Friday, 25 January 2019

Unlocking the magic of reading

In this world of instant gratification, distraction and sensory overload, reading can seem a little quaint. Kind of like a relic from the olden days when we sat around by candlelight and told ghost stories. You know, way back in the 1980s.

For struggling learners who have never had success in reading, the work is hard and the payoff appears negligible. Let's face it, none of us wants to do something that we’re just not very good at doing, especially if the progress is slow. (Case in point: my 2019 exercise regimen.) Finding that sweet spot of interest, tenacity and motivation is the key. The exact combination, however, is different for every student. Technology tools can provide teachers and parents with different strategies to engage struggling readers and motivate them to put in the work.

Make it a choice

Whether hurtling asteroids or strange tales of storytelling stones will pique a struggling reader’s interest, choice gives students a feeling of control over their reading material. In BrightFish Reading, for example, students select from a menu of fiction and nonfiction passages, and then use that text as the foundation for developing their skills in fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Not surprisingly, there’s a positive correlation between the student’s interest level in a topic and the scores for each story unit.

Story choice can engage readers and give them control.

Chunk it down

Any activity that seems daunting as a whole can become achievable when you break it down. When considering the reading process, the idea of “deconstruction” is much easier to accomplish using technology. Skills can be broken down into subskills with rewards for mastering each level or activity. Students move forward in a sequential process where they are building a story from the bottom up. Dashboards that show points for completed work and progress bars for each story keep the student in control and aware of their own progress.

Faster isn’t always better

One of the metrics that teachers track in BrightFish Reading is the time it takes to finish a story unit. The average time for middle and high school students to finish a story is 90 minutes, but individual pace differs. After completing a few stories, teachers start to see each student’s optimum pace profile – and speed alone isn’t the end goal. A student may race through the text and questions to finish a story unit without really focusing on the activities, so their scores for vocabulary and comprehension are low. Online tools capture rich data on everything from time per activity to individual responses and errors. Teachers can use that information for regular “data chats” with students to talk about the reading material and the strategies they are using to answer questions.

Map the way

As students practice reading and develop their capacity to comprehend and integrate new information from text, the parallel development of critical thinking skills has a positive impact on all subject areas. Online and offline graphic organizers help students to visually map information into main ideas, fact versus opinion and character development. Creating a conceptual map reinforces understanding and retention of information gleaned from the text. 

Graphic organizers help students develop mental maps for new information.

Take on the challenge

Building confidence in reading strikes a fine balance between engagement and challenge. Video games do this very well by starting at the easiest level and creating a forward momentum as players take on increasingly difficult tasks. In the BrightFish Reading process, starting at the word and phrase level before moving up to paragraphs and full passages provides the motivation for students to keep going to take on the next incrementally more difficult challenge. Tracking that process with online data helps us to provide the guidance and assistance that is truly tailored to each learner.

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