Focus on Reading/Language Development
The acquisition of good reading andwriting skills is the most important ability a student can attain. Althougheducational software should never be considered a substitute for books, severalprograms can give novice readers extra help and practice. Some programs canhelp teachers assess students’ reading skills, while some can providevocabulary lessons or writing practice. Since students learn to read atdifferent rates, many programs are customizable and adaptive to theindividual’s skill level. The following programs can nicely supplementclassroom instruction.
Beginningreaders will find it helpful to be familiar with concepts of narration andwritten communication. The Little PlanetLiteracy Series for grades preK-3 is aimed at students with varying abilitylevels, including students with very limited literacy skills. With thisprogram, students working alone or together accomplish a series of tasksrevolving around the context of a single “anchor story.” Students revise theanchor story and share their own stories, strengthening their reading andwriting skills. The program uses a five-step instructional model to ensurestudents’ comprehension.
Students first watch a video story, then go through asequencing exercise to put the story elements in proper order. In the nextstep, students retell and write their own stories based on the anchor story.Once their original stories are completed, students can print and “publish”their own stories. A Teacher Management Tool allows educators to customize theprogram with custom words, class lists, student reports, and preferredstoryboard characteristics. The software offers a variety of readingexperiences, with the goal of stimulating rich discussions among students and teachers.
Stories & Moreseries is designed to optimize children’s comprehension and reading aptitude bystimulating prior knowledge, promoting the recall of text, and increasinglearning opportunities through the expansion of story ideas. Each Stories &More program has four sections. The first, Starting Off, introduces children tothe story’s setting through activities. Next, Story Time presents the story andlets children practice recalling the story events. Thinking About helpsstudents make connections between written descriptions and illustrations, andthe Going Beyond section encourages children to integrate their creativity andexperiment with word placement and sentence structures.
The programs use classic children’s books to help studentslearn. Stories & More: Animal Friends is for early learners (K-1), andincludes spoken narration that allows even nonreaders to benefit from thestory. Words and phrases are highlighted on the screen as they are read aloud,helping children see the connection between spoken and written words. Stories& More: Time and Place is for children grades 2-3, and also features spokennarration. Record and playback options allow students to interact verballywithin the program.
Read, Write & Type is aninteractive program designed to develop children’s reading, writing and typingskills simultaneously. The 40-lesson adventure helps students use phonics tolink reading and writing. The program lets students hear, say, see and typehundreds of words, reinforcing the multiple ways in which beginning readerslearn words, and helping children acquire essential abilities. Once studentslearn to link 40 sounds with their keystrokes, they can build any of the over5,000 words in their personal vocabularies. Meanwhile, they developtouch-typing skills to help them get their thoughts on paper quickly.
The program aims to enable young children to write theirideas without having to search for the proper keys. Read, Write, & Type!draws all of the letters and spaces them from left to right, says the sounds asit draws them, pronounces words and sentences clearly, uses regularly spelledwords, and provides visual and auditory feedback for correcting errors. Thetone of the feedback is reassuring, and keeps the interest and concentration ofchildren who have problems focusing their attention. The program is designedfor all children, even those who have difficulty reading and writing.
Spellinglessons should ensure that students comprehend the words they learn, ratherthan just memorize them in the short term. A new piece of software fromCurriculum Associates, Inc. allows students in grades 1-8 to understand themeaning behind spelling lists and to progress at their own pace. Spelling Power: Focus on Spelling, Meaningand Writing provides foundation-building materials for grades 1-2, and anintegrated print and technology program for grades 3-8. The program providesthree versions of the same high-frequency word list for each lesson in itsspelling books, with each version geared toward a different level (basicspelling, challenge and super challenge). Students using all three versionsstudy related forms of the same words, and can advance to more complex forms ofthe words when they are ready. Thus, all students in a class can work in thesame level book, yet move ahead at their own rates.
Spelling Power applies meaning to spelling words withactivities and lessons to put words in context. Students can then apply theirspelling words to real-world writing by creating postcards, headlines, storyendings, and product descriptions.
Forgeneral reading assistance in K-12 schools, Scientific Learning Corp. offerssoftware packages designed to provide reading and language solutions forstudents at all grade levels. The packages let educators determine the rightmix of training programs and skill-building products to develop criticalthinking, listening and reading skills. The Early Reading Goals package for preK-5 helps with key cognitive andoral language skills critical for reading. It includes such software titles asAway We Go!, Reading Edge, and Fast ForWord. The Building Better Readers package, for grades K-8, helps studentslearn “the basics” and move on to higher-order learning and creativity. Itincludes titles such as Step 4word, CrossTrain, and BrainConnection.com. The Reaching Potential package helpsmiddle and high school students improve critical reading, language, andorganizational skills with titles such as Reading Edge, 4wd, and CrossTrain.
