2001 Conference Proceedings

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Lucinda Ray
Director of Curriculum Development
Email: jray@intellitools.com 

Suzanne Feit
product Development and Training Specialist
Email: sfeit@intellitools.com 
IntelliTools, Inc.
1720 Corporate Circle
petaluma, CA 94954
phone: 707-773-2000
Fax: 707-773-2001


Reading is a crucial part of the learning process. Many children need extra support as they acquire the skills and experiences that will make them successful and confident readers. Because of physical or developmental disabilities, some children may be unable to hold a book or pencil, or handle a standard keyboard. Others may need extra visual or auditory reinforcement. Still others may need structured practice to master basic concepts.

IntelliTools has addressed the need for an excellent, research-based, accessible, reading program in the development of IntelliTools Reading: Balanced Literacy. This reading program was designed for all students, including those with physical or cognitive disabilities. IntelliTools Reading provides a balanced approach to early literacy instruction for beginning readers. It integrates guided reading, supported writing, and word study or phonics activities. Nine units, built around animal themes, engage students in a yearlong program designed to support and supplement their classroom language arts curriculum.

Students with disabilities are often at a disadvantage, as they can not access traditional reading programs or writing tools. IntelliTools Reading is completely accessible to children with special needs, including physical or learning disabilities and developmental delays. It can be used in a regular classroom, a full inclusion setting, a lab setting, or a resource program. Students can work independently or cooperatively. Record-keeping features are built into the program.

IntelliTools Reading contains the following important components in each of its nine units:

The Research

Based on the results of a preliminary research study, IntelliTools applied for and received a significant grant from the National Institute for Child Health and Development of the National Institutes of Health. The goal of this grant was to develop and evaluate an accessible beginning literacy program. As a first step, IntelliTools called together a group of experts in both the disability and literacy worlds to help us formulate guidelines for such a program. There was overwhelming agreement that a good reading program should be theme-based, stress the essential elements in teaching reading, and be accessible using a mouse, regular keyboard, IntelliKeys, and switches. Based on this input, pat Cunningham's Four Block Method - a widely accepted method of literacy instruction - was selected as a model.

A prototype was created and evaluated across the country during 1998-99, with a total of 32 first-grade students. These students involved in the study were located in six different classrooms across the country, from New Hampshire to California. The study was conducted by two groups of professional researchers who applied stringent standards for the design, collection, and interpretation of data. a

The 32 students in the experimental group were identified and selected for participation by their teachers. All 32 struggled with learning to read. Most either had, or were "at risk" for future identification of, learning disabilities. Some of the students in the experimental group had significant physical impairments.

The students in the experimental group who took part in the study worked with the first four units of the program for a total of 16 weeks of instruction. They used the program for approximately a half-hour per day. In addition to using the IntelliTools reading materials, they received whatever reading instruction was being taught in their first-grade classes.

The criterion group was comprised of 23 general education first-grade students who were members of the same general education classes as the experimental subjects at two sites. The students in the criterion group did not use the prototype or take part in the instruction it offered.

All students in both the experimental and criterion groups were pre- and post-tested. These tests were designed and administered by a special research team that did not include the teachers at any of the research sites. The phonemic awareness sub-tests were given orally. powerpoint was used to give the word measures tests. An IntelliKeys with Standard Alphabet Overlay and IntelliTalk with speech turned off were used to administer the writing/spelling tests. These pre-and-post tests are described below.


One of the pre- and post-tests was a quiz of the student's knowledge of onsets. Onsets are consonants and consonant clusters found at the beginning of single-syllable words. The onset is most clearly defined as all of the consonants that are found before the first vowel in a single-syllable word. Sixteen onsets were introduced in the first four units of the prototype of the reading program. Each of these onsets was tested both in pre- and post-tests. The criterion group scored on average 50% at pre-test. The experimental group's medial pretest score was zero. At the post-test, both groups showed marked improvement.


Rimes are clusters of letters that begin with the first vowel and continue to the end of the word in single-syllable words. While not all single-syllable words have an onset, they all have a rime. Rimes are also traditionally referred to as phonograms, word families or chunks. The researchers saw an interesting development during the span of pre- and post-tests on rimes. Some students in the experimental group started out knowing very few rimes, not surprising considering their lack of understanding of onsets. A few students showed a marked delay in understanding rimes, taking almost half of the 16-week instruction period to begin to show understanding. But, once a student began to catch on, he rapidly improved. Researchers felt this demonstrated support for having instruction in both onset and rime simultaneously. This allowed the subject to make immediate progress with onsets, make sense of the whole system and generalize knowledge to new rimes.

