To an older generation, the very idea of literacy in schools would immediately bring to mind paper and pencils and exercise books. But just think how today’s generation of students – bought up on home computers, smart phones, personal devices and the like – would react if confronted with this old-fashioned technology.
To a modern child, the traditional methods of teaching literacy might seem, at best, daunting – at worst, confusing or uninspiring. Where is the instant response and feedback provided by the technology that they are used to? How can they monitor their own progress and share their achievements with others as they can online?
With reading, for example, this does not mean we should abandon the good old library book – but it does mean that educators must think deeply about how modern technology can assist student learning in different ways than that provided by traditional methods.
This is why Online Literacy Tools are making such in-roads into the modern educational environment – especially, by both catering for modern students’ expectations and, if properly used, considerably extending the teacher’s capacity as a reading facilitator. A good online literacy program, for instance, can allow a teacher to easily manage a classful of learners, all working at their own reading level – even if every student is at a different level.
Diagnosis and feedback
In addition, programs are increasingly able to provide diagnostic information, assessing progress at each stage and providing instant feedback and reinforcement for learners (as well as alerting the teacher to any difficulties individual students may be experiencing).
In this way, online literacy programs can ease the whole-class workload on teachers, thus allowing them to more easily focus on specific individuals or issues – as well as providing ‘student agency’, in which learners themselves are in control of their own learning.
Internet-based literacy programs can also be multi-platform – that is, able to be used across a range of devices (e.g., iPads and tablets). In addition, programs that are accessible in the students’ homes outside school hours can extend student engagement with literacy tasks (and thus further enhance their learning).
Such online software also allows programs to be automatically up-dated and for personalised learning pathways to be followed by individual students (again saving both learners and teachers time to concentrate on other literacy-learning activities).
The main additional role of the teacher with online literacy tools is then that of regularly monitoring student activity and on-line behaviour, and providing any additional support, resources or instruction as and when required.
At the whole-school level, the crucial issue is to provide structure and continuity with online literacy tools so that a ‘literacy progression’ extends all the way through a student’s school career. At the same time, however, teachers also need the flexibility to customise programs to support particular student or class needs. Again, this requires thorough investigation of program/software options and long-term planning on the part of school administrators.
In short, online literacy programs should be used as an additional educational tool in the classroom – not to replace traditional teaching, but to support it. Used properly, online literacy tools can cater to students’ individual requirements while improving achievement and increasing engagement, at the same time as encouraging even the most reluctant students to self-manage their own learning.
Janine Trembath is the business manager for the I.T. Education Company (ITECNZ) which distributes software to support literacy learning. Here, she provides her expert opinion on what schools should look for with Online Literacy Tools.
Implementation of a literacy program is a long-term investment. As such, it is worth selecting a resource that can grow with students, and automatically personalise instruction to their specific needs.
A growing focus on vocabulary and fluency is a recent trend in literacy programs design. Well-researched programs are also now incorporating growth mindset strategies, and being smart about how they use explicit and implicit motivation to ensure students are engaged.
Students can work with minimal supervision on most online programs, but online resources do not replace good teachers. Students will only significantly benefit from online programs when regular usage is combined with proactive teacher engagement.
Choose research-proven programs that cover wide skill sets, enabling whole-class or even school-wide implementation. These programs should identify specific skill areas a student may be struggling in, and provide targeted resources that help teachers to focus instruction where it is most needed.
Finally, it’s important to understand the difference between ‘research-proven’ and ‘research-based’ resources. Research-proven programs have been scientifically tested and proven to work, rather than merely being research based. Ideally educators should select a ‘research-proven’ program.