An educator's perspective on apps: interview with Nancy Barth - Nosy Crow Skip to content
Posted by Deb, October 18, 2011

An educator’s perspective on apps: interview with Nancy Barth

Since we released our first app, The Three Little Pigs, we’ve been hearing from educators that apps are playing a role in their teaching. Apps aren’t replacing existing teaching materials, but in some cases are complementing them. Nancy Barth, a former teacher and now a tutor in California, reviewed our Cinderella app and wrote about how she used it with her students. We were intrigued and contacted her to find out more. Here’s what she had to say.

1. What is your background and what work do you do now?

I started out teaching hearing impaired children in 1974. The visual appeal of apps would have been an asset for them. After that, I taught in a variety of general education and special education positions. I retired two years ago and started tutoring kids and adults with dyslexia, autism, and other learning/language disabilities.

2. When did you first start using apps with students and why?

I have four grown daughters and two grandsons, and I received an iPad1 from my daughters for Christmas. I immediately saw the potential uses to help me with my tutoring. I started looking for apps that would enhance the teaching of foundational reading skills, such as phonemic awareness, phonics and comprehension. Then I discovered the world of interactive books!

3. What impact have you seen from apps?

The learning opportunities for kids with autism and other learning disabilities are wide open with apps. They promote social interaction, language development, motor skills and more.

Kids are willing to work on all kinds of routine skills when they are embedded in apps. For example, apps like Wood Puzzle-Maze reinforce visual-figure ground, fine motor and motor-planning skills.

An app like Sound Literacy gives the teacher/tutor/parent great flexibility in working on phonemic awareness and phonics. I love having letter tiles that won’t fall off the table or get lost when the student is making words. It can also be projected on a screen to use with a whole class.

My nephew, who has autism, has wonderful story ideas, but putting pencil to paper is a huge struggle. I found an app called Sound Note, which allowed me to record his ideas while I typed along. When I couldn’t keep up, all I had to do was tap a word in the transcript, and everything he had said would play back. Then, My Writing Spot and Storyist helped me organize his work, and Book Creator made it possible to put his story into book form. After almost four months of talking and typing, his book is over 100 pages long!

4. What are some of the ways kids of different ages can benefit from reading book apps?

My grandson was 2½ when I got my iPad. He enjoyed reading stories with me, and then listening to them on his own. Now that he’s three, he likes recounting the stories and especially likes tapping on characters to hear the dialogue in apps like those from Nosy Crow.

Older kids benefit from book apps that highlight the words as the story is read to them. They are able to record themselves reading and this allows them to practice fluency in a non-threatening setting. Book apps like My Word Reader: Are Whales Smart, or What? highlight several of the more difficult vocabulary words. When the student taps on the word, a graphic depiction of it pops up.

While not strictly a book app, The Civil War Today takes learning American history to new heights by making primary source material available. There’s nothing like reading a diary entry or a letter in its original form. (And just in case that handwriting is a bit too spidery, it has text versions available, too).

5. You recently reviewed our new Cinderella app? How would you use this app as a teaching/learning tool with different aged children? What skills could the app help them develop?

I love Cinderella just as much as I love The Three Little Pigs. While I was writing my review, I happened to have the Common Core Standards (U.S.) out for a lesson I was planning. I decided to apply the standards at various grade levels to Cinderella. As I noted in my blog, Cinderella addresses standards for every grade K-5. I have no doubt that standards for middle and high school could be applied, too.

As you can see from the excerpt from my blog (above), using Cinderella as a teaching/learning tool helps younger children develop retelling skills, understanding of story components such as plot, setting, character, point of view, and determining a central message of a story. I especially liked how the app addresses the goal of having older children compare text and audio-visual presentations of a story.

6. What do you look for in an app?

I look for apps that are intuitive, multi-level, and enticing. I am a stickler for accuracy when it comes to the pronunciation of sounds, especially vowels, in phonics apps. I like apps that can be used in a variety of ways. For example, Milo’s Storybook was designed by a speech therapist. There is a record function to encourage the child to describe what is happening on the page. I’ve used it to pose questions for the child to think about before they go to the next page.

I look for apps such as Preposition Builder, when I want to work on specific language skills, because it keeps records by students and generates email reports. This is really helpful for keeping in touch with parents and showing growth.

7. What advice do you have for app developers?

If you’re going to make apps for children to use in school, take some time to review the educational standards of the country/countries you are focusing on. Better yet, observe at your neighborhood school and talk with teachers about what would enhance learning in the classroom.

While game-like apps are fun, apps that truly enhance and support the teaching-learning experience are more likely to be incorporated into classrooms.

I’m personally always on the lookout for an app that would allow me to record a student reading a short passage so I could analyze it for miscues. I would also like a built-in timer for checking fluency and something that would calculate words per minute and accuracy.

I would also like a book app for older kids that would allow kids to tap on an icon and see a question that relates to the content of the page, or that models making predictions of what’s to come. And of course, I would like a way for the child to record their answers!

8. Do you see any difference in the way parents vs. teachers can use book apps?

As a grandparent, I use book apps to let my grandson entertain himself while I’m working. I also read them with him, just as I would any book. As a tutor, I use book apps to specifically address the individual child’s needs, such as fluency or comprehension.

9. What advice do you have for teachers who might want to use apps in the classroom?

Make sure that students can benefit from using the apps independently. Get apps that address a specific need, such as phonics, or that are multi-functional, such as book apps. It’s better to have a few high quality apps than a multitude of so-so ones. Get apps that contribute to the learning experience.

Thank you Nancy!
This conversation sparked our interest in how teachers are using apps in the classroom. Are you an educator using apps? If so, we’d love to hear from you on Facebook or in the comment field below.