Mobile Learning | Feature

Apps and Ideas for Literature Circles on iPads

Technology is sliding a power cord, app, or some other innovation into every aspect of education, even elementary reading classes. Today, the use of e-books and iPads in the classroom are taking reading to a “whole new level,” according to Diane Darrow, library information media specialist at Bel Aire Elementary in Tiburon, Calif and an Apple Distinguished Educator.

Darrow says that traditional methods for teaching reading have centered on a verbal-only methodology, which she describes as using one track in the brain. This approach fails to utilize other ways of learning that engage students and supports the development of reading skills such as comprehension, retention, and vocabulary.

“You want to give [kids] different types of learning experiences so that learning sticks in the brain,” Darrow says. “If you’re only using a one-track system, which we have been for years, it’s less likely that the understanding is going to stay. If you make it more memorable and you give them a variety of different systems to use to articulate--drawing, web clips--you’re using more aspects of the mind, which makes it a more memorable experience, and it’s more likely they’ll remember information.”

One method of getting kids to engage reading in different ways is through a tablet-based literature circle. Darrow builds off the Harvey Daniels book (and methodology) in Literature Circles: Voice and Choice in Book Clubs and Reading Groups (revised 2002). Lit circles developed as an innovation in reading that advocates for student ownership of learning. Students organize into small-group, peer-led book discussions. Each student chooses (or is given) a role that corresponds to a specific task in the reading process--researcher, vocabulary enricher, illustrator. As they read, students gather information to bring back to the group to help each other understand the story.

But instead of using paper books, colored index cards and poster board to acheive these goals, Darrow uses iPads and apps. The tablet is used to read an e-book--which can either be assigned by the teacher or chosen by the student--but it’s also used to supplement reading.

Don’t understand a word in the text? A single tap on the screen pulls up a dictionary that gives the definition, and another tap returns the reader to the page on which the word appears. If a student is reading about the Great Depression but has no understanding of what that is, the tablet can help.

With an iPad, Darrow says, “you can quickly switch in and out of the book into the internet to get background research, whether that be video or images or articles.” The process can improve reading comprehension by bolstering the student’s background knowledge.

For example, if the Great Depression comes up in the story, the student in the role of researcher can gather pictures of bread lines or an audio interview with a person about life in a Hooverville. Those are collected into a note-taking application, such as Notability, that all the students use. Information can be retained by the student or shared with an assigned group. If the teacher has set a deadline for assignments, the completed work can be sent directly to her via a drop-box app as soon as it’s done, which avoids the need for using e-mail to send in homework.

As a teacher begins using the iPad for a lit circle, Darrow suggests starting out simple, recommending just a note taking app,  an organizer app like Popplet, and the drop box for getting finished work to the teacher.

The organizer app serves as a catch-all place for students to collect the formation they need while reading a book. It’s a high-tech version of index cards that makes it possible to collect all their ideas, assignment, research, and other information in one place.

As teachers and student get comfortable with the electronic version of reading and communicating about a book, they can identify what else they would like to do, such as drawing or giving an oral book report. There are separate apps for all of that.

“The reading and writing experience is changing for our students--it’s no longer pure text,” Darrow says. “Now when they read, we embed links and video, photography and different types of media. And when they write, they need to be able to write with words but also media. The media component has become part of the reading and writing experience, and students need to know how navigate through that.”

Visit the next page to view a full list of Darrow's suggested apps and resources.

Lit Circle Resources

As yet there isn’t a single solution for seamlessly blending the various tasks of a Lit Circle. The educator who is leveraging this option will have to manage disparate apps to make sure students have what they need to complete their assignments.

Diane Darrow suggests the following:

Amazon’s e-reader app for iPad offers around a million books, magazines, and newspapers.
Free; iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.

Barnes and Noble’s Nook bookstore.
Barnes and Noble
Varies; Nook

Apple’s own virtual bookstore is available as an app for many of its iOS devices.
Free; iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad

E-bookstore for the Kobo e-reading device.
Varies; Kobo

Note Taking
Organizer and brainstorming tool that uses visual cards, similar to virtual Post-Its, that can be arranged in various ways.
E-String Technologies
$5.99; iPad.

Popular note-taking app that integrates handwriting, annotations, typing, and voice recording.
Ginger Labs
$.99; iPad

Plain Text
Simple text editor that lets users organize documents and sync to DropBox.
Hog Bay Software
Free; iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad

Drawing Pad
Create photo-size drawings using art tools like crayons, markers, paint brushes, colored pencils, and more.
Darren Murtha Design
$1.99; iPad

Doodle Buddy
Draw using tools like finger paint, glitter, stickers, and chalk, and add to drawings with text, stamps, and sound effects.
Free;  iPad

Toontastic (drawing and narration)
Create animated puppet shows and sync to narration.
Launchpad Toys
Free; iPad

Story Arc
Inspiration Maps
Brainstorm, analyze, and organize thoughts through the creation of visual diagrams that can combine text and pictures.
Inspiration Software
$14.99; iPad.

Design photo galleries, diagrams, charts, and lists using text and photos, and collaborate with other users.
$4.99; iPad

Strip Designer
Create personalized, custom comic strips from a variety of templates.
Vivid Apps
$2.99; iPad

For more ideas linking apps organized according to various Lit Circle roles, visit Darrow’s website.