A Look at ... Literacy and Writing Resources

Article excerpt


AMONG the most fascinating developments in language arts technologies are those driven by programs often called "engines." This article takes a quick drive around the block to examine some of these engines, beginning with those found in web-based programs. The cruise then continues with a quick view of some interesting new web and CD-based software, as well as some computer-related devices using other developing technologies. The final stops on the tour will be some interesting and useful electronic devices for language arts learning.

When the term "engine" comes up, I'm old enough to think of cars, airplanes, and trains. In the technology world, however, engines are basically computer programs that can be inserted into various models of web- and CD-based software to "drive" them as they perform their programmed functions. Put another way, a software engine is a computer program (engine) whose output is computer code (fuel) that becomes the input for another computer process.

This article will present as many program types as possible, but it will not provide a full review or an examination of every available product. Pricing information will be given as available; however, many of these companies have complex pricing plans that require a phone call to obtain pricing for a specific situation.


Achieve3000 Programs

Achieve3000, Inc.


Achieve3000 offers an excellent set of web-based literacy products for elementary and middle school students (KidBiz3000), middle and high school students (TeenBiz3000), and adult learners (Spark3000). The programs are driven by a software engine that enables individualized instruction; learners can work at their own pace and reading level.

The program's LevelSet feature provides an online summative assessment tool that sets each student at his or her own Lexile level to improve vocabulary, comprehension, reading fluency, and writing skills. Using this feature, all of the students in the same class can be working on the same assignment with material at different reading levels.

Additional program features include motivational, interesting content and reporting and management tools that allow teachers to use performance data to guide instruction. The Achieve3000 Series can be used for after school, summer school, special needs, and ESL programs. Licensing fees for the three programs are based on enrollment.


Pearson Knowledge Technologies


WriteToLearn is another outstanding example of a web-based program with a software engine. The program features Pearson's automated text analysis technology, the Knowledge Analysis Technologies (KAT) engine. KAT enables programs to read, assess, and score content. The engine provides detailed feedback on style, mechanics, and grammar, and it evaluates how well students cover key ideas. KAT also flags writing that borrows heavily from an original source.

WriteToLearn uses the KAT engine to promote writing skills and reading comprehension. The program enables educators to automatically evaluate and teach writing (with the Intelligent Essay Assessor essay function) and reading comprehension (with the Summary Street summarizing function) in any subject area. The program is web-based and aimed at grades 4 through 12. Prices start at less than $20 per student per year.


phase-6, AG


phase-6 also uses an engine designed to complement instruction. The program's methodology is based on brain research and the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve. The theory behind the program is that, after initial memorization, only about 20% of information is remembered over the long term. Repetitions are offered at increasing time intervals to strengthen connections in the brain, producing long-term memory.

phase-6 is a web-based vocabulary tutorial system that uses multimedia flash cards to teach vocabulary and terminology for any K-12 subject, including ESL, SAT prep, and science terminology--in English, Spanish, or other languages. Email reports enable teachers to track progress, including items studied, time on task, and more. Detailed online reports are available showing student activity, the most difficult words for students, and any cheating attempts.


Available in a web-based home or school edition, phase-6 reduces the amount of time teachers need to grade schoolwork, perform student follow-up, and handle other administrative activities. The program helps teachers differentiate instruction and allows students to take a more active role in their learning.

Odyssey Reading/Language Arts K-8



Moving to other technologies, Odyssey Reading/Language Arts K-8 provides a standards-based curriculum built around phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. This program is an excellent tool to help students practice and develop reading skills. The material is easy to use and includes engaging graphics and sound.

Odyssey Reading/Language Arts provides opportunities for individualized learning, supporting different learning styles and levels of achievement. Assessment is embedded in the learning process; teachers and administrators always know how each child is performing. The comprehensive curriculum interweaves listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

Young readers are given systematic and explicit instruction in phonics, meaningful instruction in context, and direct instruction in decoding and comprehension with decodable readers. The program develops student comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency as learners move from learning to read to reading to learn.

This Mac/Win program is available for K-8 students for $91 per subscription.


BrainPOP Jr.



BrainPOP Jr. for K-3 is a curriculum resource--not a curriculum program. This web-based resource offers a range of animated reading, writing, math, science, health, and social studies movies. The site's quirky high-quality animations are accompanied by age-appropriate quizzes, educational games, and vocabulary. Useful teaching and family activities are also available.

Additional helpful features include the site's ease of use and effective use of audio and visual content. A related site, BrainPOP, offers content designed for older students. BrainPOP en Espanol offers content in Spanish.

A free 5-day trial is available. Annual subscription costs vary for teachers and students in a single school library, media center, or computer lab. Site licenses for a variety of uses are available.




BookFlix is another useful tool that doesn't include a comprehensive curriculum. This site is an online literacy resource that pairs 80 fictional video storybooks from Weston Woods with related nonfiction ebooks from Scholastic to encourage a love of reading in children in Pre-K to third grade.

The site includes a read-along option, definitions of key vocabulary words, 20 pairs of titles in Spanish, and educational games and activities.

