Computerized Reading Program Is Main Attraction at Preston Library

The Preston Public School District, located in northeastern Oklahoma, includes 400 racially and economically mixed students in grades K-12. As in any district, motivating these youngsters to read was often a difficult task. During the 1991-92 school year, administrators acquired a new tool to introduce high-quality literature to grades 1-12. They initially ordered a collection of 500 book quizzes which were loaded onto IBM compatible computers in the main library. Since then, over 1,200 titles and accompanying software have been added to the system. Students select and read books, then take a computer-generated quiz with randomly supplied questions. The software immediately grades the quiz and allows the student to see which questions, if any, were missed. The score is recorded and the results can be accessed in a multitude of formats. Motivates Reluctant Kids Superintendent Jim Waller says the reading package&emdash;from The Electronic Bookshelf in Frankfort, Ind.&emdash;quickly turned the children into enthusiastic readers, including those who were highly reluctant to pick up a book in the past. In fact, Waller g'es so far as to label the software one of the most innovative tools to emerge in education throughout his career. "In 34 years as an elementary-secondary principal and as superintendent of schools, I have never seen a tool of instruction as effective as The Electronic Bookshelf." Waller notes that he has tried many other computer-based reading packages, but complains that they delivered gimmicks rather than real results. Furthermore, such programs could not be successfully integrated into a long-lasting learning process that would benefit students year after year. As Waller puts it, "EBS burns into the student a desire to read and to read for comprehension." When students finish reading a book, they can immediately take a comprehensive test on the material&emdash;before class, during lunch or after school. After passing a test, they receive a printout that they take to the regular classroom teacher for credit, and then take it home to show their parents. Supports Over 8,500 Titles Students choose a book of varying degrees of difficulty, covering an expansive array of subjects. In all, the publisher supports more than 8,500 titles, already used by over 10,000 schools worldwide. If a youngster needs to build confidence, he or she may choose a book worth one point. Those ready for a tougher challenge may select a more advanced book, worth additional points. The Preston School librarian awards students with various incentives for passing Electronic Bookshelf quizzes. Waller says that, unlike some other reading programs, students have the opportunity to retest two more times if they fail, which prevents them from becoming discouraged. "Teachers love The Electronic Bookshelf because students read, read, read and can test and retest with no added effort on the part of the teacher," Waller adds. Little classroom teacher time is consumed. A librarian and assistant administer EBS, and the teacher simply uses the printouts to record student progress in the gradebook. Perhaps the only drawback is that too many children want to utilize the testing workstations at the same time. The library opens at 7:30 a.m. and classes do not start until 8:40 a.m. When the doors open, three or four students are usually waiting to be tested on EBS. In addition, so many first- and second-grade students want to be tested during their recess that the librarian had to issue a limited number of "EBS passes" for this period. To help with the crunch, the district has replaced the two stand-alone workstations with a three-station network. Waller reports that visitors to the library, including a representative from the Oklahoma State Department of Education, have been impressed with the number of books read by individual students this year. Preston teachers adapt The Electronic Bookshelf to fit their needs. For example, the high-school English teacher requires her students to read and pass certain books she's picked, then lets them freely select others from the EBS database. Printouts Detail Progress At the end of the school year, each student receives a cumulative printout of all the books they've read, along with the scores earned on the tests. Waller concludes that The Electronic Bookshelf has become an indispensable complement to the teaching materials and equipment at the Preston Public School District. The package also prepares youngsters for the working world by reinforcing valuable computer skills. "Its use in the overall education picture will increase as time g'es on&emdash;its newness will not wear off," says Waller.

This article originally appeared in the 12/01/1995 issue of THE Journal.