In the new millennium, one of the most important reasons for teachers to have a personal computer is the ability it gives them to create both customized instructional presentations and personalized learning materials for their students. Using successful principles of learning, both the novice and the experienced teacher can make a significant contribution to student achievement by creating materials that can be used for instruction or remediation, either at school or at home. By augmenting their computers with inexpensive peripherals such as a color printer or scanner-both available for under $100-teachers are able to create professional looking media that are proving to be effective in helping students learn how to learn. Moreover, by adding an inexpensive computer peripheral such as an RF converter to a television monitor, teachers are able to use their computers as instructional displays or as presentational tools.
Developing Instructional Materials
Among the significant developments associated with instructional technology, the personal computer has blurred the line between professionally developed media and "home grown" products that are being used in schools across the USA. The ability to use pictures and photos with applications such as word processors and graphics programs makes the production of high quality materials a relatively simple task for the inexperienced beginner or expert user who can print their documents with a laser printer or in color with an ink jet printer.
Not surprisingly, a recent search of the ERIC database turned up over 1000 entries about creating materials with computers, a majority of them focusing on various aspects of language arts including reading, writing, spelling and skill development.
It is also interesting to note that the advent of the Internet has increased the options and opportunities for teachers to develop their own high quality customizable materials with sites such as worksheets.com and others that are easily reached with the click of a mouse. In fact, teachers need not have their own personal computers to utilize the Internet because on-line connectivity is almost routinely available in schools and libraries across the country.
This article will focus upon different kinds of learning materials that classroom teachers can create using a computer and related technologies, guided by their own experiences and a first-hand knowledge of instructional pedagogy. Because purchasing a computer is a significant financial commitment, we believe that teachers should get the most from their investment by utilizing these machines to the fullest. Teachers without a home computer may still be able to use their school's equipment to create the most of the materials we profile herein.
Spelling is a constant challenge to many students and sometimes, rightly or wrongly, a cause of concern for their parents as well. If children use English as a second language there may be additional problems in learning to deal with the well-chronicled peculiarities of this polyglot language.
One successful method that we have used in teaching children how to learn to spell is a modified version of the tried and true Look, Say, Name, Cover, Write, Check Strategy (Snowball & Bolton, 1999). It involves using a word processor to generate special lists of spelling words that helps to enhance students' memorization efforts. The capacity of the computer to print words in color and in different rows and columns makes this activity an easy one with which to start.
Using a word processor such as Microsoft Word with a blank word processing document, you create a table with four columns and perhaps thirty empty rows. At the top of each column a spelling word is written with particular attention given to the middle portion by highlighting the most difficult or unusual part in red (see emboldened letters). This is important because children tend to remember the beginning and endings of words but have trouble with what comes between. For example, house, country, peace and cookie might appear as follows:
The next step is to repeat the words down the columns but omitting different letters in each cell, such as follows:
Once the list is complete it provides several instances for children to practice writing the word while having a correct example within range, in addition to having the most challenging portion highlighted in red.
However, merely writing the word is not the total focus of this activity, children are then asked to say the word out loud each time they complete the word. If working with a parent, teacher of another student, they are then asked to spell the word without looking after completing each column, and are asked to spell all four words after completing each page. This activity is especially useful for at home reinforcement because it gives parents a good opportunity to work with their children on homework tasks, and a method they may use themselves to help their children with other spelling words.
Frequently, the suffix, silent letters or other oddities may be the most challenging word parts and they would also get the "red letter" treatment. The key is to have children see, say and write words with their attention directed towards the more problematic components of their spelling.
Using resources such as the 100 most commonly misspelled words at Grades 1-8 (Cramer, 1998,) and the The Spelling Teacher's Books of Lists (Phenix, 1996), teachers are now able to customize word lists for students and provide materials for those who may be absent from class or who are slower to pick up the many nuances of orthographic patterns. In reality, this is only one of many types of support materials that teachers can create with their computers as part of a comprehensive reading and language arts program.
