Computers in Classrooms and at Home

Recent advances in computer technology offer new support for reading instruction. Digitized and high-quality synthetic speech has been incorporated into programs focusing on phonological awareness and issues related to emergent literacy. These include letter-name and letter-sound knowledge, phonological decoding, spelling, and support for word decoding and comprehension while reading and writing stories. Computer speech, along with interesting graphics, animation, and speech recording, has supported the development of programs that are entertaining and motivating for both prereaders and beginning readers.

Talking books, widely distributed on CD-ROM, are among the most popular programs that claim to improve children’s reading. Book pages are presented on the computer screen, and children can select the whole text or specific words and phrases to be read aloud by the computer. The most popular products include many clever animations that are highly entertaining to children, perhaps so much so that they distract from the task of reading; children can often access the animations without paying any attention to the print.

Storybook software displays storybooks on the screen. The programs come not only with software but also with ordinary printed material available for use without a computer. Some are stand-alone titles, such as Living Books and Discuss books. Others are parts of larger sets, such as IBM’s Stories and More and Josten’s Dragontales.

Multimedia writing tools motivate children to talk with each other about their composing acts and their final compositions. Children integrate previously prepared background illustrations, their own drawings, and writing into either stand-alone papers or multimedia slide shows.

IBM’s Writing to Read program set the stage for classroom use of comprehensive literacy software programs for use in beginning reading instruction. The development of comprehensive literacy software for preprimary and primary-grade literacy has been accelerating, together with the more recent surge in the power/cost ratio of desktop computers. Comprehensive literacy software programs that have been developed more recently and for which systematic evaluation has begun include Foundations in Learning by Breakthrough to Literacy, Early Reading Program by Waterford, and the Little Planet Literacy Series by Young Children’s Literacy Project.

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