Although there is a growing amount of research to demonstrate the operational use of technology, the evidence to support the effectiveness of digital reading instructional programs remains limited. Some fear that overuse of time on technology or the dismissal of students to computers to gain reading instruction will depersonalize the process for students.
For many students who have experienced repeated reading challenges and failures, the teacher plays a critical role in planning for appropriate and customized instruction. With the pervasive use of technology in today’s classrooms, the teacher is faced with two primary questions:
- How do I integrate technology into the pedagogy?
- How can I best capitalize on the benefits of incorporating different types of technology into my literacy instruction?
After all, integrating technology into the classroom is our reality.
In recent years, the quality and quantity of available technology programs have increased so dramatically that their use is now widespread in K-12 classrooms everywhere. Perhaps the best of both worldsapproach is to allow for selected digital opportunities to integrate with face-to-face learning to create a complimentary, blended-learning model.
We know that teachers are innovators and typically eager to experiment with ways to enhance their instructional approaches. However, any teacher who has seen the powerful effects of good reading instruction will not hastily replace traditional print-based books and instructional materials with digital formats.
Teachers will engage in a scrupulous selection of available resources to complement their overarching goals and existing literacy learning model. No teacher will deny that technology is the way of the future and that students need to have exposure to digital resources at an early age to gain the skills needed to thrive in a digital society.
Teachers who successfully harness the power of technology in the classroom may enhance their literacy instruction with increased efficiency, raised student motivation, and individualization. The potential benefits of using technology to augment the child’s reading are varied and may include the following:
- Providing additional opportunities, repetition, and extension activities to allow for review and practice of concepts that have been explicitly taught.
- The use of Integrated Learning Systems that can assess the student’s performance, ability, or understanding of information and provide networked data for teacher analysis and monitoring.
- Offer increased accessibility to challenging text (read aloud) for practice with comprehension and vocabulary.
- Assigned, supportive activities that can allow for the child to gain additional time working within his zone of proximal development.
- Digital tools that can serve as supplemental resources for differentiating literacy.
Once new concepts are taught in a phonics-based reading program, it takes multiple repetitions to train the brain to access the new information automatically and accurately. Careful selection of digital literacy programs can provide review activities for one group of children while allowing the teacher to focus on direct instruction with another group.
Also, a computer-based measurement can provide the teacher with valuable, weekly data to assist in monitoring the child’s progress in reading.
In literacy instruction, one primary goal is to ensure that children can read fluently. When students can read fluently, they are activating their knowledge of learned concepts and strategies to decode text accurately and automatically.
This ability allows for independence. To effectively use technology to enhance literacy instruction, the teacher will want to ensure that the student can access and utilize the devices and programs independently. Once again, there is a goal to teach fluency…digital fluency. From the early grades, teachers have an opportunity to build digital literacy (knowledge and competence) skills and digital fluency (ability to use with ease and accuracy) through modeling and exposure in the classroom.
Beginning in kindergarten, the teacher can alternate read-aloud time between a traditional book and a digital version, displaying each on the projector to demonstrate essential learning strategies and the various ways to manipulate the different styles of text. Through metacognition, the teacher can compare and contrast the linear reading process of traditional text to the non-linear experience with digital text that may include hyperlinks and networked information.
The teacher can move from examining bolded words or a text box in a nonfiction magazine article to clicking on a link in a web-based article that transports the reader to watch a video. This lesson in digital literacy and fluency will serve as a complement to literacy instruction and provide rich opportunities for the teacher to demonstrate the appropriate and safe use of digital learning tools.
For those children who primarily use technology for game playing and leisure activities, teacher-directed modeling will prepare children to access and use devices as an extension of their learning and to develop the self-regulation that will be required to avoid possible distractions.
Once teachers have explicitly taught and modeled digital literacy, students can be provided with guided practice to apply their knowledge and skills to achieve digital fluency. The teacher can then select appropriate programs and extension activities to enrich the student’s literacy learning.
One of the most effective ways to offer the blended learning model is to have small groups rotate through stations of teacher-led instruction, computer-based instruction, and peer cooperation. This synchronous model will allow the teacher to maximize the use of technology to differentiate instruction and allow for individualized direct instruction.
Struggling readers are at a higher risk to fall further behind with each passing school year and need twice as much exposure to reading text and strategy use than peers. The integration of technology promotes more time with the teacher and additional opportunities for practice and application of new knowledge.
To further maximize the benefit of technology in literacy learning, the teacher should consider ways to compliment the student’s learning in each of the five essential components of reading. With continuous enhancements to digital learning, teachers can easily access exciting, new platforms to motivate and customize computer-based instruction in the classroom.