The word processor is an excellent tool for developing customized reading and language arts instructional presentations and materials. Using a computer along with a language experience approach to writing, teachers can help children to put their thoughts and stories into an electronic, editable format. It is easy enough to insert graphics or children's' own artwork into their documents that can then be printed or read from the screen.
When a word processor is connected to a television monitor or LCD screen, teachers can create whole class language experience stories, and engage in interactive writing, as well. In the latter, with interactive writing activities, instead of "sharing the pen," teachers "share the keyboard" with their students whereby they work together to stretch out words and key in letters corresponding to the sounds that are heard.
Teachers can also create masking activities for children in the primary grades in which strategic words from predictable texts are deleted. If text is presented on an enlarged screen children and teachers can work together in figuring out what make sense in the deletion, "rubberbanding" the proposed word by stretching it out into its component sounds, and then keyboarding corresponding letters onto the screen.
This instructional activity can be repurposed into additional learning materials. For example, a popular reading method is the cloze activity which involves leaving out every nth word of a reading passage. Students are then encouraged to fill in or read through the missing words while they are monitored for reading comprehension. Cloze activities are an important assessment tool, but also help children to use context. Moreover, partial deletions of words can serve as a way to help readers combine meaning clues with phonic information (Vacca, Vacca & Gove, 2000). Using a word processor the teacher can omit words from a student's own writings and then turn these documents into cloze exercises. Learners can then get practice not only from unfamiliar passages but also from work they themselves have generated.
Additionally, the word processor can be an effective tool in helping students to learn about narrative and expository text structures (description, sequence, comparison, cause and effect, problem solution patterns) and about words that signal these particular patterns for both reading and writing. Using enlarged text displayed on a television monitor or LCD screen, teachers can work with students by drawing attention to textual patterns, and by asking students to embolden key signal words (Meyer & Rose, 1999). Materials can be made in which individual students can work at the computer to highlight key words in selected passages, and to identify organizational patterns presented. The highlighted text can then be saved to a child's floppy disk or to the computer network for teacher review
The following is an example of a passage with a comparison pattern with signal words highlighted.
COMPARISON TEXT STRUCTURE
Dogs and cats are different from each other in many ways. Dogs are usually more people oriented and have a keen desire to please their owners. On the other hand, cats are less sociable, and tend to be more aloof and independent. Of course, dogs and cats are alike in some ways. Both dogs and cats can be trained. They are also similar in that they can make good pets.
Recognition of patterns can also be reinforced by creating on line story frame, and chapter frame forms (Fowler, 1982; Cooper, 2000) that scaffold various text structure patterns by linking blank spaces to transitional words emphasizing an aspect of a selection. The following is an example of a Comparison Text Frame in which dogs are compared to cats. Electronic forms can be made for students to complete at school at the computer or they can be copied for practice at home.
COMPARISON TEXT FRAME
Doe and cats are similar in several ways.
Both have -four Legs and fur. Both can be trained.
Finally, both dop and cats make good pets.
Teachers can download or scan in text to be displayed on a television monitor or LCD screen for a variety of purposes. The Internet Public Library
Displaying text, which is scanned in or downloaded, can encourage students to read like writers by becoming aware of the author's craft. For example, excerpts from text in which professional authors makes use of literary devices such as imagery, alliteration, allusions, analogies, similes, metaphors, strong verbs, strong nouns, and the like can be displayed. The book, Using Picture Storybooks to Teach Literary Devices (Hall, 1994), provides a beginning list of such excerpts. Students can read passages and embolden targeted literary elements. Students' own writing can be displayed in order to heighten awareness of their craft. At the same time, interactive writing can be used to model how to revise ambiguous sentences to create "thoughtshots" and "snapshots" and exciting lead-in sentences (Barry Lane, 1995).
Writing In Groups
The popular AppleWorks/ClarisWorks program can also be an important materials generator for teachers. The AppleWorks "slideshow" feature allows words and graphics to be displayed and projected to an audience as a presentation, either on a computer screen or as paper handouts. This feature is particularly useful as both a reading tool and as a "generator" program for student writing.
