Has anybody else noticed that the App Store does not really offer much for all of us teachers and students who were sold on the MacBook as the gateway to quality educational software? I teach middle school language arts. Each year we spend a lot of money on vocabulary workbooks and it got me wondering if the App Store could offer anything that would save a few trees and maybe help students with grammar practice as well. I checked the App Store and was quickly disappointed to find not much that really caters to teachers and all those students in 1:1 laptop programs. Sure, there were lots of vocabulary programs for people wanting to improve their foreign language skills, but nothing targeting the millions of students and thousands of teachers around the connected world that try to improve vocabulary use. Why app developers are not targeting teachers and even asking them, ‘Hey, what can we build that will help your students learn what you’re trying to teach them?’ is a mystery to me.
Here are my two cents. For starters, keep the price point less than $10. None of this $29.99 craziness. I would happily pay ten bucks for a quality app that helped me accomplish one of my perennial teaching goals: helping students read from a variety of texts. Key features need to help students record the books they’ve read and their reviews of them. Students who do not read often claim they don’t know what to read. Part laziness, but still a lot of truth in their claim. The App should have a quick interest survey tool to help make book suggestions that are marked by reading level. The selling point for all of us teachers would be a reading diagnostic that provides a few standardized test-type reading passages to help determine a student’s ballpark reading level.
The App should distinguish itself from the reading inventory apps/websites like Goodreads or Shelfari in a few ways: goal setting and pushing varied level-appropriate reading content from the web to the student based on what they’ve read. For my 8th graders, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to set a goal of 20 books for the school year. Donalyn Miller, a Texas 6th Grade teacher and author of The Book Whisperer, sets a more Everest-like goal of 60 books for her students. It’s a simple truth that the more a student reads the higher the yield of reading progress for the student. If the App helped the student set a goal and used some of the features found in the successful health apps 100 Push-Ups and 200 Sit-Ups it would add the proven level-up aspect that appeals to the gaming masses.
For all of my technology cheerleading over the last few years, I’ll be the first to admit that the educational revolution that the laptop was supposed to launch is still slowly unfolding. I had hoped that my students would be using their MacBooks to benefit from the vast and varied newspaper articles, podcasts, forum discussions, blog posts, digital stories, eZines, student-produced movies and short stories. There’s a lot of crap on the web and then there’s a lot of content written at or above a 10th grade reading level. An App that could sift and send appropriate reading content to students would be ideal. Getting students to comment on it would be an added bonus.
App developers. Ask us what we will pay for. We don’t just want time-savers. We want to take advantage of technology in ways that clearly helps us help students make progress in a specific area. Reading may be shifting from print to digital forms, but the fact remains that the more students read the greater gains they make as students.
The App Store does have some quality apps for the Language Arts teacher. I’ll post my reviews of my favorites next week.