New and exciting uses of digital technology in language arts are appearing all the time-a very good thing in view of the digital nature of the lives of today's K-12 students. As we all know, the amount of time that students spend with television, cell phones, iPods, gaming technologies, the Internet, computers, and other electronic technologies is stunning.
Contrast that with the long struggle that language arts teachers, especially at the secondary level, continue to have as they work to make language arts relevant to students'lives. The digital world is taking students ever further from traditional language arts teaching. The methods used in today's language arts classrooms must be as real and immediate to students as what they can do on the Internet and as important as what they can listen to on an iPod.
Fortunately, emerging digital technologies can help language arts teachers liven up their classes, making them more digitally relevant and keeping or regaining student attention. This article takes a look at some Web-based programs and some new hardware that may provide new ideas for your language arts classroom.
The number and variety of programs accessed via the Internet is growing by leaps and bounds. Among the many advantages are ease of access and installation. All you need are reasonably fast computers, a good Internet connection, and a password.
Among the disadvantages: the need for a good Internet connection and reasonably fast computers. Newer Internet technologies often work best with faster computers and faster online connections, yet not all schools have access to them. For those who have the right tools, some excellent Web-based programs are available.
FableVision's Get A Clue for grades 5 and up is a vocabulary study program that uses the WATS (Words And Their Stories) system. This vocabulary learning method, based on inductive reasoning, is used with general vocabulary study, standardized test preparation, and literature-specific vocabulary.
The Get A Clue multimedia program provides individualized and self-paced instruction. The assessment feature offers diagnostic and achievement exams, as well as customizable quizzes. Online reporting tools allow results to be viewed by individual or class. Scores can be viewed by average and by number of words completed. The program meets or exceeds state and national standards.
Get A Clue can be found online at http://www.getaclue.com. Contact the company for pricing information.
SAGrader, for grades 11 to adult from Idea Works, Inc., is a new essay-grading system that uses "computational intelligence strategies" to grade student essays in seconds. This is a wonderful idea; the program provides instant feedback for students and saves hours of grading time for teachers.
SAGrader can be used with a Web connection and a Windows, Macintosh, or UNIX computer system. The program responds with detailed, topic-specific feedback for both teachers and students. Essays can be revised based on the feedback.
Teachers can purchase course packs and use them as they are written or modify them for their own use. A free authoring package is available for teachers who want to design their own courses.
A plagiarism detection feature is scheduled to be added in late fall 2006.
The cost for academic licenses begins at $19 per student, per course. Institutional pricing is available. More information can be found online at http://www. ideaworks.com/sagrader.
Vantage Learning's MY Access! 6.0 for grades 4-12 provides an online essay scoring service and writing instructional tool. The program is based on Vantage Learning's IntelliMetric core, which uses a combination of a digitization of human expertise and artificial intelligence to score student competency and progress in writing.
Students write to supplied prompts using multilingual dictionaries, a thesaurus, word banks, spelling and grammar checkers, writing editors, multilevel tutors, and other tools. The students can write and then revise their writing based on the program's feedback, which is available in English, Spanish, and Chinese.
Teachers can select and assign writing prompts. The latest update includes 45 new writing prompts aligned to Scholastic Read 180 Enterprise Edition, an intervention program for students reading below grade level.
Additional details can be found at http://www.vantage learning.com. Contact the company for pricing information.
Boston Test Prep offers a complete online SAT tutorial service. The program, marketed to individuals and schools, brings many of the Internet's advantages to SAT preparation.
Students can focus on weak areas, studying only what they need to improve. Courses are available that target specific subtopics within the Critical Reading and Writing, Math, and other sections of the new SAT.
Students can drill with unlimited practice quizzes and study techniques that help identify appropriate test strategies. They can set their own study goals and progress can be monitored. The site even has a blog and up-to-date tips.
The cost is $99. School pricing is available. Details and a sample quiz can be found at http://sat.boston testprep.com.
