Voice Memo App for Fluency and Comprehension Development

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You can go out and spend a ton of money and time trying to find the best app to use in your classroom. But stop spending hours in the iTunes store and save your money to spend at Barnes and Noble. One of the best apps that I use daily in my classroom is one that comes free on your iPod, straight from the factory. Go into your utilities file and viola! There it is… the most useful, bang for your buck app of all. Yep… Voice Memos.

The Voice Memo app is simple. There aren’t any ninjas or dancing bears. There isn’t any fancy motion feature or any levels to master. You simply record your voice! I have used this app for personal reasons many times, but I have found so many ways for my students to use this app in the classroom with their iPods, especially to support reading fluency and comprehension.

How often have you heard yourself read aloud? Now think, how often have your students heard themselves read aloud? Never thought about that, have you? Most kids know what a good reader should sound like. After all they listen to you read aloud to them in an enthusiastic voice on a daily basis. They have heard their parents or older siblings read to them, as well. But most kids have no idea what they sound like! Not in my classroom. My students know exactly what they sound like and can even reflect about their own read aloud capabilities. Everyday my students record themselves reading aloud using the Voice Memo app. When they finish recording they title their recording, listen to it, and reflect using a student-friendly rubric. I call this the RECORD, LISTEN, REFLECT model to using the Voice Memo app. I provide my students leveled passages (according to his or her reading level). I have been using the Read Naturally passages as well as the fluency passages from our Language Arts curriculum. They get one passage a week and record every day. My students are beginning to notice (on their own) the benefits of repeated readings! With each reading and recording their fluency rate increases, their intonation improves, and ultimately their comprehension improves. Teachers in my district have been utilizing the Voice Memo app for many years with great results. We have seen student test scores improve and the joy of reading has become the reward for many struggling readers. This is a great ROUTINE for any grade level or any reading level.

Another skill teachers are always seeking to improve is comprehension, right? Students in my classroom use the Voice Memo app to help monitor their comprehension. Gone are the stickies stuck all over the book! Now my students can record their questions, note details, compare and contrast, reflect, and summarize using Voice Memos. One of the many ways I have my second graders use the Voice Memo app is to retell their books they are reading. I have taught my students to use the story yarn to retell a story. The story yarn includes when, where, who, problem, first, next, then, and last. After reading their book (and before they take an Accelerated Reader quiz) they can record their summary on their iPod. Then they can email me their oral summary so I can have a better idea of wether or not they are ready to take an Accelerated Reader quiz. Plus I have a record of their summarizing skills and know exactly who needs intervention. Another way I have used the Voice Memo app to support comprehension is to have my students read two pages, then record what they remember. Then they hit pause, read two more pages, and continue the recording again. They repeat these steps until they get to the end of the book. When they are finished, they have a retelling of their entire book! This is great for them to listen to just before they go to take an Accelerated Reader quiz.

The possibilities of the Voice Memo app are limitless! Get creative and think of other ways you can guide your students towards mastery using this free app. Sometimes the simplest of things can be the most ingenious!

Please share with everyone ways you have found to use the Voice Memo app!

Here is a link to a Prezi I created for a staff development session I did for teachers in my district.

http://prezi.com/lpm9xc4hp3f0/record-listen-reflect/

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Puppet Pals

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Puppet Pals is a digital puppet theater complete with a large array of characters and backgrounds. This is another creative app that can be used in your classroom in a variety of ways in all curricular areas.

Puppet Pals in the iTunes store.

