[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Summer 1983, pp13,14]
[Also on this page: If you're not a good speller, take heart.]
[See Computers/Information Technology: Journals, Newsletters, Bulletins.]

Reading and Computer Technology,

by Betty D. Roe, Ed.D.*

*Tennessee Tech. Univ, Dept. of Elem. Ed., Cookeville.

In this technological age, much reading and reading skills instruction is being done with students sitting at computer terminals or microcomputers. Reading done at such terminals presents perceptual problems which are new to educators and which need to be dealt with in order to assure a good instructional environment for students. The use of computers in reading instruction also presents educators with other problems that must be addressed if children are to receive the best instruction possible. This writer toured a number of schools which were using computers with students, either for computer-assisted instruction, computer literacy instruction, or computer programming. Observations of the students at work brought to mind a number of questions that must he answered in terms of the use of computers for reading instruction and other reading activities. In this article, some of the pertinent questions about the use of computers in reading are identified, and some discussion of these questions is offered.

Following are some questions that reading educators need to ask:

1. What effects do adjustments of the brightness and contrast controls of a video display screen have on the child's perception of the printed message?

2. What effects do the different types of displays (dark on light print;, light on dark print; letters: or background colored black, white , green, or amber) have on the child's perception of the printed message?

3. Does the relationship between the position of the screen and the child's face affect the child's perception of the printed material?

4. What effect does reading material presented in all capitals have on the child's: reading success?

5. What effect do the non-standard letter forms used by many microcomputers have on the child's: reading success?

6. What effect does not having an entire page or selection visually available in a more or less continuous manner have on the child's reading success?

7. Is there any justification for using a computer if it simply acts as an electronic page turner or :electronic workbook page?

8. Is there value to drill and practice programs, even though a teacher could do the same thing the computer is doing?

9. Are there things a computer can do during instruction that would be difficult or impossible for a teacher to accomplish?

10. What should be the basis for choosing a computer program for reading instruction?


Careful study of each of these questions by reading educators would be in order. Answers to Questions 1 and 2 can probably only be obtained by carefully designed and controlled research studies, although it would seem likely that some levels of brightness and/or contrast and some combinations of color contrasts would cause more visual stress than others and, therefore, be less desirable. If the basis of personal observations, this educators had the results of such studies, display units use of the computer to provide immediate reinforcement answers on drill and practice could be chosen and adjusted accordingly.

Question 3 would also need controlled studies for a definitive answer to result. However, the writer's observations of children working on microcomputers seemed to indicate that eye-level screens, as opposed t o screens which required the children to tilt their heads and look up, were more comfortable for the students and probably produced less muscle strain. In addition, it seems likely that there could be some distortion in perception of the video display when it is viewed from an angle, as opposed to directly in front.

In regard to Question 4, some research in the past on printed materials in capital and lower case letters has indicated that it is more difficult to read materials in all capitals. This finding would probably hold true for print displayed on computer screens, and it is worthwhile to note that some microcomputers and computer terminals use only capitals in their displays. Unless future research shows findings to the contrary, it seems worthwhile to seek display units which feature a mixture of capitals and lower case letters, rather than the ones limited to all capitals for reading and reading instructional purposes.

Different microcomputers and terminals produce letters of varying styles (and idiosyncracies) on their screens. Question 5 needs to be answered so that equipment using the least confusing forms can be chosen for educational use. The writer observed a first grader who could not match several letters on the keyboard with ones displayed on the screen because they were not shaped the same and a kindergartner who consistently confused the computer's V with a U because the V did not have straight sides.

The importance of answering Question 6 may not be evident until you consider that a child reading in a book can turn back and reread at will when he or she finds a mismatch between what was expected and what the material actually said. This chance to go back and reread to self-correct incorrectly perceived material is important for good reading comprehension. Many computer presentations of reading materials do not allow rereading at all, and some others do not allow it when the students feel the need for it, but only at specified points in the reading.

