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

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.

Riddle Me This: Activity for Sound Spelling Cards

a guest post on using the Sound Spelling Cards by Ann Miani

Dear Teachers,
I wanted to share a life changing teaching strategy for OCR phonics.  You can print out the Sound Spelling Card mats (see links):

Link #1

Link #2

There are some cool new versions of the large long vowel cards to print out, but they would have to be run on long sheets of paper 14 inches or so.

Green Box cards are named (all short vowel sounds)
lamb, hen, pig, fox, and tugboat.

The blue box cards are diphthongs/diagraphs titled in order
armadillo, whale, (bird card er,ir,ur,) cow card, hawk card, hoot owl card (this may be the goo card in another version,) foot card, and toy/coil card depending on which version you have.

Here is an example of how to give spelling quizzes using this SSC mat
For the technique Riddle Me This, I say these out loud while the kids write the letters that go with the cards.
1.Dinosaur card(kids would write the letter d)
2.Long I
3.Nose card (n sound)
4.Long O card (they are taught to assume it is the first spelling unless otherwise indicated)
5.Sausages (s sound)
6 Hawk Card (second spelling = au)
7.Robot card r sound (when I don’t specify which spelling on the card again the kids assume it is the first spelling on that card)

I repeat each of the letter cards in the word, while they touch each letter sound on their papers to check to see that they haven’t left any out.  Then I ask them what did I spell?  They all call out with glee and a feeling of success that they hadn’t felt until I used this technique dinosaur!

Use this with your word knowledge boards if you wish.  I give the kids 12 – 20 words per day that come from their weekly reading passages in the text and they seem to really get very large words now.  What a relief to see them spelling, reading and now writing with far more enthusiasm and success!

Before using this concept, the kids struggled with 3 to 5 letter words with both long and short vowel sounds.  Now they are spelling, reading, and writing 10-12 letter words without help.  This happened in just a month and a half.

They wrote essays this week and nobody balked about having to explain why they felt the dinosaurs died out.  They were able to justify their reasons behind their theories based in the NF story they read this week.  Only 3 out of 20 kids (who were ELD) struggled with the actual theories behind the extinction of dinosaurs.  This is a far cry from January!

I hope this helps you as much as it helped my class. Up till the time I started using this, my class was the lowest on record and the majority of them were failing.

-Ann Miani

Read Across America Day Resources

Dr. Seuss’s birthday, called Read Across America Day is coming next week.  Here are some activities to do for it…(by way of Doug Yonce’s newsletter.  Subscribe to his newsletter here).

NEA – Read Across America
The National Education Association annually sponsors Read Across America. Now in its twelfth year, the program focuses on motivating children to read

Seussville Read Across America
READ ACROSS AMERICA. “You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.” What better way to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s birthday

Read Across America Games and Activities
A collection of activities for Dr. Seuss in celebration of Read Across America, a national reading day/week promotion

Education World: Special Reading Fun for Read Across America Day
Read Across America Day is celebrated each year on the first Monday in March. Education World offers five new lessons for recognizing this important day

Read Across America | CTA
The theme for Read Across America 2009 is “Reading is Cool!” Serving up some frosty fun for your reading delight are playful snow people created by award-winning illustrator Will Terry.

Reading Rockets Read Across America Page

Downloadable Dr. Seuss Books

Additional Dr. Seuss Resources