Mobile devices have permeated teaching and learning environments. Apps can improve preschool students’ math understanding, can positively impact science learning, and can be used to promote healthy behaviors. There are also a significant number of apps for literacy and language instruction.
A challenge for literacy educators is finding good literacy apps, given that 2015 data show at least 1.6 million apps for Android devices and 1.5 million apps for iOS devices. A good app, in our definition, provides opportunities for pedagogically sound literacy instruction and provides adaptability to meet the needs of learners. It also, as Richard Beach and Jill Castek noted in "Use of apps and devices for fostering mobile learning of literacy practices,” is supported by research demonstrating its effectiveness and addresses “individual differences.”
Given this need, we began to explore literacy apps, literacy app integration in the classroom, and the ways in which literacy educators are introduced to apps. In the winter of 2016, we observed a second-grade teacher from a local elementary school. We used an interval recording methodology to document (a) teacher instruction, (b) app use, and (c) student engagement. For this particular project, we were also interested in how students with disabilities engaged with apps.
One of the most interesting outcomes dealt with pedagogical stances. Educators have teaching beliefs and strategies. However, remembering that mobile apps come with their own set of pedagogical stances and strategies is also important. We found interesting differences in engagement when the teacher’s pedagogical stance matched or misaligned with the pedagogical stance of the app.
Our data suggested the following:
SpedApps and next steps for teachers
Educators can benefit from a deeper understanding of their pedagogy and the learning and the teaching strategies of apps. Educators also profit from seeing lists of quality apps as well as models of app integration. However, apps are not always explicit in what they offer or how they can be used in the classroom.
With these concerns in mind, we worked with an interdisciplinary team to create SpedApps. The website, a database of over 400 apps, provides a number of important features for teachers, parents, and learners. Searching for apps can include sorting by cost, name, content area, learning need, or physical development, or they can be searched directly by title. Once an app is selected, users see additional information about whether the app includes practice, feedback, progress monitoring, usability affordances, and customization. This website has an editor review, but more important, educators, teachers, and parents can create a login and provide their own review of apps (and suggest new apps).
Our research on technology has suggested that it’s not a question of if a form of technology works—it’s more important to ask under what conditions that form of technology works. In the example provided, a teacher found success matching her pedagogical strategies with the pedagogy of the app. SpedApps is one example; regardless of the tool used, we encourage researchers and educators to benefit from crowdsourcing when and how apps might be used for literacy instruction.
Kristine E. Pytash is an associate professor at Kent State University. Richard E. Ferdig is the Summit Professor of Learning Technologies and Professor, IT, Research Center for Educational Technologies. Enrico Gandolfi is a research fellow at Kent State University. Rachel Mathews is a doctoral student at Kent State University. This work was funded, in part, by a corporate gift from AT&T.
Teachers, by nature, are social networkers, connectors, and collaborators of ideas, knowledge, and best practices. Periscope is the latest in teacher professional development in the form of a hot, free app. Teachers using Periscope to share their ideas with the world are the same types of teachers who are also blogging; however, Periscope is an easier, faster, and more efficient platform for sharing ideas because you speak and express your ideas through a camera instead of writing and composing your ideas through a blog. Followership is growing rapidly because teachers would rather listen to someone speak their ideas, watch his or her facial expressions, and interact by commenting and asking questions right alongside that person. “This new form of professional development is personal, intentional, and informational” says Sarah Cooper, fifth-grade teacher in Tennessee (@rockytopteacher).
Periscope is a live streaming video platform similar to YouTube in that the user, who I will refer to as the scoper, as we call ourselves, is creating a video, but different from YouTube because the scoper is live, meaning the video is being created and uploaded to the Internet simultaneously—there are no second takes. However, once the scope is done, the scoper has the option to keep or delete the Periscope (Scope). When your scope is over, it is saved for 24 hours in the app, unless you make it available for replays using another app called Katch, which you need prior to making a scope. The video is also saved to your camera roll if you opt for it. As viewers listen and watch a video, they can write comments in a text box, ask questions, or tap the screen. Whenever a viewer adds a comment, everyone else watching the scope can see the comment. Viewers can also tap each other’s comment box and reply directly to one another.
There are two ways to add content to Periscope: by being a scoper or a viewer. When you are the scoper, anyone can watch you live and people can find you in several ways, most commonly by following you, similar to Facebook and Instagram. Followers usually enable notifications so they know when you are live. People can also find you through the map icon if you have enabled your location setting. I do not recommend enabling the location setting if you are scoping from home, but I do recommend turning it on if you are scoping from somewhere interesting like a museum, Central Park, an active volcano or, say, the Eiffel Tower.
Teachers have turned to Periscope to share and connect with a broader geographic community, delivering content in a real-time, raw, unpolished, and unscripted format. Because of the interaction between scoper and viewer, the scoper is able to tailor the content to the needs and questions of the live viewers.
