iOS App Recommendations for Literacy

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:

Fluency

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.

Writing

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?

 

 

 

Fluency Timer Now Available for iPad/iPod/iPhone

My desktop app, Fluency Timer, is now available for the iOS (iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches). The app provides an adjustable timer with integrated voice recording to allow teachers, parents, and students to easily record student fluency readings. It’s designed simply so that even primary age students can use the app to record themselves reading.

Research has shown that having students listen to themselves reading increases reading fluency, particularly for English Language Learners.  While there are many capable voice recorders, I wanted an app that would stop after a predetermined amount of time and not go on forever.  Having it stop on its own means that I can focus on listening to students reading and not have to keep an eye on the clock.  Teachers can use the app with students or set it up as an instant center activity.

By recording fluency readings, teachers can review them for patterns of errors and play them back for students, parents, and colleagues.

Download the pro version to eliminate advertisements and add the ability to transfer multiple recordings to your desktop:

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/fluency-timer-pro/id519937066?mt=8

The app allows you to individually e-mail recordings.  The length of the timer can be adjusted.

More information about the app and the different versions is available at fluency timer.net

How to Reduce the Amount of Teacher Talk

Pair Share

Pair Sharing: A Best Practice

Pair Sharing is generally acknowledged as a best practice in education. In classrooms I visit, however, I rarely see it used, let alone integrated into lessons as a regular practice. Reducing the amount of teacher talk and getting students to talk to each other is one of the cheapest and easiest education reforms anyone can implement. The structure of schooling must change to become more child-centered or it risks becoming irrelevant. Teachers need to get off the stage a little bit and here’s a way to do it without giving up complete control.

10-2

I was lucky enough to be trained in the GLAD strategies early in my teaching career and their philosophy of 10-2 greatly influenced my thinking about pair sharing.  Their idea is that for every ten minutes of teacher talk, there should be two minutes of student talk.  This means that you do not have to necessarily have students answer a question when they are talking with each other, they can and should sometimes simply summarize what you’ve been talking about.  While students share with each other—and this is the most important part— teachers circulate around the room and listen in.

Having student summarize what you’ve been teaching helps students to:

  • Transition information into long-term memory through talking and not just listening.
  • Release energy that’s been bottled up for the previous ten minutes.
  • Refocus if they’ve been tuned out while you were talking.

Having students summarize what you’ve been teaching helps teachers to:

  • Assess whether students understand what you’re talking about.  You’d never know whether they understand if you don’t take the two minutes to get that feedback.
  • Increase accountability for what’s discussed by requiring students to talk about it in pairs and then whole group.
  • Listen to students.  They feel like they’re not listened to and, generally speaking, they’re right.
  • Encourage students who are normally shy but have great ideas to share their ideas with the whole class.

Classroom Management

Before starting pair sharing you need to teach students how to do it.  Choose a volunteer from the classroom and Model:

  • How to find a partner (they should be close by)
  • What to do if there are no partners (a group of thee is fine if that’s all you can find)
  • Body language for listening (look at your partner, sit still)
  • Appropriate volume (everyone practice saying “I like pizza in a quiet voice)
  • Signals for getting the class back together as a whole.

The first time you try this, it might go badly.  Please expect that and don’t give up.

Other Uses for Pair Sharing

In addition to summarizing, students can solve problems, answer questions, or share a personal experience when talking with partners.

Pair sharing can and should be a part of every single lesson every single day or else I’d say the teacher is likely hogging the stage and students may or may not be retaining what’s being said.

How do you get students talking in your classroom?

Reading Remedies for iPhone and iPad

This week I released my first iPhone/iPad app, Reading Remedies, which helps to diagnose reading difficulties and support beginning readers. I hope it will be of use to teachers and especially parents.

The app gives assessments in each of six reading areas (rhyming, blending, segmenting, sight words, fluency, and word attack) and then provides follow-up activities for teaching each of the reading skills. It’s only .99¢ and is available now in iTunes.

Apple has chosen to feature the app in the “New and Noteworthy” education section where it has been since it was released.

This is my first mobile app (Fluency Timer was released in January for desktops) and the first app I’ve coded entirely by myself (more on that later) although I got a lot of help on the content from other teachers and literacy experts.

