COMPUTE! ISSUE 106 / MARCH 1989 / PAGE 15
Give Your Child's Reading Skills a Big Boost-Turn On the Computer
"What can I do to help my daughter improve her reading comprehension skills?" inquired a concerned friend recently. "Is there computer software that would help? Should I hire a tutor? We're not sure what to do," he continued.
His problem is not unique. All parents want the best for their children. Most recognize the importance of a solid education. Most understand that reading is the cornerstone of learning.
Without good reading skills, children have a tough time in school. How can a child who can't read a newspaper follow current events in history? How can a nonreader solve word problems in math? The ability to comprehend written material is an absolute necessity.
Educators recognize the problem. Progressive administrators encourage the use of alternative (non-reading-related) teaching strategies wherever appropriate. Some state education departments have even instituted policies that require teachers to read tests to nonreaders. Although audiovisual approaches, hands-on learning, and coverup "That's OK, I'll read it to you" strategies can be effective in some situations, nothing can compensate for an inability to read well.
But can computers and software help? Yes.
Teachers of remedial reading have been using computer software effectively for years. In fact, there is enough good software available to bankrupt all but the wealthiest parents. That's the good news.
The bad news is that learning to read takes time, patience, and infinite practice. If a magic formula exists in software or elsewhere, I'm not aware of it. But a carefully planned program of regular reading practice and computer-based study can produce excellent results over time. With that in mind, you might want to consider the following software packages.
Optimum Resources' Vocabulary Development (Apple II, and IBM PCs and compatibles) is suitable for elementary-age youngsters; the program includes lessons about synonyms, antonyms, homophones (such as hear and here), prefixes, suffixes, multiple meanings, and the use of context clues. The program keeps a record of results and advances students to more difficult lessons as they succeed. Parents can even include their own word lists in custom lessons. When your children have finished all seven levels, why not reward them with Reading Comprehension (ages 9-12, also from Optimum Resources) or another reading program of their choice? Everybody wins!
Another excellent vocabulary package is Davidson's Word Attack! (Apple II, Macintosh, IBM PCs and compatibles with CGA, Atari 8-bit, and Commodore 64/128). The program disk presents 675 words in four formats: word displays, sentence completions, multiple-choice quizzes, and the simple, but strangely captivating, WordAttack! game. Parents and students can add their own word lists-a great way to learn classroom vocabulary lists. Davidson offers additional vocabulary disks for grades 2-9, as well as a special SAT data disk. Word Attack Plus adds foreign language capabilities and many other new features to the original Word Attack! program.
For attacking reading comprehension skills more directly, consider Davidson's Read N Roll (Apple II, and IBM PCs and compatibles with CGA). The publisher recommends it for grades 3-6, but a built-in editor lets teachers or parents enter passages of any difficulty level. Students read from passages on disk and then answer questions about main ideas, facts, sequencing, inferences, and vocabulary.
MECC's Those Amazing Reading Machines series (Apple II) provides hours of challenging and enjoyable reading comprehension practice for children in grades 3-6. Each edition invites readers to get involved by rearranging misplaced paragraphs, fixing inaccurate descriptive paragraphs, or analyzing Rube Goldberg-style contraptions. If your child daydreams through the words and misses the meaning, this series can really help. Keep a close eye, though: Frustrated children get discouraged easily.
For sheer reading pleasure, it's tough to beat Scholastic's Twistaplots (Apple II). Each story includes several plot paths-as a story progresses, readers respond to questions, and their answers change the story line. No one knows how things will turn out until it's over. Children might even enjoy writing short plot summaries for each new ending. Although Twistaplots stories can be purchased separately, the best way to get them is by buying Scholastic's Microzine (grades 4-8) or Microzine Jr. (grades 1-4) by subscription or by the issue.
Remember: Learning to read takes time and practice. Parents who help their children discover its pleasures, though, will be amply rewarded for years to come.
David Stanton can be contacted via CompuServe (72407,102) or by mail at P.O. Box 494, Bolivar, New York 14715.