Each package is tailored to address specific academic goals,depending on the needs of each student. The packages include assessmentproducts to help educators track each student’s skill level and problem areas.Every school package includes Scientific Learning’s Internet-based monitoringtool, SLc Lesson, which presents data on the progress of individual studentsand groups.
Anotherprogram helps improve all ages’ reading skills with proven teaching techniques.Cognitive Concepts’ Earobicssoftware aims to help teachers proficiently integrate phonological instruction,language arts education, phonics, and group-based practice and readingactivities. Based on 20 years of literacy research, the software featuresnearly 600 levels of interactive games to increase phonological awareness.Classroom versions of Earobics Step 1 (ages 4-7) and Earobics Step 2 (ages7-10) support 35 students per workstation, and are customizable to suit theneeds of individuals. The software comes with books, tapes and videos topromote the transition of reading skills from the computer screen to the page.
Synchronizingvisual and auditory presentation of reading materials can reinforcecorrespondence between the printed words and their sounds. Employing thisprinciple, Kurzweil 3000 is a systemthat helps people with learning and reading difficulties improve their readingspeed and comprehension. The system scans, recognizes, and displays varioustypes of documents, then reads them aloud and enhances the print to help userslearn new words and gain comprehension skills. The PC version allows users torecord their own voices for annotation.
Beforebeing able to assist students or recommend books for them, it’s crucial to knowtheir skill levels. Scholastic ReadingInventory Interactive is a literature-based, computer-adaptive readingassessment tool for students in grades 1-12. In this 20-minute assessment test,the difficulty of each question is determined by the student’s response to theprevious question, until an accurate level is identified. Each student receivesa Lexile score and an individualized reading list to match his or her reading leveland interests. Assessment results correlate to established norms and widelyused standardized tests.
SRI Interactive bases its assessments on comprehension ofauthentic literature passages, rather than just vocabulary. Comprehensivesummaries of student progress allow educators to produce more than 15customizable reports to help monitor reading growth, adjust readinginstruction, guide independent reading, and support home/school communications.
Forstudents who struggle with reading, software exists to teach the fundamentalsof the written word to any age level. MyReading Coach, from MindPlay, offers phonics-based lessons to students age7 to adult, including those with learning disabilities and non-native speakers.The program is designed to identify gaps in a user’s reading ability, teach atthe student’s pace and constantly monitor progress. The program comes on threeCD-ROMs containing 47 interactive lessons followed by practice activities.Video and audio supplement one-on-one lessons and feedback to teach strategiesfor encoding and decoding words and syllables. The software caters to a numberof learner styles, and befits those with attention deficit disorder, dyslexia,or special needs.
A free online reading assessment at www.test4free.com helps to determine students’ abilities andinstructional needs. The course takes about three or four months, or 40 to 60hours. After every fourth lesson, the classroom teacher spends time with thestudent on offline lessons and applications. My Reading Coach provides studentsan embarrassment-free setting to practice reading skills as they learn correctsound pronunciation, alternative spellings of sounds, and the role of spellingin word meaning.
Withoutextra help, non-native English speakers may struggle in the classroom. ComputerCurriculum Corporation, in partnership with DynEd International, offers an ESLsolution for K-12 students. One of their interactive programs is Let’s Go Professional Edition forstudents ages 4-10, a series of 12 CD-ROMs covering conversation, vocabulary,grammar, and phonics. Listening tasks and other activities, such as songs andgames, help to build a strong foundation in spoken and written English. Theenhanced professional edition features placement tests, mastery tests, ateacher’s guide, networking capabilities, and a records manager to trackindividual students’ progress. The software is appropriate for both pre-readersand early readers.
For young adults and adult learners, the New Dynamic English Professional Editionis also available from DynEd and CCC. This course focuses on listening andinteractive exercises to teach non-native speakers the key structures ofEnglish. Video lessons, speech recognition exercises, and language-focusexercises help to improve language input and retention.
An instructor’s guide includes class extension activities,handouts, and step-by-step course guidelines. Speaking and pronunciationpractice are facilitated with a variety of speech recognition exercises, andwith the recording and playback options. Both Let’s Go and New Dynamic Englishare well suited for use in either bilingual or English immersion settings.
Little Planet Literacy Series
Read, Write & Type!
Talking Fingers, Inc.
San Rafael, CA
Stories and More
Early Reading Goals
Building Better Readers
Scientific Learning Corp.
Cognitive Concepts, Inc.
Lernout & Hauspie
Curriculum Associates, Inc.
North Billerica, MA
New York, NY
My Reading Coach
Let’s Go Professional Edition
New Dynamic English
DynEd International, Inc.
This article originally appeared in the 08/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.