Please check out this youtube video demonstration I made for the app:

Increase Reading Fluency with Fluency Timer

fluency timer logoI’m excited to announce that I’ve developed and released my very first software application, Fluency Timer, available now in the new Mac App Store or via my own site at:  http://www.fluencytimer.net.

Fluency Timer is both a timer and a recorder that records students’ one minute fluency readings.  Research has shown that having students listen to themselves reading will increase reading fluency over time.  There are other voice recorders that exist but none have an integrated timer and all are too complicated for me to quickly teach students to use.

In my own classroom I have been having students read their daily reading passages into the computer and then playing it back and having them listen to themselves reading.  After the initial novelty of hearing their own voices played through the computer wears off, students study the reading passage while listening and start to become cognizant of their mistakes.  They ask me if they can reread the same passages over again to try and read them better.  It has made reading fluency into a game so that it’s no longer tedious to practice.

In addition to providing an instant independent work time activity, teachers can use it when assessing students to review student reading to complete running records, DIBELS assessments, etc. and to keep a record of how students have read throughout the year with automatic time and date stamping.  You can easily share recordings with parents coaches, administrators, and students themselves via the computer, an iPod, a CD, or a web site.

How Does it Work?

1. Press record. Timer counts down and automatically stops after 60 seconds.

2. Name your file and Save to iTunes.

3. Your file is added to iTunes.

4. From iTunes, play back for students, parents, and coaches or add to iPod and/or burn to CD.

Fluency Timer is available only for Macintosh computers (not for iOS devices at this time).  It’s exciting to dream up something and then see it come to fruition.  I hope you find it useful in your classroom.

For more fluency resources see the Fluency page of Open Court Resources.com and the Reader’s Theater page for free printable Reader’s Theater.

Find Fluency Timer here.

Reading Intervention Resources

I’m halfway through my second year of providing intervention services on a pullout basis to struggling readers.  I thought I would share the materials I’m using with my students to increase comprehension in the hopes that this might help someone else and that you might have additional resources you might recommend.

About My Intervention

As my students are scoring below basic and far below basic on California CST (standardized tests in our state) and are scoring intensive on state-written Open Court assessments, I use only supplementary materials with them i.e. not their core language arts program, Open Court.  This is considered Tier Two Intervention in the Response to Intervention model.

I see groups of 2-12 students for periods of 20-60 minutes.

Fluency

To address fluency needs there are tons of programs I have found useful.  I use a combination of Explode the Code, Phonics for Reading, and Rewards for students depending on their grade level.

Comprehension

I have tried reading authentic literature with struggling students and practicing using reading strategies.  I think I helped students gain confidence in reading and develop oral comprehension ability.  However, for the most part what they gained did not translate to increased test scores.

Many of my students are able to answer oral questions about text they read and yet will answer every question wrong on a multiple choice test.  I’m trying a mix of high and low level thinking.  My students need practice reading questions and choosing the best answer but they also need to be able to think outside of the box and being to problem solve.

I had been using the Steck-Vaughn Reading Comprehension Skills Series and really appreciated that the stories were engaging and that the accompanying questions not only addressed simple recall but also got to higher level thinking like inference and drawing conclusions.  Unfortunately, in the limited time I have with students I am finding that it’s a bit unruly to work through this series and manage all the paperwork and correcting necessary.  Each story, including questions, take up about five or six pages.

So…plan b.  I’m now using free printable comprehension passages from English for Everyone.org These are just one page and come with answer sheet.  And did I mention they’re free?  These do not get to higher level thinking but they do get to higher level test taking with several options of “all of the above” or “both a & c” that force students to read carefully.  I do one page with students and then have them do one page without me that we then correct.

For higher level thinking I’m using Mind Benders which are logic puzzles that get progressively harder.  You have to start with the lowest level even if you have upper grades students and then work  your way up.  Most students are not used to thinking in this way but once they start to grasp deductive reasoning I am hoping this increases their ability to infer and teachers them to think more critically about what they’re reading and remember to clarify misunderstandings.  (See some examples of logic puzzles here and a harder one here).

So there you have it, my mix of higher and lower level thinking.  I’ll let you know how it’s going a month from now.  Please let me know how you’re increasing comprehension in your classrooms in the comments below.