We have had great success when using this program to help students relive experiences and write about them. For example, on a field trip to the zoo we would take many pictures with either 35MM, Polaroid or digital cameras and then put those pictures into an AppleWorks slideshow. Next class, we would project the pictures on a screen and ask children to tell us about what was going on at the time. Following that we would give them print outs of several slides and ask them to write about what they saw. Next, students would be invited to type in or read what they wrote and we would type the words into the document. Finally, the slideshow would be presented again with students' narration and contributions.
An added benefit of using technology in this manner is the ability to print slideshows for students to use as reading materials, worksheets, homework practice or for additional writing assignments. With the help of an inexpensive color printer teachers can assist in the development of student-created learning materials. Many of our colleagues use Microsoft PowerPoint towards the same end.
The marvel of technology is that it "levels the playing field" and empowers teachers to produce these learning tools that fit their own individual students, thereby increasing their own motivation to use technology in the classroom.
The Internet is fast becoming the defining technology of the information age as it adds value to computers, networks and other media by enhancing their individual and collective capabilities. For example, information searching becomes more powerful on-line than it ever was with books or CD-ROMs, just as printing and publishing is now expanded to cover publishing on the World Wide Web. To paraphrase Naisbett (1992), the web makes us think globally but act locally
Teachers can use a variety of free methods to publish their students' work on the Internet for many purposes including reading practice, writing development, communication skills enhancement and even to communicate with parents. The easiest method of publishing student work is to use the same word processor as the children and then resave their documents as Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), usually a choice under their "Save As"... options. Once saved as HTML, the document can quickly be uploaded or put onto the net using any number of free servers including Tripod.com or Homestead.com. We have had great success training preservice and classroom teachers to use this method to post quick but effective WebPages on the Internet.
In addition, free sites such as Tripod.com and Homestead.com have simple tutorials and easy to use quick and dirty website creation tools which make it a simple task to put up Internet pages for instruction. These sites enable a teacher to take any of the activities that are described in this article and use them in a more global fashion. For example, two teachers at a Connecticut elementary school used the web to reinforce writing that students have been doing with a part of the narrative called an extended ending. "An extended ending helps the reader to realize that the story is coming to an end without having to read, The End." The teachers posted their students' work along with scanned drawings, class information and a math story problem. Check their site at
With the purchase of a computer the teacher now owns a uniquely powerful production and presentation tool that is often underutilized in the classroom. While programs such as the wordprocessor and slideshow presenter remain popular, they have the potential to be much more than one dimensional tools, instead becoming powerful learning enhancers when used creatively and with good principles of instruction. This article has barely scratched the surfaced of what has been done with technology and what is perhaps being done in the readers' classroom. We invite you to send examples and questions to the authors.
References and Resources
Cooper, J.D. (2000). Literacy: Helping Children Construct Meaning. MA: Houghton Mifflin Company
Cramer, R.L. (1998). The Spelling Connection: Integrating Reading, Writing, and Spelling Instruction. New York: The Guilford Press.
Fowler, G.L. (1982). Developing comprehension skills in primary grades through the use of story frames. The Reading Teacher, 36(3), 176-179.
Hall, S. (1994). Using Picture Storybooks to Teach Literary Devices. AZ: Oryx Press.
Lane, B. (1993). After The End: Teaching and Learning Creative Revision. NH: Heinemann.
Meyer, A. & Rose, D. (1999). Learning to Read in the Computer Age. MA: Brookline Books (On-line at CAST.org).
Naisbett, J. (1992). Global Paradox. NY. Bantam. Phenix, Jo (1996). The Spelling Teacher's Book of Lists. Ontario, Canada: Pembroke Publishers Limited.
Snowball, D. & Bolton, F, (1999). Spelling K-8: Planning and Teaching, ME: Stenhouse.
Barry Sponder and Catherine Kurkjian Central CT State University…