Reading for Life: Technology for Reading – It’s Elementary!

by Rhonda H. Lauer on January 12, 2011

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As part of the exciting series Reading for Life, Foundations’ President and CEO Rhonda H. Lauer shares her expertise and insights about grade level reading. Join Ms. Lauer as she offers key viewpoints and commentary based on her extensive experience working in Philadelphia–and across the country–to give our children and young people the educational opportunities they deserve. 

Recently, on behalf of The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Making Connections initiative, I had the opportunity to visit Harrington Elementary School in Denver, Colorado. In one third-grade class, I was excited to see students using iPods to build literacy skills. Teachers just started using the devices in the classroom, and are already seeing progress.

For example, one student was reading below grade level; according to his teacher, this was primarily due to lack of focus rather than other academic issues. When he was allowed to use the iPod, he sat down with the teacher, read a book from start to finish, and recorded himself reading – without any problems whatsoever. He then accurately answered questions about the reading, indicating excellent comprehension.

So often, we hear about technology and older students, but these days teachers of elementary students – like those in Denver – are integrating technology into the classroom. In Greenfield, Indiana, teachers are using iPads as instructional tools in kindergarten and first grade. And in Escondido, California, fourth grade English Language Learners are using the iPod touch as a learning tool to improve their fluency and comprehension; in fact, within six months, students using the iPod touch gained nearly two years in reading comprehension.

These schools are part of a national trend. The Thomas B. Fordham Institute reports that digital learning has quickly expanded in the United States in the past decade, from 40,000-50,000 students in 2000 to an estimated 3 million students in 2010.

Convincing young children to use the devices is easy; most are already familiar with them, intrigued by them, and excited to use them. As a recent report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop notes, the challenge comes in ensuring that the educational applications they use are high-quality and developmentally appropriate, sustain their interest, and engage them in learning.

Yes, these are exciting times for technology in education, but we must proceed with caution. As the Editors of Education Week noted last year, so far there is no real proof of the impact of mobile devices on learning, at least no large-scale empirical data, only anecdotal evidence from the field.

Yet, amidst this research void, schools and parents across the country are embracing educational technology for their children at a rapid rate. As educators and administrators, we must make sure to integrate it both carefully and wisely. And we must remember that despite its allure, technology is no panacea; it is simply one of many useful elements in the language and literacy toolbox and is most effective when used in conjunction with tried-and-true best practices.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Jeanne D'haem January 18, 2011 at 4:34 pm

I do agree that using technology to enhance reading skills can be an important teaching tool. The Kindle, for example, allows the user to change the font size. It is also specifically designed so that the words stand out from the page and letters are easy to distinguish from one another. So often we don’t realize why we are not enjoying a book- it might be difficulty in seeing the print. I also notice that the number of words in a line on the Kindle is perfectly aligned with our natural eye sweep (7-9 words). Many books have lines of type that are longer than our natural sweep and require the reader’s eyes to sweep twice across the line. For example, take a look at the number of words per line on this page- do you notice that you stop for a nano-second in the middle of this long line of words? This causes problems for many readers and is especially difficult for young children who are learning to read. They lose their place on the line.

Thirty years ago teachers wondered how to motivate students to learn to read, today due to technology this is simply not much of an issue. Almost every single child is highly motivated so they can tweet, e-mail and text .I have worked with children with developmental disabilities for many years and even they are highly motivated to learn to read. They want to tweet too!

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