The past few days I have been using Kurzweil 3000 with my 7th and 8th grade students. It's been about a year since I have used it, as our district was updating licenses and reimaging computers. Now that it is done, I've got to say, it's been worth the wait. The potential to revolutionize the way students read and write is contained in this program.

The venerable question, "Why are we doing this?" rang out as I began my lesson first period of the first day. I quickly was reminded that learning needs to be authentic and interactive; I needed to not just tell my students they needed Kurzweil, but show my students they need Kurzweil.

Benefits of using Kurzweil:

1. It's the future: e-books are around the corner in college, and probably high school soon (think: Kindle from Amazon).

2. A big payoff: For just the little more work of highlighting while they read, students can have 3-column notes extracted from their highlighting, right from the text.

3. It's convenient: If a term is unknown or confusing, a 10-second pause of the reading allows students to use the built-in dictionary function.

4. Worthwhile: The brainstorming and outline functions are interchangeable, and allows students to write with their outline in the next column.

5. It's fun!

I found that two groups are truly drawn to using Kurzweil in class (I make all my students, regular ed and special ed, use Kurzweil): strong students and tech-savvy students. My strongest students understand that assistive technology is not something to ignore, but channel; it allows one to highlight, record, and rearrange all in a few clicks, which saves a lot of time - no more writing and rewriting. Certainly, there is something to be said for good, old-fashioned, hand-written index cards to brainstorm and arrange ideas, but the efficiency and ease with which ideas can be extracted and manipulated is astounding. My strongest students, who already are adept at doing this, realize this and are on board. I'm hoping that my middle ground students, those that have a big potential to increase their writing skills in these last few months before leaving for high school, will see this being modeled, and be on board. My tech savvy students seem to love the ins and outs of colorizing, highlighting, and reading online. Certainly, it's been an attention-grabber to begin. I think it to be important for students to build reading and writing skills, and if Social Studies and the Byzantine Empire can serve as a forum through which students can learn transferable skills, I think I have done my job as a middle school educator.


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