A program that puts an iPod Touch in the hands of Grade 3 and 4 students will be expanding after a trial earlier this year found the electronic devices can help students improve their reading skills.
The iPod program was rolled out to students at Albion and Pitt Meadows elementary schools last year. The four-month trial proved so successful, the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows School District is expanding it to Yennadon, Alexander Robinson, and Davie Jones elementary schools this week.
According to superintendent Jan Unwin, students who took part in the program saw their reading skills improve substantially. While 23 per cent of students were not meeting literacy expectations at the beginning of the program, just four months later that number was down to five per cent.
Lisa Jakeway, the district’s elementary helping teacher, is organizing the program, which is unique in the province.
Students use the iPods to run a variety of programs, called apps, designed to help them with math, reading, and speaking skills. Students can run a digital version of a reading skills book, following along with a pre-recorded voice. Students can then record themselves reading the same passage to compare.
“The kids will record themselves reading, and go back a month later, and they can see their own progress,” Jakeway said.
If they get hung up on a particular word, tapping the screen will make iPod repeat the word to them.
Students can download increasingly challenging content as their skills improve, and can even take reading comprehension quizzes.
One program allows the iPod to dictate a student’s speech.
“If they are needing to find out how a word is spelt, they can say the word … and [iPod] will spell it out for them,” said Jakeway.
The iPods are also set up with Internet access, allowing students to conduct research online with parental controls in place.
The units cost $250 each, which makes them considerably less expensive than a tablet computer or a laptop that could run similar programs. Unlike the district-wide one-to-one laptop program, students are not allowed to take the devices home with them.
The classes taking part in the iPod program won’t be using the devices all day, every day, Jakeway notes, with each set of iPods being shared between two classes.
“They are there for the teachers to use to supplement their lessons,” she said. “It’s another tool they have at their disposal.”
Jakeway said the iPods have been helpful in allowing teachers to personalize lessons for individual students, and with everyone using the same technology, there’s less stigma for students who may be reading at a lower level.
“Whether it’s a picture book or a novel, the app looks the same,” she said. “The children don’t feel as self-conscious [as a result].”
The reaction from students has been understandably positive, and Jakeway said the vast majority are becoming experts with the technology.
One of the focuses of the program is to get children comfortable with technology at an early age, and teaching them how use it as a learning tool.
“These devices are going to be a part of their lives,” Jakeway said. “That’s why we want to target Grade 3 and 4 students. It’s important to teach them early on, and for parents to realize, that this technology isn’t just a toy, it’s also educational.”
While there are games included on the iPods, such as math bingo, students can only use them if the teachers allow it, as a reward for completing their work.
The district surveyed parents and students after the trial program at Albion and Pitt Meadows elementary schools last year and found 90 per cent of students preferred to read on an iPod. Meanwhile, 70 per cent of parents surveyed said their child’s attitude towards school changed for the better as a result of the program.
However, Jakeway admits that many parents may be cool to the idea bringing iPods into the classroom.
“It’s the fear of the unknown,” she said. “It’s understandable. We’re one of the first districts to be embarking this … so we’re definitely blazing a trail.”
Presently, budget constraints prevent the program from being rolled out district-wide. Making sure all students have access to technology is a priority for the program, Jakeway said.
“Many students already have access to this technology, but some don’t,” she said. “We want to make sure everyone has equal access.”