My Bookshelf

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tools for the Listening Center: PicPocket Books

PicPocket books (various titles) by PicPocket Books, LLC
Some books available in Spanish and Dutch
Priced from $0.99 to $8.99
Designed for iPod, iPhone, and iPad (select titles)

Pic Pocket books provides storybook read alouds for preschool through elementary students.  Several children's titles are available from Mother Goose nursery rhymes to various picture books. Authors are not always well known but the quality of the books is decent nonetheless.



Like many of its counterparts, this app provides an oral rendition of a book narrated by an expressive storyteller.  In some of the texts, users have the option of following the highlighted text as it is being read.  Many of the books contain sound effects when the user touches part of the picture. For example, in Tractor Mac, when the reader touches the tractor, the engine sounds up; likewise, geese quack when pressed upon.

The Good:  This is a great app for teachers to use in a listening center or as part of the listening component to The Daily Five.  The fact that the books are available on an iTouch makes it even more appealing for my school district. We don't yet have funds to purchase iPads for each classroom, but we do have enough sets of iTouches available.  This app would be wonderful for teachers to use in lieu of the clunky, old fashioned listening centers that we currently have.  In some of the titles (Yum, Yum, Yum) the reader can control the page turning and in others (Sunny Bunnies) pages are turned automatically. I actually appreciated the ability for children to turn pages themselves as some kids need to spend more time processing pictures in order to construct meaning from the text.  

The pictures in each text are colorful and vibrant.  The Yum, Yum, Yum book was one of my favorites with its creepy yet grabbing claymation; kids will love the monsters. PicPocket also provides many nonfiction texts. Moreover, the narration is well done by theatrical readers. As an added bonus, several of the titles are also available in Spanish which is so important for our ELL students.

The Bad:  It would be helpful if all books had the option to disable (or enable) page turning.

I give this app Thumbs Up!

Blogger's Note:  Two of these texts were downloaded through promo codes available to reviewers of apps. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Leveled Readers: The App Version

Learn to Read Books by Visions Encoded
Texts Authored by Celesta Thiessen
     I See Animals at the Zoo
     I Paint a Rainbow
     Little and Big
     Stars
     At the Pond

Developed for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad
$1.99 per book

Hurray! Leveled readers for the iPad.  As previously mentioned, I recently completed one of my intervention lessons mainly using  apps found on my iPad.  This will be a review of some of the texts used during that lesson as well as additional Learn to Read books published by Visions Encoded.  I will begin by defining exactly what constitutes a leveled reader.

Leveled readers are a staple of many elementary teachers instructional diet.  We use these for guided reading, intervention, and even mini-lessons.  Leveled readers range in difficulty from Level 1 (A) all the way to Level Z (which according to Fountas and Pinnell, are considered chapter books appropriate for 8th graders).  Now mind you, book levels are not always consistent from one publishing company to the next, however, it is generally agreed upon, that a level 1 equals a level A; a level 2 equals a level B; and levels 3 and 4 equal a level C.  As the levels get higher, the numbers and letters don't correlate so cleanly.   The texts that I review here, range from levels 1-3. Therefore, I have qualified them below according to the descriptors set forth by the creators of guided reading, Fountas and Pinnell (2007), as written in their text, The Continuum of Literacy Learning.

Level 1 (or A) books are composed of predictable  and simple sentence patterns using one line of text on each page.  Vocabulary is familiar and is generally found in the reader's oral language.  Pictures assist in word identification and meaning. Level 1 texts contain one syllable words, easy high frequency words, and spelling patterns that are easy and decodable.

Level 2 (or B) texts are also predictable and contain patterned sentences that repeat.  Vocabulary is familiar to the child and aided by pictures. These texts can begin to get slightly longer and may have up to two lines of text per page.  High frequency words are easier and spelling patterns are simple and decodable.

Level 3 (or C) texts begin to become more challenging for the reader.  Level 3 books can have 2-6 lines of print per page.  Readers cannot solely rely on the predictable pattern of these texts as they can vary.   Likewise, pictures do not carry the majority of the meaning; it is through the text that much of the understanding occurs.  Punctuation can now include apostrophes, quotations marks, periods, commas, and question marks.  A greater variety of high frequency words is employed.

