Using adaptive technology to increase science comprehension.
GUEST COLUMN | by Harriet Isecke
Reading comprehension in the U.S. is one of the greatest crises facing our nation today. The problem is only exacerbated when it comes to reading nonfiction text, especially in science. If we wish to remain globally competitive, we must find a way to help all our students read.
How Serious is the U.S. Reading Problem?
To realize the depth of the reading problem, we first need to examine the dismal results of our students on national assessments. About two-thirds of our 4th, 8th, and 12th graders, and a whopping 85% of economically disadvantaged students, scored below the proficient level in reading on the last three national assessments (NCES). U.S. students also ranked poorly on science assessments when compared to their counterparts in other developed nations (USED, NCES, 2013). Students who score below the proficient level in reading have difficulty determining a text’s purpose, locating information, making inferences, summarizing text, and interpreting word meaning. Without these skills, students cannot become independent learners and thinkers.
The Link between Reading Comprehension and Science Success
The importance of science education is undeniable. When students understand science, they discover how the world works. Science teaches students to think critically and to test what they observe. Our future well-being depends on problem solvers who can help us meet
Educators have the power to touch the future. It is our responsibility to target instruction so all of our students can be successful.
the challenges we will face. However, the link between science learning and reading comprehension is clear. Students cannot become self-actualized learners, and true problem solvers, unless they learn to read science text.
Science in early grades is usually exciting because it is hands-on. But once students are required to read science text, that joy can quickly fade. This typically happens in middle and high school, when students are required to learn increasingly abstract material. Struggling readers find science text especially challenging because of the specialized vocabulary and the density of the new and unfamiliar concepts. Too often, students become discouraged and decide they hate science because it is “boring” or “difficult.”
We must ensure that every child is prepared for the challenges they will undoubtedly face in this rapidly changing global information age. Instead of watering down curriculum for those who struggle, we must differentiate instruction so that all students can comprehend grade-appropriate information. But how exactly can this be accomplished?
Meaningful differentiation can be a daunting task for teachers. The human mind is an incredible tool for categorizing and grouping. However, it is very difficult for teachers to create 25 variations on a lesson for a classroom with 25 students. And it is almost impossible to effectively manage a classroom that accommodates individual needs.
How Software Can Help Teachers Differentiate Instruction
Software can provide meaningful assistance to educators when it comes to differentiating instruction. Well-constructed programs can easily individualize instruction. A computer can keep track of each student’s responses, and can use this information to continually adapt instruction to students’ changing needs. But, of course, this only works if the software is of the highest quality.
In order to determine what high quality reading software looks like, we must first examine the research findings on improving comprehension. According to the Institute of Education Sciences (the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education) there are three basic ways to improve comprehension. First, students must learn and practice strategies that will enable them to become thoughtful analytic readers. This type of strategic thinking needs to be practiced within many different contexts. Next, students need to master the word-learning skills that will enable them to infer the meaning of new academic vocabulary. Finally, students need text they can read as well as individualized help at points of confusion so they don’t become frustrated and give up.
How to Choose Effective Software
Students at all skill levels can benefit greatly from carefully constructed software that allows them access to the same rigorous content. This can only be accomplished if they receive both the support and leveled text they need as they read. When choosing appropriate science software here are questions to keep in mind:
- Is the program intuitive and easy for students to use independently?
- Is it highly motivating?
- Does the software contain grade-appropriate, accurate, and meaningful content at different readability levels?
- Do the text levels and the supports provided automatically adapt to each student’s changing needs?
- Are students taught the strategies and word-learning skills needed to comprehend the text?
- Are students required to interact with the text so they are continually engaged as they read?
- Do students receive timely and appropriate feedback?
- Is independence fostered? Is the assistance students receive scaffolded so that they do not depend on it as a crutch?
- Do teachers and administrators receive the data needed to make effective instructional decisions?
- Are additional resources provided to educators based on student data so that they can easily target instruction?
Educators have the power to touch the future. It is our responsibility to target instruction so all of our students can be successful. Using carefully constructed adaptive technology to increase science comprehension can help us achieve just that!
Harriet Isecke served in public education for over four decades as a teacher, literacy coach, curriculum director, and consultant. She is an award winning author of children’s fiction books, reader’s theater plays, differentiated instructional materials, and the book, Backwards Planning: Building Enduring Understanding through Instructional Design. Harriet was listed in Who’s Who Among American Educators and has presented at the International Literacy Association Conference several times. She is the CEO and Founder of Readorium. Go to http://www.readorium.com to learn more about this program.