Monday, November 22, 2010

Improving Reading Fluency with Web Cams

While at my wife's bedside at the Cleveland Clinic last week, I ran across an interesting post on Twitter.  It offered a link to an article called, I Can See Me.  The article described a study by researchers at Kansas State University.  In a nutshell, they set up web cams and had children record videos of themselves as they read aloud.  The children then reviewed the videos and reflected on the fluency of their reading.  The researchers noted remarkable gains in reading skills as the students continued to critique themselves by observing the videos.

We practice a very structured form of readers' workshop.  Conferencing is an important component of the program.  Kids dread being called back to the table.  Most groan audibly when their names are called.  They know they will have to read out loud to me and listen to my observations and suggestions.

I have long known that when a student is permitted to control various technological devices they are more deeply engaged in the planned activity.  Would that be true here?  Would the groans again reverberate throughout my classroom?

My students are very familiar with Mac Books.  The love the built-in web cam and use the Photo Booth program to take pictures of themselves and each other.  They did not know Photo Booth will take videos as well.

To help me with my initial experiment, I enlisted the help of a student observer from a Computer Applications class at a local college.   She, too, was familiar with the Mac.  We each took a student and explained that they would be reading a page from their leveled reader.  They would not be reading for me.  They would be reading for themselves.  We showed them how to record a video and instructed them to read for a minute of time.  They were encouraged to read as naturally as they were able.  Then we stepped away.

When they finished, we sat with them and watched the video.  We didn't have to ask too many leading questions.  They wanted to describe every nuance of the experience.  We gave them suggestions on strategies to use and other things to consider as they continued reading.

Their excitement was contagious.  Everyone wanted to get into the act.  From the shyest to the most gregarious, each student wanted a turn in front of the camera.  Kids begging to read?  How could I deny them.  I started passing out Mac Books and gave everyone a chance to read for the camera.

Conferencing in my classroom will never again be boring or a source of anxiety for my students.  With the videos, essential discussions will be meaningful and encouraging.  I can't wait to see where this strategy takes us or how it impacts student learning.  I'll keep you posted.

Special thanks to Brian Kotts for posting the article on Twitter.


  1. Interesting. I'm working on incorporating the SMARTBoard for writing--similar idea!

  2. Very interesting Rick...I did the same thing with a first grade class last year with students reading in spanish. Just like in your experiment, the kids picked up on the things they wanted to improve right away. After the first take, the students furiously went back to their seats and practiced, practiced, practiced to make it perfect. I had not seen motivation to learn like this in a long time. After the second take for most students, they still wanted to improve their oral reading and fluency and now practiced with a friend and asked the friend to give them suggestions- now they were turning into the teachers. some students wanted to keep working on it well past reading time and were not satisfied after 7 takes!!!! Now that is motivation! We all had a blast watching the videos together in class and each student was proud of what they produced. I kept the many takes and showed the students individually how much they improved from the first take to the last. It was a true learning experience for all- including me!