There are a variety of programs that stimulate the discrimination and manipulation of sounds at the phoneme, syllable, word, and sentence level. Students can practice phonological awareness through interactive activities designed to enhance the student’s ability to hear the sound (phoneme) and match to the letter (grapheme). Some focus on blending a sequence of sounds, while others target phonemic chaining, on-set rhyme with pictures, or rhyming.
The game context of most programs provides immediate feedback, progress monitoring, and adjusts pacing according to the student’s needs. Accommodations can be made to allow the student to engage by pointing, drag and drop, speaking, or typing. Students should be able to manipulate a mouse and keyboard as needed to allow for independent practice.
Phonics instruction emphasizes the relationship between written letters and spoken sounds. Following the direct and explicit, multi-sensory instruction of new phonemic concepts, the student can access digital, decodable text at the sound, syllable, word, or sentence level to help build fluency and accuracy. Computer-based programs are available to focus on word segmentation, blending, and vowel intensive drills.
Students become fluent readers when they can read text accurately and automatically while using appropriate pacing and intonation. Essentially, they no longer need to struggle to decode words while they are reading. They can quickly and easily recognize words or apply learned strategies as they read.
Students need frequent exposure to reading and opportunities to apply their conceptual knowledge to build these fluency skills. Teacher-selected text can be assigned for students to access daily on a computer or iPad to promote orthographic mapping. With repeated exposures, struggling readers may be more prepared to demonstrate this immediate, effortless retrieval that leads to fluent reading and improved comprehension.
Providing students with opportunities to engage in active reading also leads to enriched vocabulary instruction. Digital platforms provide a wide range of opportunities to bring words to life and help students to gain extensive knowledge about words through video, conversation, brainstorming, and experiences.
The predictive relationship between early vocabulary development and later reading comprehension is clear. Vocabulary instruction should be multifaceted and include the introduction of word meaning, word-learning strategies, and word consciousness. The use of videos, virtual field trips, and available student engagement platforms promote the active processing of new meanings and connections for the student.
Today, dictionaries, thesauruses, and digital encyclopedias are all at a student’s fingertips. It is important to take advantage of these simple tools and to offer opportunities for students to gain the skills required to access and use them at an early age to promote independence.
Comprehension is the ultimate goal of reading and yet, one of the most difficult literacy skills to teach. Technology can support the student’s active use of comprehension strategies with concept maps and graphic organizers.
In hypermedia, the student can activate special features and hyperlinks that connect to more information found in a glossary, dictionary, voice pronunciation, image, video, or animation. Well-chosen text can increase the breadth and depth of the student’s knowledge about a topic while allowing for critical connections to be established to boost comprehension.
In the case of literacy instruction, teachers may want to ensure that the use of technology remains the complement and not the core. Simply making technology available is not the answer.
To effectively integrate technology into a blended learning model, teachers will need adequate professional development in the effective use of programs and selection of resources to supplement the existing instructional approach to literacy.
While technology should not be viewed as a replacement for a highly qualified teacher, it does offer many exciting opportunities to support and complement reading instruction and to serve as an extension of an evidence-based, multi-sensory-structured literacy program.
About The Author
Dr. Kirstina Ordetx is a Level 4 Master Instructor with The Institute for Multi-Sensory Education (IMSE). She holds a doctorate in Counseling Psychology with a concentration in pediatric neurology. Dr. Ordetx is an educational specialist with over 25 years of clinical experience, research, and consultation. She is a certified Structured Literacy Dyslexia Interventionist through the Center for Effective Reading Instruction, a Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, Executive Functions Coach, and a registered Licensed Mental Health Intern. Dr. Ordetx has published two books that compile her research and practice in Theory of Mind. She has served on accreditation committees for the Florida Council of Independent Schools, is a university adjunct professor in developmental and child psychology, and presents at various national and international conferences. Dr. Ordetx is head of school for a private academy in Lakewood Ranch, Florida specializing in the multi-sensory education of students who have language and learning-based differences. She is the Executive Director of the Pinnacle Pediatric Therapy Group, a multi-disciplinary, pediatric therapy clinic.
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The IMSE approach allows teachers to incorporate the five components essential to an effective reading program into their daily lessons: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.
The approach is based on the Orton-Gillingham methodology and focuses on explicit, direct instruction that is sequential, structured, and multi-sensory.
It is IMSE’s mission that all children must have the ability to read to fully realize their potential. We are committed to providing teachers with the knowledge and tools to prepare future minds.
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