Instructional software is a term used for computer programs that are used for instruction in some way. I have written about various types of Instructional Software, some examples of how I might use it in my classroom, and the relative advantage that they would provide for the content area of First Grade Writing.
Drill-and-practice software provides exercises for students to work on specific skills after instruction is given. Examples are used and typically problems are worked on one at a time. Immediate feedback is given. There are different types of drill-and-practice functions. These range from the most basic in flash card activity to the more sophisticated and complex with extensive feedback activities. Flash card activity is where a student may see one problem at a time, the student chooses or types an answer, and then receives positive or negative feedback, depending on whether the answer is correct or not. In extensive feedback activities students receive more than just right or wrong feedback. The feedback can be very detailed and often resembles that of a tutorial. The function of the drill should still remain practice after instruction. The benefits of using drill software compared to paper and pencil worksheets include immediate feedback, increased motivation, and saving the teacher time. There are a few criticisms as well. They include instructional overuse and misuse and the use of drill-and-practice contradicts the constructivists approach.
While we encourage inventive spelling for most of the writing in First Grade, high frequency words or Sight Words are expected to be spelled correctly by the end of the year. Some examples of drill-and-practice software that can be used are apps such as Sight Word Learning Games, Phonics Spelling and Sight Words, and Sight Words: Phonics Bug.
The use of practice-and-drill through apps gives immediate and private feedback which is individualized for each student. Often with the use of technology, students are highly motivated to practice and learn, especially when compared to paper and pencil activities. These apps save time for the teacher not only with preparation, but also with grading.
Tutorial software provides instruction on a topic that would be similar to instruction given in a classroom by a teacher. This instruction is expected to be self-contained rather than used as a supplement. Tutorial software is categorized as linear or branching. Linear tutorials are simple and gives the same instruction, practice and feedback to all learners. Branching tutorials are more sophisticated. Students can take different paths depending on material already mastered. When selecting tutorial software, there are standards that should be met. These standards include extensive interactivity, thorough user control, appropriate pedagogy, adequate answer-judging and feedback capabilities, appropriate graphics and/or video and adequate record keeping. The benefits of tutorials are the same as drill-and-practice including immediate and private feedback, motivation, and saves time for the teacher. Some of the criticism that comes with tutorials are similar to the drill-and-practice in that it contradicts the constructivists approach instead of hands-on learning experiences. Also, of concern is the lack of well designed products.
I have not had much luck finding many examples of tutorials for First Grade writing. Most tutorials are geared toward students who are older and can read well. Most First Graders do not fall into this category at the beginning of the year and sometimes not even at the end. I found a website called IXL that covers many subjects. There is a section for Language Arts that provides good tutorials for several language arts skills that would help students with their writing. The one negative is that the actual tutorial part is only written and does not have the option to be read aloud to the student. However, this website provides instruction with drill-and-practice combined. Mobymax has an excellent tutorial for writing, but again, it requires independent reading. All of the tutorial is spoken, but the required reading limits the full benefits of using this as a stand alone instructional component.
The use of tutorials provides an advantage of offering instruction that can stand on its own as well as the same advantages that drill-and-practice provide (immediate and private feedback, motivation, and saves time for the teacher).
Simulation software is used to model how real systems work. Learners choose their own tasks and the order in which to do them. The two categories for how students interact with simulations are physical and iterative. Physical simulations allow students to manipulate things on the screen. Iterative simulations are used to either speed up or slow down processes that would ordinarily happen very slowly or very quickly. This allows students to see the entire process take place in a timely, effective manner. There are two categories that teach how to do something. They are procedural and situational. Procedural teaches the step-by-step process. Situational presents hypothetical problems where the students have to react and solve. The benefits of using simulation software include the ability to compress time, slow down processes, get students involved, make experimentation safe, make the impossible possible, save money and other resources, allow repetition with variations, and allow observation of complex processes. There are some concerns as well including criticism of virtual lab software, accuracy of models, and instructional misuses.
Some examples of using simulation software for First Grade Writing would be to show how to write step-by-step instructions or details. This teaches the students how important details are in a story and that leaving details out could result in an incomplete final product. It also can be used to teach sequencing. Using sequencing apps such as StepByStep Sequencing for Kids and Adults, Speech with Milo: Sequencing, and Go Sequencing can provide a visual for the students. They can use the visual to then describe the process or sequence in words.
The relative advantage of using stimulation software is that it provides visuals of sequencing and step-by-step details for the First Grade students. It gets students involved, allows for time to be compressed, and it allows for repetition with variations. It also allows students to watch the sequence repeatedly in order to be able to write the process down on their own. This will help with providing understanding of the sequence as well as understanding that details matter.
Instructional games are software products that add rules and competition to any learning activity. Instructional games bring a different connotation for students compared to drill-and-practice or simulation software. Students expect a game-like atmosphere where it is fun, competitive, and winning is a possibility. Instructional games must include game rules, competition, and entertaining formats. Teachers can use criteria to effectively choose instructional games. They include appealing and appropriate formats and activities, instructional value, where the physical dexterity is reasonable, and social, societal and cultural considerations are addressed. The benefits of using instructional games is that students seem to have a desire to compete and play games. Some instructional software allows teachers to generate the content. Instructional games also are criticized from standpoints such as learning versus having fun. Some other concerns are that there is confusion of game rules and real-life rules, inefficient learning, and classroom barriers.
Again, writing is a tough content area to find instructional games software. However, with the use of Jeopardy Rocks, several different categories relating to writing can be used. Categories such as grammar, sight words, punctuation, adjectives, and many more will provide good content review in a game-like atmosphere.
The use of instructional games, Jeopardy Rocks specifically, provides a game to practice multiple elements of writing. It allows the teacher to generate content. This also will be a time saver since once a game is created, it can be used again with different classes. With any instructional game, motivation and the appeal of competition also becomes an advantage.
Problem-solving software provides skills or approaches to general problem-solving skills. There are two main approaches used. They are content-area problem-solving skills and content-free problem-solving skills. Content-area is directed toward motivating students to solve problems just like in everyday life. Content-free is directed to help students practice skills for specific problems. Three benefits of using problem-solving software is that it promotes visualization in mathematics problem solving, improves interest and motivation, and prevents inert knowledge. Some limitations and problems relating to problem-solving software include names versus skills, software claims versus effectiveness, and lack of skill transfer.
I mentioned above the use of sequencing apps which could also be used as problem-solving software which is age appropriate for First Grade. We write about all different things in First Grade. The kids can use the problem-solving app Inventioneers to learn about physics and create their own inventions. The kids can then write a story about their invention and the details surrounding how they built it.
Using problem-solving software provides practice of problem solving skills. Providing students with challenging activities can motivate students to spend more time on the specific topic. It also prevents inert knowledge by using illustrations where students can apply their skills. Using the Inventioneers app will provide the practice of problem-solving skills while allowing the students to create their own invention. When students create something of their own, they take ownership and pride in writing about it and learning as much as they can about it.
Roblyer, M. (2016). Integrating Educational Technology into Teaching (7th ed.). Massachusetts: Pearson.