Can the iPad help enhance reading in the classroom?

The Problem with Reading

Perhaps the biggest challenge for myself as an English and Media Studies teacher, and educators more broadly, is the constant fight against the steady decline of reading ability, and the capacity for reading for pleasure, that we find each year in our schools. Without wishing to sound like a jack-booted CBI spokesperson (who seem to exist only to reduce corporate taxes and demonise the state education system), there is undoubtedly a decline in reading that has a pervasive effect on our students and their life chances; affecting their capacity to read both functionally, and as equally importantly, to experience the imaginative delights that reading literature has to offer. I am sure many teachers could provide lots of anecdotal evidence of a decline in reading habits (by this, I must stress ‘traditional’ reading – web reading is in rude health in many aspects), alongside some hard statistical evidence.

The following BBC article paints a bleak picture as ‘four million’ children do not own a book:

Every time I have the chance to meet parents I am sure I sound like a broken record, extolling the virtues of reading for pleasure, in my sincerely held belief of its transformative impact. I am proud to say that my school is a ‘Reading School’, and we seek out lots of opportunities to promote reading, such as running our own ‘Huntington Big Read’ events, raising money to purchase books to give to our students to keep, and generally involving everyone we can in the promotion of reading. This is an ongoing battle however, one that needs an arsenal of resources. One crucial way to revive reading is by harnessing what is arguably one of the factors that explains the decline in traditional reading – technology. With e-books on the rise and mobile tablet based learning also beginning to flourish in our schools, we must seek out how we can revive reading with the technological tools at our disposal.

Technology: How the iPad can be the Trojan Horse for Reading

Not only does the iPad provide a pivotal tool for effective and engaging group teaching and learning, it has the potential to promote literacy and reading in an innovative and exciting fashion. With iBooks and ITunes U there is the unique opportunity to utilise a vast wealth of free classic literature. With no barriers of copyright, this literature can be used to challenge students in a positive manner; encouraging them to interact with reading many of the students would not have such easy access to, nor perhaps have the inclination to read. It is the perfect combination of the best of traditional reading, integrated with the best of modern technology. The capacity for instant annotation, internet research, audio podcasting, YouTube compatibility and the actual creation of ‘real’ books (iBooks Author on the Mac), provides an impetus to reading that is completely in sync with our core purpose as educators – to help create confident learners, who thrive in a changing world, where both core literacy and technological and media literacy are all equally as crucial. Alongside this, there is the capacity to buy texts and sync them across devices – with many of these texts having interactive elements that promote engagement, alongside fostering core reading skills of annotation, skimming and scanning etc. in a format that can be saved or erased in an instant.

The Best Mobile Device

The iPad is uniquely placed as a tool that would provide a motivation for students wishing to ‘challenge’ themselves by reading further. The iPad has a huge degree of prestige with students, and more importantly it has a myriad of functions to enliven and enhance reading. The iPad wouldn’t replace books in every classroom any time soon, there isn’t the capacity in every school, but they would be a tool to ‘analyse, evaluate and create’ texts, whilst providing an easy platform for students to become producers themselves. For example, schemes of learning that create poetry anthologies, or newspapers, could easily be formatted as an iBook; with links to video introductions and explications, art work and music. These can become truly ‘real’ texts, disseminated not just in school, but in the iStore – heightening the sense of purpose and student engagement. The iStore is currently enhancing its educational output, with iTextbooks and interactive ebooks now beginning to be produced in conjunction with traditional ‘books’. Apple’s dominant market share, although not a positive thing in some ways, means that they are best placed for updating the best software and hardware to enhance pedagogy. An interesting example for A2 English would be an interactive ‘Frankenstein’ app being produced, that includes the classic narrative, a modern and interactive retelling and a beautiful range of contemporaneous images (anatomical drawings and maps etc.) to stimulate interest.
Further innovations, such as saving research reading in Dropbox, means that students could complete and save homework; access research by previous students; access helpful YouTube videos, and read through their home devices, without being reliant of the vast expanse of the web, or the potentially limited knowledge of parents or siblings. This can work in conjunction with school VLE systems, not be exclusive of it, thereby encouraging a real synchronicity between student learning at home and in school.
Practical Teaching & Learning Strategies to Enhance Reading using the iPad

1. Use the device simply as an eBook reader, particularly with the impressive range of free library of classics that students can access. Books can be purchased and synced across devices. iBooks has a simple dictionary capacity, and highlighting and annotation features, that mean students can track their notes or identify key quotations.

