How to teach traditional literacy skills with the iPad

iStock_000022973452XSmallThe iPad creates a lot of excitement for learning in many classrooms. Yet, many literacy teachers struggle with how best to integrate technology into teaching traditional literacy skills within a confined curriculum and with limited time. A recent article in

A recent article in The Reading Teacher illustrates how one 4th-grade teacher used the iPad in her classroom to meet traditional print-based literacy goals while providing students with opportunities to work with the new literacies of the 21st century.

The teacher designed iPad lessons with the that focused on the following reading comprehension strategies: sequencing, cause and effect, retelling and determining the main idea.

Reading strategy: Sequencing

App used: Popplet, a graphic organizer tool that allows students to add boxes to a blank page to organize ideas any way they choose. Users can add images and change the size, color and order of the boxes.

Lesson description—Students read a nonfiction article then worked in small groups to sequence main events. Students could add as many boxes as they needed while they were sequencing events.

Student learning: The app helped students be more creative in presenting their ideas, with each group using a different design. One group initially believed they had completed the assignment incorrectly when they saw how different their final product was from the other groups. But, after the students thought about it, they decided their design better conveyed their ideas about the text, the researchers report. Another group chose to use a web graphic rather than a more linear graphic and found that their peers had difficulty interpreting the web without the verbal description. Among the lessons those students learned about using digital technology was that the visual component of a message must complement the written text.


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Reading comprehension strategy: Visualization

App used: Doodle Buddy. Allows students to paint on their screens using only their finger. Students can use multiple colors, text and special features such as stamps, stencils and glitter. Lesson description: Small groups of students used Doodle Buddy to create an illustration of a selected sentence or short paragraph from a text they were about to read. The teacher displayed all the groups’ pictures in the correct order to form a complete visual representation of the story prior to students’ reading it.

Student learning: The app helped motivate students to reread the text so that they could improve their visuals. Students reread the text to get more information and clues to revise and refine their visuals. Most groups drew multiple pictures, selecting the one they believed best represented the text. In some cases, students deleted their original drawing and started again after they had reread the text. One group of students discussed how they could best illustrate that a bridge was “flimsy.” They carefully selected drawing tools that would convey that flimsiness to their peers. In a focus group interview, students reported that having the visual images helped them to better understand the text they were reading, the researchers report.

Reading activity: Independent reading

App used: iBooks. Provides a virtual bookshelf for storing books students want to read. Students can change the text font size, add notes, highlight text and get a word definition while reading an iBook.

Lesson description: Students read books at their reading level. In this study, the teacher and researchers learned that the iPad poses challenges for independent reading. Some students enjoyed the process of selecting and opening books from the virtual bookshelf and spent their time browsing rather than reading. A few students selected books that were too easy for them because they had access to the entire collection of books for their class rather than just the books at their reading level. Teachers may need to individualize book selections on each device because they cannot tell what students are reading as easily they can with print books by quickly glancing at a book jacket.

Student learning: Students spontaneously recorded notes using the iBooks’ virtual sticky note function. Students communicated with future readers by leaving a virtual sticky note. Students also learned how to navigate the different features of digital text, using a hyperlinked table of content, an online dictionary and changing the text size.

“We found that using the iPads for literacy instruction not only supported student learning, but students were also highly engaged and able to demonstrate unique and creative ways of responding to text using a technology tools that offers some unique affordances to users,” the researchers write.

“Exploring the Use of the iPad for Literacy Learning,” by Amy Hutchison et al., The Reading Teacher, 2012, Volume 66, Issue 1, pps. 15-23.

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