The answer to Question 7 may well not be empirically obtainable, but it is an important philosophical consideration nevertheless. Having seen students that teachers described as previously unmotivated working intently on workbook page style computer exercises, and having seen an autistic child who did not respond as well to regular work doing the same; this writer feels that there is sometimes justification for such uses of computers. Each teacher will have to decide upon his or her own answer to this question after observations of such uses in a variety of situations.

The answer to Question 8 must be decided upon in the same way as the answer to Question 7. Once again, on writer feels that for activities for some students while the teacher is busy doing direct teaching with other students is a justified use. Each educator will have to make a decision based upon his or her own experience.

The answer to Question 9 is available through studying current computer instructional materials and observing the classroom use of these materials: A single teacher is usable to give instant feedback to individual students working on practice activities following direct instruction, but a computer can provide such feedback without tying up the teacher with a single child when others need attention. In addition, the visual displays provided with some of the computer, programs: can frequently be more motivational for children oriented to video games and television presentations than verbal reinforcement techniques used by many teachers. However, the quality of programs; reinforcement techniques, and motivational techniques vary greatly, and for every program that offers qualities that would be more beneficial than the typical non-computerized activities used by teachers, there are a number that would be no more beneficial, or perhaps even less beneficial. Computer-assisted instruction is only as good as the software programmers have made it, and, although there are some fine programs on the market, there are also some extremely poor ones.

Based upon experience, observation, and study of the literature, this writer would answer Question 10 in the following way. Ask yourself whether the program is designed to accomplish an objective that you need to accomplish in your reading program. Make sure that the program is aimed at the age group of children that you are teaching. Try out the program to assure yourself that it has no errors of fact, it offers no undesirable forms of feedback to the students, it does not violate accepted pedagogical practices; and is :easy to use. Brochures about a program or even reviews of it are not likely to give you the information you need to make final decisions about the program. You must see for yourself how the program attempts to meet its stated goals.

Computer technology is a fact in education today. We as educators - must answer questions about how this technology will affect the student's learning in our areas of responsibility.

-o0o-


[Spelling Progress Bulletin, Summer 1983, p16]

If you're not a good speller, take heart, by Andy Rooney*

* Tribune Co. Syndicate, Orlando, Fla, Sentinal, circa Jan. 7, 1983.

Andy Rooney
English is a great language - probably the best, but you have to admit it isn't perfect. Learning to spell in English, for example, can be difficult because it doesn't always make any sense.

The Director of an organization called "Better Education Thru Simplified Spelling" in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., has been trying to convince a lot of people that we ought to simplify the way we spell many English words. It's an old idea that's never really caught on, but there are always people who won't give up.

It's easy to come up with examples of inconsistencies in the spelling of our native tongue.
Why, for instance, is "tongue" spelled t-o-n-g-u-e when "lung" is spelled simply l-u-n-g?

This crazy spelling we have makes things difficult to write, right? - that's w-r-i-t-e and r-i-g-h-t, right?

Although both are pronounced the same, neither bears any relation to a ceremony or a rite, r-i-t-e; right.

This Better Education Thru Simplified Spelling group wants to know how come f-r-e-e-z-e spells "freeze" but p-l-e-e-z-e doesn't spell "please".

Do we really need the silent "b" in "thumb", the ""l" in "could", or the "k" in "knife", or is it just "dumb" spelling?

They want to know why, if t-o is pronounced "to", g-o isn't pronounced "goo".
They have a point.

The BETSS organization suggests some simple rule changes for spelling. Among them are:

These people advocating simplified spelling have logic and good sense on their side, but they're fighting a losing battle. They just aren't ever going to talk us into spelling "women" w-i-m-m-i-n or "professional" p-r-o-f-e-s-h-u-n-a-l. I think probably they'll win out with words like "telefone" "foto and "tho". "Thru" is already established in many highway signs.

Sentimentally I'm on their side, but I'm never going to change. I'm going to go on misspelling the same words I always have. I lost my big argument in matters like these when I started this column. I said I wanted to leave out the apostrophe in words like "dont", "wont',' and "isnt." The syndicate said newspapers wouldn't stand for it, so I haven't changed my spelling.

-o0o-


In meny foren languages, if you can pronounce a word, you can spell it. Why not in English?

Where would we be today without progress?

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