With the ever-increasing pressure to meet Common Core standards, increased difficulty in testing, and the addition of 21st Century Learning Skills to the curriculum, modern teachers may find themselves feeling overwhelmed by sheer volume of material their students need to learn. Using instructional software can lighten the burden. When teachers incorporate instructional software appropriately into their lessons, they are preparing their students, even minimally, for success on the SBAC. If students use computers in class, they will develop basic computer literacy skills, like keyboard and mouse use, which will assist them in completing the SBAC on computers. Roblyer and Doering (2013) describe 5 functions of instructional software: drill and practice, tutorial, simulation, instructional game, and problem solving (p. 78).
Drill and practice software allows students to work examples and receive immediate feedback. One problem that must be addressed in 7th grade language arts is grammar. By 7th grade, some students have mastered the parts of speech and basic capitalization and punctuation rules. These students are ready to write more complex sentences, and to use more complex punctuation. They are ready for verbal phrases and semi-colons. Many other students, however, vary in their ability to distinguish adjectives from verbs and do not capitalize or punctuate. While all students may benefit from instruction on phrases and clauses, many need a review on the parts of speech before they will understand this instruction. One software solution to this problem is a program called noredink. NoRedInk gives students practice identifying the basic parts of speech as well as practice working with more advanced grammar topics. The benefit of using a drill and practice program is that teachers can differentiate instruction based on student needs.
Tutorial Software is “an entire instructional sequence on a topic, similar to a teacher’s classroom instructions” (Roblyer and Doering, 2013, p. 86). Ideally, students should be able to learn the topic from the tutorial without help or supplementary materials. One problem all teachers face, but especially ELA teachers, is helping English Learners acquire the language. My district has chosen to use Rosetta Stone to solve this problem. Rosetta Stone teaches students vocabulary and grammar. It incorporates speaking and listening skills as well as reading and writing. The benefit of using Rosetta Stone is that it allows the student to track her/his own progress. One drawback to Rosetta Stone’s new setup is that teachers do not have access to student progress.
Instructional Games allow students to review information. One problem 7th grade students have in research and writing is that they do not cite their sources. An instructional game like the Plagiarism game by Lycoming College would be beneficial. It requires students to correctly answer questions about citation in order to catch goblins and move on to the next level. The benefit of using a game like this is that the students are motivated to beat the game and will look up the answers if they do not know them. After playing this game, I would expect students to know how and when to cite sources. I would expect to see students use both in-text citations correctly as well as correct works cited pages.
Instructional Software is a boon to the modern teacher. While it is difficult to find instructional software specifically for the skills students need in 7th grade and above, good software does exist.
Roblyer, M. D. & Doering, A. H. (2013). Integrating educational technology into teaching. Boston: Pearson.