These are my notes from Kathy Shirley’s presentation, “Transforming Reading and Language Acquisition with the iPod” at the 21st Century Learning @ the West Lake Expo held Oct 31 – Nov 3, 2009 at Xi Hu, China, also known as West Lake. West Lake is in the center of Hangzhou, China, which is about an hour by bus southwest of Shanghai. MY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS ARE IN ALL CAPS.

Kathy Shirley on Twitter: iPoddess
on Classroom 2.0
Kathy’s favorites on ALI


We are using the iPod to teach students how to read and to learn how to speak English better

We don’t have quite as many people in the United States as you do in China
accourding to the US census bureau (U.S. PopClock Projection) we have over 307 million people
– 25% of US households speak a language other than English as their primary language
– in our school district, over 50% of our students come to us speaking a primary language other than English

Research by Hart and Risley, 30,000,000 by age three
– followed 42 families for two years
– recorded every word that was spoken in the homes for two years
– how would you like to have to transcribe all of that?!
– what they found is that children who come from homes of poverty versus middle or upper income homes had heard 30,000,000 less words spoken to them by the age of 3
– we get students at age 5, who are learning a second language and coming from poverty with many language deficits

We work with something we call “fluency” int he United States
– iRead project
– having students practice reading until they are comfortable with the words and can read naturally
– I was working with teachers who had to work with students on fluency assessments, teachers listening to students and making marks to count the words
– I thought to myself, why couldn’t we use an iPod to do the same thing?

Reasons to use the iPod for language acquisition
– we believe in the primacy of engagement
– if you are bored, you don’t want to listen
– motivation and relevancy
– our kids think the iPods are very cool, and will do just about anything to use them, including practicing reading
– extended school day and asynchronous learning

We also need to give students control over their own learning
– the iPod allows both of those things to happen
– allows for multimodal representation: audio, text and video

Methodology: iPod and iTunes
– using these to help build reading comprehension and fluency
– students use their iPod to record their voices as they read
– those are synced with iTunes
– iTunes is the container for those files, so teachers can manage the different files

– teacher training
– student recording and reflection
– digital portfolio creation with iTunes
– application to other subject areas with the use of the iPod Touch

Why do we focus so much on reading fluency?
– fluency is the gateway skill to reading comprehension
– if you are spending all of your time trying to read the words and stumble over the words, then you are not understanding what you are reading
– students have to be comfortable with the words before they can understand them
– it is hard when you are reading to step outside and listen to yourself (you can’t do both at once)
– the iPod lets students stop their recording, and listen to themselves immediately
– if students have made mistakes, then they can correct those very quickly

If you are learning to dance, you know how you practice in front of a mirror?
– when you are learning how to read, there is really no mirror
– so the iPod acts as the mirror
– so that students can make corrections as they are reading
– often our students do not understand that they are not reading well, until they hear themselves

Some data I will share:
– General end of year fluency goals by grade
– 1st grade: 60 WCPM
– 2nd grade: 90
– 3rd: 120
4th: 130
5th: 140
6th: 150

WCPM = word comprehension per minute

This is what is considered to be a fluent reader

If you do the math on this, it works out that students should make 5-10 words of gain per six weeks

After starting to use this process of working with iPods, our students were making six times the progress
– they were excited to do this
– they could easily reflect and hear themselves
– the recorded files gave the teacher and students something to listen to together and discuss as they focused on progress
– we have seen this type of progress consistently as we have been using the iPod
– we have been using the iPod for reading comprehension as well
– students are making as much as two years of reading comprehension progress in just six months with the iPod

We think this is happening because of neuroplasticity
– Marc Prensky, theorist on learning theory
– brain research tells us that our brains can be changed and shaped until the day we die
– the older we get, the harder it gets
– what it takes as we get older is REALLY hard work and really concentrated focus, and it takes that engagement: the motivation and excitement to do that hard work
– the iPod has given our students that motivation to do that hard work

We have implemented 12 classrooms where all students have iPods

email: kshirley [at]

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