2010-2011 RJ Hawkey - iPad as Assistive Technology Findings

Project Description: To explore the use of the iPad as an assistive tool for elementary students who receive small group support for reading and writing.

Findings: Over the past five months students had the opportunity to engage in daily use of the iPad to support the development of reading and writing skills. The following observation were made.

· Students were highly engaged when using the iPad. They looked forward to that part of the period when iPads were to be used. In fact, when arriving at the resource room, they would look for the teacher’s daily plan sheet and read it to check for if and when the iPads were going to be used and for what purpose.

· Many of the apps provide immediate feedback to the students on their responses, such as the correct spelling and pronunciation of letters and words.

· Students understand devices such as the iPad. They find it easy to explore and discover features of the apps that as the teacher I had yet to notice. For example, in Phonic Phil, a word making app, students discovered that the color on the robot’s nose changed from red to blue when a real word, and not a nonsense word, was made.

· Many of the apps, such as those for sight words, spelling and the storybooks, allow for various levels of ability. Students, therefore, are working at their level of need.

· The price of most apps is quite reasonable.

· One of the best apps I used was Voice Recorder. I would use this app as part of the repeated reading strategy. Students record themselves reading and can play it back. It allows students to self-monitor their reading. They can hear themselves using the decoding strategies we practice in the small group and that they also use in their classrooms.

· The iPad did provide for multimodal learning. When working on the iPad, students liked seeing, hearing, and touching as they worked on different activities.

· Students enjoyed the hands-on activities, many of which are like games. This is consistent with gaming theory in education that has shown students are more engaged and motivated when provided with immediate feedback and encouragement in a game format.

Considerations: While the iPads are a valuable assistive device for students, there are considerations that need to be understood and addressed.

· The management of the iPads (assigning students, saving students’ work) and the iTunes account has to be clearly thought out, particularly when there are other iPads in the school being used for different purposes.

· There are numerous apps of varying quality that support the development of reading and writing skills. The better apps seem to be the ones with a cost rather than the free ones. Talking with other educators about the apps they are finding useful helps to narrow down the selection, as is referring to web sites that list and rate educational apps. It takes a lot of time to explore and select those apps that are going to be the most beneficial to the students. For example, some of the book apps read the books too slowly so that proper reading fluency is not being modeled. Other book apps don’t offer the choice of reading the book to the student. With the alphabet apps both uppercase and lowercase letters are not always available and the fonts used may not be ones students are used to seeing and using. With some apps, the word pronunciation can be sometimes difficult for young students to understand.

· While I was able to somewhat separate students within the room, the sound effects of various apps can be disturbing to some students and distract them from their task. I am still considering the use of headphones. This would mean that students would have to remember to bring their headphones from their classrooms.

· The microphone on the iPad sometimes picks up noises/sounds from the hallway and adjoining classrooms.

· In order for students to self-monitor their reading, you have to allow for the extra time it takes to record the students and playback their reading.

· The iPad covers that were bought are not the easiest for small fingers to use. The covers are quite stiff and it is hard for many of the students to fold back the cover and insert it into the tab without help.

Student Comments: Resource students from Grades 1-4 who participated in the project were asked ‘What do you like best about using the iPads?’ and/or ‘How does working on the iPads help you learn?’ Some of their responses are listed below.


You practice ABCs using a fun game. (Bryce, Gr.1)

The reading activities help you to read. You can read it to yourself or have it read to you. (Austin, Gr. 3)

It has lots of good word families to practice. (Caleb, Gr. 2)

Hearing what you did before and hearing what you did after so you can learn what you need to work on. (Ethan, Gr. 4)

It helps your brain work by doing the games for reading and spelling. (Simeon, Gr.2)

It tells you the word if you’re having trouble. (Sophia, Gr.3)

It helps you become a better reader so you can go on to chapter books. (Tyson, Gr.3)

There’s lots of fun activities that help you learn when you do them. (Skylie, Gr.2)

You can record your voice on it and then listen to it to hear if words are wrong; to make sense of the words. (Carter, Gr.3)

When I’m listening I figure out my mistakes. I hear which one is better and how I improved. (Dale, Gr.4)


Conclusion: I have enjoyed the opportunity to use the iPads with my resource students over the past five months. The motivation, feedback, and encouragement the apps provide has helped them develop their reading and writing skills, their confidence, and their enjoyment of learning.

This really became evident to me when during the last student-led conference one of the grade four students was very excited for her mother see what she has been doing on the iPad and, in particular, to hear her first and final reading of a non-fiction text selection. Her mother was amazed by the change in her reading ability and in her confidence.

First Reading Attempt:

Final Reading:


I look forward to the continued use of the iPads with students in my resource program.

Submitted by:

Anne Sheasgreen

Resource Teacher

R.J. Hawkey Elementary School

June 2011

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