Technology Redefines Reading Diagnosis Instruction
Computersplus education can equal any number of results. Almost everywhere, however,technology is definitely in the equation. Technology’s growing presence ineducation takes many forms for many reasons, providing educators with powerfulresources for reshaping instruction and enhancing learning. Even thougheducational technology is constantly evolving, it already covers a widespectrum of applications in higher education. From the use of computers toconvey text or to post exams, to more interactive delivery systems, educatorscontinue to adapt technology to meet the needs of diverse programs. In somecases, technology reinvents the ways students can optimally attain competencein their fields of study.
The use oftechnology to support the development of a student’s knowledge andunderstanding via simulated experience is breaking ground in various, sometimesunexpected disciplines. In the field of education, instructional technology cansuccessfully introduce and model skills for the diagnosis of readingdifficulties in children. Look at how one university takes “being wired”seriously: the University at Buffalo, N.Y.
Case Studies Revisited
At UB, graduate students studyingto become reading specialists go through a rigorous program of coursework tomaster the various aspects of measurement, assessment, evaluation, diagnosis and remediation of reading problems and disorders.The skills and the conceptual framework needed by a reading specialist areintroduced through direct instruction, but are acquired and developed experientially. The Graduate School ofEducation at UB has introduced computer simulation into one of its classesdesigned to prepare students to diagnose children with reading problems. In Dr.Michael Kibby’s class, Remediation of Reading Difficulties 1, students progressthrough a Web-based tutorial of simulated case studies that allow them topractice and clarify diagnostic techniques before encountering actual childrenin the university’s reading clinic.
Traditionally, reading specialistgraduate students are instructed in assessment methods and interpretation,diagnosis, and remediation strategies through text-based case studies of childrenwith reading difficulties. “Reading diagnosis requires reading teachers to havea conceptual model of the diagnostic process that they use as a guide in theirdecision-making processes,” says Dr. Kibby, who is the reading clinic directorand department chairman.
Working withconventional “paper” case studies over theyears had proved useful but limited. In previous classes, Dr. Kibby usedvarious forms of case studies to depict ways in which the conceptual model isacquired. One form became the prototype for these Web tutorials. In an effortto modify and provide a more interactive model for the graduate students,Instructional Technologist Logan Scott collaborated with Kibby in developing aseries of five computer-simulated case studies. This tutorial, accessed throughthe course Web site, is taken outside of class. “The intent is to make theclass time ‘value time’ with the students,” says Scott. Students can access thetutorials through any Internet-connected computer, and plans are in place foradditional open Ethernet ports that will provide even more accessibility at theuniversity.
A Guided Tour of theWeb-Based Tutorial
Graduate students begin thetutorial by reviewing descriptions of the five cases. Descriptions includeinformation such as the child’s age, grade level, the type of difficulties thechild is experiencing, and even a photograph. To address confidentialityconcerns, Scott explains that the case studies are actually drawn from thefiles of the reading clinic, but significant details have been altered in ways thatprevent identifying any particular child. The photos used are “old personalfamily pictures,” not actually those of children who have been served by theclinic. Upon selecting a case study, the graduate student is taken to the“Diagnosis Home Page” for that child, which features the diagnostic optionsmenu. These diagnostic options, which vary from child to child, consist of achild’s case history, verbal ability, performance on graded word lists and oralreading, ability to learn sight vocabulary, phonemic/phonological abilities,whether the child is a remedial reader, and diagnostic teachingrecommendations. While these options have tobe followed in rational order, students are encouraged to thinkholistically about the method of assessment, and to identify their own reasonsfor selecting information pertinent to making their evaluation.
As each diagnostic option isopened, the graduate student is queried as to the purpose for requesting thatparticular information. For example, in the first case history step, thestudent must answer the question, “Why do you need to collect a case history onDoug?” At some points hints are provided to stimulate reasoning, such as, “Whatkinds of things are in the case history that could be helpful to you?” Aninformation field is provided wherein the student gives the rationale forhaving a case history. Once submitted, this answer is added to the student’stutorial record, and a new page opens, capturing the answer just given by thestudent. This answer is then compared with the reasons of the “virtualclinician” in the case. The case history can then be opened for the student toreview and to record what appear to be the primary factors to take intoconsideration. Again, an information field is presented for the student towrite an interpretation of the case history, which is added to the tutorial record.Then a new page that has captured this interpretation opens, and is juxtaposedto the virtual clinician’s interpretations. A subsequent addition to thetutorial record will contain this appraisal of the child’s case history,detailing the graduate student’s explanations of what were consideredsignificant factors.
