Friday, August 21, 2015

How technology can help with reading comprehension

Yesterday one of our teaching assistants came to see me.  She was really excited about a workshop she did about reading comprehension over the summer and wanted to share her resources about the role technology can play in monitoring comprehension.   The first thing I have looked at is how the way we teach literacy needs to expand so that it includes specific strategies to help students when reading online.  Research shows there are 4 processes that are essential to comprehension when reading online:

  1. Approaching the task - here are a variety of strategies that lead to understanding and how to deal with obstacles when reading.
  2. Navigating online tests - strategies for determining what is the important idea/information, and strategies for evaluating the accuracy of the information.
  3. Comprehension of and pathways through online texts.
  4. Responding to online texts - how readers communicate the information and their thoughts.
The resource that our TA shared was a toolkit for using technology to enrich comprehension developed by Katie Muhtaris and Kristin Ziemke, two teachers from Chicago.  They explain that they use technology to enrich comprehension instruction in the following ways:
  • To enable all students to participate and engage more deeply - one strategy they use is to add "type" into turn and talk.  For example students can post to social media or a backchannel while reading and then see everyone's responses to their own thinking.  Posting also doesn't have to be written, many tools can enable visual response options.
  • To provide access to resources, experts of texts that students would not otherwise be able to access - in particular magazines, newspapers and primary-source documents.  Literacy is not simply processing information from printed text - it can involve using images and video and assistive technology to help emerging readers.  Students can also email or Skype with experts.
  • To provide a real-world audience for students thinking and learning - for example via blogs or tweets that can reach a global community.
  • To monitor and assess student thinking and understanding through observation of digital participation and collecting artefacts.  Katie and Kristin refer to this as "a second set of eyes" as technology adds an additional layer of information gathering.  They write that "digitally capturing student work, conversations, illustrations of their thinking, peer editing and student writing provides multiple layers of information about how and when students apply strategies". Technology also facilitates students' self-reflection
  • To meet the diverse needs of students, by adding visual, video or audio - in addition teachers can make videos that capture their teaching and make that available to students at times when the teachers are not available, for example when the students are at home, in a Flipped Learning model, or even using the In-Flip where students can use a computer or iPad in class to watch a video of a teacher or another student modeling a strategy.  For students who struggle with reading, but not with thinking, technology can allow them to access the complex ideas and texts that are beyond their current reading level.
  • To build digital literacy - it's important to teach students to interact in positive ways online.
Do you have ideas for how technology can improve reading comprehension?  If so please leave a comment below.

Photo Credit: marragem via Compfight cc


  1. Read a suggestion a year or so ago where you have students take a picture of a page in a book. Insert that pic into Explain Everything, then use the pointer tool and record themselves tracking with their finger and reading aloud. This could be done several time in a year with the same piece of text, or different pieces. So much information could be gathered from this.

  2. I love the talk to a partner idea. Having students using technology and typing is a great way, especially in second grade, to have students practice using technology and typing. Students at my school have to take the PARCC test in 3rd grade, so it is my job to give the students practice typing, which has proven to be difficult to incorporate this in different ways. I have found typing games for the students, but having the students read something or participate in some type of learning activity online and then have them type about it would be a great way to have the students practice typing.

  3. The idea of having the students type to discuss things with each other is a fantastic idea. Students in 2nd grade have to practice typing because in 3rd grade they have to take the PARCC test, which requires them to type all their answers. I love the idea of having the students complete an online activity or read an article online and then type about it.