When I was executive editor of Weekly Reader, I was often struck by how challenging it was to put together a weekly magazine for the lowest grades. Now, we faced similar challenges in developing a technology enhanced item (TEI) for first graders. They may be digital natives, but they are still 6 years old.
If you have been following our blog, you have seen our first two TEI prototypes. Our primary-grades team engaged in extensive discussions as they developed a technology enhanced item for Grade 1. Please watch this 4-minute video and use the Comments to give us feedback.
You may have noticed the TEI uses extremely simple navigational elements – right and left arrows, and one-word buttons in pop-ups. In every way, we minimized the text students have to read so they can focus on the content. There is some risk in using icons and one-word buttons, but we made a conscious decision not to use rollovers, in part because those won’t work on a tablet.
We used a simple typeface that uses the “ball-and-stick” forms of the letters a and g, which students first use in block printing. Font size, leading, line width, placement of clickable elements, and the overall look and feel of the TEI, including color choices, were all subjects of extensive discussion.
Next we needed to specify the range of functionality for the activities. The basic strategy of this TEI is to take students through four differentiated activities, each one increasing the challenge. At the fourth and highest level, students type in the word meanings they have read during the first three activities. The software has been programmed to accept a variety of answers as correct, but our team chose to require correct spelling.
At the start, the TEI automatically voices the text in which the key vocabulary words appear. The audio was carefully crafted to be automated, but we added the progress bar to allow self-paced progression. An image associated with each word pops up when that word is spoken. Students can click the eye icons to see a larger version of each image.
The direction lines on each screen read automatically, and the ear icon allows self-paced repetition. All of these techniques enhance the scaffolding, so students can understand their assigned tasks. Notice that these techniques result in a product that has some features of both instruction and assessment. Students can learn at least the narrow meanings of the three target words as they engage with the TEI. On the one hand, a TEI designed strictly for assessment, such as a high-stakes test, would not provide this much scaffolding. Contrast this with a full-blown vocabulary lesson developed in accordance with so-called robust-vocabulary practices – it would include several meanings for each word, would present the target words in a variety of contexts, and would be designed to achieve many such exposures to each word over the course of several days or even a few weeks.
We chose the middle road between these extremes. PLEASE GIVE US YOUR FEEDBACK. We’d love to hear your thoughts on developing technology enhanced items for the lower grades.
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