Reading & Literacy

Helping Young Readers

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — June 20, 2007 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Reading specialist Anne Bonington has searched for just the right software for pupils at Westorchard Elementary School, particularly the 4th and 5th graders working to build their fluency and comprehension skills.

Teachers at the Chappaqua, N.Y., school, she says, need computer-based lessons and activities that are aligned with the traditional ones presented throughout the school year. The technology tools must also provide a variety of exercises that allow reading practice, engaging vocabulary lessons, and content that builds background knowledge.

Bonington’s ideal software package features activities that are sufficiently complex to push students’ skills forward, yet adaptable to each child’s reading level and technologically undemanding so that the children can be productive while working independently of the teacher.

The veteran reading teacher did her homework in figuring out first what role reading software will play in the classroom before she began scouring the marketplace for computer-based products.

See Also

“There are some kids who need much more practice” reading a variety of content, Bonington says. “You have to be able to plunk students down in front of the program and let them work by themselves successfully. But if it’s disconnected from the instruction they’re getting from the teacher, and the teacher doesn’t know the program well, it’s not going to be effective.”

Such features are must-haves for teachers looking to integrate computer-based products into reading instruction, experts say. As more districts look beyond the bells and whistles that have made software lessons a novel addition to the classroom to more meaningful and effective applications of technology to instruction, they are heeding the lessons learned by teachers such as Bonington.

“The software has to cause children to actively pay attention to what you want them to learn,” says Marilyn J. Adams, a prominent reading researcher who has helped design a voice-recognition reading program for Soliloquy Learning, a Waltham, Mass.-based reading-software company. “It must always give the teacher [information] about how kids are doing and progressing,” she says, “and it has the unique potential to adjust materials according to the individual needs of the students.”

Individualized Programs

The ability to individualize the program is particularly valuable to teachers who organize their reading instruction around small groups and rely on structured activities that keep students productive and engaged when they have to work on their own.

“Teachers don’t have time to sit and explore all the features of a particular software program,” says Diane Morrone, a senior literacy associate at Learning Point Associates, a Chicago-based education research and policy organization. “In thinking about K-3 readers, the difficulty of the program is a big issue, and the match is really important of the material and the software to the student.”

For middle school youngsters, however, the trick is providing the kind of basic instruction that struggling students need while tailoring the content and activities to the more mature tastes of adolescents and preteenagers, according to Danielle Carnahan, who leads Learning Point’s literacy team.

“The software has to look age-appropriate,” she says. “While they may not be strong readers, they are middle school students who don’t want to do baby stuff.”

But finding products that match the curriculum and are easy to use, yet sufficiently sophisticated for tech-savvy students, can be challenging.

Even after surveying selections from hundreds of vendors at a reading convention recently, Bonington went home empty-handed. She will continue to search, she says, because of the promise of technology to give students more chances for guided practice even without one-on-one attention from the teacher.

‘Where It Works Best’

Knowing just how much of a role technology should play in reading instruction is part of the challenge as well, some experts say.

“To be really smart about this, you’ve got to use the technology where it works best, not in areas where you need teacher instruction and tutoring,” says Ted S. Hasselbring, a research professor of special education at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “It should not be playing the role that a teacher should play.”

Checking off a list of required or preferred features, however, is not enough, adds Hasselbring, who helped create Scholastic Inc.’s “READ 180,” a print and computer-based reading-intervention program for upper-elementary and middle school students. He advises looking for programs that are founded on the principles of research-based reading instruction and have evidence that they are effective in similar schools and districts.

“We know there are certain things necessary to making good readers, and you need to look for technology that supports what we know about good reading instruction,” Hasselbring advises. “And you should ask: ‘Is there evidence that this program is making a difference with kids?’ ”

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo, an associate editor for Education Week, covers curriculum issues.
A version of this article appeared in the June 20, 2007 edition of Digital Directions as Helping Young Readers

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Reading & Literacy Opinion The Science of Reading Should Make Room for Skepticism (Just Not for Ignorance)
COVID-19 has provided us with a front-row seat to an underappreciated truth about science, writes Claude Goldenberg.
Claude Goldenberg
5 min read
Surreal Illustration of books flying through the air
Jorm Sangsorn/iStock
Reading & Literacy Spotlight Spotlight on Literacy in Education
In this Spotlight, evaluate the possible gaps your current curriculum may have and gain insights from the front-lines of teaching.
Reading & Literacy Opinion Teachers, More Than Programs, Make for Great Reading Instruction
Let's focus on specific teaching practices, not confusing labels like "balanced literacy," write Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell.
Irene C. Fountas & Gay Su Pinnell
5 min read
Children reading books in front of books.
iStock/Getty Images
Reading & Literacy Creator of 1619 Project Launching After-School Literacy Program
The 1619 Freedom School, led by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, will make its curriculum a free online resource in 2022.
4 min read
Collage of an American Flag.
Collage: Laura Baker/Education Week (Images: iStock/Getty)