BookFlix is good for use in the classroom and school or public library. The content is helpful for all students, including early readers, reluctant readers, and English-language learners.

Lesson plans are available online. Afree trial is available at the site.


Lexia Reading Version 5

Lexia Learning Systems, Inc.


Lexia Reading v5 provides software with an online component for K-12 students in three programs: Early Reading, Primary Reading, and Strategies for Older Students.

The material supports core reading curriculum, helps prevent reading failure for at-risk students, and can remediate difficulties for struggling readers and English-language learners.

Lexia Reading v5 includes home access through a web-enable option, has expanded management and reporting features, and offers a choice of network (Lexia-hosted) or CD-ROM delivery.

The report and management features help teachers and administrators identify and group students for appropriate instruction and practice, as well as supervise and promote adequate use. The program tracks performance and highlights students in need of extra support. Students can be managed, assessed, and monitored individually or by group, class, grade, school, or district.

AceReader Pro Deluxe Plus

StepWare, Inc.


AceReader Pro Deluxe Plus is reading improvement software designed to train eye movement to scan quickly across an electronic page. This is an electronic version of the Tachistoscopes used years ago to train eye movement. The program is easy to use, has text-to-speech features, and can import and export custom content that can be shared with other AceReader users.

AceReader Pro Deluxe Plus can be used as a self-improvement educational tool that helps users learn to read faster by practicing Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP; center text mode) and Tachistoscopic Scroll Presentation (TSP; eye trainer scroll mode) with configurable speed settings. Progress can be tracked with the program's reading and comprehension tests. The program can also be used as a diagnostic reading assessment tool, a low-vision aid, foreign languages trainer, ESL trainer, Dyslexia aid, and more.


AceReader Pro Deluxe Plus is available in home and school versions for Macintosh or Windows computers. A single station school license is priced at $117. A 10-station license is $509.


Readingpen Basic Edition K-12

WizCom Technologies, Ltd.


The 3-ounce Readingpen is an ergonomic portable device for K-12 students that uses scanning technology to read nearly any text (words or entire lines) out loud. The unit is specifically designed to help school-age readers improve their reading skills. The intuitive, user-friendly interface enables readers to maintain their reading flow even when encountering unfamiliar words.

The Readingpen Basic Edition K-12 offers word definitions and English-to-Spanish translations from a 250,000-word English dictionary, a thesaurus, and an English-Spanish dictionary. The unit displays syllable breaks, definitions, synonyms, and translations of the scanned text on an LCD screen.

An integrated speaker is included; the device may be used with headphones. The Readingpen can retain a history of the last 80 words scanned for review and can be set for left- or right-handed use. An advanced edition is available for college students and adults.

An individual unit is priced at $279. A classroom set (10 Readingpens in a custom-built hard carrying case with 10 sets of headphones, training devices, batteries, user's manual, and Teacher's Guide) is priced at $1,999.99.


WizCom InfoScan

WizCom Technologies, Ltd.


InfoScan, an electronic note-taking device, enables the scanning and transfer of printed text onto a PC directly or onto a PC, laptop, or PDA via an infrared or USB connection. The unit can scan and capture as many as 500 pages of text. The device weighs 3 ounces and measures 6"x1.5"x1" in size.

The product is available in three versions: English, German, and Hebrew. InfoScan can scan English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, and Hebrew (the languages may vary by version). The unit recognizes fonts in 6- to 22-point sizes in bold, italic, underlined, and inverted text. The single unit retail price is $119.95

Writer Fusion with Wordstorm

Advanced Keyboard Technologies, Inc.


The Fusion portable keyboard is a newer product along the lines of the excellent AlphaSmart keyboards. The Fusion offers text-to-speech capability with automatic letter, word, and sentence read-back, an LCD screen with adjustable font size, and wireless file transfer.

Individual Writer units with an infrared receiver and case are priced as low as $189.

Mobile labs are available with a number of options. The mobile lab can include 30 units for approximately $5,000, depending on the selected options. The units include a preinstalled Student Performance Package that offers a number of features such as KeyAcademy keyboard instruction.


I'd love an opportunity to use every product mentioned here with the students in my district.

Programs like Achieve 3000's KidBiz3000 and Pearson Knowledge Technologies' WriteToLearn look wonderful and effective.

I'm especially fascinated by the portable scanners developed by WizCom. The possibilities of highly portable page scanners and text-to-speech devices in language arts instruction are endless and exciting. The text-to-speech Readingpen would be excellent for remedial or ESL students, among others, and the note taking possibilities of InfoScan make it an outstanding choice for advanced language arts students.

Charles Doe has been teaching for 37 years, including 20 years as a Title I reading specialist and 7 years as a media specialist. In addition to presenting and writing articles, he has been involved with computers in education for more than 20 years. He is also a longtime product reviewer for MultiMedia & Internet@Schools magazine. Communications to the author may be addressed to Charles Doe, Media Specialist, Hastings Area Schools, 232 W. Grand, Hastings, MI 49058 or charliegd@sbcglobal.net.