“As a second-grade teacher, I enjoy using Periscope to watch other educators share perks of the classrooms and best practices for kids. There are so many fantastic educators on Periscope, and I can get quality professional development in my PJs on any given day,” said Kayla Delzer, Periscoper in North Dakota (@mrsdelz). Some districts are turning to Periscope as a PD requirement—not requiring that teachers make videos, but watch them. Sheila Jane, educator and founder of the iTeachTVNetwork, has gathered the best educator experts in the United States to do weekly scopes in their respective areas of expertise. On using Periscope for PD credit, Jane says “Periscope is really moving in the right direction as a powerhouse platform to get teachers connected with other teachers who are doing amazing things in the classroom.”
There are many possibilities for Periscope in education. Teachers at a conference can Periscope during a presentation (with permission, of course) for teachers who were unable to attend. Teachers are sharing classroom arrangement and design from inside their classroom walls after the students go home. Periscope also could be used for peer coaching of classroom lessons. Because I do staff development around the United States, I often turn on Periscope while I’m delivering a workshop or presentation to give my followers a peek at my ELA staff development. For the most part, teacher scopers try to keep their scopes between 15–30 minutes, as teacher minutes are precious.
Teachers such as Kami Butterfield, a third-grade teacher in Baxter Springs, KS, who teaches in a 1:1 iPad classroom, stops instruction when I start scoping because the students like learning from me, too. She shows my scopes to her students during class, when I scoped about and encouraged students to make a Winter Break Reading Plan. Students loved my “18 Ways to Keep Kids Reading Over Winter Break,” accepted the challenge, and shared their winter break reading on social media using the hashtag #merryreader.
Periscope is available in the both the App Store and the Google Play store, for both iPhone and iPad, and both front-facing and back-facing cameras can be used to film. Periscope is an offshoot of Twitter, so you must have a Twitter account in order to create a Periscope account.
So how are you going to use Periscope to get your teacher voice heard? Do you have ideas worth sharing in videos? Share them now!
Jen Jones is a K–12 reading specialist, Common Core Trainer, blogger, teacher-author, Periscoper and cofounder of a monthly teaching Blab called #chalktalkedu. She travels the United States to speak, present, and facilitate workshops to schools and districts about 21st-century literacy. Read her blog, Hello Literacy. Follow her on Periscope, Twitter, and Instagram at @hellojenjones.
Revision can be such a grueling process for middle school students, so I am always on the lookout for ways to make it more fun and engaging. Technology motivates my students, and I have found that if I use it in the right way, it can inspire and transform students’ writing. One way that I have used apps is to have students to transmediate, or change, one aspect of their writing into another medium such as art, poetry, or song. The process of transmediation can help students reenvision an idea, a character, or a conflict and in turn help them revise their writing.
One app I use to foster transmediation is Faces iMake. After students write a first draft of their personal narratives, they use Faces iMake to transmediate one aspect of their writing: character’s descriptions. We have all used the mantra “show, don’t tell,” but sometimes I wonder if students truly know how to do this well. I found that using Faces iMake helps students take a step back from their original writing and consider alternative, unique ways to describe their characters and make their writing more colorful. With this app, students create face collages using a variety of materials such as fruits and vegetables, musical instruments, different textured cloth, sports equipment, and the like.
At the revision stage of writing, I invite students to create collages for the characters in their narratives. After they create the collage, they write similes or metaphors to accompany their collages. For example, a student might drag and drop a xylophone to be the mouth of their iFace and accompany it with the simile “her speech was as punctuated as the percussion section of the orchestra.” Then I ask students to reread their drafts and contemplate whether any of the ideas they came up with during their collage making could be incorporated into their writing. I am often amazed at how students transform their writing based on this activity.
Another app I use is Lark, by Storybird. Lark is a poetry app that allows my students to transmediate an aspect of their writing into poetry during the revision stage. Students can select a background image, change the colors, and select vocabulary from a finite set of words to create a poem—think magnetic poetry set. At the revision stage, I invite students to choose a conflict in their narrative and turn it into a poem using Lark. This gives students an opportunity to consider the conflict in more depth. Often the poems produced are much more riveting than the description of the conflict in their narratives. Afterwards I ask students to consider using aspects of the poem in their narratives to bring their conflicts to life. They often use key phrases and vocabulary from their poems and imagery conjured up through the poetry and image in Lark working together.
Transmediation is the process of transforming writing into another medium such as poetry, music, or art. This process can inspire students see their writing in a new light. Using apps to facilitate transmediation is a fun and rewarding activity to enhance students’ creativity during the revision process.
Noreen Moore is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Professional Studies at William Paterson University.
It’s clear that today’s students are comfortable using technology to read. Last year, my class of first graders had only my iPad to use, but we used it a lot in the beginning of the year because that is when my children like to read with help.
