Software Program Helpful to Beginning Literacy Teachers

Published April 1, 2006

Substantial research suggests high-quality literacy instruction should include phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, reading fluency, and reading comprehension strategies. Developed by Diane Snowball–a literacy expert and president of AUSSIE (Australian and United States Services in Education), Inc.–“Teaching Comprehension” is an interactive professional development course designed to provide teachers the necessary strategies specifically targeted toward improving students’ reading comprehension.

The course, available online at, can be taken by several teachers at once if the learning modules are projected onto a screen instead of being previewed individually.

Comprehension is broken into six modules: Prediction/Prior Knowledge, Questions and Questioning, Think Aloud, Text Structure & Features, Visualizing, and Summarizing. Having taught two years of literacy skills at the middle-school level and two years of reading to first-graders while working as a teacher in DuPage and Cook counties in Illinois, I am an advocate of explicitly teaching these skills and providing repeated opportunities to practice what is learned.

However, the software leaves something to be desired as far as user-friendliness is concerned. Until deactivated, a message repeatedly popped up to inform me that running active content can harm my computer. In order to run the software, I had to deactivate my antivirus program when moving to a new window–something I’ve never had to do with other software.

Each module has a written section that introduces what the module is about and provides instructional strategies that can be used with a whole class or small groups, or as individual exercises to teach that particular element of comprehension. For the teacher who has not had formal training in teaching reading, this can be an invaluable resource because it lists in one place useful teaching strategies designed to help students with each of the six elements that contribute to reading comprehension.

Downloadable Files

The best part of the program is its downloadable files. Each module includes a resource bank of lessons and activities that accompany the overview of the topic. These are subdivided into whole-class instruction, small-group instruction, individual practice, general comprehension activities, and assessment.

I found it confusing that what I consider to be phonics is covered as a resource in the Prediction/Prior Knowledge category. Prediction is about using prior knowledge and context clues to determine what might happen next. Yet, in the Prediction/Prior Knowledge resource bank, many of the downloadable files have to do with phonics, not prediction.

Teachers can download a whole-class resource sheet called “Seeing Patterns: Hearing Sounds.” On this reproducible resource are common spelling patterns and the sounds they represent. I can definitely see how this information is valuable when determining a particular spelling-sound relationship to sound out unfamiliar print. For example, one sample off this list is the pattern sound “ch,” which takes a variety of sounds depending on where it falls in a word: chair, machine, school, yacht, choir, sandwich. But I don’t consider this a comprehension strategy, yet that’s the module this resource appeared in.

The other sections had more relevant activities. For example, in Text Structure & Features, many of the activities are designed to help students utilize specific text structures and features encountered in expository text.

Good for Starters

Another set of useful tools is the multimedia resources. Each module has several audio or video components to showcase teachers implementing teaching techniques. I have always found it helpful to watch another teacher implement a strategy, and this software provides that–each module has several audio or video components showing teachers using different techniques in various settings.

Some of the instructional approaches include students responding to a Directed Reading Thinking Activity, shared reading, think alouds, and visualization responses to text. There are accompanying audio streams of teachers discussing the particular teaching strategies seen on the videos.

For teachers who haven’t had any formal training in literacy education, “Teaching Comprehension” provides easy access to standard teaching practices designed to help students with reading comprehension. Though some of the content, such as 360-degree virtual classrooms, weren’t linked to any particular instructional strategy, and the antivirus issue is a concern, this software provides a good place to start learning how to teach literacy.

Nancy Salvato ([email protected]) is president of The Basics Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal, and social issues important to our country.

For more information …

More information about the AUSSIE, Inc. “Teaching Comprehension” software is available online at