Gradually Releasing Responsibility Using iPads in Early Reading

In this article in The Reading Teacher, Laura Northrop (University of Pittsburgh) and Erin Killeen (Stow-Munroe Falls City Schools, Ohio) note that there are plenty of jazzy early-literacy apps for iPads (they recommend iWrite Words, Little Matchups ABC, Abc Pocket Phonics, Word Connex, iCard Sort, Fry Sight Words, Toontastic, Poplet, and Doodle Buddy). However, they believe teachers need to be systematic to get the most out of iPad apps:

• Step 1: Teach the concept without the iPad. Low-tech is the best starting point, say Northrop and Killeen – introduce the literacy concept through direct word-study instruction before letting students near the app. 

• Step 2: Explain and model the app. It’s important to be explicit about what the app is going to help students practice and show students how it works, using a think-aloud process to walk them through the steps. A list of guiding questions is helpful.

• Step 3: Have students do guided practice with the app. The teacher checks in as students start working with their iPads in a specific word or skill. “Because hidden misconceptions and difficulties can arise, the guidance and feedback provided by the teacher are crucial,” say Northrop and Killeen. 

• Step 4: Have students do independent practice with the app. This might happen during literacy center work or independent work time. 

“A Framework for Using iPads to Build Early Literacy Skills” by Laura Northrop and Erin Killeen in The Reading Teacher, April 2013 (Vol. 66, #7, p. 531-537),; the authors can be reached at and


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