As we move into Common Core, a new emphasis is upon us in the form of text-related instruction. Thankfully, the days of teaching isolated skills are being replaced by deep examination of complex text.
You might think we would have the necessary techniques and strategies already ensconced in our teaching repertoires, but the uncomfortable truth is to the contrary. This is not surprising, considering the weighting of comprehension questions on the standardized tests that have driven all our instructional decisions during the last decade. While comprehension of what one reads would seem to be the only “standard” that counts when it comes to skills that get you through college or into the workplace, we now find many students who can score in the basic or even proficient levels in reading while missing half or more of the reading comprehension items on the test! Ultimately, the deficiency shows up in middle school or high school, where the inability to really understand what you are decoding dooms many students to lag behind or drop out.
Are we on the same page?
In Common Core reading comprehension instruction, directing students towards examples of text in books on their individual desks isn’t satisfactory. How can you ensure all students are looking at the same page, let alone the same paragraph you are teaching from? All a teacher really knows is the kids are looking down—and then probably at a smart phone!
The crucial need to be addressed will be finding a way for elementary and secondary schoolteachers to display rich examples of complex text on their presentation screens for all to see at once. Where will this text come from? Some textbook publishers already allow copying and pasting of their text; Harcourt Science and Holt Social Studies are two examples. The Houghton-Mifflin Medallions eBooks do not allow that access. And many great examples will be found in hard copy texts that are not online.
OCR to the rescue!
One solution that is, amazingly, little known in K-12 education is optical character recognition software (OCR). OCR takes a scanned picture of text and recognizes the characters as text, converting them to “regions” where the text can then be pasted into PowerPoint or other applications and manipulated, highlighted, et cetera.
To me, the best product for this task is Omni Page Pro, the industry standard since OCR was first developed. I have used Omni Page Pro extensively as both an administrator and teacher for ten years and am amazed at how few educators are even aware of this application.
There are other similar products, including Presto! OCR, which received the second highest marks in a recent review. Microsoft OneNote also has some ability to perform OCR, but in a limited fashion. When Omni Pro was virtually the only game in town it was expensive, but the price has come down by almost 75%. Now, there is not much price difference between it and competing products.
Understanding and mastering this technology will prove extremely valuable as applied to Common Core. Yes, there are issues of copyright that are involved and one must be diligent and abide by local acceptable use policies. But by being familiar with fair use and exercising care and good judgment, there are a lot of useful pieces of text in many hard copy books that would be great for Common Core instruction. The chore is getting them up front and center, and OCR does the trick.