Who is the user? What is the intent/purpose or instructional focus? What is the desired outcome? Do we ask ourselves these questions prior to answering a simple question, “What’s your favourite app?”
A few weeks ago I jumped into #storyappchat and I quickly became engaged in dialogue with app developers, authors and reviewers. Once the group realized I was a primary teacher I was asked a few questions. The most innocent one being, “What’s your favourite app?” Chats run at a quick pace and I quickly replied “My Story- Book maker for Kids” Well it’s true that in my classroom (grade three students) we use our technology for creating (Purpose) and My Story enables students to become authors and publish their work in and ePub or iBook format. However, once I answered that question I quickly wanted to take it back and ask a question or two. I don’t believe anyone can answer that simple question, “What’s your favourite app?” It seems easy but it’s actually really complicated. I have different favourite apps depending on who is using the app (which student or group of students) as well as what the intended learning intention.
In this blog post I would like to attempt to answer the wonderful question “What is your favourite story app?”
For Pleasure and reading for the love of it
When I’m using the iPad with a visitor to my home, a young child in the age 3-9 range, , I usually click on one of Nosy Crow’s apps. I really like the features in The Three Little Pigs and their latest app Cinderella. I find these apps are easy to connect to since the children already know the story. I like watching their faces change as they realize they can interact with the characters in the story. For example, in the Cinderella app the child or parent in some cases can gather the mice and collect the pumpkin and planters for the Fairy Godmother. They can also use the mirror in the app. That actually freaked out one of my little visitors. I like seeing the animation on the users face when these brilliantly animated stories are displayed on the iPad. However, this isn’t always what I want for some of my students. Yes, it’s an app that I will use for a listening center or classroom library work station time exploration but it’s not one I would explicitly use to teach with in class. It’s an app for pleasure and for the love of reading.
Guided Reading Groups
I use a lot of apps for guided reading purposes. I use five iPads and gather a group based on a specific skill and then use a story app. I find I spend a long time searching for the right story app to meet the group’s needs and it’s not always an efficient use of my time. I am very thankful to Carissa from www.digital-storytime.com who spends so much of her time reviewing story apps and posting reviews on her site. I use her recommendations and occasionally match them up to my specific readers. For example, I was focusing on key messaging and working on how students can make a difference so I selected the apps The Amazing Adventures of Eco Boy and The Amazing Adventures of Eco Boy, Volume Two by Lana Sultan. These apps are simple digital pages with the words displayed easily enough for the students to read and track with their fingers. No animation pops up to distract the reader. The students can touch the words and use their chunking strategy without worry of the page turning on them or a character moving or becoming animated. This enabled me to pick students who were still focusing on decoding strategies along with understanding the key message. This type of story app matched a few of my groups very well. However, The Amazing Adventures of Eco Boy is not an app I would pull out to dazzle a visitor at my home. I do like the way story app such as Penguin’s Family The Story of a Humbolt Penguin move and turn so it feels like a moving book. The students were able to make connections to the hard cover books we had read about Animal Fathers. JipJab Jr. Biggest Pizza Ever and The Avatar series of fairy tales are instant attention grabbers because the reader takes a photograph and then their face becomes the main character’s face. This literally pulls the reader into the story and fabulous discussion can occur.
In the fall I discovered eBooks and I have to say I have relied a lot on story apps and not eBooks in the classroom. I have found the selection is not as plentiful and it’s very time consuming to search through the online story to find appropriate books for my grade level. I am happy to see Carissa @iPad_Storytime has recently added a tab on her website and now includes reviews of eBooks. So eBooks fall into the same category as the previously mentioned story app. It’s good to use when I need an electronic copy of a text and I want students to focus on decoding and a specific skill such as main idea or supporting details. I used @Annie_Fox Annie Fox’s Are You My Friend? eBook and while it was good to use as a guided reading text I didn’t use it with the right group, the right focus or the right time of year. I had my students read the story and critic it. But my students were used to analyzing and comparing interactive word study apps so they were unfamiliar with eBook formats. My students were use to interactive story apps and when this high group read this eBook they were let down at the lack of interactivity. Was that a fault of the developer? No, it was my fault as a teacher. I hadn’t use the iPads for reading in this way and they didn’t know how to look past the spot to interact. I needed to do some teaching with ebooks. I’m proud to say my students now see the iPad as a diverse learning tool and they have come to understand that sometimes a story app will interact and entertain, and sometimes it’s just as fun to become absorbed in the story and not be distracted by the bells and whistles. So I am a believer in story apps and eBooks given the right time, the right group and the right focus.
I love story apps for differentiated the instruction for my learners. I recently used the SeaWorld app, Shark Visits the Doctor by Ruckus Reader @RuckusMedia. I created a group of students of varying reading levels. I provided headphones for two of them who would struggle with the text. My intent was to have a rich dialogue and find supporting details to back up their thinking. So students read or listened to the words and then went back and found a specific page to support their thinking and then together they shared their thinking. It was really interesting to see students who were not at the same reading level discussing and being critical thinkers together. I find sometime students who read at a lower level aren’t exposed to rich enough text to generate rich conversations. This type of app with movies, animation and read aloud option provided a different type of guided group. I must mention I did have to direct them away from the letter game that was embedded in the story. This game took away from our guided focus and didn’t add to the discussion. However, the focus on specific details was a hit for all.
Collaborating with other grades (Buddy Reading)
I read a tweet about a class investigating Butterflies and I discovered the app titled Butterfly HD by Sprouts Labs. Our Kindergarten classes had tanks and were watching the process of the butterfly lifecycle. One of my K teachers invited me in to see the Chrysalis. I was so excited and asked if our class could come down and share a new app we had found. So the grade three students partnered up and read aloud the Butterfly information on the app. The students then were totally engaged in the digital photos of the different parts of the lifecycle. There was also video embedded to supplement the text and photos. The kindergarten students made connections and showed my students their tank and explained what they had witnessed in class. Together the students were learning and sharing. The Butterfly HD app had text, drawings, photos and video to help all students consolidate their learning. This app reached the many different learning styles of the users. Incredible!
I won’t be fooled again. If someone asks me “What’s your favourite app?” I’m going to bite my tongue or pause before I response with my questions, Who is the user? What is the intention/purpose/focus? Then I’ll engaged in a conversation about the wide range of story apps that suit different learners and situations.
App developers, keep producing varied materials. Think about your intended audience and focus and then ask yourself, does my app fit this target audience and focus? Could a teacher or parent use this app for different purposes? If yes, then hurray! As educators, we need to keep asking ourselves the questions as we do with any type of text we use, is this the right text for this group of learners for this specific purpose?
What’s your favourite app and why?
I look forward to discussing this further on Sunday June 24th at 9:00 EST on Twitter at #storyappchat