Monthly Archives: August 2015

Back to School? There’s an app for that!

By Thomas DeVere Wolsey

School is starting for students across the country. Encourage your students, after they have purchased backpacks, pencils, and notebooks, to also stop by the App Store. Here are four great apps to help them through the new school year:


Flashcards are an old standby in schools everywhere. They are useful in helping learners make connections and in reviewing information that is best committed to memory. Flashcards+ is the creation of Conner Zwick, who came up with the app when he was 16 years old. The decks of flashcards span many topics and are used throughout the world. Flashcards+ depends on its users to keep the decks current and accurate. It is available for iPhone and iPad, and the basic app is free.

Watch the developer talk about his product here.


I have written about Evernote before because it is so useful and syncs across devices. Students can use Evernote to sort and tag online references via bookmark, as a screenshot, or in full page format. Using tags and notebooks, it is easy to organize those references by topic and project or assignment. Teacher Buffy Hamilton provides several suggestions for students’ use of Evernote, worth reading here. Evernote has both free and paid versions. It works on iPad and iPhone, as well as on PC or Mac. Get it in the Google Play Store or from the iTunes App Store.


Students always have their smartphones, and carrying around an additional planner just doesn’t make sense. Several apps allow students to keep track of assignments. MyHomework works across several platforms, including Kindle, and is available in school versions in addition to the free or paid versions. It even works when students are offline. Never lose track of an assignment due date again.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Everyone needs a dictionary, and which better than Merriam-Webster? Merriam-Webster has been in the word business since Noah Webster first published A Compendious Dictionary of the English Language in 1806. It is no surprise that their 21st century app includes speech recognition capabilities. Just tell the app the word you want and it will do the rest. Certainly this is a helpful improvement for students who have heard a word but have not seen it in print, or cannot remember how it is spelled. The app includes versions for iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Android. Free versions with ads or paid versions are available.

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The Digital Reading Process

by Elizabeth Dobler

The convenience of reading digital works, such as e-book novels, informational websites, and e-textbooks, interests me. Don’t get me wrong, I love to read on paper too. The feel of the morning newspaper or a glossy magazine in my hands represents both a lack of obligation for me to read every word, and an opportunity for slow, satisfying perusal. I also enjoy reading novels in paper form and like the feel of a hefty book as I walk into a doctor’s office waiting room. While both print and digital works have advantages, they utilize different thinking processes.

I am fascinated with what occurs in our minds when we read digital text. I don’t know nearly enough about this process and I am eager to learn more. Thus I am curious about the folks who are questioning whether digital reading is good for us – for our minds and our thinking and the process of reading.

I first noticed this line of questioning in 2008, when I read Atlantic Monthly’s article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr. It discusses the concern that we are espousing the tendency for pointing and clicking, rather than cultivating a slower, more thoughtful reading. In her book, Proust and the Squid (2008), Maryanne Wolf also questions if technology, and more specifically digital reading, shifts the way our brains are wired to receive and express language. These are important questions to consider.

In 2015, we seem to have barely inched closer to understanding the digital reading process and its implications. Naomi Baron, in her book Words on Screen, believes digital reading has inherent characteristics that work against a reader’s attempt to reach a deep understanding. For one, the organization of text on a website utilizes an F pattern; it encourages the reader to view the title, skim or skip the explanation, then pop down to the next title and skim or skip again. In addition, we often read digital text on a device that supports other tasks, such as receiving messages, listening to music, and sharing a photo, all while reading an e-book. The potential for distractions is limitless.

Paul Mason’s 2015 article, “Ebooks are changing the way we read, and the way novelists write,” also explores these barriers and questions further whether authors are responding to the tendency to read on a surface level by creating works that facilitate less-than-deep reading. He wonders if the changes in the format of texts and how we read them signals a digital transformation of reading and writing.

There is much to ponder about the pros and cons of digital reading and it is this type of collective exploration that will help us examine and understand these complex processes as we continue to grow in the digital age.

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