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We Need More Teacher-Centered Solutions in ICT for Literacy

Toni Maraviglia

I’m not convinced that the challenge of promoting literacy ICT is a market failure, a human constraint, or a technological constraint. It’s a bit more nuanced than that. The tech capabilities are there, teachers will use good literacy tools, and the market exists. But what is lacking is the connection between all three of these things.

What I’ve observed during my short time in this whole ICT realm is that people who design ICT tools for literacy have never really gotten into the brain of a child learning to read and have probably never taught a child to read. I think what we need are more teacher-centered solutions in ICT. We need to mimic what REAL human beings already do well while teaching our children. And we need to make it as simple and as useful as possible.

Teaching a child to read is no easy task.

What continually amazes me is that the more years I spend teaching, the more styles of reading acquisition I see with children. One of the main reasons it is difficult to utilize ICT to teach children to read is because most ICT tools do not often differentiate between a child’s fluency and comprehension needs.

These two facets of reading adoption intertwine and are relevant the moment a child first opens a book, or is read a book. Some children are quick decoders, with the ability to grasp phonemic awareness and phonics almost instantly. In other words, they can sound things out, they can recognize sound patterns, and they can orally read what’s on the page. But that doesn’t mean a kid knows how to read.

The second part of reading gets even more complicated – comprehension. The way that I see basic comprehension is that a student can understand the essentials of what s/he’s reading, retelling the main parts with some important details. But…

  • Can the student differentiate between what is relevant and irrelevant in a text?
  • Can a student understand the use of different language tools an author uses in a specific type of text?
  • Can a student grasp and utilize complex vocabulary words?
  • Can a student identify a theme and analyze how an author utilizes that theme in a text?
  • Can a student truly evaluate a text?

It’s hard for any type of tech tool to capture a student’s comprehension in these ways. Dang – it’s hard for a reading teacher to do that well!

My mythical ICT tool for literacy

Trying to think of a tool that would really and truly help with literacy, I concocted a mystical tool that mixes a bit of artificial intelligence, a computer adaptive-type learning system to do what reading intervention teachers do – figure out a student’s fluency level and comprehension level and adapt learning exercises based on this. (Great reading intervention tools like Reading Recovery do this. See Fountas and Pinnell also.)

A student would begin an initial fluency assessment based on phonemic awareness and phonics. It would detect the student’s ability to decode both simple letter sounds and complex letter combinations. (Found this and thought it was funny. Word to the wise, a kid learning CVC words can’t read the stuff on the left!)

This fluency assessment would also need to incorporate both voice and text. Questions would adapt according to the level of the student. At around the 10-15 question level, this adaptive test would determine a fluency level.

After this, the student receives a fluency score and is encouraged to continually practice to increase their level.

On the comprehension side, students would take a similar adaptive test that utilizes the most basic comprehension skills first (such as retelling), and then, it would gradually get more difficult or easier, depending on the student’s comprehension level. After about 10-15 questions, the student would get a comprehension score, like the fluency assessment. The student would then be encouraged to increase their mark.

The student would need to read short comprehension passages on a device, but if the comprehension level of the student is low enough, the system would adapt by voicing short reading passages and then asking questions via voice.

Next, the student encounters a series of practice exercises mixed with both fluency and comprehension, using reading passages of high interest. If a student’s decoding ability is very low, then most tasks are fluency work. However, they will also listen to stories and answer comprehension questions to those stories based on voiced questions.

For both fluency and comprehension, each time they answer a series of 5 questions correctly, their score goes up. (For the sake of student confidence, their scores can never go down from the initial score given.)

Ideally, this whole system would be utilized on existing class computers or at home. I think it would be really effective on the phone as well.

Let us not forget differences in language

One of the comments earlier brought up a good point about language. Any literacy tool should also incorporate other languages besides English, which I haven’t completely thought through yet. What I know from teaching ESL and managing ESL teachers through Teach For America is that the best ESL teachers just use really good reading tactics – phonemic awareness, sound patters, listening to others speak, hearing yourself speak, and comprehension strategies.

