Integrating Technology Into a Reading Program

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Being a teacher is a difficult job. You often have more than 25 students in your classroom and several different learning styles. In addition, it is your responsibility as a teacher to reach all of the students. How is this achievable? I believe this can be made possible through the use of instructional technology - a combination of the everyday processes and tools needed to address those educational problems with an emphasis on integrating the technology tools that are now available. Instructional technology d'es not mean that the teacher uses the computer to keep his or her gradebook or create worksheets, and it d'es not mean that the teacher is the only one using the technology. It means that the teacher is using numerous types of technology to enhance what the students are learning. Therefore, the students are the ones who should be engaged using the technology.

Software, Hardware Resources

In most educational settings today, you will hear two key words: reading and technology. So, why not integrate technology into reading? This is the goal that I have set for myself as an instructional technology teacher. How can I make reading more enjoyable, reach all learners and teach those standards that the students need? I am using several different types of software applications in my classroom to help achieve all of these goals, including Kidspiration, Timeliner, That's A Fact Jack and Island Reading Journey.

Kidspiration is a kid-friendly, easy-to-use software program that creates story webs and other types of brainstorming activities. Timeliner creates timelines and other kinds of sequencing charts. That's A Fact Jack is a program with a list of books and a game that asks questions about those books. Island Reading Journey and its sequel are similar to That's A Fact Jack. They have their own lists of books and require students to perform different tasks based on these lists. The programs offer students learning activities such as crossword puzzles, short answer questions and cloze paragraphs.

For hardware, I use AlphaSmart tools, a digital camera, a 27" VGA monitor, a color inkjet printer and various computers. The AlphaSmarts are inexpensive wireless keyboards that have all the functions of a regular keyboard and a small screen that shows what you are typing. Once you are finished typing, you can connect the devices to computers and send the content to most word-processing and desktop-publishing programs. It also allows users to plug into a printer and print. This is a great tool in the classroom, because it is difficult to get writing and typing done with only two or three computers for all the students.

I have four working computers in my room, but my school also has a portable lab with 18 laptops that I can use with my class. Through the use of all of these resources, I am helping my students become better, independent readers and thinkers.

Obtaining Technological Knowledge, Skills

Research is starting to show that integration of technology with a literacy program is increasing the student's ability to read (Teale et al. 2002). One of the reasons for this is that technology is a great motivator for students. However, teachers must be careful that they are not using the technology in a way that prohibits learning. "The value of educational time spent on using technology to support students' literacy development rests on its ability to promote higher-level thinking, collaboration, constructivism, speed and information evaluation - i.e., those competencies required for the 21st century" (Asselin 2001).

There is a big consensus that for our students to be prepared for the 21st century, they will need to have technological knowledge and skills. One way for students to get that knowledge is for teachers to integrate technology into their daily curriculum. In my classroom, the students are exposed to different types of technology that require them to use higher-level thinking, collaboration and information evaluation. For example, if the students read a book and are asked to create a story web using Kidspiration about how the book relates to them, then they are using high-order thinking. This is not just recalling information about what they read, but applying it to themselves. Also, when students read in groups they discuss what they have read with each other. Students can then use Timeliner to create a timeline based on the events in the book.

Furthermore, as new technologies emerge, students need to gain more knowledge on the types of literacy they see. Today, students interact with several types of literacies; they no longer just see words in books. Literacy education is very important because of the changes in the different literacy types.

"Technology profoundly affects the learning and teaching of literacy as well as the nature of literacy itself. It always has. The development of book technologies in the early 1500s set in motion the need for book literacies and many of the abilities we currently teach in our classrooms. Today, new literacies emerge as new technologies for information and communication demand new skills for their effective use. These include the literacies of word processors (e.g., using a spell checker or knowing how to format a paper), e-mail (e.g., managing a digital address book or effectively using an electronic mailing list) and the Web (e.g., using search engines to locate information on the Internet or knowing effective strategies to critically evaluate Web site information). As a community of literacy educators, we are responding to the emergence of these new literacies in many ways" (Teale et al. 2002).

