This chapter has presented many ideas and resources for computer-enhanced support of reading and writing. Language learners do not need computers to learn grammar, read with comprehension, or write for an authentic audience. However, teachers can use computers to help them address individual learners’ needs, and provide effective, authentic language tasks and texts.
► Teachers’ Voices
Have you checked out PBS Media (https://ksps.pbslearningmedia.org/)? I love the link to Between the Lions because it has Word Play. English language learners (and beginning students) get to click on the word, see the spelling, hear what it sounds like, and see what it does. Very valuable for English language learners! Other links will also take you to subjects for more advanced students.
I have always thought that drill activities have no value to students and therefore don’t like using them, but the author brings up a good point that drill activities can be made into something beneficial by supplementing the drills with external documents like handouts and graphic organizers. Also, you can arrange different roles for your students so your students have the ability to interact when doing the drills and can negotiate meaning with their partner, which is one of the optimal conditions for language learning environments. Now I am aware that drills can be used with learners if supplemented.
My students are very interested in playing a game called Minecraft. I have learned through our IT department that we that another school in the town uses it in their classroom. I need to go there and see what uses they put it to in their classes. I wonder if I can use it in building my students’ literacy skills.
I find all this technology important to learning; however, I do not find it more important than understanding how to read (with comprehension) and write (effectively). We are losing the art of penmanship and the ability to use words beautifully. As a high school teacher I would really like to get students who know proper punctuation, grammar, and spelling. For those of us who are old enough to remember, we used to have to rewrite what the teacher had written on the board. This was good for several reasons, one of which is it modeled proper use of the language. I know the technology is cool and that it makes life easier, but does easy always translate into better?
One professor shared with me how one of her students purposely chose not to do well on his assignment. I think this was a huge software package that mostly focused on discrete literacy skills and tests that were leveled. I don’t think it was that he really liked the response the computer gave him, but he liked not having to move forward, because this was familiar to him and he had worked the system. It took her a few weeks or even months to figure out that this student was purposely choosing the wrong answers to stay at the same comfortable level.
I really like the idea of using external documents with tutorial-type software. I think it will really expand the use of a lot of the software that is available to us as educators. After reading and thinking about the use of external documents, I can see that I have not been using the software I have available to me very effectively. In the past I have used my drill-type software as something the students can play around with in the morning before school starts, or during any free time they might have. After reading about this, I decided to rework a 20-minute math review block of time I have. I have divided the class into groups, and have one group use the computers with external documents—working at their level—another group works with a para-pro [paraprofessional], and another group works with me with little chalkboards. (We have kind of the mix of old teaching styles with new technology—computers and chalkboard slates!) The external documents keep the accountability up. The students will have a paper to turn in at the end of the week that will show what they have accomplished while working with the software. I wish I had started this at the beginning of the year.
Technology in and of itself may be fun, but in our classrooms, the use of technology needs to support goals and student learning. I can teach to curriculum goals in a variety of ways. When I reach to technology, it is because it will enhance learning. Using a specific piece of software such as Inspiration provides a graphic organizer that helps my students meet a learning objective. For example, I want students to look at many aspects of character development when they are creating a character in a story. If I build a template in Inspiration, in which students define a character in terms of physical characteristics, how the character is viewed by others, how the character changes over time, etc., these are valuable content goals. If I ask students to map these qualities using Inspiration software, they do a more complete analysis of a character. They are drawn to the computer because it is fun to create a web, but they do a more thorough job of character development because they are using software and it’s fun. The bottom line is the character development. The use of Inspiration software encourages this development.
When working in the school computer site, four students, who were usually sitting together, were usually ahead of the rest of students in the class. Following a traditional classroom rule, I paired them with other students in the class to equalize the balance. I think it works. I have noticed that they also help their partners with their technology questions.