Over the past 20 years, the array of reading and language arts resources and products has grown dramatically. The use of computer hardware and software in education has driven an unparalleled metamorphosis in the methods available to educators to deliver pedagogy and promote professional development and best practices. In a period of sensational growth, the mid-1990s saw thousands of new educational software titles released, most designed for home use and the education of younger children. Knowledge Adventure’s JumpStart series, The Learning Company’s Reader Rabbit series, and the Disney Interactive Studios programs were setting the course for commercializing children’s learning software. These programs offered structured play, usually oriented toward literacy or numeracy skills, and their appeal to a new generation of computer-using households was virtually irresistible. As educational software became more widely used and the failings of many commercial programs became clear, the challenge of actually delivering educational outcomes emerged.
Today the most successful educational software programs are tied directly to the core instructional goals in the classroom. As software delivery methods have migrated from CD-ROMs to web-based delivery, software developers and educators have seen the impact of using data to support and enhance classroom lessons using technology-based activities. The transition of educational technology from the home to the school is best exemplified by the efforts of educational publishers to meet the demand for reading skills improvement. To illustrate this point, it is essential that we first examine the basic strategies behind reading instruction.
Reading Wars, Resolved
For nearly 2 decades the education community was embroiled in a debate widely described as the “Reading Wars,” an argument that essentially pitted instructional methods that included phonics (the teaching of explicit rules for reading) against a “whole language” approach that featured an emphasis on reading aloud, the use of illustration as meaning cues, and a general fostering of creativity. Later, findings from the National Reading Panel outlined instructional best practices that essentially defined the best methods for teaching children how to read with an emphasis on phonics instruction for students at risk of reading failure. With an emerging consensus on the correct methods for reading instruction, the discussion has now actively shifted to a focus on identifying the right tools to deliver high-quality instruction.
Assessment Through RTI
Today, the Response to Intervention (RTI) model has rendered moot the traditional debate between whole language and phonics. In concept, RTI asks educators to carefully assess students’ development and apply the appropriate resources to ensure each student develops the necessary skills. Coupled with best practices such as differentiating instruction, small group instruction, and, most importantly, systematic and explicit instruction, educators have an extensive array of methods to approach the task of teaching reading. Implementing the RTI model can be daunting and particularly difficult for educators who are not clinically skilled instructors. And while there are many specialists in our schools who have that level of professional training, their presence is hardly uniform in all classrooms.
School- or district-based accountability measures, as well as student progress monitoring in an RTI program, have created a ubiquitous role for data in education. Although this may not have been a widely held belief 10 to 15 years ago, the use of student performance data informs every aspect of instruction in the RTI model, where the cycle of assessment, intervention, and reinstruction is driven by data-centric decisions. While the use of data plays a critical role in informing our instructional approach, it presents yet one more wrinkle for the classroom teacher to master in his or her instructional approach.
So how does this affect the development and use of reading and language arts materials today and in the future? While RTI and data-driven decisions are not new concepts for most educators, the challenge of applying these strategies in the classroom tests the capacities of virtually any school or district. Although we now have a more sophisticated approach to the challenge of delivering literacy instruction, we do not have the luxury of time.
The Window of Opportunity
This article is available in its entirety in a variety of formats — Preview (free), Full Text, Text+Graphics, and Page Image PDF — on a pay-to-view basis, courtesy of ITI's InfoCentral. CLICK HERE.