I've been a reader and a book lover since a very young age, so becoming a high school English teacher, then a reading specialist, and finally a media specialist seemed like a natural progression for me. During this 35-year span, which has included watching my three boys grow to adulthood, I've been dismayed to see the shrinking role that books and reading occupy in young people's lives--from the major role books played in mine to a relatively minor role, and sometimes even an irritant, in theirs. As technology has made itself felt in the form of increasingly sophisticated television programs, movies, video games, computer programs, and Internet-based activities, children seem to have far less interest in reading and spending the time it takes to get through a good book.
Of course, characters such as Harry Potter, Lemony Snicket, and the like seem to have stemmed the tide a bit. Even so, I think today's language arts teachers need to incorporate some of the technology that is competing with their program to keep language arts learning a real part of children's lives. More and more electronic devices, Internet resources, and computer software are becoming available and are becoming more and more effective at addressing an amazing variety and levels of language arts topics.
There is no guarantee that any of the electronic devices, Web sites, or computer software discussed in this article will entirely succeed in creating book lovers or making students happily tackle grammar and other language arts topics. However, many of these products will almost certainly light up the eyes of the television, Game Boy, or computer game fans in most classrooms. And, hopefully, some of the enthusiasm for the medium will carry over into the subject matter.
For our purposes here, language arts is loosely defined as anything that might be taught in an English class. Discussing a representative sampling of this technology will hopefully give readers ideas for classroom use, as well as ideas about places to look for additional similar learning tools.
This article does not attempt to cover every product of this type, but will include something for most age levels from most language arts areas, except writing. A feature article titled "Tools for Teaching Writing" will appear in the May/June issue of MultiMedia &Internet@Schools.
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