With a mixture of fluency, comprehension, and some simple artificial intelligence, students could learn to read much easier on their own and teachers would be happy to encourage students with a tech tool for something they already do. I’m no longer a teacher, but if I still were, I would definitely use this in my classroom.

5 Responses to “We Need More Teacher-Centered Solutions in ICT for Literacy”

  1. Tony, what you are describing is very close to what we have been working on. I would love to share it with you and get your input. Our application can be developed for different languages because it's composed of building blocks used differently according to the language. It makes no sense to translate a literacy tool, each language reading curriculum is specific, but it feasible to reuse elements. http://Www.ilearn4free.org

  2. marja ritanoro

    My grandchildren , 2 and 3 years can " read ". They use digital devices with parents and their mates 2,3,7 years. Its not a classroom. But it is interaction with parents and other adults. They can make choices of their own from the net because home environment is using them. The same happens in the day care. Children learn different languages when languages are used before 4 years old with interaction with parents or other adults. Not as TV programs while sitting and seeing lonely in front of TV as many parents in USA think. The brain is ready to learn before child is born and continue all the time when stimulated with persons around. Teachers in all countries need more knowledge about how brain works and adjust learning to it. Now we know more about brain than ever before. That is major paradigm change not ICT itself. How much Teacher Training is taking up the fundamental ground for learning "How learning happens ? " Finland has the best Education system in the world and the best educated people in the world. They have policy of digital literacy as the core competence of the citicens and ICT is one of the tools and learning environment can be online as well as in the classroom. Profession as teacher has high status. Development of the profession is one of their tasks. Happy 2012 and happy discussion about how learning happens. Brgs from Sweden.

  3. The learning research identifies that the individual learning solution mandates a change from one to many teaching model (think lecture) to a one to one, teacher facilitated, truely personalized learning model, in a blended learning environment, supplemented by truely personalized learning technology (think differentiated learning and differentiated reinforcement)
    Truely personalized learning technology has been available since 2000 and has dramatically advanced individual learning, transfer and adaptive reasoning skills

    Note that traditional one to many delivery over cool technology delivers poor learning methodology faster to participants, but does little if anything to advance individual learning. learning methology must first be personalized, then deivered over cool technology to advance individual learning, delivery and adaptive reasoning skills.

    Note also that since learning styles are not research validated to improve learning, the research suggests to fucus away from learning styles and towards resaearch proven learning methodolgies that advance individual learning

  4. The original post starts with an assumption that the point is altogether new. Reading jean Piaget and Seymore Pappert will reveal that there are several cutting edge folks working to understand these questions and OLPC is one of its offshoots that attempts to address them more engagingly than anything else so far. A reasonable approach can be to start with what is there in the first place rather than reinvent the wheel and explore how far can we take it and what can we contribute with our experiences and learnings. If it does not work after that, we should explore further, incorporating all the lessons learnt. But this forum seems to have become a forget the OLPC evolution playground. Hope we develop the ability to see a solution when it looks us in the eyes.

  5. Joel Naatus

    Since we are discussing dream tools for education. My dream mystical reading tool to help improve comprehension would be a free search/game app designed for all digital text. When a child highlights a certain part of text or portion that focuses on important content, it would then direct the student to grade level appropriate and pertinent websites (that are full of visual and audible content for the learner) thus utilizing the wealth of information on the web (crowd sourcing education) focused on the main idea of the passage, chapter, a specific concept, moral, humor, and even the story. In addition it would include games both group and individual games that help the reader comprehend the characters, sounds, and environments from the text or book, that adjust to reading level that test comprehension outside of orally asking questions. Concepts acquired through experience are more thoroughly absorbed than simple question and answer. I believe the technology is there to do this it is just putting the pieces of the puzzle together to create software that can utilize the potential of today’s phone, iPads, ipods, pc’s, tablets, and game consoles. The million dollar question to be tackled is getting companies, universities, and researchers willing to work collaboratively and more importantly share resources for this to happen. Anyway a as 7th grade teacher in an urban school in New Jersey it would be great to bring all text alive for students and while guiding them in an educational/entertaining way to acquire new concept, learn to predict and analyze stories more deeply, and to provide this to students who can’t afford an internet connection.


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