Learn to Read books are leveled 1-3 (A-C).  They contain colorful photographs, a voice over option that allows the text to be read  as words are touched, and the option of sight word practice of high frequency words found in the text. I reviewed all of the texts listed above.

The Good: The photographs and pictures in all of these texts are colorful, engaging, and for the most part assist in word identification.  The content includes familiar and easy concepts that most children recognize.  For example, topics such as animals, counting, and colors are found in many of the texts. The option to practice sight words is attractive.  The print is spaced properly, uses large plain font and placed consistently on the top of the page.

The Bad:  Unfortunately, the leveling in these texts does not correlate to the qualitative leveling descriptors above.  In the books that I reviewed, there is no difference between levels 1 and 2 and 3 (other than the level 3 text provides a longer closing sentence).  For example, the level 3 text, Little and Big, is written like a level 2 text. This is problematic.  Teachers expect a big leap from level 2 to 3.  At level 3, readers have voice print match and are now able to read several lines of text that vary in pattern; they should no longer completely rely on the predictability of the text.  Learn to Read books do not adhere to this principle as evidenced in Little and Big which is pattern dependent. Also, in the Stars (level 1) text, the high frequency word "there" is used at the beginning of each sentence. "There" is a poor word choice for a level 1 reader. Furthermore, syntax changes occur in this text (ouch!).  Again, not appropriate for a level 1 book.  Moreover, there are some questionable vocabulary choices such as "wind turbine" in a level 3 text.  It is doubtful that many five year olds employ words like this in their oral language.

What I also found extremely troubling was the voice over option.  Initially, I was excited to allow my student to reread the text with the voice option. But to my horror, when we read Paint a Rainbow, the voice over read: I see a rainbow with the word "a" having a short /a/ sound.  The word "a" was read aloud like a sound as opposed to a word in every one of the texts that contained it.  Obviously, this is a developer's programming issue, but in the best interest of children learning to read, the voice over option should've been eliminated entirely.

If schools are considering purchasing these texts, the levels must be adjusted and the voice over option must be changed.  However, these texts will most likely do no harm to a child learning to read and parents may find them helpful.  Yet, as an educator working in a school, relying on generally consistent reading levels, I give these texts in their current state:

Thumbs Down

Blogger's Note: Several of these texts were downloaded through promo codes available to reviewers of apps. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Whiteboard HD

Whiteboard HD by Avici Software
Designed for iPad
$4.99

As I wrote last week, I attempted to complete one of  my reading intervention lessons mainly using the apps downloaded on my iPad.  For the writing portion of the lesson, I used the app, Whiteboard HD.  Just as the names suggests, this app allows the child to write with their finger on a whiteboard style screen. Users can choose from various backgrounds including grid, lines, plain, or picture sync. I chose plain.  There is also the option to make diagrams with shapes and lines, import images, and change the color of the writing font.  Once work is completed it can be shared via email or Dropbox and displayed on an external monitor using a VGA adopter.


The Good:  This app operated just like a whiteboard. My student was able to write, erase, and eventually save his creation so we have an ongoing record of his work.  The option to have various colors, objects, and backgrounds was helpful although not necessary for the purpose of this particular lesson.  I also appreciated the fact that when he needed practice segmenting sounds in a difficult word, I was able to seamlessly move back and forth between his writing page and a "practice" whiteboard.  Sharing the pen was also a breeze.

The Bad:  For children, this is a difficult app because they simply need more space to write. When we got to the bottom of the screen, he ran out of room and was unable to finish his sentence.  There is no way to zoom out or scroll down or over for more whiteboard room. 

I recommend this app but not for use in a Reading Recovery lesson. It is better suited for the teacher as a means of demonstration or note taking.  Therefore, from an education standpoint...

I give this app a Sideways Thumb.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Can Reading Recovery Go Digital?

