free the word in school

article written for the free word centre website

Director of if:book and Free Word Associate Chris Meade explores the digital reading possibilities of the iPad and Kindle for school children.
Mr Greenwood is a wonderful teacher. His classes, which aren’t short of potentially difficult kids, are focused, fun and friendly. His classroom in Northwood Primary School is bright with evidence of its involvement in all kinds of initiatives; Paul uses new teaching resources to improve learning, not to tick boxes or satisfy his own agenda. When technical problems arise with the resources that he uses on the whiteboard and the iPads/iPods and computers which the kids handle confidently, he doesn’t panic but finds a solution whether by rebooting something or using pen and paper instead. Technology here is clearly a tool to do things better.
That sounds so simple, and yet it’s not the attitude to digital revolution if:book sees in many schools, where a gaping hole can open up in the space between technical hiccups and teacher hesitancy, into which many digital learning initiatives can fall into oblivion.
Paul Greenwood’s class is in one of the London schools where if:book is observing the use of iPads and Winged Chariot’s rather special apps of stories beautifully illustrated by artists from around Europe, for our Gulbenkian-funded research project, Stories To Touch.
With Wingedchariot’s own education experts, Norman Whitney and Ann Arscott, if:book has been observing how new media is used across the curriculum, and if:book associate Sasha Hoare filmed proceedings at Northwood, including wonderful interviews with pupils themselves, engaged in that same debate on the pros and cons of hardbacks v iPads and Kindles which seems to arise these days whenever two or more are gathered together.

Scruffy Kitty is a digital picture book available for the iPhone and iPad in five languages already with more to be added. Now Neal Hoskins, CEO of Winged Chariot and a fellow Free Word Associate, is developing this and other titles to be as useful as possible to schools, building a touch-sensitive, whiteboard-friendly web version, extending the range of languages stories can be read in, improving functionality and, with if:book, seeking the right formula for providing support, training and encouragement to build teacher confidence in using this stuff to ignite the readers of tomorrow.
These apps can be used to teach English, to give children their first encounter with a foreign language they will later study in detail, and to build a reading community in settings where many languages are spoken. Scruffy Kitty can be one story which every child in the school enjoys in their own first language. We’re off to talk to the Department for Education next. There is interest in our work, and more research and development needs to be done to find tangible evidence of the benefits of new devices and platforms on reading appetite and attainment.
In Mr Greenwood’s class the pupils appreciate all kinds of reading, and many are passionate about the app. One boy clutched the iPad I showed him to his chest and told me with fervour, “This is the future for reading. My dad said so.”


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