Word Identification

Word identification is the ability to re-code an individual word into a spoken word (or spoken word equivalent such as sign language or word spoken inside someone's head). The students were shown a list of 45 words, 15 words at a time. These words were divided into pre-primer, primer, and first-grade. Words were shown on-screen in powerpoint for 5 seconds. The student was allowed as long as necessary to respond. At pre-test, the experimental group scored an average of 8 words. Over the course of the 16 weeks of instruction they were able to double their median score.


Using an IntelliKeys and IntelliTalk with speech turned off, students were given 10 minutes to write as many words as they could. Their list was scored in two ways. The total number of words written was counted and each word was analyzed based on a three-point scale of developmental spelling. Students received points for correct spelling, words that were incorrectly spelled but recognizable, and random strings of letters. The gains overall for both groups were modest but the experimental group actually did better than the criterion group when comparing medians at the post-test.

Overall, at pre-test, the criterion group's scores were much higher than those of the experimental group. At post-test, both groups' scores had improved. However, the post-tests at the end of 16 weeks showed that the experimental group was performing at approximately the same level as the criterion group had been at pre-test, in most areas that the tests measured. Further, the experimental group demonstrated substantial gains, sometimes doubling or even quadrupling their initial median scores.

Of special interest to the researchers, children in the experimental group demonstrated gains not only in skills directly taught in the program, such as the ability to decode with onsets and rimes, but also in reading skills not specifically targeted by the program, such as phonemic awareness and developmental spelling. In addition, children in the experimental group were described by the teachers and adults who worked with them as coming to think of themselves as "readers", demonstrating increased confidence and motivation in reading.

The Reading program

IntelliTools Reading is based on pat Cunningham's Four-Block Method. The Four-Block Method proposes that a successful reading program must contain the four important components that researchers have found contribute to becoming a successful reader. These include guided reading, independent reading, word study (phonics), and writing. These critical components have been unified into a seamless, theme-based instruction program called Balanced Literacy.

Guided Reading is provided through the nine Anchor Books that introduce each unit. Each of these books is available electronically and in a full-color hard copy version. In addition, the program includes 27 pattern Books, 40 Onset Books, 32 Rime Books, and 9 Decodable Books (the decodable books are available also in reproducible blackline master form.

Word Study activities use an Onset and Rime approach. Each of the 40 onsets covered in the program is introduced in song, reinforced in an Onset Book, and identified with one of the animals in the anchor books. Multiple activities in each unit provide students with opportunities to hear and read many words that begin with the same onset. Each of the 32 rimes covered in the program is similarly introduced in song, book, activities, and reviews. The program also provides repetition and practice with 100 carefully selected high frequency and sight words, words that are not decodable using an onset and rime approach but which occur frequently in first-grade level reading materials.

Word cards with onsets and rimes, decodable word cards, program graphics, and sight words are provided in blackline master format, so teachers can make word walls, matching games or provide off-computer introduction, follow up, and practice with the program content.

Structured Writing activities are included in each unit, to support students' emerging writing fluency. Each of the three pattern Books in each unit is followed by a writing activity in which students create sentences a word at a time, using the same language pattern they just read in the pattern Book. In addition, beginning in Unit 2, students have an opportunity to create words a letter at a time. These writing activities can be printed for inclusion in student portfolios.

Self-Selected Reading is available throughout the program. Students can choose to reread any of the 117 books and mini-books. For off-the-computer follow up, the Anchor Books are available in full color, hard copy format, and the 9 Decodable Books can be duplicated from the blackline masters.


The lessons in IntelliTools Reading: Balanced Literacy guide students through a variety of reading and writing activities, word studies, review activities, and games. Teachers can individualize the size of the text in book reading activities and the amount of graphic and text support provided in review activities so that each student is working at his or her optimum level. IntelliTools Reading, with its overlays for IntelliKeys, customizability, and opportunities for cooperative learning, can provide all your students with a rich opportunity to read and write in an accessible environment.

In this workshop participants will have the chance to view this new reading program, to receive a research report, sample lessons, and a demo CD (fully functional except for printing and saving) allowing them to review and share what they have learned.

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