First off, I am not a trained Reading Recovery teacher, although I do have similar training in a framework called Early Reading Empowerment (ERE).  Reading Recovery is a one on one lesson designed for first grade struggling readers and is one of the few reading interventions that has been shown to close the achievement gap for students at risk of reading failure.  Reading Recovery teachers are highly trained and receive rigorous professional development throughout their tenure.  The materials necessary for a Reading Recovery lesson are rather simple: magnetic letters, a small whiteboard, sentence strips, markers, writing journal for the student, running record forms, and leveled texts. The basic framework of a Reading Recovery lesson (or other stepsister frameworks like ERE) is something like this:
  • 10 Minutes: rereading books for fluency practice, reading the new text introduced yesterday (while the teacher takes a running record
  • 10 Minutes: word work and writing
  • 10 Minutes: reading a new book at my instructional reading level
It is necessary to note that Reading Recovery teachers are not only taught how to conduct a lesson with these materials, but more importantly, they are taught specific coaching language to use with students in order to help them internalize reading strategies and become independent problem solvers.  So although conducting this lesson digitally might enhance the intervention, it is ultimately the teacher's interaction, decision making skills, and ability to coach the student that will make the lesson successful. 

I attempted to digitize my own ERE lesson today by downloading several apps that would substitute for the lesson's traditional materials. (I will follow this post with a review of those apps). For the first 10 minutes of the lesson, I  read a leveled books with my student.  These texts had been previously downloaded and read by the student so I was able to use the texts again for fluency practice and the running record.  For the next 10 minutes, I used the Whiteboard HD app to conduct the writing portion of the lesson (although I used my own paper sentence strip for the cut up sentence) and a magnetic letter app for the word work. For the last 10 minutes, I used another digital text that I downloaded. 

Overall, the lesson went well (although not all of the apps were to my liking). My student was engaged and enjoyed using the iPad (although, anecdotally, I find most first graders in a one on one intervention to be engaged even without an iPad). Logistically, I appreciated the ease of this lesson as all of the materials I needed were literally right at my fingertips.  Eventually, it would be great to have an app that can complete the running record.   That way the teacher could keep all records digitally and track data accordingly.  Ideally, for the lesson to be incredibly smooth, both student and teacher would have an iPad so the teacher could monitor, take notes, and record data.  The student could then take his or her own iPad home for practice on today's book (and even read other books selected by the child).  I think it won't be long before the apps are fine tuned (and hopefully affordable) and Reading Recovery teachers can feasibly go digital.  If you have any suggestions for strong apps that would fit well into this lesson, please leave a comment.

If you would like to learn more about Reading Recovery, click here

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dearth (noun) - an inadequate supply; scarcity; lack

4th Grade Vocabulary Prep by 965 Studios
Designed for iPhone and iPad
$1.99
(Also available for 3rd grade, 5th grade, and 6th grade)

In the past decade, vocabulary instruction has taken a more prominent role in the field of literacy. This is not surprising as vocabulary knowledge is directly correlated to reading comprehension. Although vocabulary knowledge is critical for literacy acquisition, it is a complex construct that is not easily measured or taught.
This app is designed for fourth grade students (the designers also make similar vocabulary apps for 3rd, 5th, and 6th grade). Containing a simple interface, the user begins by selecting the practice mode. Here, he or she reads a word, its part of speech and subsequent definition. Optionally, users can select classical music to play in the background. Definitions of words are defined in typical dictionary style. For example, the word "confuse" is defined as "to put into disorder, to bewilder".
After the user has practiced words, he or she then can choose the quiz section, either the definition quiz or word quiz. There are dozens of words on this app. Therefore the user may practice words but end up not being assessed on them during the testing mode. The words are completely randomized.
The Good: The vocabulary words that are used in this program generally adhere to what we educators refer to as "tier two" words. Beck, McKeown, and Kucan (2002) proposed the idea of delineating vocabulary words into three tiers. The first tier of words is considered the most basic to our language. For example, everyday words such as door, sun, walk and so on. Given their simplicity, students do no not need instruction in these words. The second tier of words contains words that are frequent to mature users of the language and critical to developing a comprehensive lexicon. These words require direct instructional strategies. Tier three words include words that are infrequently used and are often domain specific. For example, scientific terms such as photosynthesis, meiosis, and endocrine should be instructed when necessary to the content subject at hand. This app does a decent job of utilizing tier two words in its word list.
The Bad: Unfortunately, the app does not employ a strong instructional foundation for facilitating vocabulary acquisition. Did you know that the least effective method for learning new words is to look them up in a dictionary and memorize them? Unfortunately, that is the instructional framework of this app. However, that's just the genesis of its demise. Let's look at some MUSTS of vocabulary instruction that are absent in this app:
  • Children should be given both contextual and definitional information when learning a new word
  • Students need to be active in developing their vocabulary; that is they need to develop strategies to independently identify important words.
  • Students should personalize word learning for example by sketching it or rewriting their own definition, This increases the word being committed to memory.
  • Students should be immersed in words; that is students should be actively engaged in a variety of language and literacy activities that celebrate words. These include read alouds and interactive book talks that highlight interesting or relevant vocabulary words.
  • Multiple sources of information to learn words through repeated exposure are necessary. It is estimated it takes 10-12 exposures of word in multiple contexts before a word is truly learned.
  • Students should be instructed in morphology and develop morphological awareness (the understanding that words can divided into units of meaning: prefixes, suffixes, roots). This facilitates not only vocabulary learning but aids in chunking words to decode them.
  • Dictionary definitions are unfriendly to children and meanings are not easily understood or retained. Case in point, take this apps definition of "confuse - to put into disorder, to bewilder". What if the child doesn't know what disorder is, or bewilder? Perhaps, the designers should have a video of a fourth grader trying to decipher this confusing definition and possibly that would enhance the app! 
I could continue to elaborate further about the dearth of instructional strategies in this program, but hopefully the few bits of information suffice in understanding why...
I give this app Thumbs Down

