FLUENCY PART FOUR: How I use technology with the students in the fluency program
By Dr. Sam Bommarito
Last week I talked about Seymour Papert’s idea that the best use of computers is to use them as tools of the mind. Over the many years that have passed since I talked about that at the 1985 International Reading Association (now International Literacy Association) convention that idea has been foundational in guiding my use of technology. Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of how our team is using technology in our current fluency project.
There are two key programs we’re using in the project. One is SeeSaw, and we’ll talk about that in a later post. The other is Raz Kids, one of the many products of the learning A-to-Z company. I’ve already done a full disclosure about work I’ve done for learning A-to-Z which includes being a co-presenter for them at the St. Louis ILA convention and having them come to speak at one of this year’s St. Louis Regional Literacy Association’s meetings. That said, let’s talk about using Raz Kids.
In a nutshell, Raz Kids is a program that provides the teacher with an extensive library of leveled cyber books. It includes generous portions of both expository and narrative text. Quizzes are provided for each book and the quizzes are scored automatically by the program. Students get immediate feedback and scaffolding after each quiz. Quiz results are tracked by student with extensive reports. This reporting system is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It gives extensive feedback on the quiz results. These reports can be generated by student or by class. Teachers can click in and see the actual questions and responses on items the student might have missed. There are a variety of reports available, including those that analyze results by question type and by common core/state standards. There is also a report that summarizes where the class is and how they are performing. Here is a sample screenshot:
It’s been said that information is power. Properly interpreted and properly used the information this program provides can prove invaluable for helping students. Let’s first begin by remembering that when the program gives the student’s performance on factual questions or inference questions, or sequence questions et. al. the program is actually testing the student’s ability to answer those kinds of multiple-choice questions. That is one step away from measuring each of the aforementioned skills.
I try to make use of aggregate data for the class. Based on the summary screen capture, it would seem that this particular class is having the most issues with answering questions about the setting. Before recommending to the teacher that they work on that skill I would first check to see how large an N is involved. Sometimes the report is based on only one or two instances, and sometimes it is based on many occurrences. Only if the skill report indicates many occurrences do I act on teaching that skill.
When I talk to teachers about using this data, I talk about the chasing your tail phenomena. On the one hand, the program gives the same kind of detailed information on each and every student. One could potentially go and try to teach each, and every student based on that. In the real world that becomes an impossible task. It simply takes too much time. I tell them not to do it this way because that really is like the dog chasing its tail, going nowhere. On the other hand, by looking at the aggregate data the teacher can tell what the particular skill focus should be for a particular class at a particular time. The only time I make use of the individual data is on those selected students whose current performance is well below what we want. They are usually the students who are receiving individual tutoring.
Let’s get into what the student sees and does using Raz Kids. Here is a screenshot of what the student sees when he or she gets into the program:
The message feature is the one I like the very most about this program. The teacher can send individual students or the whole class messages. This is done within the safety of the program. I use this feature extensively to cyber-conference with students. This includes each and every student in the class with more extensive conferencing done with the individual students I’m doing extra work with. Next week I will talk about the nuts and bolts of how I do that. My Stats allow the student to get feedback on how they’re doing, and the Star Zone is a place where they can spend the stars they earn for different tasks. They can spend their stars on various fun activities which include building their own avatar and other similar things.
The Level Up room is where students go to work on books at their own instructional level. Within this level I allow them to pick whatever books they want. Remember that I’m using this program as a supplement not the main program in reading. BTW- this means that potentially every single student can be working on a completely different book. That may seem impossible at first but as I will get into next week it is not only possible, but it is something that I’m routinely doing with great success because of the unique way in which I apply the use of this program. The My Assignment feature allows me to assign a particular book to a particular student or a particular group of students. I usually only do that with the students I’m working with individually. They know to do this assignment when they first come into the program. The program allows the student to listen to the book first, then read the book on their own, then take the quiz. I usually only have students working below level 8 do the listening activity. The program also allows students to record themselves reading. They don’t have to, but they can. Again, with those individual students, I do assign them to record the story. I have access to those recordings and can listen to them as I’m looking at the actual book they were reading from. This is another outstanding feature of the program. It is especially helpful when working with those students that need individual help.
The reading room is essentially a cyber library. It has a variety of texts at a variety of levels. I can and do set an upper and lower limit to what part of the library they can look at but overall this is a place they can go to look at and read stories at all levels including levels above their current instructional reading level. All students are told they must do at least two books from the Level Up room before going to the Reading Room each week. I do not require them to take quizzes in the reading room. Essentially the Reading Room becomes a form of independent reading. When working with books above their level to decode students can use the listen to the book feature if they want.
Now would be a good time to take up the topic of cyber books versus paper books. In a nutshell, my take on how they should be used is this: students can and should have access to both kinds of books and read them. My readers are familiar with the fact that I am a strong supporter of projects like Molly Ness’s Book Desert project, Julius Anthony’s St. Louis Black Authors project and Elise Tierney’s Ready to Learn organization. All these projects get paper books into the hands of kids in the book deserts. Book deserts are zip codes where most children have no books at home at all. Folks like Molly, Julius, and Elise are making real inroads in that regard. Links to their project can be found at the end of this post.
Having spent most of my career in Title I buildings I’m always looking for ways to get books into the hands of kids. Because Raz Kids has arranged for its program to work on smartphones and tablets, it provides an ideal way to get children in the book deserts access to more books. For you see, even within the book deserts many parents have smartphones or tablets even though they don’t have a home computer access. I want to make crystal clear that I’m not talking about these books instead of paper books but in addition to paper books. By the way, in my Title 1 work with parents I found all parents eager and willing to let their children access these books. When working with parents I always stress that the kids should have access to all kinds of print, including cyber books.
Next week I will continue this topic and talk about some more of the unique ways in which I am using this program to help all the first and second-grade children in the fluency project. In the meantime, if you want to look at the Raz Kids program there is a link to their site at the end of this blog. They even provide free trials where you can try out the program for a limited time to see all of its different features. Again, this is not the only cyber book program out there, but it is the one that I have used the most. As you can readily see it is one that allows the teacher to take control if they want to. For me, that is the most critical feature of this program. So, till next time happy reading and writing.
Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka- the cyberman- a good one!)
Copyright 2020 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the view of this author and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization
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LINKS TO THE THINGS TALKED ABOUT IN THE BLOG
Ready to Learn: @readytolearnstl (go to this Facebook address)
Book Deserts Podcasts: https://www.endbookdeserts.com/ (This week it features Nic Stone)
The Believe Project: http://stlblackauthors.com/
Raz Kids: https://www.raz-kids.com/