Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Using Technology to Address Language Arts Standards

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Using Technology to Address Language Arts Standards

Article excerpt

In this column we describe ways in which standards for the English Language Arts jointly sponsored by the International Reading Association and the National Council of Teachers of English ( standards.shtml) can be addressed with computerbased curricula, suggesting that the integration of technology with curriculum is strongly influenced by teachers' and students' perceptions of the role of computers. We hope to provide a framework for matching teachers' objectives and students' affective needs with appropriate software tools. Based on surveys, interviews, and classroom observations of thirty-three 7th grade students, five upper elementary students (grades 3-5) and one 7th grade teacher, we have identified eight potential roles that the computer can play in the Language Arts classroom.

The following sections describe each of these eight roles and provide suggestions for ways in which the computer can be put to the service of standards-based curricular objectives.


Computer games, video games, and Nintendo have become national pastimes for American children (Downes & Fatouros, 1995). Many students in our sample mentioned that playing games is one of the most common things they do on computers. One student wrote on a survey that the computer is "similar to TV, but [it] does more." Because many students perceive computers as "fun" and "cool" even when they're not playing computer games, computers can be used to motivate even the most reluctant learners, as this 5th grade student described:

The fun part was when we finished our writing to persuade; we got to find pictures and maps and copy and paste them. I like drawing the arrows and making the pictures move.

Although student engagement is a necessary ingredient for learning, computers will not be beneficial to the curriculum if the students view them exclusively as electronic jungle gyms and not also as powerful learning tools. Similarly, the computer will not serve instructional objectives if the teacher unwittingly exudes an attitude that the computer is a place to play when all the "real" work of learning is complete (see Salomon, 1984 for a classic study of learners' attitudes toward television as an educational tool when given varying instructions for its use). Successful integration of computers in the Language Arts curriculum balances students' affective need to have fun (Eagleton, 1999b) with high expectations for achievement.


The perception of the computer as a fancy word processor is prevalent. Nearly all students remarked that computers can be useful in Language Arts class because "you can type up a story," thereby relieving the tedium of handwriting and recopying long papers. Students enjoy being productive (Eagleton, 1999b), and an episode recorded in our fieldnotes highlights how much students value computers as a production tool:

11 /6/98 Several students return to class who had gone to the library to type final copies of their stories. They wail to Ms. Nolan that the "computers are down!" Ms. Nolan tells them they will have to hand write their final drafts, which prompts two of the boys to slap their rough drafts on the table with melodramatic sighs of frustration. But they don't give up-they ask her if they can go to another teacher's room to type their stories. Ms. Nolan lets them go once they have assured her that they are ready to type their final copies.

Students also reported that the computer helps them "do homework" because they can "write neater," "write faster," and use spell check, grammar check and punctuation tools. Students are more inclined to edit their work when they compose on the computer, as this 4th grader related: "It's like, bam! There's a mistake and bam! You read it and change it. And then you're all done and can do pictures!" Ms. Nolan, the 7th grade Language Arts teacher, commented that:

One thing that the kids absolutely hate to dobut thank you for later-is all the revisions that you make them do. …

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