RTI (Response to Intervention) A Complete Apple Workflow

Thank you to those of you who attended my workshop, “RTI:  A Complete Apple Workflow” at the CUE conference this weekend.   I spoke about using Apple Software to address your Response to Intervention program.  This post contains the links, resources, and ideas that I shared.  Rather than simply posting the keynote file (which is much easier) I prefer to recap and flush out some of the ideas so that it’s beneficial even to those who weren’t there.

What is RTI?

As I define it, rather than simply teaching everyone the same thing and assuming that if someone doesn’t “get it” that there’s something wrong with them, RTI assumes that there will be students who do not master a concept after whole group instruction and will need additional time and intensity (interventions) to master concepts.  This, of course, is very similar to the idea of Independent Work Time.

Alice Mercer, in her CUE presentation, also addressed RTI and went into additional detail in defining it.

Part One:  Dealing with Data

It’s very important to collect and analyze data in order to target interventions to specific student need.  “Fluency” is to vague to be an intervention.  Focusing on short vowels, long vowels, or digraphs is a better intervention because it targets a specific student need.  Using Apple’s iWork (Pages and Numbers) or even Microsoft Word’s (Office and Excel) can help you to organize data by creating a spreadsheet, graphing data, and using the word processor’s mail merge functions to create parent reports about student data.  I much prefer iWork to Office because of its ease of use and the ability to create better looking documents.

Here’s additional information on graphing in Numbers and how to use the mail merge function.  I taught both these things in the workshop.

Part Two:  Prescriptions for Success ways of using Apple technology to address student needs

Fluency

Comprehension

Behavior

While behavior tracking software is popular among schools with large behavior problems.  I saw office referrals eliminated in my classroom simply through working on these movie projects.  I gave the example of Joseph, a student who I knew would not be quiet if I was to call “Quiet on the Set.”  Instead of playing through that scenario and getting annoyed at Joseph ruining other students’ projects, I decided to make Joseph the engineer.  He called out “Quiet on the Set!” and he pushed the red Garageband button.  The rest of the class was dead quiet and Joseph experienced being a successful and productive member of our class rather than being the one who wrecked everything.  This is a behavioral intervention…intervening to improve student behavior rather than punishing students for bad behavior.

Evidence

Here are two slides that show some evidence that these techniques are producing gains although I am the first to admit that we need to continue collecting data on the subject.

In my classroom, I saw an 18% increase in the number of students reading at benchmark 12 weeks after working on the Reader’s Theater script, The City Mouse and the Country Mouse:

In Escondido Unified, they saw average gains of about 40 words per minute after six weeks of reading with iPods whereas normal gains are about 10 words per minute:

Bonus

Here are some incidental things I mentioned in my presentation.

HandBrake for ripping movies from commercial DVDs  you own for storing on iPod.

PWN Youtube and other ways of downloading Youtube movies.

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Down and Dirty Data Analysis

Green is good.  Red is bad.

Here’s what they taught me in “coaching college” about how to read data.

Reading vertically indicates the teacher’s problem.  Reading horizontally indicates a student’s problem.

So, Harpo needs some additional help in all language arts areas.  However, in the vocabulary category, it appears that the teacher needs to examine his/her own instruction as its not succeeding for most of the students.  There’s all kinds of reasons why the teacher could say the students aren’t succeeding and there is validity to all of them…no help at home, trouble learning the language, poorly designed tests, a bad day in class.  This class in particular I hear is a bunch of class clowns.  However, the fact remains that the teacher’s vocabulary instruction with this group of students is not working and if he/she wants better results he/she must try something different.

Beginning of the Year Pre-Assessments

Here are a few tools to use when assessing students at the beginning of the year:

The Basic Phonics Skills Test (BPST)
This is helpful in identifying specific areas of phonics need (short vowels, long vowels, digraphs, etc.)

San Diego Quick Assessment
It’s also important to know students’ knowledge of sight words which is an almost completely separate skill from decoding and an almost equal predictor of reading success.

Yopp-Singer
Test of phoneme segmentation

DIBELS
provides several free fluency passages as well as comprehension assessments

What pre-assessments do you use?

An Ideal Language Arts Curriculum

Kevin Hodgson lays out what he considers to be an ideal language arts curriculum.  Please read the entire post.  However, the tenets he puts forth are:

Writing to Learn

Including listening and speaking (as well as reading and writing)

A “Stakes Approach” (Moving from low-stakes like journal writing to high stakes like publishing and performance)

Writing Across the Curriculum

And including technology and multi-media