Education: There isn’t an App for that

After a life imposed hiatus I have returned to my Twitter account. It truly is my best tool for professional development, but it was a recent tweet of mine that drew a lot of attention and retweets that made me rethink my conclusions about digital teaching and learning:

As you know I have been doing professional development all over the country on the integration of tablet computing. The first item on every teachers agenda is like finding that perfect app to solve all of their pedagogical goals.

They are like students searching for the one website that has all of the evidence they need for a research paper. In both cases neither exists.

It was Colin Harrison @ColinHarrison who really cemented the idea at a symposium on tablet computing I organized for the Literacy Research Association. An audience member commented that they could not find an app for reading comprehension. They audience sounded very similar to the teachers I work with who search for the perfect app. Colin commented that what decades of research on comprehension have taught us is oral  language and talk are the best tools to improve comprehension.

No app will change that. Instead teachers need to identify ways in which to enhance their pedagogical goals using iPads and other 1:1 computing devices. The easiest approach it to identify what works well in your classroom and transform the lesson for a digital environment. Do not reinvent the wheel.

Think-Alouds

The iPad can be a wonderful tool for teaching text structure or completing close reading activities.
You can use:

  •  Fiction books available in the iBook (See Picture Book Tutorial)
  •  Informational texts in apps such as iStorybook.
  • Taking screenshots of informational texts and importing them into whiteboard apps.

Using your iPad as a document camera. 
The first step in using the iPad for think alouds is to create a text copy that can be annotated by the students.

Step one: Develop your learning activity.

  • Decide what aspect of reading you wish to teach.
  • Choose a text.
  • Preview the texts. Identify elements of the text and genre you wish to highlight with students.
  • Choose an additional text or sections for guided or independent practice.

Take screen shots of a text you are reading in class.

  • Open up the book and lay it flat in a well lit area.
  • Select the camera app on the iPad.
  • Take a picture of the page you wish to annotate.
  • Upload the image to a private file sharing system. Google Drive or Dropbox. Do not make the image public.
Model the think aloud for students. Make sure to annotate the text. Pay attention to text structure.
Have students then either open a screenshot or tae a screenshot. They can then complete a think aloud and record it using a whiteboard app.
Yes this lesson requires an app, but it is merely a tool. The learning is based on decades of research. The app just increases the efficacy and efficiency of classroom practices.