Many fun party conversations have started by whipping out a smartphone and sharing the latest and coolest apps. However, in educational settings we continually need to refocus the discussion around choosing apps to meet our instructional objectives rather than the other way around.
About a year ago, I published a list of all the apps I installed on our school’s iPads. I still like that list, however, there are a number of drill-and-kill type apps that see occasional use in my classroom as well as those that require higher-level thinking and student creation which I use more often. I wanted to give our teachers options so I gave them tons of apps. However, my personal toolkit is much smaller. Here are my recommendations based around instructional needs in the area of literacy. The specific apps I recommend don’t matter so much as how we they are used in the classroom:
Any voice recorder from the free and simple, Audio Memos to the pricier and more advanced, Garageband, can be used to have students record themselves reading. Data from Escondido Unified which used iPods and Voice Recorders with English Language Learners (back before iPhones and iPads existed) consistently shows that students showed growth. The key is having students record and then listen to themselves reading so that they hear the mistakes they don’t hear when they’re focused on decoding.
I’ve used Reader’s Theater in my own classroom (find free printable reader’s theater here or see our class reader’s theater movie, The City Mouse and the Country Mouse). However, you can also use any passages that might target certain spelling patterns or sounds students are working on.
I like simple. StoryKit is a free iPhone app that works on the iPad and allows students to write, record their voice, add a photo, or draw on a page resembling kindergarten writing paper. If you want to publish a whole book from the iPad, the $5 Book Creator is a great option. Apple’s free desktop app, iBooks Author is even better but it requires both an iPad and an updated Mac desktop or laptop. With iBooks Author you create the book on your computer and preview it on the iPad. You can easily import Keynote and Pages files into your final product. When you’re ready for multimedia, iMovie is a great way to engage even the most unmotivated writers in writing something that will include audio, visuals and an audience.
Apps like Toontastic and PuppetPals are also fun. However, be careful, Toontastic teaches story crafting via a beginning, middle, and end structure. If you’re a fan of Lucy Caulkins writer’s workshop and the notion of expanding a single moment with details to make it something bigger rather than structuring a bare bones story sequentially, you will might not be happy with an app that would set you back to an outdated way of teaching writing even if it’s more fun.
Learning Letter Sounds
Apps like the above mentioned Storykit can be used to have students make a book of letter sounds by taking pictures of things that begin with the sound /p/ for example. Student Tommy would end up with a page with photos of pencils, pictures, paint, and paintbrushes and then record his voice making the sound /p/ on the page. I know that you can find apps that give students the letter sounds while students passively listen but I’m much more in favor of having students create their own books with the sound in it. I suspect the learning is more internalized.
What other areas of student early literacy need do you notice?