Vocabulary App

4th Grade Vocabulary Prep

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Kingdom of Possibilities

Play Time Theater by Make Believe Worlds, LLC
Designed for iPad
Price $4.99

"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales." attributed to Albert Einstein

This is an app that even Einstein would adore! It contains the power of  imagination while providing children an ability to create and collaborate, two desirable traits not easily found in this massive frenzy of mobile applications. However, Make Believe Worlds, has bucked that trend and created in their words,"a digital play set and puppet-show theatre".  Highly interactive,  this customizable program allows the user to create a digital fairy tale like play using an interface that contains six characters, a plethora of sound options, and stage configurations.  The setting of the play set is mindful of a Renaissance Fair with a mote, dragon, unicorn, princess (or wicked queen), prince, knight, evil sorcerer all of whom are customizable like a digital Polly Pocket.  Users create their set and characters, have a dress rehearsal, and then record their story using thier own theatrical voice while simultaneously inputting sound effects and music.  For a demo, watch this video:



The Good:  The minute I tried this app, I began generating tons of ideas for use in the classroom.  I'll begin with just a couple: First, students in writing workshop, who are completing the Fairy Tale Unit of Study (or student choice project), could use this app for drafting ideas and publishing a final product.  Teachers could also use this either as a scaffold to facilitate understanding of the genre or as a tool to enrich the final publication. This app could also be extremely useful in a reading intervention setting. To test my hypothesis, I am trying it out with some of my struggling readers. I have two reading groups that need continued support with reading comprehension. Therefore, we are immersing ourselves in the genre of fairytales, completing interactive read alouds that focus on comprehension building.  Since so many of my students love plays, we are going to spend part of our time creating a PlayTime Theatre play using the elements of the fairy tale genre that we learned through our immersion.  Since several of my students also struggle with fluency, the creation of a play will serve as a Reader's Theatre like activity - students will be practicing repeated readings without even realizing it (which are great for developing automaticity)! Furthermore, this app also allows student to practice expressive reading - which again, is a critical function of reading comprehension.

I began trying this app with kids yesterday and the response was more than positive. I had engagement, healthy discussions, and motivation to both read and write.  This is what reading teachers live for!

The Bad:  Well, if you are going to use this in a classroom, I would suggest two students (three at most) per iPad.  Otherwise, there is too much competition for screen time.   This app is learning by doing, it does contain some directions, but you really need to spend time experimenting prior to using it with kids.  This isn't a bad thing, necessarily, but unlike other apps it isn't completely intuitive (which is part of the reason it's so fantastic).

I give this app a big Thumbs Up.

Blogger's Note:  When I first tried this app I was having trouble with the sound (my sound button was muted, duh!) and I emailed the developers for help.  They responded right away with suggestions and were very helpful and kind.  So thank you Seth and David!  Also, I noticed that they have more "stages" coming out including pirate world, dino world, and space world.  I can't wait for Act Two! 

