Tell us a little about ReadWriteThink and how it formed.
ReadWriteThink.org was established in April of 2002 as a partnership between the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and MCI/Worldcom. ReadWriteThink was part of the Marcopolo consortium, which was created to provide premier, standards-based Internet content for use in the K–12 classroom and to provide the requisite professional development to every teacher in the United States--all free of charge. The program gave educators the skills necessary to use the Internet as a teaching resource, a teaching partner, and a teaching tool.
When ReadWriteThink.org was first created, it was so NCTE and IRA could work together to provide educators and students with access to the highest quality practices and resources in reading and language arts instruction through free, Internet-based content.
In 2005, the Verizon Foundation came on board to support the consortium and subsequently renamed it Thinkfinity. ReadWriteThink continues to be part of that consortium and today strives to provide instructional practices and digital resources that support effective reading and language arts instruction for all learners.
What benefits do you feel mobile devices offer to the development of language and reading skills in youngsters today?
Mobile devices are interactive and engaging, and meaningful integration of these devices provide unique approaches to help students become 21st-century literacy learners. Today’s digital natives learn in a different way than digital immigrants, and mobile devices support--and possibly drive--the development of literacy in today’s students.
What led RWT to start developing apps?
There were a few factors, not the least of which being the popularity of our online interactives: over 16 million hits last year alone. We know students are using them in the classroom and at home, and with tablets making their way into both environments, we didn’t want to limit students to needing a computer. We needed to expand our offerings to reach students with the technology they have. With quality, engaging educational apps, students have access to learning anywhere they go, any time they want to access it. We also wanted to push ourselves, to keep moving forward with technology.
Are the RWT apps aimed a specific age group or teaching stage?
Not really. Our apps are designed to cover a wide range of ages, even if they are designed with a particular range in mind. We list our apps by a suggested grade level that align with the language and basic purpose of an app, but that shouldn’t be seen as a barrier or a limit. Alphabet Organizer, for example, is designed for helping students build phonemic awareness--the language used in the instruction, even the graphic design were geared toward a younger audience--but it still works great as a graphic organizer for older students.
By allowing users to write freely within the app environment, rather than rote sentences or quiz-like question-and-answers, age is not much of a limiting factor. If students can type on the device, they can use our apps. As they get older and become better writers, their responses are more in depth or their writing more advanced. Even our team has had a lot of fun creating sample works during testing!
Have you been pleased with the reception for your apps so far?
Very much so. Our first apps, Trading Card and Word Mover, have nearly 300,000 downloads and, even better, have been used nearly 2 million times. Our app downloads continue to increase, and most of the feedback is quite favorable. Technology can be fickle, and we’ve run into complications and limitations, especially considering we are such a small team on a non-profit project. When taking that first step into app design, we were worried about response. Now, we wish we had started sooner!
You have an excellent selection of poetry apps available. Is poetry something that you feel works particularly on mobile devices?
Poetry is something we feel works well for engaging students in writing in general. Taking it mobile was a way of engaging students where they are--on mobile platforms. We do feel poetry is better on such devices than other writing forms as it is usually shorter, and therefore users don’t need to type as much. We like keyboards for the longer forms, such as essay writing.
Apps like Trading Cards and the RWT Timeline are the sort of versatile apps that can be used in a wide range of curriculum areas. Was this your intention for them?
Absolutely. We believe that every teacher is a literacy teacher, and every subject has a need for reading and writing tools. Trading Cards is an update from our old Character Trading Card online interactive. There was only one card template, the one now called the “Fictional Character Card.” When we looked at the interactive for an update and redesign into an app, we specifically created a variety of cards that could be used across the entire curriculum.
The online version has a little extra versatility in that users can make a card with their own sections and questions so that teachers can tailor their cards to their own class. We heard from one teacher who made a card for different plants and then gave the cards out to students to research, fill in, and bring back to the class to share. Everyone got copies of the cards afterwards to use as study guides.
Similarly, Timeline is useful across a variety of subjects. It can be used to map the chronology of a text, but is equally useful in social studies to label important historic events or in science class to show the life cycle of a plant.
Can you tell us a little about your Going Mobile EdChat series?
The Going Mobile EdChat was a Verizon Thinkfinity online PD initiative where teachers could learn from and interact with panel experts around the topic of mobile learning through videos and weekly Twitter chats. There are no more scheduled. However, our organizations have their own similar PD: IRA hosts Twitter chats the second Thursday of each month; use #IRAchat to join or follow the conversations. NCTE hosts Twitter chats on the third Sunday of the month; use #NCTEchat. Recent topics were digital learning and also formative assessment.
What other CPD and support can educators looking to harness mobile technology find at the RWT site?
The Professional Development section of our site features multiple types of PD: face-to-face meetings hosted by IRA and NCTE (check out reading.org or ncte.org for upcoming events), virtual and online training (like webinars), and RWT strategy guides, which are shorter and more topic-focused than our lesson plans. Our new Videos section has stand-alone videos and others that support resources on the site. Our PD resources are focused on literacy, but some incorporate tips on using mobile technology.
What's the best way to keep up to date with your latest content and developments?
We share information about new releases through our social media. We are active on Facebook and Twitter. We also have a Pinterest page we use to showcase resources. We recently made a new group on the Literacy in Learning Exchange, and we invite anyone interested to join us there. We’ll be rolling out information and interacting with our user base there.
What's next for RWT? Do you have any new apps on the horizon?
Yes we do. Right now we are working on updating our Crossword Puzzle interactive and making it an app. This is a very popular interactive, and one that would do very well with the save capability and other updates. It’s a bit complicated--every app has its challenges and we are always trying to push our capabilities--but we’re excited to see it coming together. We are also relaunching Fact Fragment Frenzy, Hero’s Journey, and Word Matrix as mobile-friendly tools.
Thanks for speaking with us, we look forward to hearing more from you in the future.
Access all of the outstanding RWT apps via the developer iTunes page here.