Friday, February 13, 2015

THE ADVENTURES OF BILLY POSSUM by Thornton W. Burgess is an enchanting e-book app produced as part of a doctoral research project by Michelle Somerton. Originally published in 1920, the e-book is an adaptation of this well-loved children’s classic.
Readers begin by entering their name and choosing an avatar. This is used to track student progress in the story. Multiple users can be added to the system. A walkthrough at the beginning of the book introduces readers to the features of this interactive environment. The book is divided into 25 short chapters that are “unlocked” as youth move through the story. Narration is provided in a soothing Australian voice.
Throughout the story, question icons appear to check student comprehension. Optional clues are provided for youth needing help. Picture Builder activities involve readers in creating a picture to show what’s happening in the story. These fun scenes are saved.
Much more than a typical interactive storybook, this app learning environment was specifically designed to promote reading comprehension. Built-in features including audio and dictionary features, response checking, and a reporting function make this a powerful environment for learning. When the “export option” is enabled for the app, a Results button appears that allows results to be sent through email to a teacher or parent. These results include activity results including the images created by each child. These images could be used in a fun book review activity.
Michelle Somerton has done an outstanding job seamlessly weaving questioning throughout the book. These questions check a reader’s understanding of meanings, sequencing, and prediction without distracting from the storyline. The stunning visual activities encourage children to reflect on the characters, plot, and setting of each chapter.
Hopefully, this is just the first of many e-books that focus not only on beautiful illustrations and stories, but also on strategies for increasing reading comprehension.

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