Sunday, January 30, 2011

StoryBuddy

Name: StoryBuddy by John Cotant
Designed for iPad
Price $2.99

Story Buddy is another app that facilitates the process of writing and creativity. The interface contains a simple layout that allows the user to design a story book complete with text and illustrations.  For writing, there is a text box feature that pops up the keyboard, or alternately, users can also select from a rainbow of colored crayons or pencils to hand write as well as illustrate their story.  There are 15 pages and a cover for each book, although students do not have the utilize all of the pages. Once users have composed their story, they select the "Read" feature and the composition is played back to them. Unlike Story Time, there are no speech options to orally tell their story.

The Good: I really enjoy the simplicity of this app. It's straightforward yet has enough options to make the process of writing appealing for kids.  I also believe the app could be tantalizing for students in the writing workshop as they could aspire to publish their final draft and share their accomplishments with classmates (putting to good use the document camera).  Teachers will also appreciate how engrossed their students are throughout the writing process (my daughter is voluntarily writing a fictional story as I blog this).

The Bad:  Again, just due to the fact that the drawing/writing app can be a bit clunky for us neophytes, it could be a slight issue, although young children probably won't bat an eye.  The eraser feature is a little quirky in that it is laborious to get all of a mistake erased.  Lacks a speech recorder.

I give this app Thumbs Up 

Can Book Reports be Fun?

Name: A Mini Book Report by Nth Fusion LLC
Designed for iPad
$0.99

The book report goes digital! Any parent who has ever experienced the 11th hour rush to motivate their child to get a book report written will be intrigued by this app.  Well, there's a genuine reason that most kids don't like writing book reports: they're boring.  This app is designed to eliminate some of that tedium by providing a little splash to the classic regurgitation of facts with colorful graphics and...colorful graphics.  Essentially, the structure of the book report remains static with students inputting the familiar architecture of characters, setting, problem, solution, and overall opinion of the book. Children also have the option to share their book report via email.

The Good:  Children who are currently expected to write book reports by their teacher will of course gravitate to this colorful app.  Any kid will choose the iPad over paper.  Novelty is fun. The option to convert the book report to a PDF is also an attractive option for those teachers who require book reports.

The Bad:  It's a book report, must I go on?  Okay, let's talk some basics of reading comprehension.  The book report provides teachers a snapshot of basic literal understanding of facts.  Students tell the setting, the characters, the problem, solution, and if they liked the book.  Hmmm, I bet 98% of kids could gather those facts from the back of the book. Moreover, let's say they read the book, how well are they able to understand the text at a higher level?  Can they demonstrate inferential thinking?  Does this app allow teachers or parents to observe that?

Comprehending text is a complex act and in my opinion, shouldn't be reduced to a book report. If we want children to demonstrate their understanding of a text, then we need to provide rich literacy experiences that not only facilitate reading comprehension but provide ongoing assessment opportunities. Wiki's, online discussion boards and good ole fashioned book clubs are tools that can both simultaneously instruct and assess.  It is through language and discourse with others that our students build their understanding.  Save yourself the $0.99 and go buy your child a cup of hot chocolate and discuss a great book together.  I'm willing to bet that a trip to Starbucks and a book talk with mom or dad will trump this app any day of the week! 

I give this app Thumbs Down

Writing Workshop goes Digital

Name: StoryKit by ICDL Foundation
Designed for iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad
Cost: Free

Well, I knew right away I would love this app when both of my kids chose to spend their Saturday night writing instead of watching t.v.  And just to clarify, this app is not titled Writing Workshop goes Digital but that is truly what came to my mind when I first sat down and tinkered with it.  StoryKit is an app that was originally designed for the iPod Touch (obvious by the size of it on the iPad) wherein users can create an original story through writing, speech, or manipulation of four preloaded books.   Users can add illustrations through "painting" as well as sound effects.  Once the story is complete, users can share it by sending it to the ICDL server which in turn sends the user an email with a link to their story.  This can then by copied and shared to friends on Facebook, Twitter, or even email.  An FAQ of how StoryKit works can be found here: StoryKit FAQ

