It’s been awhile since I’ve written. I guess I’ll blame it on the holidays. It seems that what should just be a few days of celebration is an entire month and a half of planning, preparing, packing, gifting, receiving, returning and recuperating!
This year, I gifted my first app to my friend’s son who is four. He was as into the ePicture Book, “There’s a Monster at the End of this Book” as my one year old and so I gifted him the app. It’s funny how the age range for early literacy is pretty wide. However, the same is not true for intermediate literacy. A fourth grader would not be as impressed by “There’s a Monster at the End of this Book” and it wouldn’t take long for a second grader to get bored either. So where are all of the apps for the big kids?
Before I went on my hiatus, I facilitated a workshop for classroom teachers, literacy liaisons and graduate students. Most of the teachers were interested in literacy apps for older children. They are few and far between. But I found two that they loved and I’d like to share with you.
Before I share these apps, I do have one word of caution: The best kind of literacy application is a book. An eBook or a regular book: doesn’t matter. High interest books that children read by themselves or with someone else, is the best way to become literate. However, teachers and parents are also looking for experiences that help target and improve a certain area of reading and this is where a literacy app can come in handy- when it is an addition to daily reading.
Two apps I’ve seen that are both educational, fun and applicable to children in 2nd-5th grade are:
Are Whales Smart Or What? (By Wrinkled Pants Software Ltd)
All About It
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This app combines everything that an independent reader needs. A high interest non-fiction book about whales allows the reader to tap on words that he or she does not know and the word is read aloud for the reader. Each time the reader clicks on the word, it is added to a word bucket. While reading the book, you can click on some of the words for visual demonstrations of what the word means. At the end of the story the reader can then choose to play a game that reviews all of the words in the word bucket. In addition to that activity, there are five other games the reader can choose from that reinforce different reading skills: consonant blends, digraphs, spelling and blends with short vowels.
My 2 ¢
I like that this app encourages students’ metacognition and self-regulation by prompting them to stop, figure out a word, and take ownership of those words. I am glad the content is non-fiction and find the story to be engaging. The games that come with it are the icing on the cake. My only critique is that this is such a great way to help readers learn new vocabulary and increase comprehension that I wish less energy was put into the games and more energy was put into making more of these stories. Once using this in the classroom a few times, there’s no where else to go with this story and teachers’ will surely want to continue using it only with different content. To be fair, there is one more app this developer came out with called: Are Bees Smart or What! I guess that’s a good piece of critical feedback, we wish there were more!
In the classroom I think this would be a great guided-reading group app. A small group of students could be working on this with the teacher and have silent reading moments coupled with a chance to share the words in their word bucket. Students can later discuss the strategies they used to figure out the meaning of the word. In fact, the term word bucket could translate to other books in the classroom either with a physical bucket or just a word list in their reading journal.
Reading for Details (eSkills)
All About It
This app is very similar to the comprehension practice books that check for understanding in non-fiction paragraphs. When you first open the App the student chooses the level of difficulty. There are three levels ranging from 2nd-6th grade. Then, students choose if they would like to practice, play the game alone or play the game with multiple players. If students choose to practice, they read the paragraph and answer a question about it. If they choose to play the game they do the same as the practice but their correct answer appears on a Bingo board, which eventually can lead to a Bingo. When an answer is incorrect, the child can play again. The “multiple players” option means that many children can play on their iPads by sinking wirelessly with each others’ iPads. The first to reach a Bingo wins.
My 2 ¢
What I like best about this app is it takes a very traditional form of test prep or reading practice and makes it fun while at the same time differentiating for different reading levels, so that a child who is reading at a level two can still play with a child that is reading at a level five. The game component does not involve shooting anything down or anything flashy. It’s just a simple old-fashioned Bingo board. My one minor annoyance is that this app is made for the iPhone or iTouch but only compatible with the iPad, which means that you have to click on the 2X button to make it fit the whole screen. This then makes the app look slightly pixellated. All of the other benefits of this app, however, far outweigh this tiny issue.
In the classroom, this app would be a great addition to a small group literacy center. Or, it could be a reoccurring 15-minute whole group test prep activity; there are 100 passages per level. The good news is eSkills makes a whole host of similar apps that target different reading skills such as inferencing and even cloze practice, so whichever skill you are working on during reading, there is probably an app that you can download to support it.