Mobile Computing | Feature

Using iPods To Increase Reading Comprehension

As a middle school reading specialist in Oregon's Eugene School District 4j, Marilyn Williams found that many of her middle school students weren't finishing their reading or remembering what they read. So she decided to tackle the problem with the help of iPod touch devices.

Williams said that there may have been a number of reasons students weren't answering questions about what they were reading, including fear of being wrong. "But for a lot of them," she told attendees at the 2011 Northwest Council for Computer Education conference, "it was just, 'I got through all of those words on the page, and that's all I did.'"

Williams said she came up with the idea to use iPods from a kindergarten teacher in her district who used them for letter of the week exercises and saw an improvement in her students' DIBELS scores. She would gather all the materials for the week into bags for each student and include an iPod shuffle preloaded with explicit instructions walking the kids through their work.

Williams took a slightly different approach. She used the Pearson sixth grade literature text, which came with audio CDs. She imported the audio files for the specific text the students were studying into iTunes and then broke it up into tracks with GarageBand, an Apple audio mixing and editing tool that's part of the iLife suite for Mac OS X. Williams then added audio prompts with specific reading comprehension strategies in the breaks and moved the files back over to iTunes. Finally, she added the text to the lyrics attached to the files in iTunes so that students could read along with the audio.

Williams said she chose iPods because the 4j District uses Apple products and because they were the devices she was most comfortable with. Other reasons for using iPods included:

  • Greater mobility than laptops;
  • They're personal;
  • "They're cool," or socially acceptable; and
  • They're individualized.

However, Williams also said, "You could certainly use any digital device that allowed you to display text with speech. Since I completed the research, the text to speech capabilities of these devices has improved a lot, and, if I were starting the project now, I might use a different tool. However, using iTunes and GarageBand was, and is, a pretty simple, seamless way to deliver the content and instruction."

Williams said that some of her colleagues are doing the same thing with math and she sees potential for science vocabulary or think-alongs, among other things.

iPods are "not hugely expensive," Williams said, "But these things aren't cheap. Let's use these things as much as we can."

Further information about Williams's iPod reading comprehension strategy can be found here.

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].