The Good:  Well, from a teacher's standpoint I love that this app is all about creative expression!  Writing Workshop teachers will delight in children's ability to create a personal narrative or realistic fiction story.  To test the waters, I tried this with my own two children (Thomas who is in second grade and Maeve who is a fourth grader).  Now, mind you, my mini-lesson at home was a demonstration story about our dog Ruby and her personal issue with chronic flatulence, so right away, I grabbed their attention (if only all teachers could hook kids in with tales of farting in their mini-lessons - I think we'd have 100% engagement!).  Immediately, both of my kids wanted to write a story.  My daughter, of course wrote about the number two fun topic for kids: barfing.  She decided on using the voice recorder to tell her story and created the illustrations along with.  Here is a link to her literary creation: Maeve's story  (I can tell that the Wimpy Kid books have rubbed off on her). It's important to note that students can also type text with their story using a popup digital keyboard. 


Alternatively, students can also edit four existing stories that come preloaded on the app. One text is titled, The Rocket Book, a classic children's story about a rocket that travels upwards through and apartment building (cute story).  The remaining three books are Fairy Tales: Humpty Dumpty, The Three Bears, and The Three Little Pigs. Many teachers of Writing Workshop who complete a Fairy Tale Unit of Study may find this app helpful in scaffolding student's writing of fairy tales.  I think it has the potential to help kids understand the genre.

The Bad:  This app does have some resolution issues. Originally designed for an iTouch, it is thus small on the iPad.  You can increase the size but then you lose resolution.  Also, the four preloaded books are a cute idea but really didn't grab my kid's attention.  Anecdotally, I find that not all kids enjoy rewriting endings or alternate plot lines (but it doesn't hurt to try, especially for our reluctant writers).  Likewise, as stated above, I do think the preloaded books could be tried in a Fairy Tale unit of study.   Also, I found the drawing tool a bit awkward (my kids were fine) but perhaps if the app is rewritten for a larger screen, the drawing will be more comfortable.

I give this app Thumbs Up

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Cat in the Hat - Dr. Seuss

Name: The Cat in the Hat - Dr. Seuss by Oceanhouse Media
Designed for iPhone and iPad
Designed for Android Market
$3.99

Dr. Seuss. Need I say more? The reviews for this app were pretty stellar when I first looked into purchasing it. Not only did users give it high ratings but it also received the 2010 Parents Choice Silver Honor for Mobile apps. Basically, this is an ebook of the classic text, The Cat in the Hat, that also provides several options for viewing: read to me, read it myself, and autoplay. I began by exploring the read to me option. Here, a narrator reads the story aloud while the words are highlighted on the screen. The book also does some zooming in and out, similar to a video. Moreover, there is a feature that allows the user to tap on the pictures and words appears. So, for example, if the text says "something went bump", the user can tap on a picture of children appearing to jump out of their seats and the word jump appears.
Likewise the user can tap objects in the picture, such as The Cat in the Hat's bowtie, and the word bowtie appears. In the read it myself option, the user reads the book but still has the option of tapping on words to reveal the spelling. In the autoplay option, the book is read aloud, but the child doesn't have to turn the pages manually.
The Good: Parents and teachers can never go wrong with Dr. Seuss. These texts develop rhyming skills and are engaging and imaginative. This app is simple to use yet diverse for all types of readers from emerging to fluent.
The Bad: Does not have a lock feature for autoplay which could be a hazard for little fingers.
I give this app thumbs up. Oceanhouse Media also has several other Dr. Seuss texts available for purchase (some free options exist as well).

Word Magic

Name: Word Magic by anusen.com
Designed for iPhone and iPad
0.99 available in iTunes

As I explore more and more apps on mobile devices, I notice that many of the educational apps billed as instructional tools could actually be used as an assessment tool for teachers. Take for example, Word Magic. This little app could be a quick way for teachers to assess young students' phonological awareness and letter/sound correspondence. Phonological awareness simply refers to the ability to hear the sounds in words. Letter/sound correspondence is applying the correct letter to the sound in the word. Both phonological awareness and letter/sound correspondence are critical skills for young children to develop as they aid in the ability to decode words. Moreover, several studies have demonstrated that these skills are predictive of latter reading success. Phonological awareness skills includes such abilities as rhyming, blending, identifying syllables, segmenting sounds in a word, and hearing initial, medial (middle), and ending sounds.

