*** What is Parlor? *** Parlor is a social reader that turns individual study time into an opportunity for participation and engagement. Parlor's aim is to turn students into more active and engaged readers, not just in the context of English and Language Arts classes but across all subject areas where close reading and research are valuable skills to master. As many experts have noted, and the way this math "gap" is defined, it’s not just about math skills. In fact, often progress in math is blocked by literacy skills in particular, but also by the challenge of engaging students by relating what they are learning to the real world. Parlor excels in these areas and works to interweave these core critical thinking skills, breaking down barriers between specific subject areas and between school and the outside world.
(For the past year, we've been piloting in university classrooms across the country and are lining up K-12 pilots for Fall 2013.)
We like to think of Parlor as Khan Academy for literacy. However, unlike learning in STEM subjects, reading, writing and critical thinking are skills that are difficult to measure, require human evaluation and feedback, and are skills best practiced through interaction with peers, teachers and parents.
*** How does it work? *** Parlor is a browser plugin and website that can be easily customized to help readers of varying levels practice critical reading skills on their own and with their peers.
Parlor consists of a customizable reading list where student reading behavior will be closely monitored to measure the amount of reading completed by each student both in terms of time spent reading, the word count of each reading and the completion rate. Topic analysis yields a picture both of subject matter students like to read about and topics they need to spend more time on.
While measuring reading behavior, Parlor also encourages students to seek out excerpts to highlight for their classmates, tagged with a sentiment that reflects what they think of or how they feel about the excerpt (e.g. I question this, I'm confused, or I agree!) as well as any relevant concepts they may be learning in class (e.g. This is an example of a SIMILE, or this is a SUPPORTING ARGUMENT for the other excerpt I highlighted which was the MAIN ARGUMENT of this article.)
In addition to the reading list, students can annotate examples (off-list) from readings they find on their own, creating an environment where self-directed exploration and discovery are rewarded in addition to persistent practice.
*** How does Parlor help teachers? *** Teachers in turn can browse student annotations by tag to quickly identify which readings to focus on during class time either because students are misunderstanding the readings or because the students have demonstrated a clear interest in a particular subject area.
Because of the unique sentiment and flagging system that Parlor has implemented, it is able to aggregate class discussion or use by the teacher to help adapt their lessons to the needs of specific classes or groups of students.
Parlor is also highly adaptable. Teachers can tailor sentiments, themes and reading lists to the different reading levels or subject areas within a class so that students can read at their own pace while still learning from each other.
*** Parlor "Classes" *** Parlor has been used in various group learning scenarios, and educators often have new ideas for groups of students or teachers who they would like to have in a Parlor "class". It could be a student project group that crosses class lines or even school lines, or a group of teachers working together preparing for related classes. We would love to hear your ideas!