An article in T.H.E. Journal recently highlighted the efforts of a “newcomer” school” in Illinois that has successfully implemented an iPad program at their school for the specific purpose of getting their students to improve their English language skills before transerring back to their regular high schools. Every student was provided with an iPad at the beginning of the year and, according to the article, they have had great success in breaking down some barriers that many first year English learners encounter when they move to the U.S. (or any other Anglo-speaking country for that matter).
According to teachers and administartors, the program has been highly successful in that students are now able to take their iPads home to build academic bridges between the home and the school. The conclusion that has been reached is that the iPad (as well as its junior cousin, the iPod Touch) is a hit with students and has boosted engagement and success.
While the article cites no data, the conclusion is clear: iPods are great for educating English Language Learners. Here are just some of the benefits:
1. Students are able to record their own reading using audio recording tools (Voice Memos, Voxie), and then keep a record of their reading attempts to compare over time, thus they can monitor their progress in fluency.
A notable app in this category is Toontastic. Students can make their own digital puppet shows, record narration and animate them. The app also instructs the students on a proper story arc so their shows have conflict and resolution, build -up and climax.
Q: “What did students do when they didn’t know what a word meant?” A: they had to raise their hand and ask the teacher.
2. On-the-go dictionary: If defining words was all that the iPads and iPods did, they would still be a significant improvement over the traditional printed and bound pocket dictionaries, which never have all the words you need, nor do these allow the user to see the words used in different contexts like you can with online tools and dictionary apps. The options for word definition on the iPod/iPad are too numerous to list here, but a good start is Dictionary.com which is free and available to anyone with a web browser.
3. Handheld Translation: With apps like Google Translate and ITranslate they can translate English into their own language, including speech recognition features. And with WorldDictionary, by Penpower Inc, students can now point to text directly and have it translated into English or their home language (from Swahili to Croatian ) by simply pointing their iPod camera to a printed word.
3. Reading: Students can read content from a variety of sources, including the Kindle e-reader app that helps students define, highlight, and take notes on the text they read, then share those notes with others. Other notable apps include Stanza and Google eBooks.
4. Listening: Audio books and podcasts have revolutionized the way students can access language. Primary school teachers are used to books on tape in their listening libraries, but why quit after elementary school? English learners can now download whole audio books and follow along the written version. They can pause and replay. Also, there are a variety of language courses, some free, some charging a fee, in the form of downloadable podcasts available from iTunes. While we can’t fully recommend any one podcast at the moment, there are enough reviews out there to point you in the right direction. And the podcast format also allows students to create the podcasts and then share them with other listeners.
Music has long been an easy and effective way to introduce and develop language skills with second language learners. With the iPod, which was originally designed as a music listening device, students can listen to songs in English and then find the corresponding lyrics online for a reading/listening experience that they can later discuss or write about. This has been written about extensively and lesson ideas abound after a quick Google search.
5. Writing: Let’s face it. The writing functionality of the iPod and the iPad has faced criticism from people who find it too difficult and unnatural. It’s not just folks with fat fingers who complain, but even the petitely-digited can get frustrated at the lack of a physical response one expects when typing. And while using an external keyboard can solve this problem in most cases, this may not be feasible or even affordable for many students or schools. Still, there are more than enough conventional writing apps like Pages or Notes. Text can be auto corrected, saved, shared, and uploaded to the cloud via Dropbox.
But beyond simple text editing apps there are a number of interesting apps that combine writing with images and storytelling, which make for more compelling and engaging writing activities. Moxier Collage, for example lets the student use images from the iPhoto library and add text, captions, banners, much in the manner of a collage, which is perfect for students at the beginning to intermediate level.
With all of these options, and with the portability of the devices, it is clear why so many schools are choosing to purchase iPads and iPods for their classroom. That is not meant to be a plug for Apple, assuming that there are Android developers out there quickly trying to catch up–as they should–to expand the platform in areas where the iPad is lacking. But for the time being, we can only wait for more of these apps.
And for more stories on schools using iPads in schools see this post on Technology Bytes and Nibbles.