Choosing the Right Technology for Reading

Top 6 mistakes to avoid when teaching non-fiction reading comprehension.  

Top Mistake # 3: Water Down Information for Struggling Readers

GUEST COLUMN | by Harriet Isecke

Students of today face many challenges. They are entering a world that is changing at an unprecedented pace. Students face an uncertain future where they will undoubtedly need to be able to acquire new skills, and solve new problems, that are unknowable at the present moment.

Teachers need to prepare students for these immense challenges. Educators need more effective and efficient ways of meeting the needs of diverse groups of students.

Students at all skill levels need to be taught rigorous, thought provoking, grade-appropriate information. If we continually water down information for students who struggle with reading, we will only widen the gap between those who can achieve and those who cannot.

Effective Technology and Reading

One of the great advantages of technology is that students can read the same information at different readability levels, and have access to the individual support systems needed.

Effective technology can determine how much, and what types of support, a student needs to answer questions correctly, and then adjust both the text and the supports to target their individual needs. Students should be able to read 96%-100% of a text, with ease, for it to be on their independent level and 90-95% of a text, with ease, for it to be at their instructional level. Text that they read with less than 90% accuracy is at the frustration level.

Think about it this way.

If you stumbled over more than 1 out of every 10 words when you read, how likely would you be to continue to read and try to make sense of the text?


The challenge is to find software that is written on many different levels with the same information, text organization, pictures, and captions. And there is never a one size fits all solution.

In fact, the same student will read about a familiar topic of special interest at a higher level than an unfamiliar one. The text should look the same at all levels, with the same paragraph structure, so that no student feels embarrassed.

Students should also be required to answer the same high-level thinking questions. If we continually water down questions for struggling readers, they never learn how to think strategically and construct deep meaning from text.

Support systems must be scaffolded. Students who need additional support should receive that support automatically from a well-constructed program. That assistance should be respectful and leave room for students to think as independently as possible.

Students, who do not need any special support, should be able to work more independently. If students receive too much unnecessary assistance, they learn to lean on this assistance like a crutch.

Online Programs

One way to find leveled text for students is to use online programs where all students have access to the same rich information, but where the readability levels of the text, and the support systems provided, adjust to the individual user.

Be careful to choose programs that automatically adjust to students’ individual needs. If not, you either have to disrupt your teaching to make the necessary adjustments yourself, which can be daunting, or run the risk of turning students off to reading altogether.

When students are continually assigned texts that are too challenging, they become frustrated and more often than not, decide that it’s not worth their time and effort. The best software programs teach students the strategies and skills they need to construct text meaning, and then give them lots of practice using these skills to understand grade-appropriate, interesting and relevant information.

Concept density can also be a serious problem for students who struggle with new information. Content should be broken into manageable segments for these students, and as they read, they should be asked many questions to ensure that they understand each new concept as they read. This prevents frustration and allows students to build up a repertoire of information that they can use to make good connections.

Printable Materials

If you are looking for free strategy graphic organizers that will help your students understand text, or lesson plans that support strategic thinking, there are many websites that you may find useful, here are a couple to get you started:

A useful Website for free Graphic Organizers and Nonfiction Teaching Ideas go to learning resources (on the top menu bar) at caboces.org

A useful website for Strategic Lesson Plans: http://www.readworks.org/lessons/grades

In the next edition, learn some ways to avoid mistake # 4: Teach content-based vocabulary out of context.

Harriet Isecke is an award-winning author, educator, and CEO / founder of Mtelegence, d.b.a. Readorium, an adaptive science reading comprehension program recommended by the National Science Teachers Association. A Cool Tool Award Finalist in The EdTech Awards 2016 from EdTech Digest, Readorium won the 2018 International Reimagine Award for K-12 Education, and earned a 2016 CODiE Award for Best Reading Solution. Write to: harriet.isecke@readorium.com  

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