PASeries Reading (Progress Assessment Series Reading), from Pearson Education, Inc., for grades 3-12 is an assessment product designed to measure progress and forecast student growth toward state performance goals or grade-level expectations. Series programs are also available for writing, mathematics, and algebra 1.
The PASeries offers online test-result reporting at student, classroom, school, district, and state levels. Classroom reports include an item analysis report to help focus instruction. Teacher reports show student Quantile and Lexile scores, as well as forecasted performance levels. School-, district-, and state-level reports can be disaggregated to display forecasted performance for subgroups of students.
The program includes added diagnostic assessments that enable teachers to identify areas in need of improvement and student-reading strengths. Both overall reading and specific skills are diagnosed, including comprehension, literary analysis, and vocabulary, or for lower grades, vocabulary and phonics.
Details are available online at http://www.pearson paseries.com. Contact the company for pricing information.
PLATO Learning, Inc.'s PLATO Courses for high school students provide whole-course solutions that grant credit in an online alternative learning environment. The programs offer self-paced, semester-long courses designed to help nontraditional or at-risk students rapidly complete courses, recover credits, and progress to graduation.
The PLATO Courses language arts offerings include English 9Aand 9B and English 10Aand 10B. Each course provides a comprehensive course curriculum and includes exemptive assessments, instructional content, cumulative final exams, and state standards coverage reports.
Onsite and electronic professional development sessions are available, as well as teacher support materials including a Teacher's Guide and an Implementation Guide.
Additional available courses include Algebra 1A and 1B, Algebra 2Aand 2B, Biology Semesters Aand B, Physical Science Semesters Aand B, Geography Semesters A and B, and American History Semesters A and B.
Pricing begins at $110 per student for one course per semester. Information is online at http://www.plato. com/courses.
Read On! from Steck Vaughn (an imprint of Harcourt Achieve) is a computer-assisted reading intervention program for adolescents and adults. The program, evolved from the Steck Vaughn Learning 100 System, includes new content, updated graphics, and a new interface.
Read On! offers learning management features that initially perform diagnostic tests to place learners at appropriate levels. As students work, they build vocabulary, comprehension, fluency, and critical thinking skills. The ongoing assessment feature enables teachers to monitor progress and adjust instruction to meet student needs. Learners can focus only on needed skills.
The complete Read On! system includes reading instruction, writing practice, and assessment at reading levels from beginning to 10.5, a teacher's manual, and six packs of Read On! Go Books that reinforce vocabulary and comprehension skills. The program offers 225 themes of interest to adolescents and young adults.
Read On! is available for LAN (local area network) and WAN (wide area network) configurations with technical support. The program is network-based and can be used from any classroom, library, reading lab, or computer lab.
Read On! can be purchased as a complete package with 10 program levels or as individual program levels, ranging from RA (beginning) to 1A (10.5).
A complete package running on a LAN can cost $36,500, with a maintenance agreement available for $3,000 per year. More information can be found online at http://www.harcourtachieve.com.
Read Now with Power Up! for grades 5-9 from Renaissance Learning, Inc. integrates Read Now reading intervention software with the reading curriculum from Steck Vaughn's Power Up!.
Designed especially for struggling readers, Read Now with Power Up! uses assessment- and progressmonitoring technology, reading-skills instruction, and fiction and nonfiction paperback books in a scaffolded lesson structure. The interactive software reinforces the development of reading strategies and skills and helps monitor student progress. Activities include book previews, quizzes, motivational material, and online books.
Read Now with Power Up! is sold as a per-student subscription with an initial setup fee of $12,995. The annual service and support package and Student Workout Books are included for free for the first year but, afterward, cost $39.95 per student, per year and $11.77 per book.
A guided tour is available at http://www.ren learn.com.
Computers (laptop and desktop), hand-held devices, tablet computers (including the Nova500 reviewed in this issue), and other electronic devices offer an endless variety of possibilities in the language arts classroom.
Video is a prominent feature in the daily lives of our students. More and more schools are using video and video-editing programs in language arts and other subject areas. The video images may be supplied by commercial services (United Streaming, etc.) or they may be created and edited by students for use with PowerPoint and other presentation programs.