Teachers are now focusing on five main areas of reading: phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, comprehension and fluency. Districts nationwide are looking at using different types of technology to help in these areas. The Software & Information Industry Association recently reported that in studies focused on reading and language arts, technology was shown to provide a learning advantage in the areas of phonemic awareness, vocabulary development, reading comprehension and spelling. When an early multimedia literacy program combines software with print, audio, visual materials and manipulatives, it provides teachers with a rich variety of tools to reach all individual learning styles (Grogan 2002).

The Great Motivator

What d'es a classroom lesson that integrates technology into the reading program look like? In my classroom students are put into literature-circle groups - limited to five students per group - based on the book they choose. The students are given five books to choose from and meet twice a week with their group to read through the predetermined pages. After they have read through the pages, the students must complete learning tasks that deal with different elements of the story. The task might require students to focus on the characters and their traits, or to write about the main idea, problem, events and solution of the story. Regardless, the focus is always on comprehension and whether or not the students understood what they read.

Some of the assignments also require the students to use the AlphaSmart devices. For instance, a typical assignment might be to have the students rewrite the chapters they just read using the tool - assuring teachers that their students are familiar with the story's characters, setting and problem. The students are also much more motivated to complete this assignment because they enjoy using the AlphaSmarts.

After the students finish reading their assigned book they complete two projects: a Kidspiration story web or a timeline of the events. If they decide to use Kidspiration, they will create a story web, showing some of the story's different elements, or a character web. If the students choose Timeliner, they will create a timeline of the events in their book, adding pictures to show they understand the events, as well as the problem and solution.

I also read out loud to my class every day, focusing on books that are part of That's A Fact Jack or Island Reading Journey. After finishing a book, the students divide into teams and play a game using the related software. This tests the students to see if they were listening and what they remember. The game can be played in several ways depending on the rules I determine.

When conducting guided reading groups, I occasionally have my students take the digital camera and go around the school to take pictures of things that relate to the story we are reading. Then, they return to the classroom and use the AlphaSmart tools to type a paragraph on what they took a picture of and how it relates to our story. I believe that in order for students to become better readers, they must be able to relate what they are reading to their own lives and the real world around them. Using the digital camera really gets the students thinking about the story and finding good related things.

Another way to use the digital camera is by working on vocabulary. I sometimes send my students out and have them take pictures of things, events or actions that represent the vocabulary we are discussing. The most important way for students to become better readers is by increasing their vocabulary. Students need to make vocabulary words real for themselves. So, if they can find something and take a picture of it, it will help them to better understand.

Some argue that integrating technology into the curriculum in this way takes away from traditional book reports, and that students are not expected to do as much as in the past. The students in my class are engaged, they're learning and they're having fun. Technology is a great motivator; and in today's schools that's a plus.

Integration is Key

Technology is not always going to be the answer. Instead, it's the integration of technology that is key. I can remember what types of technology were used when I was in college. And just five years ago, when I first interned as a student teacher, I remember seeing very little, if any, instructional technology being used in the classroom. But I've seen it work, and work well. The expression on a child's face when they finally understand something because they are using technology and having fun is priceless.

Teachers must know the ability of their students and the benefits they will gain from using the right technology appropriately integrated into their curriculum. Furthermore, since we are now not only in the Information Age, but also in the Digital Age, it is essential that teachers use instructional technology with their students.

References

Asselin, M. 2001. "Literacy and Technology." Teacher Librarian 28 (3): 49.

Grogan, D. 2002. "Phonemic Awareness: Technology Lends a Hand." Principal 81 (4): 62-64.

Teale, W., L. Labbo, C. Kinzer and D. Leu Jr. 2002. "Exploring Literacy on the Internet." The Reading Teacher 55 (7): 654.


Product Information

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.

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