As in nearly every other subject area, digital resources for language arts are changing and exploding into a dizzying array of materials. Reading programs have moved from relatively small remedial packages to complete curriculums comprising print and digital materials with assessment and reporting components. Computerized writing instruction on the web has progressed to an amazing degree and is now available in a myriad of forms for a variety of uses.
In addition, language arts applications are being adapted to the new worlds of social networking technologies. Cell phones, wikis, blogs, podcasts, Facebook, and more are all being explored for classroom uses.
Currently, the number of technology-based language arts resources is so extensive that this article can only scratch at the surface in an examination of these compelling programs and platforms. In this roundup, we’ll take a look at some reading and writing applications, as well some online tool programs and a couple examples of podcasting hardware.
Scott Foresman Reading Street 2008
Pearson Education, Inc.
Scott Foresman Reading Street 2008, for grades Pre-K–6, offers a mix of digital (software or web) and printed book material intended for use as a complete reading program. Reading Street provides assessment materials to monitor student progress and to teach skills as they are needed, as well as specific plans for group work. Features for differentiated instruction help ensure that students with different reading levels and experiences achieve the desired progress.
The program includes extremely engaging illustrations in its print and digital components. The online student editions enable students to access Reading Street textbooks from a classroom or at home. Complete online teacher’s editions offer additional resources. An online lesson planner and other organizational tools enable teachers to customize and print schedules and lessons, email lessons, and view correlations to state standards.
Audio text CDs provide complete narration of student editions and fluency pace aids for grades K–6. The program also offers phonics activities including songs, rhymes, and more. All in all, Reading Street is a very complete reading program with CD, web, and print components.
Lexia Primary Reading
Lexia Learning Systems, Inc.
Lexia Primary Reading is a web-enabled reading program designed to help students in grades Pre-K–3 as they begin to master basic reading skills. The material helps students work through five levels of reading skill development independently, with directions in English and Spanish.
Primary Reading offers automatic branching so that individual students are doing appropriate work as they progress. The program provides the clear and simple identification of struggling students with paper-based scripted lesson plans and practice sheets to help them progress. The Report function gives student progress and skill development information.
The Lexia Skill Builders offer students an opportunity to develop reading skills using offline practice sheets. These materials correspond to the activities in each level of Lexia Primary Reading with tasks such as coloring, word hunts, matching games, writing practice, and more. The text is decodable to help students function more independently.
AceReader Pro Deluxe Plus
AceReader Pro is reading improvement software that includes tests, drills, games, and automated self-adjusting courses for all ages. The program is designed to improve student reading speed, fluency, and comprehension. AceReader can assess student reading levels, pace eye movement, and help teachers track student progress. The software can be used with special needs students.
Program add-ons include grade-leveled reading comprehension test sets in a variety of subjects and areas of interest, such as American history, Earth and space science, famous people, Spanish, and fun facts. Text-to-speech add-ons are also offered.
A network version is available that does not limit students to the same computer for each work session; teachers can monitor the progress of all students from any computer on the network.
Language Arts Companion: English Grammar I
Language Arts Companion: English Grammar I, available as software or an online subscription, is intended to be a comprehensive introductory English language arts program. The material includes 33 lessons organized in five course units with learning objectives that correlate to language arts curriculum standards for grades 2–4.
English Grammar I can be used to introduce young or ESL (English as a second language) students to the structure and methodologies of English grammar usage and writing. The program covers the basic structural elements of grammar usage, with an emphasis on usage in creative writing. Students are introduced to the nature and structure of simple sentences, basic uses of capitals and punctuation, the types of the most common parts of speech, and how to use dictionaries and reference materials.
The Windows- or Macintosh-compatible program offers audio-supported instruction, practice work, writing activities, and quizzes that are scored by the software. Unit tests can be used as pretests and posttests and, in Windows systems, can be used to track student progress.
Pearson Education, Inc.
WriteToLearn is a complete writing skills and reading comprehension development tool that combines the Knowledge Technologies (KT) Summary Street and Intelligent Essay Assessor into a single web-based program.
The software’s Knowledge Analysis Technologies (KAT) engine uses a proprietary application of a mathematical approach known as Latent Semantic Analysis (LSA). The KAT engine provides a unique automated assessment technology for written language that evaluates the meaning of text and mechanical elements.
WriteToLearn enables educators to teach and evaluate writing skills and reading comprehension.
