The votes are in, and Jane Addams, the social reformer and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, has been selected as the “American History Idol.” Inspired by the hit TV show American Idol, EDC created a curriculum unit where students write persuasive essays on key historical figures, and the class then votes on who had the greatest impact. To gather, organize, and present information for their essays, students use the software program Draft: Builder, originally developed at EDC and now published by Don Johnston, Inc. EDC staff will discuss how this and other technology tools can enhance learning in a Webinar on May 1st and repeated on the 14th.
“We’ll discuss why, how, and where teachers can combine technology tool with good instruction to meet students’ needs,” says EDC’s Judith Zorfass.
Zorfass and her colleagues Karen Clay and Elizabeth Fideler of EDC’s Center for Family, School, and Community will present “Enhancing Content Area Reading Comprehension Through Technology.” The session will focus on ways teachers can help students, particularly those who struggle to succeed in reading and writing, develop content area reading skills by linking “research-based literacy strategies,” such as questioning and summarizing, with technology tools. Drawing on their work in three different federally funded research projects, Zorfass, Fideler, and Clay will provide examples of how Draft: Builder was integrated into the grade 5 “American History Idol” curriculum unit, how Visual Thesaurus helped 8th grade students develop understanding of key vocabulary in social studies, and how SOLO was integrated into 10th grade biology units on homeostasis and genetics.
“Technology can support student understanding, particularly for those who are struggling,” says Clay. “The tension lies in how to bring technology into the classroom and how to integrate it with instruction in a meaningful way.”
In a classroom using the “American History Idol” curriculum and Draft: Builder,the teacher was concerned that some students were having trouble with basic writing skills, such as identifying main ideas, connecting them, and finding supporting details. “Literacy goes beyond decoding text—we must look at how the reading is interpreted and what is comprehended,” says Fideler.
“Comprehension is key,” she adds. “Many content area teachers do not see themselves as reading teachers, but if students cannot understand the material, how can they learn it?”
EDC trained teachers in the use of Draft: Builder, who in turn introduced the tool to their students. After reading a biography of the historical figure, students used the software to help them outline main ideas and identify supporting details. Draft: Builder was chosen because it enables customized presentation of text; provides navigational tools for movement within a document; presents visual representations of text, such as a concept map; and offers notational tools, such as electronic highlighting and note gathering.
“Technology alone is not enough to improve student achievement,” says Zorfass. “It should be intertwined with best teaching practices, with an eye on student needs and curriculum goals.”
The Webinar is a collaboration of the U.S. Department of Education’s Center for Implementing Technology in Education (CITEd) and Don Johnston, Inc.
Originally published on April 1, 2007