An interest in technology and a desire to help elementary school students prompted a Kansas State University professor and two graduate students to turn to webcams to improve students' reading fluency.
Timothy Frey, assistant professor of special education, counseling and student affairs, wanted to help elementary-age students reduce the number of errors they make when reading out loud. He worked with two K-State master's graduates: Abby Houlton, now a special education teacher at Brookridge Elementary School in the Shawnee Mission school district, and Elizabeth Gruis, who teaches in the Manhattan-Ogden school district.
The project aimed to improve reading fluency, which involves processing words in a meaningful way. When fluency improves, usually comprehension also improves.
"With testing and assessments, we know that generally the earlier you can catch things and find potential problems, the better off a student will be," Frey said. "This really can help students pick up on error patterns and help prevent them from having further reading problems."
The researchers turned to webcams, instead of audio recorders, to help students improve reading fluency. With webcams the students could both see and hear themselves read, which the researchers called the "I can see me" procedure.
During a 16-week period the researchers worked with teachers at Brookridge Elementary School to observe 27 second-, third-, and fourth-graders who tested on-grade level. The research actively involved the students. During designated reading time in class, the students went to the computers and read a selected reading sample in front of the webcams. Afterward, they could watch the video and pick out any mistakes.
"The video really seemed to change how students were engaged," Frey said. "They didn't just hear themselves read anymore, but they could see themselves reading, which they really liked."
All three student groups improved reading fluency in impressive ways. After only three to five weeks of using the webcams, the second-graders improved from averaging seven errors per minute to four errors per minute. Third-graders went from averaging six errors to four errors per minute. The group of fourth-graders improved from an average of four errors to two and a half errors per minute.
"We were really interested in interventions that students can do themselves or that build meta-cognitive skills," Frey said. "Having the students build skills and learn to detect their own errors rather than teachers trying to fix them over and over again is really important for students."
When one student excitedly said, "I can see me!" the researchers adopted the name for the principle of improvement using the webcams. Researchers said the students seemed to enjoy reading in front of cameras, and even students who disliked reading would read with the cameras.
"The students' ability to analyze their own reading through a guided discussion was truly what amazed me the most," Houlton said. "When I look at the big picture of what this project did, it was that it made the students more accurate readers because they were more aware of the mistakes they were making."
The researchers plan to use the webcams with other groups of students, such as students who are learning the English language, students with cognitive disabilities or students reading at a lower reading level. Houlton has also planned to use the webcams to help students prepare for oral presentations and understand geometry concepts, such as reflection.
"The students loved that I could make a DVD of their reading to show to their parents, or even e-mail the video to their parents," Houlton said. "We also saved videos throughout the year so they could see their improvement from the beginning of the year to the end of the year."
The researchers are preparing their research for publication and recently presented their project at the conference for the International Society for Technology in Education. Their research will also be published in the society's November magazine, Learning & Leading with Technology.