Word Magic is an app that allows children to demonstrate their ability to identify the correct beginning, medial, and ending letter in a word. In this app, a colorful picture is presented to the child along with a voice over stating what the picture is. Below the picture is the correct spelling of the word however one letter in either the beginning, medial, or ending position is omitted (depending upon the level selected). So, for example, a picture of a wand would present along with a child's voice stating "wand". Below the picture, a random selection of four letters are provided and users choose the correct option.

Users have the option of having sound or no sound. If a child incorrectly chooses a letter, the voice over says "you can do it" and the child tries again. Likewise, the app has several features which include ability level (users choose level one or two; in the advanced level, two letters are omitted instead of one). Users also have the option of sound or no sound, word length (from 3-6), and challenge time.

The Good: Overall, I found this a decent app especially as a quick way for teachers to assess a child's ability to hear sounds in words and/or correspond those sounds to the right letter. However, if a child does struggle with this app, a discerning teacher will need to reassess and discover if it is hearing sounds that is giving the child difficulty or letter/sound correspondence. They are two distinct abilities. Students can also use this app to practice phonological skills and letter/sound correspondence.

The Bad: Unfortunately, this app is not instructional in my opinion. It merely allows a child to practice some emerging literacy skills. If this were an instructional tool, a child would be able to slow the app down and hear the sounds that were confusing. Likewise, the child would be able to press the list of letter options to hear the sounds they make and continue on with an appropriate guess. Also, it should be noted that a child's voice says the picture's name. Although most of the time, I found the words clear to understand, there were occasionally times when words were confusing to hear.

Overall, I give this app a sideways thumb. It has some potential for assessment when used properly. Is good for practice but is not meant for instruction.

Alphabet by Kindergarten.com

Name: ABA Flash Cards - Alphabet by Kindergarten.com
Designed for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad
Free

This app is one of many designed to teach preschoolers and kindergartners uppercase letter identification. Learning letters and their corresponding sounds is obviously a critical skill in learning to read. Many children acquire letters and sounds through rich exposure to books and environmental print. Nonetheless, many children often require direct instruction of letters which is the purpose of this app.



This app operates by presenting children with colorful flashcards beginning with the uppercase letter A and a corresponding picture. A voice then states the name of the picture. For example, in the flashcard on the left, the voice says "Earth" and nothing more.

The good: The pictures in this app are colorful and engaging.

The bad: This app misses the mark completely on effective letter instruction. First, children are never taught the names of the letters, only the names of the object that begin with that letter. Therefore, young children must make a tremendous leap and internalize the picture with the letter name. Children only learn the name of the object in the picture. Apparently, the creators of this app assume that children can figure out the letter name by themselves (but isn't that the purpose of the app?!) Unfortunately, this app was intended for teaching letter indentification but derails and turns into a vocabulary lesson!

Secondly and equally disturbing, is that the corresponding pictures on some of the vowels are confusing. Children often learn letters and sounds simultaneously, so for example, when teaching children to idenftify an A select a corresponding picture that contains the general sound that the letter makes (airplane, apple). Unfortunately, in this app, perplexing images are chosen to represent the letter. Case in point, look at the E "earth". Why choose such an exception to the sound of E - the creators surely could've chosen a more common sound for the picture (egg, elephant). Even more befuddling is that they repeat this misstep for the letter O and use a picture of an owl. Again, better choices would've been (ostrich, orange, oval). Vowels are confusing for kids to begin with, why make it worse?

I give this app thumbs down.


Friday, January 28, 2011

Welcome!

Hello world. I am a Reading Specialist working in an elementary school who is interested in the proliferation of digital technologies, particularly mobile devices, within the school setting. I am also a doctoral student studying Literacy and Language. Although I embrace the power of mobile technologies, such as the Galaxy Tablet and iPad, I am also troubled by the sheer amount of applications some of which are not rooted in sound instructional practice. Which ones are better for my child or students to use?

Therefore, my goal is to provide one review per week (possibly more, depending on my time) of an application that strives to teach children an aspect of reading. I will review both iPad apps which are tightly controlled by Apple as well as android apps which have less oversight by Google. I will ground my reviews in theory and best practice as opposed to looking at merely the aesthetics of these applications. Stay tuned for my first review!
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