Last year I wrote in Using (and Not Using) iPads to Teach Reading about how I was experimenting with the use of iPads in my support classroom to teach the lower level readers I serve. At the time I found that there was not all that much I could use productively to supplement the Orton-Gillingham style method I was using because it involved so much multisensory work to engage the students.

It was essential that the children had experiences of forming letters in sand, in rice or in the air as well as with a pencil on paper. Instead, the best way I could utilize the new iPads in my room was with more creation-based software to help with teaching comprehension. I experimented, but in the long haul did most of my teaching took place without the use of the new technology.

This year is a different story. Our school has adopted the use of a program called Lexia Core5. It’s a program that students use frequently throughout the week on a series of lessons that address phonological awareness, phonics, structural analysis, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. The program measures progress, provides data and alerts a teacher when additional face-to-face teaching is necessary. Although Lexia is not inexpensive, I’m grateful that we were able to find the funds to purchase it.

Lexia’s pluses

I really enjoy having Lexia as a resource for a number of reasons. First and foremost, when I was a classroom teacher (instead of working as a support teacher as I am now) and taught reading primarily with Guided Reading lessons, I was never sure I was covering all of my bases. I would start with an engaging book, and try to hit phonics and comprehension lessons with each of those books, but it always felt as though there were lists of skills that I just wouldn’t be sure I was hitting.

Because Lexia goes through these skills systematically, I feel there is a kind of safety net that will make sure each of the students using the program will encounter instruction that I might have missed. It auto-places the students on whatever level is most appropriate so that they can each work at their own pace.

In addition, Lexia gives the students fun animations to watch each time they finish a lesson and they receive special certificates upon completing an entire level. The program gives me data on which lessons were easy and which are challenging or might require my intervention.

Not a teacher substitute

reader-2Lexia’s strengths, however, don’t replace the importance of my own personal instruction to them. Lexia is intended as a supplemental program only. It does not put books into children’s hands or teach them how to interact with a book when it’s taken off the shelf. It doesn’t have them write with a pencil, which is essential not only for spelling and writing but also for developing letter-sound relationships as the body remembers what it feels while the pencil forms letters on a page.

In addition, Lexia has limitations within the program itself. Each lesson begins with oral directions and sometimes they are rather slow. Sometimes the demonstrations of how to do a lesson are tedious when a child already knows the material and wants to get started. In addition, with any of the games, if a student makes a mistake, he or she must redo a section of the game. At times like this, a teacher’s intervention is important, not only to teach reading, but also to teach patience and how to navigate the program without accidental errors.

So at the beginning of this year I was faced with the question of how to balance a variety of readings programs simultaneously. Lexia, PAF, Wilson, and Fountas and Pinnell style guided reading all have their uses. With trial and error, I now have incorporated a basic structure of using Lexia two days a week while on the other days I teach only from my other curricula. On Lexia days, I rarely just monitor the use of the program. I use the time to work with individuals or pairs while watching the others use the program out of the corner of my eye.

More eagerness for physical books

Cute Kitten EducationYou would think that so much screen time would cause my students to lose track of the idea of reading print. However, paradoxically, many of them are eager to ask me for books that they can read independently. When I was teaching only Guided Reading in the classroom, many of my students were willing but not terribly enthusiastic about the new books I’d offer. Now that there are so many other ways to learn reading in my room, the times when my students actually choose books to take home is exciting for them (and for me!).

At the same time, several of my more reluctant readers have been motivated to work for many hours outside of class on the computer or iPad when I can’t convince them to take home books.

As I wrote in last year’s article, there can be a question of when to use new technology in the classroom and when not to. I’m continuing to explore that question and feel good about having discovered an effective balance. All in all, I know my students this year are engaging in reading instruction for more minutes each week than were my students of last year and that their instruction program is geared more specifically to their personal needs.

Each method I’m using towards helping my students is meeting a different need. Rotating between the different methods, with or without the use of technology, keeps the kids fresh as they grow as readers.

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Arwen Kuttner

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