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There’s an App for That!

Yes, I know – another overused cliché, but blogging is all about grabbing the reader’s attention – right!

I recently upgraded my phone to my first iPhone, so I have “app fever.” I was one of those patiently awaiting the phone’s arrival to Verizon. I was trying to hold out until the next release, but my poor Samsung Omnia bit the dust. It served me well, but it was time for an upgrade. As a Mac user, the iPhone seemed like the next logical choice in my “collection.” I must say it has been the easiest transition to a phone that I’ve experienced to date. My collection is about to expand in 2 to 3 weeks with the coming of an iPad 2. I can hardly wait!

To cure my “app fever” I do spend a little spare time searching through the App Store. I basically scan through the FREE app section for anything that would add functionality to my phone and life (and a little entertainment). I’m always looking for new suggestions!

I know several teachers both virtually and in my daily work who continually use apps on iPod Touches and iPad in their classrooms. This practice is getting technology in the hand of students and increasing their digital literacy skills. For the teachers, it is a bit of new learning. For the kids, they are learning that it is just a way of life for them.

We add electronic apps to add functionality to our lives or the lives of our students. Many are designed to challenge students and/or increase their skills and strategies in troublesome areas. As educators, we know that each child has unique needs. A one-size-fits all approach isn’t going to fulfill each of those needs.

But, does every app have to be in an electronic form? What if we thought of specific interventions as apps.  An intervention must add functionality to a child’s life just as an app. We need to search for the right app(s) for each child! How do we go about finding the right intervention (or app) for the student? First, we’d need more general apps to assist us. How about checking out the following?

  • Strength & Challenge GPS: We can determine the students areas of strength and the areas that are breaking down. Pinpointing the specific needs will make for a more powerful intervention. Building upon their strengths will enhance the intervention.
  • Research Finder: We can look to the research. In the area of literacy I’ve found the work of Sheila Valencia and Marsha Riddle Buly quite helpful. Their article Behind the Test Scores: What Struggling Readers Really Need provides specific intervention guidelines for a wide variety of needs. Meeting the Needs of Failing Readers also provides pertinent information. The book Word Callers (Small-Group & One-to-One Interventions for Children who “Read” but Don’t Comprehend (2010) by Kelly B. Cartwright appears to be a valuable resource with ties to Bully & Valencia’s work. (It is up next in my reading list!)
  • Smile Maker: We can add the dimension of helping each child SMILE and believe in themselves. The cover of Kelly B. Cartwright’s book: Word Callers (Small-Group & One-to-One Interventions for Children who “Read” but Don’t Comprehend (2010) speaks loud and clear. The look of sadness, frustration, confusion, embarrassment and fear can belong to the struggling student. Building them up with affirmations can do wonders and add a smile to their face.
  • Self-Esteem Booster: We can avoid letting the students know they struggle by referring to the “intervention” in a positive manner. Hence my reason for thinking of these as apps. I’ve witnessed too many kids, when knowing they are receiving help because they struggle in something, lose self-confidence. We ALL struggle at something. Building learning communities that value each person as a learner is far more productive than adding condescending labels!

The above mentioned apps can enhance any intervention. Two additional apps are necessary components to every intervention: Instruction and Progress Monitoring.

An academic example:

  • Unlock the Secrets: The teaching approach of explicit instruction is effective. Dr. Gerald Duffy, author of Explaining Reading, refers to this as unlocking the secret (of the troublesome area) for the learner. The steps (or moves) of explicit instruction can be used in any academic area. Narrowing in on specific strategies can also help develop a reader. The strategy rubric developed by Language Arts Committee, Walnut Creek School District found here  provides useful information for K-1, 2-3 and 4-5 to assist in narrowing a focus.
  • One Step at a Time: Students are more likely to feel success when using materials at the child’s specific level. For example, in the area of reading students should using materials at their instructional level with teacher support and practicing with materials at their independent level. Using materials that are too difficult is counterproductive and will leave the student frustrated.
  • Authenticity: Progress monitoring should be authentic. In the example of reading measuring the progress being made in reading levels through the use of rubrics will help guided the development of a reader. Focusing on data collection that is only one-sided (such as words per minute) won’t provide a full picture of the reader. This type of data is one important piece of information, but collected separately can be miss leading. The goal of any type of reading is comprehension. It is important to include this type of data. An example of a rubric idea I’ve been working on and currently is only a work in progress can be found here. (Thanks to @DataDiva for her ideas!)  The rubric is not meant to determine a “score.” It is meant to be used as a guide to determine the advancement of reading levels. The data collected would be that of the levels the student is able to show success.

Each student in our classrooms deserve to have their needs met. We all know this is not an easy feat. Keeping the above-mentioned non-electronic apps in mind may be able to assist us. I know there are many other great ideas out there! This blog post is a continual work in progress. It has been in the draft stage for several weeks. It is not meant to be a stand alone document by any means! It is just time to publish this post. I welcome ideas and dialogue surrounding this topic.

“Free the child’s potential, and you will transform him into the world.”

~ Maria Montessori

Photo credit: cc licensed flickr photo shared by Steve Rhodes