TELE-Web Aids Reading and Writing Skills

At Lansing’s Post Oak Elementary School, a class is working on a project designed to help them with reading and writing skills. They are using the Technology Enhanced Learning Environment-Web (TELE-Web), a curricular approach to support the literacy performance of emergent readers and writers, including students with mild learning disabilities.

TELE-Web, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, is directed by Carol Sue Englert, professor of counseling, educational psychology and special education, and Yong Zhao, assistant professor of educational psychology. The primary focus of TELE-Web will be on the development and evaluation of a literacy curriculum for elementary students with mild learning disabilities using computer-based hypermedia and computer technology.

Designed to allow teachers to support beginning readers through the design of software components where children can "visit" the various rooms related to literacy, including reading, writing, research and publication, the TELE-Web project builds upon the notion that the restructuring of schools is enhanced when teachers and students engage in the construction of a knowledge-building discourse as they participate in learning communities. TELE-Web has a number of built in features that provide motivational, cognitive and meta-cognitive support to emergent as well as proficient writers.

"TELE-Web evolved from an earlier project. At that time I was thinking more about software," said Englert. "I was thinking about using CD-ROMs in an interactive way, so we had written a proposal to develop ‘learning to learn’ environments and processes where the students would produce an expository report, but the audience would be their classmates or their parents."

"What Yong brought was this capability to do Internet-based software. So, instead of having a limited audience in the classroom, we had kids who could do research and produce reports on the Internet and have real distant audiences."

Students use the TELE software to create and read texts that are in a collective project database on the Internet. TELE students can search the database for information, organize notes into informational structures, publish their notes, comment on other students’ notes, and publish reports and stories.

Through this approach, students can generate solutions to problems that they identify as they address the larger problem identified in the assignment. Deeply rooted in successful practices of literacy learning, TELE-Web pushes the technological limits to provide teachers and students with a full range of tools to facilitate the development of reading, writing, and critical skills. Cutting-edge computer technology such as speech synthesis, Java applets, and advanced component software architectures are integrated to make this Web-based environment engaging, challenging, and supportive.

The overwhelming majority of children with mild handicaps experience difficulty both in comprehending and composing text. The children experience frustration not only with "paper and pencil" school tasks, but also with the demands of critical thinking and problem solving. Many of these children do not have well-developed concepts of what it means to read and write.

"We’re talking about kids that go all the way to nonreaders," Englert says. "We want their stories, which they write, to be read back to them so that they have a connection between what they write and what is spoken."

There are reading, writing and publishing environments in TELE-Web, and students can designate who they publish to, whether within their class or anyone on the world wide web who accesses the site. This gives the students the ability to choose an audience.

"Being an Internet-based program, TELE-Web can evolve constantly, unlike software that would need to be updated on each computer in the school," adds Englert. "If we designed a software and put it out for commercial use, it is very packaged, very set. You can’t alter it. But teachers can fine tune, adjust or create assignments for particular children.

"One second grader with a learning disability started out an early journal entry with ‘I am a stupid.’ He had very, very low self esteem," says Englert. "All that year we worked on kids writing and expository reports and learning to learn, reading both narrative and stories and expository text. By the end of the year, he had written a five-paragraph report on sharks, which he had done on his own after he had been apprenticed in all the processes. And it was very well organized.

"Then he concludes, ‘I hope you like my shark report."

You can find TELE-Web at http://zhao.educ.msu.edu/tele/  (Log in TELE-Web by using teacher/teacher or student/student.).