Can reading be taught on a computer?

I am hoping this post brings some comments and discussion.  I met with Clarence Rice today from innerWORKS.  This organization is interested in creating a ‘virtual museum’ of exhibits that show the effects of illegal drugs on the human body.  This is a wonderful idea that I hope works for him.  If you’re interested in finding out more follow this link.

However, this post isn’t about illegal drug use, it’s about computer technology and reading.  Rice and I discussed whether the low reading scores of Milwaukee Public School children could be enhanced with a similar product that he is proposing.  My stance, as an educator and a member of the technology world, is no.  I truly feel that the act of learning to read encompasses more than just the sense of sight.  I believe the touch of the book, the smell (yes smell) of the paper, and the sound of turning pages all enhance the experience.

The other part I think is essential to learning to read is the time spent, one on one, with either a teacher, parent or other family member.  It makes for a pleasant experience.

My younger son has dyslexia, so I can tell you first hand that I have tried many reading software programs to help him.  Some gave him encouragement (Fast Foreword) and a start on phonetics, but most just frustrated him and made him feel like he was a failure.  But that is just one case.  I am sure that there is a success story as well.  Still, reading and computers just feels too distracting to me.

When I used to work in the public school system as an integration specialist I would see students come into the computer lab to ‘work’ with their teachers.  Most of the time they would work on various computer programs.  Most of which taught in the form of a computer game.  Math, foreign language, basic web page design, and history were all enhanced through computer programs.  However, when I would discuss with the students about the specific game they were playing, they were more interested in earning points to play the game than the fact that they truly knew how to make change using the correct coins, or what exactly it meant when you needed to ‘forge a stream’ in a social studies program.

I have done research on the learning process and how the mind learns to read.  One such article, The Role of Computer Technology in Teaching Critical Reading by Sally Rings, PhD points out that “Before they begin, good readers inspect what they are to read, noting such aspects as the title, author, and chapters; then they place this reading into a category. As they read, they ask questions, note interesting features of the text, and draw on their experience as a reader”.

Now, to enhance reading or encourage more time spent learning to read a computer may not be a bad source.  I purchased a Kindle to assist my son with reading.  He hasn’t touched it – however – we have enticed my son by teaching him how to use the text function on his phone.  We don’t allow traditional texting, we encourage him to use this option to practice spelling as well.  OK, that is pretty tricky, but it is a way to make the technology work with us.

I leave this open to you – what are your thoughts…is it a good idea to teach reading with computer programs, or were Sally, Dick and Jane on the right track?

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