Two years ago, I was asked if I would be willing to try the app Reading Train and I was more than willing to try something that helps children read. This simple, free app (there are additions available for purchases within the app) gives students support while reading, for instance, if the student comes across a word he or she does not know, the student clicks on the word. The app brings up the word and a definition of the word, which can be read to the student. Children do not have to stop and ask for help with a word. They are completely independent when using this app.
I introduce this app at the beginning of the year, but my first graders want to continue using it throughout. It is the number one app they ask for, no matter what reading level they are on. They love the music they can listen to after they have read a story.
The stories are very simple, but that is what the children need at the beginning when learning to read. I like that the books also have varied concepts dealing with math and science. Some stories may be about shapes or numbers, whereas others tell about life science or physical science concepts like loud and soft or sink and float. Of course, there are animal stories and Earth and space stories, too.
A quiz is administered at the end of each story, and the children love this part. They need to find a word to put in a box, or find words that go together, or they need to put words together to make a sentence. Once the quiz is finished, the children can choose a song. Because the lyrics are there, the children love to listen to the songs and sing along.
This year so far, I have two iPads. I have the Reading Train on both iPads. We are supposed to get more iPads, and I will be downloading this app onto all of them. I have many students requesting the iPad so they can use the Reading Train. I can’t wait to have the rest of the iPads so more children can use this app and not have long to wait.
I definitely recommend this app. Even though it is for the beginning readers, my more capable readers like to use this app. Not only can the students listen to the book, but also they can read by themselves or even record themselves reading the book. This is one app my first graders beg to use.
Kristine Kidder has been a teacher for more than 30 years. She currently teaches first grade in Newport, NH, but has experience in the second and third grades, as well.
When we talk about dyslexia, we often talk about intervention, but an equally important part of helping a student with dyslexia is providing accommodations. Accommodations are not meant to replace intervention, but are meant to provide the student access to the materials they are capable of understanding, in a format other than eye reading. Three of the five apps described below are considered accommodations, one is a great game to help improve the skills that those with dyslexia often need to strengthen, and one is to help students understand English orthography.
Dyslexia Toolkit: This app is made for those with dyslexia by those with dyslexia. It is meant to provide practical, everyday assistance to those who struggle with day-to-day activities. Take a picture of a piece of writing and the app will read it aloud. For those who need some assistance with menus, directions, and reading what comes up while out and about, this is a perfect solution. As a special touch, backgrounds are optional. The user does have to pay for this service with purchased tokens.
Learning Ally (previously the Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic): This is an enormous selection of audio books that can be downloaded to any device. Learning Ally provides books from K-12 curriculum as well as pleasure reading books. They set themselves apart by having humans read the books instead of a computer voice. Learning Ally also provides services for parents and the community. They do require a nominal yearly fee and the user needs to have a documented print-based disability.
Bookshare (Read2GO): Like Learning Ally, Bookshare is a place to go for audio books. They have a vast collection of curriculum and pleasure reading books and you can control the speed of the audio, as well as choose to highlight each word as it is being read. Bookshare is free to those who have a documented print disability.
Etymonline: While this is a website, not an app, it is an important tool to use as we need a place to go to find out why words are spelled a particular way. This website provides the history (etymology) of words. If you have students who are having trouble remembering how to spell the word “people,” take a trip to Etymonline and you will learn it is related to the word “population” and voila, the “o” in people makes sense. Along with learning about spelling, your students will learn how history, Latin, Greek, French, and Old English have helped our language evolve. It’s far more than just a spelling lesson.
Dyslexia Quest: This is a fun, fun, fun game those who are struggling with reading will love. The idea is there is a Yeti at the top of the mountain and to get there you have to complete five reading skills activities including phonological awareness, working memory, processing speed, visual sequential memory, auditory sequential memory, and visual memory. The game also tracks progress and differentiates the game based on age.
Accommodations in the form of apps and websites are tools allowing those with dyslexia to access information they need to succeed. They can be successful in anything they choose to do, with the right set of tools. These apps are just a few to get started.
Kelli Sandman-Hurley (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the co-owner of the Dyslexia Training Institute. She received her doctorate in literacy with a specialization in reading and dyslexia from San Diego State University and the University of San Diego. She is a trained special education advocate assisting parents and children through the Individual Education Plan (IEP) and 504 Plan process. Dr. Kelli is an adjunct professor of reading, literacy coordinator and a tutor trainer. Kelli is trained by a fellow of the Orton-Gillingham Academy and in the Lindamood-Bell, RAVE-O and Wilson Reading Programs. Kelli is the Past-President of the San Diego Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, as well as a board member of the Southern California Library Literacy Network (SCLLN). She co-created and produced “Dyslexia for a Day: A Simulation of Dyslexia,” is a frequent speaker at conferences, and is currently writing “Dyslexia: Decoding the System.”