Getting a better read on students’ reading skills

Diagnostic Online Reading Assessment (DORA), created by Let’s Go Learn and distributed by Curriculum Associates, is another online tool being used to help improve reading. Theresa McKee, instructional supervisor for secondary English in Virginia’s Newport News Public Schools, said DORA’s individualized and differentiated assessments made the tool a must-have in her district. The program is used at all of the district’s middle schools and for some at-risk high school students.

“We administer the test to all middle school kids in the fall, about two or three weeks into the school year, and then we assess them again in April,” she said. “Teachers are then able to do individual conferences to talk about each student’s scoring.”

DORA quickly identifies student’s strengths and weaknesses. That helps teachers group students based on their skill level, so teachers can better provide individualized instruction.

DORA is a comprehensive, web-based assessment that diagnostically assesses students’ reading abilities. Functioning like a reading specialist, it adapts to students as they respond to each question in the online program, getting harder or easier as needed to complete the diagnosis. DORA’s interactive style is designed to make testing fun, engage students, and enable them to initiate tests remotely, its maker says. The assessment program uses visual and audio tools to help test students’ abilities.

McKee said she has seen DORA enable teachers to apply the appropriate strategies to help students improve their reading by one or two grade levels in a semester.

Support for reading on the go


An April paper, written by Nian-Shing Chen, Daniel Chia-En Teng, and Cheng-Han Lee and presented at the 2010 Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) International Conference on Wireless, Mobile, and Ubiquitous Technologies in Education, looked at the attempt to integrate the strengths of mobile technology into paper-based reading activities to enhance learners’ reading comprehension.

“While conventional print text provides very limited information in fostering learners’ comprehension, integrating mobile technology with paper prints is a possible way to offer learners essential content-related resources to make sense of the text,” they wrote.

The study from PBS Kids found that students who download mobile applications to their smart phones can boost their vocabulary significantly within just a few weeks.

The study found that vocabulary improved as much as 31 percent in children who played with the Martha Speaks Dog Party app, based on the popular PBS Kids’ television series Martha Speaks, about a dog who eats a bowl of alphabet soup and gains the power of human speech.

The app features four different games. For example, in “Chow Time,” children build vocabulary by helping dogs clean their plates—identifying different shapes (like “triangular” or “rectangular”), patterns, colors, and objects (from “astronauts” to “instruments” and “vehicles”). Martha, “the world’s only talking dog,” explains what each word means.

To see how well mobile apps can help students learn, the study first tested the vocabulary level of a group 90 Title 1 students, ages 3 to 7. Then, the children each were given two weeks with an iPod Touch containing the Martha Speaks app. The study followed how the students used the iPod, for how long, and in what context. A voice mailbox was created for parents to share their observations about their child’s experience.