Each of the diagnostic optionsproceeds in a similar manner as the reading students progress through thesesteps. Through this process they construct their evaluation of the child,scaffolded and supported by the hints, and their analyses compared to thevirtual clinician’s responses. In the diagnostic option for the child’s oralreading, Real Audio plays the actual sound of the child reading a passage oftext, which is also displayed onscreen. Some of the graduate students hear achild with reading problems for the first time through this segment of the casestudy. This aspect of the simulation brings it all home: it allows students toincorporate the information they have acquired about this child and apply it towhat they hear, listening to the type of mistakes the child makes anddeveloping a real sense of what reading difficulties the child is experiencing.After these various steps of the case study are completed, the student e-mailsthe record to Dr. Kibby, who critiques the student evaluation and e-mails hiscommentary to the student.
In the three years that this tutorial has been used, the class hasbeen able to progress through more case studies than were previously possible.Students have expressed their satisfaction with the program through positiveevaluation surveys. In the words of one student, “I have never done a Web casebefore. It was amazing how much I learned just from going through the wholeprocess.” A doctoral student at the university who had taken an earlier versionof this reading course has been conducting a qualitative research project toexamine the educational value of this method of instruction. Her work is beingdone as part of an advanced qualitative research methods course under thesupervision of that course professor. The results and analysis of her observations,interviews and surveys are in process at this point.
In addition, Scott has beenrecording a systematic series of interviews with four students who arecurrently involved in the reading program. He believes that “we are learningfrom the students what it means to use this kind of Web-based course,” and adds,“we do not want to build the environment around only what is technologicallypossible, but what is educationally valuable.”
Efforts to ascertain the positiveeffects experienced by students using this tutorial will also provide a windowinto how the individual formation of a model for reading diagnosis is optimallyachieved. Before working with children in the reading clinic, graduate studentscomplete this class and one more course that focuses on testing andinstructional planning. Neither Professor Kibby nor Logan Scott regards the useof the Web case studies as a substitute for the use of real children, but intheir experience, these tutorials give students an advantage when the time d'escome to evaluate and instruct real children.
Advantages of the Tutorial
Kibby and Scott also perceive thatthis alternative mode of instruction allows students to progress through thetutorial at their own pace outside of the classroom, in a way that may providemore time for consulting texts or outside resources. Within this type oflearning situation the students are also able to see the thread of theirevaluation processes more clearly, and they have more time to analyze andadjust their reasoning before presenting it before the instructor or class. Thefeedback from the tutorial’s virtual clinician fosters students’ capabilitiesto assimilate the language of a reading diagnostician and to develop their ownpersonal model for a diagnostic framework.
Although not a truly interactiveprogram in that the simulated clinician’s response remains fixed regardless ofthe student’s answers, this simulated clinician has still emerged as a modelthat strongly influences students’ language. Primarily, the virtual clinicianhas demonstrated how reading clinicians define their operations in a specificmanner. Scott has been collecting data on the changes in the students’ use oflanguage in their writing after they encounter the virtual clinician. He alsoexamines how the students “begin to learn how, and in which situations, to usethis new discourse,” and to what extent they are “dependent on the virtualclinician’s voice to express (their) thoughts.”
The Diagnosis and Remediation ofReading 1 class has its own Web site with links to literacy-related topics. Italso contains a discussion board where students and the professor post theirobservations about the case studies. Currently, this online tutorial has alsobeen used independently in a course at the University of North Carolina atChapel Hill for two semesters to determine how adaptable it is in another site.As they examine how transferable the system is beyond UB, Scott says that“there are a lot of questions we do not have answers to, but we are exploringthe issue of making it more public.”
At this time when colleges areunder pressure to better prepare teachers in the use of educational technology,classes such as Kibby’s are practical solutions to introducing future teachersto the benefits of technology integration. While imparting necessary skills andknowledge, it also serves as an inspiring example of the potential in mergingWeb-based material with classroom instruction for optimum effect. Byprogressing through the assessment process using simulated, but reality-basedchildren, students are able to acquire an individual understanding, and topersonally comprehend the framework involved in the diagnosis and evaluation ofchildren’s reading problems. As one of the graduate reading students commentedafter finishing her first Web tutorial, “it is like putting a puzzle together.There’s a logic to it that I find very intriguing and very satisfying.” Dr.Kibby and Logan Scott have taken educational technology and used it topositively transform how UB’s student reading specialists come to understandthe essence of effectively diagnosing and remediating reading problems inchildren.
Jessica E. Boice is analumna of the State University of New York at Buffalo with a B.A. in Englishsecondary education, and is also N.Y. State certified to teach at theelementary level. Currently enrolled in a graduate Reading Education program atSUNY Fredonia, she is concurrently working on a Certificate in InformationTechnology through a local community college, as well as being the mother of anfifth grader and of a college freshman.
This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2000 issue of THE Journal.