“What! Is that an iPad 2?” As soon as I heard this question, which came from an at-risk reader in a high school reading intervention class that I teach, I knew that building the course around Apple’s iPad had been a good idea. I designed the course to make full use of the iPad’s features to connect students to engaging content, track reading fluency progress and access fantastic online reading resources. In short, the iPad allows me to provide struggling readers with the high-stimulation, fully interactive interventions they need to make efficient progress.
One way the iPad improves my reading intervention class is by speeding up daily administrative tasks such as attendance. Using my iPad, I can access my school’s online portal and report attendance information quickly. Because the iPad frees me from a wired computer, I can take attendance while interacting with the students. Such interaction is especially important for at-risk students, who require more personalized attention to remain motivated. My class now starts with me among the students, welcoming them to class, chatting and simultaneously logging attendance.
The most important way the iPad has changed my class is by facilitating immediate access to updated content for struggling readers. I work with adolescent students whose reading levels are two or more grade levels behind. These sorts of readers need high-level engagement but low-level difficulty, and texts like that are difficult to find – and often expensive. Using the iPad, I can access online databases such as EBSCOhost that allow me to filter a search of hundreds of thousands of magazine and newspaper articles by subject, length and difficulty level. The result is that, within seconds, I can deliver a text individually tailored to a student’s interests and reading ability. No more long hunts through the library to find the “perfect” book. Students love the immediate access and enjoy thinking up outlandish topics (deep sea creatures, zombies) for their reading. We also use a similar tool by Barnes & Noble to search for novels and book-length non-fiction by Lexile score (see this article for an explanation of Lexile scores). Of course, we also use Apple’s bookstore to supplement our in-class resources.
The iPad also improves my reading class by involving the students in tracking their progress. I test the students on a daily basis using a simple measure of reading fluency (words correct per minute) as a way to chart students’ progress. This allows me to evaluate the effectiveness of my intervention strategies (and provide solid data for IEP teams and RTI purposes), but more importantly it provides a visual, interactive method for the students to stay motivated about improvement. After each fluency test, the student and I use a free calculator program to calculate their words correct per minute and to enter that value into a chart using Numbers, Apple’s spreadsheet software. Students then see a color-coded bar graph that shows their fluency performance relative to their previous attempts. This helps students remain goal-oriented and keep pushing until it’s time to move up to the next difficulty level.
Two additional features make the iPad a truly innovative tool for use in my reading class. First, the iPad’s mirroring functionality allows me to share my iPad’s screen with the entire class using our room’s television and Apple’s digital AV adapter. Mirroring works well for quick group read-alongs, short YouTube clips such as book previews, and the sharing of new websites that showcase age-appropriate reading content. Also, my students love using the iPad’s Garage Band software to record their reading (and sometimes set it to music or a beat). Students who record their own voices over the semester can literally hear their improvement, and they’re proud to take home recordings on their personal mp3 players to share with family.
All of these features make Apple’s iPad the technology that has most transformed my teaching and approach to interventions. Now that I’ve used it for two semesters, I can’t imagine trying to reach today’s at-risk students without it.