both teachers and students. This help centre includes articles and “how-to” videos for every topic.

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.

Photo by Olha Ruskykh on

Let’s Review

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.


Seesaw and Distance Learning: An Interview with Kris Szajner

EdTech Tools, Podcast

Seesaw, a platform for student engagement, is being used all over the world during this time of online learning. Why? It allows for connection, innovation, and creativity… something that is needed in an online platform, especially now. If you didn’t get a chance to listen to my previous podcast, “5 Ways that Seesaw Stands Out”, I talk about the benefits of using Seesaw and what I learned during my Seesaw Ambassador Training. In the episode, I talk about a newer tool that can be easily made by teachers and accessed by students called Choice Boards. I first heard about Choice Boards from Kris Szajner, so I reached out to him and mentioned his resources in the episode. Since he’s an expert on the topic, I invited him to share more of his expertise in a full interview on the podcast.

In our interview, we discussed why Seesaw is one of the most used platforms during a time that online learning is essential. He reminds us that Seesaw allows for engagement, efficiency, and accessibility for teachers and students. There are so many incredible features and functions that Seesaw allows in order for these skills to happen, and we dove into them during the episode. Here are some of the topics that we covered in the episode:

  1. Engagement
    When using Seesaw, make sure you assign activities that keep kids hooked. They don’t need another worksheet to do right now… they need something that engages them and allows them to use curiosity and creativity. Check out some of his innovative ideas on his YouTube channel, such as “Scratch and Read” activities and “How to Make a Scratch and Reveal Jamboard”.

2. Choice Boards
Imagine sharing images, links, and resources in one easy accessible page. That’s the beauty of Choice Boards! Instead of assigning link after link, activity after activity… you can engage students with a simple page that gives them access to all of the necessary tools and websites. In case you missed it, check out his webinar on creating Choice Boards.

3. Skills
Seesaw Plus, the paid version of Seesaw, has the Skills feature for assessing learning. It’s an easy way for teachers to keep track of their student progress. In the episode, we talk about the basics of Skills and how to use it to benefit learning. Take a look at his tutorial video on How to Track Activities and Attendance with Skills.

4. Activity Templates
Have you ever tried to make your own activity, but you’re not sure where to start? In our conversation, we discuss the basics of creating your own templates. Kris has some incredible videos about creating templates for your activities. Check out “How to Make Activities from Slides” for more information.

You can learn more about these topics from our conversation on the podcast. My interview with Kris Szajner leaves me excited and hopeful as a Seesaw Ambassador and elementary educator. As you take some time to explore these resources and listen to the episode, I will leave you with Kris’ words from our conversation:

“When we are in this new world of distance learning… what is going to pull us through is this collaboration with each other and sharing of knowledge, information, and resources… that’s our saving grace right now.

Don’t forget to check out Kris on Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, or his website.

Happy listening!


The Podcast Playback: 5 Ways that Seesaw Stands Out

EdTech Tools

Seesaw has been a part of my classroom for quite a few years, but most recently, it’s become the primary mode of learning for my students. If you aren’t familiar with Seesaw, it is a digital platform that engages students, demonstrates and enhances their learning, and shares and communicates with families. It’s essentially a digital portfolio, but it goes even further than that. Seesaw is an app and website that can be used on IOS and Apple products, Chromebooks, computers with Chrome and Firefox, and android devices. It’s compatible with countless apps and websites like Drop Box, Google Drive, Evernote, Keynote, Book Creator, and so much more.

I recently became a Seesaw Ambassador, which means I took some training to grow in my skills and learn more about the platform. I learned a lot of valuable information and even some new tips and tricks, so I wanted to share that in some way. What better way to share my knowledge than through a podcast episode!

In this episode, I talk about the benefits of using Seesaw, especially now in a time of online learning and remote teaching. I also bring up 5 ways that Seesaw has stood out to me and some of the new features that I learned about in my Seesaw Ambassador training.

In case you want a quick recap of the episode, I will break it down here, post the links, and even time stamp it for you. However, the podcast episode goes into more detail about each topic. If there is something that you specifically want to learn about, you can just fast forward to the time beside each topic and listen to the portion that you want to. So, here it is:

1. The Creative Tools (2:37)

Students can post to their student journal, which is essentially their portfolio, in 6 different ways: Camera, video, link, notes, files, and my personal favourite, the drawing tool.

Tips for the Drawing Tool:

  • Click the camera icon to take photos or upload saved pictures from your camera roll and directly import them to the drawing board without leaving the drawing tool.
  • Add shapes and backgrounds.
  • Lock your shapes or text so they can’t be easily moved.
  • Click the draft button in the top right corner if students aren’t done with their work so that they can come back to it later.

2. Seesaw Activities (6:07)

Students can individually respond to an assignment that you create and you can see who’s handed it in and give individual feedback.

Seesaw Icon Shortcut – Seesaw Help Center
Seesaw Help Centre

Tips for Seesaw Activities:

  • Schedule the assignments for specific dates and times (Seesaw Plus or Seesaw for School users)
  • Use Seesaw icon shortcuts to add images to your directions. (7:50)
  • Use the Community Library to access the already made activities.
  • Share your activities with colleagues when you’re done by email, social media, and with the link.
  • Archive past activities to limit the work on your students timeline. If something happens that you need to access them again, you can always un-archive them. (9:18)

3. Privacy Settings (10:20)

One thing that was made very clear to me during my ambassador training, was that privacy and security settings are a priority with Seesaw.

  1. They never sell your data or students data
  2. They never advertise within Seesaw
  3. They don’t own the content you add to Seesaw
  4.  Student work is private to the classroom by default
  5. They use the latest security and best practices to protect its users
  6. They vow to be transparent about their practices and will notify its users if something changes

You can check out their full list of privacy guidelines on their website.

4. Seesaw Blogs (11:55)

This is an easy way for students to share their work with the global community online. Check out my previous podcast episode with Kathy Cassidy to learn more about the benefits of blogging.

  • Go to your class settings and click “enable blog”.
  • Once you’ve enabled the blog, students and teachers can select the work from their Seesaw portfolio that they want to be displayed on their class blog.
  • It’s safe, secure, and teacher-moderated.

5. Choice Boards (13:23)

Essentially, a choice board is an easy way to have multiple links in one activity for students to click on.

  • If you have a specific theme or topic that you want students to learn about and have more than 1 avenue for them to learn about it, like videos, articles or websites, you can add them to a Choice Board to easily organize and access it.
  • In order to make your choice boards, you’ll create them in Google Slides and input your links there and then eventually upload it to the multimedia link in your activity.
  • Check out the Choice Boards Webinar, led by Kris Szajner, to learn more.

There are so many more features I could talk about, but I’ll save it for next time! If you want to learn more about Seesaw, follow them on Twitter, Instagram, or join a group on Facebook.

If you have any questions about Seesaw or anything else I talked about in the podcast episode, let me know in the comments below or reach out to me on Twitter (@amandajebrace).

Check out the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Anchor.

Happy listening!