Computer Software for Reading
Many schools are finally acquiring
sophisticated computer equipment for their classrooms, and this is creating
a demand for more effective software that can be used to enhance a child's
reading development. It is now possible and affordable for savvy
teachers to use sophisticated computer software to complement and enhance
their own instruction. As computers get faster and smarter, and as
software gets better and better, the promise of using technology in reading
instruction becomes more and more a reality.
As a profession, we should be cautious
not to try to use computers as substitutes for good, focused instruction
from knowledgeable classroom teachers. Professional development for teachers
should still be a top priority for our schools because, when it comes to
teaching a skill like reading, nothing can replace a strong, diagnostic
teacher who can cater instruction to the individual learning needs of her
students (See H is
for Highly Qualified Teachers).
That said, however, I have to say
that some software companies are developing some very clever programs that
provide children an opportunity to develop and practice their reading skills
while simultaneously assessing and monitoring each student's literacy growth.
At a recent conference, I saw Marilyn
Jager Adams demonstrating some very impressive new software that she has
been helping to develop. She has been working with a company called Soliloquy to create computer software that lets a computer "listen" to a child read
out loud. The computer presents text on the screen, and listens as the
child reads the text aloud. The computer provides feedback and support
if the child has difficulty, and the computer keeps track of the child's
fluency and accuracy (tracking performance over time). If the child
doesn't know how to pronounce a word, the computer helps with pronunciation.
If the child doesn't know what a word means, the computer helps the child
understand the meaning of the word in context. The computer is tireless,
so children can sit for hours and practice reading out loud, and the computer
does not mind listening to the child read the same story out loud over
Alas, as so often
happens to innovative ideas, our free-market system has interfered, and the
last time I spoke with Marilyn, she told me that Soliloquy had been bought out. The people who bought it apparently have very
little understanding of what they bought, and they have changed it to make it
Especially when one considers that research indicates that time spent practicing reading,
and opportunities for repeated oral reading are two of the primary variables
that support reading fluency (see F
is for Fluency), so this software held tremendous promise for helping
children to develop reading fluency.
I'm told that IBM is developing some similar software. I'll post information here if I learn more about it.
Phoneme Awareness and Letter-Sound
For very young students, the "Earobics"
program is quite effective for teaching phonological and phoneme awareness
and for helping children develop rudimentary letter-sound knowledge (http://www.earobics.com).
There are a variety of games that the children play with the computer that
help them to develop an awareness of the sounds in speech and some understanding
of how those sounds map on to letters in text.
One of the better programs for helping
young children (K-2) learn and apply letter-sound relationships is a program
called Read, Write, Type (http://www.readwritetype.com/).
This is a very engaging program that also enhances writing and spelling
skills, and helps children develop vocabulary, and even learn about proper
I have also been favorably impressed
with "Leap into Phonics,"
which is again a good program for very young pre-readers developing early
reading skills (http://www.LeapIntoLearning.com)
Another good program for very young
pre-readers is Daisyquest
which can be used to help children develop basic phonological awareness.
This same company also produces Daisy's
Castle which can be used to help children develop more advanced
phonological and phoneme awareness skills. Barker and Torgesen (1995)
used this software in a study of computer assissted phoneme awareness training,
and found that the software did significantly enhance students' phoneme
For older children, Lindamood
has developed software to complement their reading program, and their reading
program has been used with some success with struggling readers of all
ages, but I've never had a chance to review that software. I can
only assume that the software is inspired by the same research that inspired
the Lindamood reading program. (http://www.lindamoodbell.com/multimedia.html)
And then, of course, there is the
ubiquitous Accelerated Reader
with the Star Reading Assessment.
Accelerated Reader is a fine program, and it really motivates children
who are already somewhat fluent readers to independently practice and hone
their reading skills. However, I see nothing about Accelerated Reader
that can help a struggling reader who does not have a solid foundation
in those cognitive domains that I covered in my framework. When I
think of Accelerated Reader, I think of it as a motivational tool for precocious
readers rather than an instructional tool.
It is said that education is always
10 years behind the technology curve, and that may be the case. However,
that just means there is a technology boom beginning in the world of education,
and in the coming years, there will be a lot of technology based resources
available to support reading instruction.
Barker, T., & Torgesen, J. (1995).
An evaluation of computer-assisted instruction in phonological awareness
with below average readers. J. Educational Computing Research, 13, 89-103.