Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"There may not be an app for that . . ."

I just read a great article entitled "There May Not Be an App for That" written by Helen Erickson, a teacher of English Language learners at a secondary school in British Columbia. She talks of her 'aha!' moment when she realized that when she first began working with iPads in the classroom, she was making the "classic error of trying to find apps to teach with." She comments: "There may not be an app that will teach what you want students to learn, but there is most likely an app that will support and enhance students' learning."

Although she mentions a few specific apps that she uses, the article is more about her general philosophy and the benefits she has found in using iPads in the classroom. I second her comments about teachers needing as many tools in our toolboxes as possible and how motivating technology can be for students. Her observation that "when the students were playing games or completing drills, they were often using inefficient or incorrect strategies" is spot on! Just because the kids really like using iPads and find them motivating does not mean that they are always the best choice of activity. As I said in my MATSOL conference presentation earlier this month, we have to be sure that students are working on the skill we really want them to be working on. 'iPad time' is not time for teachers to sit back and relax - they still need to be paying attention to what their students are doing. Students often need both initial and continued direction so that they understand what the goal is and that this is not 'play time'.

Of course, this is true no matter what kind of activity we are asking them to do, but I have seen too many teachers think that giving the kids an app to work on is going to guarantee some kind of improvement in skill or understanding. When you let students use an iPad you need to be clear about what they are going to get out of it. Just like baby-proofing a room, you have to look at the app from the student's point of view. Is there a way to get a high score without truly understanding the assignment?  Have you played the game all the way through as a student will? How often are there 'rewards'? How long can the student spend on the rewards as opposed to the academic task? A fun game that includes some math may be motivating, but our time in school with kids is limited and if the percentage of time on task is not high enough then maybe that game needs to be relegated to being one recommended for use on personal iPads.

Even if you don't teach English language learners, I highly recommend Helen's article.

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