The Point & Shoot Video Camcorder (recently introduced by Pure Digital Technologies, Inc.) is a fascinating tool for students and teachers who want to shoot their own video. The unit retails for $129-a reasonable price that eliminates many of the concerns about the expense involved in placing camcorders in student hands.
Of course, $129 doesn't provide the greatest camcorder in the world; the lenses do leave a lot to be desired. But what the unit does provide is an extremely simple, small camcorder with a built-in software program that makes it easy to save video to a computer or to e-mail condensed video files.
The camera's internal memory holds 30 minutes of video and audio in either continuous or broken-up segments that can be viewed on the 1.4-inch color viewing screen at the back of the camera. The software for viewing and sharing video comes with the camera, as does a USB connector. No cables or installation CDs are needed.
The company also makes the Pure Digital OneTime-Use Video Camcorder, a disposable camcorder that holds up to 20 minutes of video and costs $29.99. The unit is available at national chain drug stores and other locations.
Video from the Point & Shoot Video Camcorder and the single-use camcorder can be viewed on television screens. Retail outlets, including chain drug stores, can copy the video to a DVD for about $13.
Camera details appear online at http://www. puredigitalinc.com.
Mobile computing solutions can be very important to language arts classrooms that often get less computer time than other classrooms. The AlphaSmart Dana is a wonderful unit that can be used to create a relatively inexpensive mobile computer lab.
The Dana combines the convenience of a Palm-powered handheld with the ergonomie benefits of a lightweight notebook computer. Designed specifically for schools, the unit has a full-sized keyboard, a large backlit LCD screen about 3.5 times wider than a handheld, and is available with Wi-Fi connectivity.
The Dana includes an excellent word processor and ebook reader; it can run any of the many programs created for the Palm operating system. The unit can synchronize data with a home or classroom PC and share data and software with other Dana or Palm-powered devices.
The Dana is priced at $400; quantity discounts are available. AlphaSmart is online at http://www.alpha smart.com.
For more on mobile computing solutions, check out the article titled Mobile Computing Goes to School: Cutting Edge Technology, Dollars, and Common Sense in the July/August 2006 issue of this magazine.
In the schools where the devices not banned, students and teachers are finding more and more uses beyond the world of music for Apple's iPods and other similar products; these devices can be used to take notes, to distribute teacher-created podcasts, and more.
The TuneTalk Stereo for iPod with video from Belkin Corp. is an excellent tool. The unit records in full stereo with two omnidirectional microphones. Students and teachers can review audio files with earbud headphones or a computer.
The unit charges while recording (with included cable) and offers an external microphone adapter, onetouch navigation for quick recording access, a stand for hands-free recording, real-time adjustable gain for changing noise levels, and more. The suggested retail price is $69.99.
Details are available at http://www.belkin.com.
INTO THE FUTURE
The future of language arts instruction will almost certainly include blogs, wikis (Web sites that allow users to collaborate by adding, editing, or deleting content), and other social technologies focused on the ways that people communicate and collaborate. These platforms offer many writing and communication opportunities. And, perhaps even more importantly, they are of great importance to students and, as a result, must be included in the curriculum.
From my perspective at this point in time, I'd love to see what the students in my school could produce with a classroom set of Point & Shoot Video Camcorders and at least one powerful computer with editing software. Even an upper-grade elementary classroom could produce some fascinating and lively video for language arts projects!
by Charles Doe
Media Specialist, Hastings Area Schools
Charles Doe has been teaching for 35 years, including 10 years as a high school English teacher, 20 years as a Title I reading specialist, and 5 years as a media specialist. In addition to presenting and writing articles, he has been involved with computers in education for 20 years. He is a long-time product reviewer for MULTIMEDIA & INTERNET ©SCHOOLS. Communications to the author may be addressed to Charles Doe, Media Specialist, Hastings Area Schools, 232 W. Grand, Hastings, MI 49058; firstname.lastname@example.org.…