Monday, April 30, 2007

Software Evaluation 3: Reading Smart

Title of Software: ESL Reading Smart

Producer: Alloy Multimedia, Inc., Houston, Texas

Target students: Grades 4-12

Proficiency level
: They provide help for students from Newcomers to Advanced, with four different levels. I've chosen to review "Beginner" or ESL Level 1.

Description: ESL Reading Smart is based on improving ELLs' reading proficiency (and test scores) through guided, scaffolded practice that provides spoken, written, and graphic support for readers at various levels. For the "Reading Selections" section, they provide choices of five different types of genres ranging in scope from literary to informative passages (no functional passages). The passages are illustrated, with an option to listen to it or read it oneself. The creators of the software provide lesson plans for the teachers (chosen according to either student level or selected genre).

This program is colorful and bright, but not too busy. The producers included enough graphic support for it to be helpful to ELLs, but not enough to be too distracting. They have kept reading as the main focus. It looks very nice, and there are a variety of tasks for the students, from Pre-reading to follow up activities. The lesson plans for teachers are detailed, with several printable components, as well as instructions for in-class interaction and modeling on the board. It (the lesson plan) comes close to how the teacher would normally go through the reading process--with graphic organizers and vocabulary practice, etc., and it provides options for arranging the introduction and practice of various tasks/activities (such as the vocabulary, grammar, and writing components). Each passage provides writing practice as well, depending on the level.

Although I figured it out after a few tries, I found a few functionality quirks with the software. navigating through the system was not entirely straightforward, even though the activities were interesting once I got there. The students would need a tutorial on the system, just as when they use any other new software. One glitch was that in the story ("myths and legends") on the Mayan Creation, when I tried the word search, the screen would go blank. This activity worked in the Haiku lesson, however. So, the functionality is not perfect, but there are some real positives here.

One wonderful thing the authors have provided is a wealth of cultural options. In each genre I saw, there were selections from Asia, Africa, South America, Europe, and North America. This is a great way to show the students we value their cultures and for them to learn about each other's cultures. Plus, for beginning students, there is a lot of usefulness in providing a story that is familiar to the ELL from their own background.

Language skills targeted: Primarily Reading and Writing

What are the program’s strengths or weaknesses? As noted above, the strengths here are that the authors have considered and included a nice variety of genres and of multicultural, diverse stories. The detailed lesson plans for teachers make it very user-friendly. I like that the authors assume the teacher will be a present and active participant in using this software and in the children's reading experience, even though there are some sections students can complete on their own.

Do you feel it would be effective for helping ELLs learn English? Why or why not? Sure I do; anything that will motivate our ELLs to read in English is a positive! I think the stories are high interest and diverse enough to motivate the students, especially if the teacher varies the readings and/or gives the students some free choice in what they will be reading.

Would you use it in your classroom? Why or why not? Yes, it would be a good way to provide some variety during the reading lessons, and it would be good for the students to have as an option for their silent reading time.

What method or approach to language teaching does this program appear to represent? It seems to be in the realm of whole language instruction, although I know that term has "gone underground." It is definitely written with a top-down perspective.

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