Monday, May 21, 2012

Language Arts Apps for Early Elementary Classrooms

First grade teacher Meade Guignon continues a series of articles on her experiences with iPads in her first grade classroom:

As the school year winds down and I begin to think about summer projects and (gasp) next year, I’m forced to reflect on my teaching over the last nine months. As with every year, there have been areas where I’ve felt successful, and areas where I’ve…well, not felt so successful. Wins and losses, highs and lows, moments of pride and shame. The ever-confounding and complex topic of technology in education naturally would fall into both categories.

In my first grade classroom, we’ve certainly jumped on board of the iPad train. The devices have been used frequently in many areas of the curriculum. The kids love them, obviously. And frankly, I’ve loved them. It’s been a fabulous way to have the kids practice phonics, spelling, and math facts without using reams of paper, and it has engaged kids in ways that other activities do not. 

My goal for the next year is to use these wonderful resources as tools to create rather than simply to practice. I want to teach with the iPads, alongside the curriculum, instead of teach, practice, teach, practice. Reaching that goal will require quite a bit of thinking, discussing, and planning this summer, but I have some ideas and apps in mind for how this will happen. 

However, in my mind, using the iPads as a tool for skill practice is where teachers begin when faced with this new technology in our primary grade classrooms. I’d like to highlight several apps that I’ve used with success this year. Here are my favorite Language Arts apps. I’ll be creating a similar list of Math apps very soon!

Language Arts Apps for Early Elementary Classrooms

Spellboard: sight word and spelling practice
This app is great and has the potential to be a must-have app for any teacher that wants to customize an app to include a particular word list. Again, each student logs into his or her own account and then chooses a spelling list to work on. They can practice the words through a word search or word scramble, study the quiz, or take the quiz. Their results are shown in the “history” section. 

Spellboard has the Dolch words readily available for download into the app. There is also an option to make your own list, complete with recording the word and sentences for context. These lists can be shared across iPads via Bluetooth, and the same activities are available for these words.

Simplex Spelling: spelling lessons and practice
I’m a fan of this app- it seems clear and easy to use, and my students are able to navigate menus and choose spelling patterns. The choices for spelling patterns are pretty robust, although they are missing a few, such as ui, ew, and a few other less common patterns. It’s not game-y at all, and even has short introductions for each vowel pattern that explain the spelling and the sound that a pattern makes.

Word Bingo: reading and spelling sight words
This app features Dolch sight words leveled for pre-primer through third grade, and each level includes words from the previous level. A student logs into their player account, chooses a level, and then can choose to practice the words or play the bingo game. The student has the ability to choose which level to work on and it isn’t possible to prevent a kindergartener, say, from going into the third grade level. This is a minor con, in my mind, and the ability to turn levels off would be nice. 

A big pro of this app include the ability for each student to have their own account, and I can open the app and see each child’s “report card,” which shows what each student has worked on and how successful they are. The kids like the game-y music and earning bugs. 

However, this game-y nature of the app is also a con. I’m not sure the music, the bugs, and all the bells and whistles actually enhance student learning, or just make the classroom sound like a casino.

Little Speller Series: spelling and phonics practice
The Little Speller Series of apps are good for basic practice of primary grade words. They have Little Speller for Three Letter Words, Four Letter Words, and Sight Words. The Three Letter Words are customizable to focus on just one, some or all short vowel sounds. The Sight Word version allows you to select from “levels” 1-5 (although I’m not sure if this aligns to Dolch or Fry or another sight word list). Four Letter Words allows you to turn on or off words based on their beginning letter. I’m not exactly sure about how helpful this feature is, but perhaps in later versions, one will be able to choose based on vowel patterns or other features. 

Little Speller apps do not allow each student to have their own account.

Word Magic: phonics
Word Magic is a good spelling app for a centers-type activity. It allows you to choose short vowels, long vowels, other types (I think by this it means other types of vowel patterns), and multi-syllabic words (I wish one of these apps would specify spelling patterns and be a little more specific about word features, but this app comes fairly close). This is a good app for general spelling and phonics practice. However, just like Little Speller, it does not let you keep track of each child's progress.

Montessori Crosswords: spelling and problem solving
This app is another good spelling app for centers or independent practice of spelling patterns. A fun feature of this app is its “crossword puzzle” element, which requires that students decide the overlapping letters. A recent update allows the student to to focus on a specific sound or spelling pattern. Again, this is not an app that allows each student to keep track of his or her work or progress, but it is a good app for general spelling practice.

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