Cast Strategy Tutor (cst.cast.org) is an online tool for educators who wish to access and design UDL lessons and materials, especially for students in middle school and beyond.
During our five-minute break in class I spoke with the presenters. I mentioned how Bookbuilder and UDLstudio seem to have a great deal of pre-made content for the lower elementary grades, but there were only 2 online pre-made books for grades 6 and higher. I also felt that uploading or creating a supported chapter book would be much more time consuming than creating a supported picture book. The presenters agreed and directed me toward CAST Strategy Tutor.
CAST Strategy Tutor has many components and built-in supports for learners to engage with explicit reading strategies in more complex texts. The aspect of CST I am going to discuss teaches students how to read content on the web strategically and how to extract information from complex websites. CST allows teachers to create supported lessons in which the teacher constructs a lesson title, goals, and directions. The teacher can then add in online supports with the “Background Builder tool and Vocabulary Builder tool.” Within the Background Builder tool the teacher can post a URL to a website which features content related to the lesson. The teacher also creates embedded activities that align with the website and goal. Teachers are also able to review student work and creating an account and lesson is simple and easy. To view the database of lessons go to: http://cst.cast.org/cst/teacher/QUERY,db (but you might need to create a member login).
The interactive website support provided by CST would enable me to support my students’ research projects. This year I had my students research one of several events, people, or places of the American Revolution. While students googled their events, a teacher had to sit with them to help them read the content and determine if the site was truly useful. Then we had to ask them specific questions about the content while they organized their thoughts and we typed up their responses. CST would allow a teacher to create a lesson that embedded all of those supports, with the exception of being able to read aloud the text on the site. This is CST’s major setback. In order for me to use this tool with non-readers, I would need the text to be read aloud. For students who are already reading, however, this is an excellent tool to help scaffold research skills.
In general, CST provides more support for complex web-based texts. However, I have not been able to have the site’s read aloud. Is it possible to use CST in conjunction with voice thread? CST is also limiting in it’s note-taking capabilities. Students cannot engage directly with the website by jotting notes in the margins. Can CST be used in conjunction with Diigo? Could the designers of CST just incorporate these two missing UDL elements to improve its capabilities?