A wide variety of essay prompts and readings are offered by subject and grade level. Teachers have access to flexible scoring options; reports on assignments and student progress are available via easy-to-understand tutorial feedback and status reports.
Learning Express, LLC
LearningExpress eFolio is a writing improvement program for grades 3–12 that features instant essay scoring and many opportunities for student writing practice. The program provides teachers with a variety of tools to develop data-driven individualized instruction.
The eFolio flexible scoring models including the NWREL (Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory) 6+1 Trait, FCAT (Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test) Writing+, and a five-trait instant essay scoring model developed by LearningExpress.
Genre-specific prompts for all trait models increase the number and flexibility of assessments; teachers can create an unlimited number of writing prompts as well. Teachers can annotate their students’ scored online writing to supplement and enhance the automated scoring supplied by the program’s scoring engine. The multilevel reporting system can be used to measure student progress, facilitate teacher accountability, and inform instruction at the district, classroom, and individual level.
Dreyfous & Associates
EduPlatform is a bilingual (English-Spanish) web-based resource for language arts and other subjects. The site offers options for differentiated instruction and provides teacher tools for the creation and distribution of digital lessons using an array of resources such as webpages (on and offline), multimedia files, and more.
The Student Desktop, a software component installed on each student computer, communicates directly with the EduPlatform Classroom Manager feature. Using the Classroom Manager, a teacher can launch or close applications, send a lesson, send a file for additional work, guide internet surfing, poll a class, etc. When students receive their tasks, they have access to any content, applications, or tools made available by the teacher. Students can submit files and "chat" with their teachers.
In addition, EduPlatform manages wired or wireless network environments and enables technology integration. Other features include limiting or granting access, screen sharing, real-time monitoring, a workspace for sending and receiving files, and a voting and polling tool.
Education Gateways LP
Personal Edition also uses internet functionality in a manner useful for teaching language arts and other subjects. This site is basically a password-protected personal gateway to the internet.
Personal Edition provides access to thousands of resources that are educator-evaluated and organized into categories such as Research Tools, Special and Gifted Education, Music Hall, Current Events, links to specific state information, and more. This portal also provides access to lesson plans and other curricular materials that are not available elsewhere, such as the Project Gateways for the Olympics and the advanced USA TODAY lesson plans. A SchoolNotes feature provides an easy-to-use website builder for daily communication with students, parents, and teachers.
A Personal Edition subscription includes access to a state curriculum matrix with hundreds of lessons and assessments tied to current state standards, as well as a monthly topic-specific newsletter that highlights current topics in education. An individual subscription is $24.95 a year.
Tools for Podcasting
GoStudio Handheld Audio Recorder for iPod
Belkin International, Inc.
The GoStudio audio recorder is a portable, compact, and sturdy device with a design that provides easy access to straightforward controls designed to simplify audio recording.
The unit records via built-in microphones. In addition, as many as two dynamic microphones can be connected to the device. The controls include level and gain, as well as a limiter and a low-cut filter. A headphone jack and built-in speaker are provided. The iPod docking cradle keeps an iPod secured in a position that allows easy access to the screen and click wheel. The price is $149.
iVoice Pro Audio Recorder for iPod
The iVoice Pro audio recorder for the iPod has a 3.5 mm output jack for connection to a media player (MP3, minidisc, CD/DVD, or cassette) or external microphone. The device will fit through most iPod cases and has a built-in microphone and speaker, as well as a USB port to charge iPods and extend recording time. The price is $50.
Though the iVoice Pro lacks some of the features of the more expensive, previously mentioned Belkin audio recorder, the device will certainly do the job (and the lower price makes the unit more attractive for use with younger children).
The Language Arts of the Future
Education is clearly moving toward an all-electronic curriculum. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess how far in the future that ultimate scenario is likely to be. In the meantime, the technology tools discussed in this article—and others like them—will continue to move our classroom work toward its final digital frontier. Let’s just hope that an ongoing battle to find an adequate number of computers, labs, and networks doesn’t get in the way.
Charles Doe has been teaching for 38 years, including 20 years as a Title I reading specialist and 8 years as a media specialist. In addition to presenting and writing articles, he has been involved with computers in education for more than 20 years. He is also a longtime product reviewer for MultiMedia & Internet@Schools magazine. Communications to the author may be addressed to Charles Doe, Media Specialist, Hastings Area Schools, 232 W. Grand, Hastings, MI 49058 or firstname.lastname@example.org.