Unfortunately, learning to read is not a given. Since 1983, more than 10 million Americans reached the twelfth grade without having learned to read at a basic level.
Mastering literacy is complex, difficult, and frustrating. Engagement only happens if reading is something the child wants to do. Getting kids to want to read is step one. But the further behind a child falls, the more frustrating this task becomes.
The good news: Computer game designers and other technologists know a thing or two about engagement. A computer game’s reward system is so effective at engaging kids that parents often worry their children are addicted to tablets, computers, and other gaming devices. While too much screen time has its noted disadvantages, technology can help pull kids through their frustrations and help teach reading and writing in new and different ways. Read on to learn how you can use digital tools to help students become more literate.
How to engage readers with tech
Invite authors into the classroom
Kids love their heroes. They wear Spiderman pajamas, carry Star Wars accessories, and play with Avengers action figures. Movies usually create these heroes, but you can turn your favorite book author into a hero too. Invite them into your classroom to talk about their heroic work or read their books. Not all authors can visit but many of them are available through Skype in the Classroom. And some children’s book authors read their works on YouTube. Even your most reluctant reader won’t be able to resist the irreverent Daniel Pinkwater reading Lizard Music.
Fill a tablet with books
Everyone reads at a different pace. And every child has their favorite stories. A tablet not only lets kids read at the level they are most comfortable, it also provides a vast library to choose from. The best part? A digital library won’t cost a huge sum. The Amazon Kindle app gives you access to a wide-ranging library of free classic works of literature. Kindle Unlimited offers even more books for $10 a month. And the subscription book service Scribd lets you choose three books and one audio book a month for $9 a month.
Find new ways to write
Since they learned to walk, 21st century kids have had exposure to technology. Asking children to pen a book report or do research only at the library is like asking Luke Skywalker to fight with a bamboo stick. If you are stuck on how to use the internet for research (without printing pages) consider Scrible. It lets kids save and annotate online articles; they don’t have to stop to take notes by hand on a separate piece of paper. Encourage kids to turn their work in on Google Docs and use Kaizena Shortcut to add questions and feedback. It puts your comments right on the page in easy-to-spot bubbles, just like you would do if you were writing on paper. As an added bonus, there’s no chance the dog will eat their homework.
Make it a game
Confucius said, “Get a job you like and you will never work a day.” The same principle applies here. Kids love games because they are fun and engaging. So if a reading game is fun, kids will learn to read without ever feeling like they’re working at it. Search ABCYA.com, FunBrain.com, PBSKids, or other similar outlets for reading and writing games that suit the grade level at which you teach. Even games not designed to be educational motivate kids to read if in-game reading is required.
Listen to stories
Reading aloud is a great way to motivate kids to read. Once they discover they love the way a story unfolds in their mind—instead of on a screen—they will be hooked. Audio books are another great option. Audible.com contains the biggest library of audio books, but subscriptions are pricey: One credit (usually one book) will run you $15 per month. Audiobooks.com is also $15 a month for one book. Consider subscribing to podcasts through iTunes to get a new story every day. Or check out Storynory, which has free children’s audio books.
The great thing about harnessing technology to teach reading and writing is that you can customize the experience for every reading level and need. No matter where kids start at the beginning of the school year, they’ll enter the next grade more literate than when you met them. And that’s a great accomplishment as a teacher.
Do you have any tips we missed?
Let us know in the comments below!