How this app works?
You can create puppet shows by moving the puppets around while recording your voice. You can also change the background (limited to 3 backgrounds). When you are finished recording it will guide you to publish the puppet show as a movie.
While this app is free and you can enjoy this app as is, I highly recommend purchasing the Director’s Pass for $3.99. Now I am not usually a fan of having to pay for apps, especially if I am using them in the classroom, but in this case, bite the bullet and buy the in app purchase! With the Director’s Pass you have a larger selection of puppets and backgrounds. Plus (and here is the best part) you can create your own puppets and backgrounds. They have made this a simple process of taking a picture with the camera feature then using your finger to cut around the shape of your body. Using your finger is quite sloppy and perhaps a better way to do this is with your stylus. You can also take images from your photo library and use them as backgrounds.
How have I used this app in the classroom? 
We have had a blast in my classroom bringing our reading summaries alive by creating a puppet show! First, my students brainstorm what they will say for a summary of the story we are reading (usually a self-selected leveled book or from our reading anthology). They brainstorm three main events in the story and need to be sure they use transition words such as FIRST, NEXT, and LAST. Then we took turns taking pictures. Each child needed a picture of themselves showing some kind of expression. For example, the Vanna White pose with hands outstretched. The kids can get pretty creative here, but remember they really only need one image. Then they used the “cutting tool” within the app to cut away the background so only their body is left. This puppet will be saved into the app. The next step is to add backgrounds. The app will allow you to choose pictures from your photo library. I have pictures from the story already downloaded into their photo library on their iPods. I do this when I sync their iPods. I have an album in iPhoto labeled Language Arts where I place pictures that we will need for projects such as this. This saves time, but you can always have the students take pictures of the book using the camera feature.Finally, each child created their story summary using themselves as the star puppet and the three backgrounds showing the main events of the story. Each child then published their movie and they all took turns sharing their puppet show summary on the docucam!
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Creative Apps vs. Skill Review Apps

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I have mentioned “Creative Apps” in several posts but I never really clarified what I meant by this. So here is my attempt to define the difference between Creative Apps and Skill Review Apps and inspire a bit of healthy competition between these two types of apps.

Creative Apps are apps that can be used in more than one way and in multiple curricular areas. These types of apps usually foster innovative learning and support students to expand upon what they have learned. Creative apps are excellent ways to integrate project based learning and always have a variety of outcomes. They are easily adaptable to learning styles and can be differentiated to meet the needs of all learning levels.

Skill review apps are quite different. This is the most common type of educational app out there and quite honestly, I have quite a large collection of these apps in my iTunes library (more than I could ever really need). Skill review apps provide a child a way to review a particular skill such as adding, subtracting, letter sounds, rhyming, etc. They often mimic a worksheet, in such a way that once the skill has been mastered, there isn’t much more that can be done with the app. The student outcomes are always the same and there is little to no innovation required. I have found students bore easily if this type of app is used too often. While it does sound like my opinion of these types of apps is a bit negative, I still think there is a place for these types of apps in our classroom. But please hear me out first.

I strongly believe educators need to be providing a platform for our students to access skills they will need to be successful in the 21st Century. We need to begin teaching our students to THINK rather than repeat back they have learned. We want our students to apply what they have learned, use inquiry, be effective communicators, collaborate with others, and be able to reflect about their own learning. If you, too, believe this to be true, then I ask you… what is the best, most effective way to utilize iPods or iPads into our classrooms? Using creative apps or skill review apps?

If you took a peek into my iPod cart (I have 30 iPods) you would not find iPods stuffed to capacity with apps. You will find the following creative apps:

  1. Sonic Pics
  2. Storyrobe
  3. Puppet Pals
  4. Splice
  5. PS Express – Photoshop
  6. Comic Touch Lite
  7. Voice Memos

I do in fact have some skill review apps on my student iPods as well (I know… gasp). However, the skill review apps that I sync to my iPods are based on the standards we will be learning for that particular week and ones that I want my students to review. I try to limit the number of skill review apps to be no more than 10. I never leave these kinds of apps on my iPods for very long. It is always good to keep these types of apps fresh!

So the next time you sync your iPods, think about how many creative apps you have for your students to access that will support their needs as 21st Century learners vs. those apps that just reviewing skills. While there is a place for both in our iPod world, it is always important to reflect about what is most important for your students.

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