Teaching Children to Read Using Technology


It's no secret that children learn differently. Some need visual experiences. Others respond to auditory cues. Still others need hands-on familiarity. Some need all three. The same is true when children learn to read. Technology gives teachers exciting new ways to accommodate individual differences among students while motivating them to accomplish the difficult cognitive work involved in becoming phonemically aware and literate. Using appropriate technologies, children can see, hear and feel the concepts of reading and writing spring to life. Children are highly motivated as they learn to manipulate letters and words in an interactive, multisensory environment.


Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate the sounds in a language. A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound in our spoken language that makes a difference to its meaning. For example, the word "cat" has three phonemes: /k/-/a/-/t/. By simply changing the first phoneme, we can produce the word "mat." Words in all languages are composed of strings of phonemes.

Research clearly demonstrates the powerful relationship between phonemic awareness and reading achievement. Many phonemes, however, are difficult to hear because they are pronounced or blended together in rapid, everyday speech. Thus, in order to help students learn how to read, it is important to employ teaching technology that enables students to hear individual phonemes in order to develop phonemic awareness.

Technology adds a dimension and range to learning phonemic awareness that can be helpful to each individual student. Technology enables students to simultaneously hear and match sounds (phonemes) to letters and words. When students can clearly hear individual phonemes and then match them to individual spellings, they are on their way to reading and spelling success.

Currently there are many different types of technologies being implemented in early reading programs that are designed to help children learn to read. By combining a strong curriculum with technology that helps students clearly hear individual phonemes and match them to frequent spellings, teachers can effectively engage a student's senses in the reading process.


Voice Chip Technology

One of the most challenging tasks a teacher faces in teaching children to read is ensuring that their independent work is productive. Thanks to voice chip technology, teachers can easily provide customized learning experiences for each student - without having to be in 20 places at once. In addition, they can set up workstations (with headphones) to match independent work to specific learners, and monitor and assess their progress over time.

Modern voice chip technology creates a simple, intuitive and interactive learning experience to help teach children phonemic awareness, letter names, letter sounds, spelling and reading. It is important to note, however, that not all voice chips are created equal. Quality varies widely from product to product. To be effective, voice chips should feature clear, articulate human voices. After all, when you're trying to teach children the 44 different speech sounds that create all the words in the English language, the quality of those sounds is very important.

Almost like a personal tutor, voice chips can give immediate and corrective feedback along the way as children work at their own pace. As the voice chips speak the names of letters of the alphabet and their phonic pronunciations in the context of specific words, children can listen to the sounds and speak along with the voice. Similarly, if they encounter an unfamiliar word in a sentence, they can try to sound it out on their own, and then choose to hear the voice sound it out correctly.

Voice chip technology is an ideal tool for children who need a high level of practice in phonemic awareness to become sufficiently conscious of letter-sound correspondences and phonemic distinctions. Voice chips never tire of repeating the same thing over and over again. Thus, this technology provides unlimited opportunities for children to practice in an engaging and motivating way - whether they need to hear a phoneme five times or 25 times. As children learn, practice and work independently, the teacher is then free to work with small groups or other individuals who need personal attention.

Voice chip technology is also beneficial for English language learners because it can incorporate all the sounds in the English language. Many students' primary languages have fewer sounds than English. Spanish, for example, has approximately 30 speech sounds, while English has 44. Voice chip technology provides limitless opportunities for learners of all ages to listen to and articulate English sounds as often as necessary.


Touch-Interactive Technology

One of the most exciting new developments in early reading programs is radio frequency technology that enables books to "talk." Using this technology, any part of a page can be made touch-interactive. This allows students to read specific letters and words, to sound out decodable words, or to read entire pages.

An example of this technology is incorporated into LeapFrog SchoolHouse's patented NearTouch technology, which is used in its LeapPad platform. The LeapPad is part of LeapFrog SchoolHouse's Leap Into Literacy Center, an interactive, multisensory curriculum for PreK-2 students. The early reading program uses phonemic awareness as the basic building block for teaching children how to read. It includes three interactive learning platforms - LeapPad, LeapMat and LeapDesk - as well as an assessment component and extensive, research-based curriculum materials for teachers.

A compact, notebook-sized electronic tool, the LeapPad uses NearTouch technology to allow students to touch images and hear sounds on any part of the page, making books leap to life. How d'es it work? The LeapPad's electronic stylus pen functions as an antenna, which is used in conjunction with special conductive ink embedded into the LeapPads. When a child points the pen to a place on the book's page, the exact location of the page is triangulated instantly and specific information or audio is delivered. For children, using a stylus pen approximates finger pointing. This intuitive, kinesthetic approach creates a strong cognitive connection with the learner.

Touch-interactive technology can help children develop an understanding of phonemes, syllables and the conventions of print, such as word boundaries. As students glide the stylus along each word, they begin to understand the idea that words begin and end, and use this knowledge to help them track print.

Touch-interactive technology can help teachers effectively teach all learners, including those who learn to read more quickly. The technology enables children to read stories that break out of the stringent vocabulary and syntax constraints found in traditional decodable text. Such stories provide an excellent opportunity for more advanced students to move forward at a faster pace. For students who need more practice, the technology provides unlimited opportunities to practice sounding and blending decodable words on their own, and to receive immediate corrective feedback. It would be difficult for a teacher to provide this amount of feedback to each individual student throughout the day.


Keys to Success

Solid reading skills are critical to students' future academic success and to their self-esteem. The child who is able to get over that first barrier and master phonemic awareness skills holds, in his or her hands, the keys to success in an information-based classroom and an information-based world. Technology tools can provide an easy, efficient way to help teachers facilitate and customize learning for each student. Using sight, touch and sound, teachers can directly address diverse learning styles and ability levels, provide unlimited opportunities for practice, and make learning to read fun and engaging.


For more information, call
(800) 883-7430, or visit www.LeapFrogSchoolHouse.com.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2001 issue of THE Journal.