2. One nifty strategy is to take a screenshot of a page they are reading, thereby saving it in the photo library, where it can be imported to a whole host of apps that can annotate that very page – or simply sync that page between apps using Apple TV (or AirPlay). By mirroring this work through Apple TV (such a simple process) so the whole class can see the annotation! It provides a brilliant opportunity for forming ideas, engaging in debate and honing key reading skills.

3. Using Notability to make multi-modal notes: this app (currently cheap at 69p!) is an easy and intuitive way to import photos or screenshots of their reading (or indeed their writing), alongside web page images etc. that they can then annotate and make audio notes etc. These can be saved and emailed to others and recorded in a multitude of ways for for use.

4. Using ExplainEverything for great presentations based on their reading: the humble book review can really be enhanced, and likely superseded, by creating presentations on this great app (one of my favourites for teaching and learning). Students can save almost any files type, image etc. and then create a flowing presentation with an audio commentary. This application really should see the death of ‘death by PowerPoint’!

5. Using the iPad for Internet research: The Safari web browser is a direct way to undertake internet research at any time, either instantaneously in class, or at home. What the iPad enhances about this common approach to researching authors or social contexts, or reviews, is that the information can be immediately saved and stored in apps like GoodReader or Dropbox, and then students can edit and interact with these resources, easily creating presentations as suggested above.

6. Reading Poetry: I don’t find e-books the best way to read poetry, but, of course, there is an app for that! IFPoems is a great app that is effectively an anthology selection of poetry, organised in a variety of useful ways – and a superb collection at that! It has the added bonus of audio recordings, by celebrities such as Helena Bonham Carter and Bill Nighy. Students can also record their readings of the poems, or email the poem, to be used in a presentation or for other learning opportunities.

7. With the easy access to iTunes U there is the easy chance to use a range of free audio recordings of books, alongside useful educational videos supporting an endless array of reading topics.

8. Using blog apps to provide individual or class responses to their reading: simple blog apps, such as the WordPress app, provide the opportunities to write web blogs in either class, or at home, that track their reading. This can support the reading of a class text or be used to track and share their own reviews of books they are reading.

9. Take a photograph of any student writing in response to their reading: perhaps my favourite use of the iPad is for instantaneous formative assessment. This aids a variety of learning skills, but by photographing the writing that students produce, then projecting it through Apple TV, the class, or the teacher, or both, can give instant formative feedback – this process really inspires students and they read the work of others with ease and skill when given the extra prestige of being projected for the whole group to engage with. It makes students more reflective learners and readers and helps them become ‘critical friends’, reading with a real focus.

10. Using comic apps for reading: students can create their own comics easily using lovely apps like ComicLife to get students writing, which is a great way to understand different genres they read. They can also read comics on a variety of easy apps like, like Stanza or Marvel Comics.


Clearly, this is a sample snapshot of the potential uses of the iPad to revive reading for students in and out of the classroom. One of the key bonuses of the iPad is how it can be used in such a wide variety of ways. With the growing network of schools undertaking iPad programmes, in a variety of ways, our collective learning and knowledge of how to use the tool can only improve. In our English and Media Faculty we want to focus in on key strategies, thereby making students and staff experts at these, before exploring the ever-growing wealth of resources at hand more broadly. At heart, I am a lover of reading and a believer in its power and beauty. In the last couple of years I have adjusted my habits to realise that it need not be a paper product we use to read, indeed, if we are to truly engage our learners we need to become ‘digital natives’ as they are, synthesising modern technology with more traditional concepts of literacy to combine the best of both worlds.


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About huntingenglish

I am Director of Learning and Research at Huntington Secondary School, York. I have taught English (including a bit of Media Studies) for over a decade. If it is tragic and gothic, laced with humour and bitter truths then I'll teach it! I have had the great privilege to have written a book, 'Teach Now! Becoming a Great English Teacher', edited by the brilliant Geoff Barton, and I am writing another for Routledge, entitled, 'The Confident Teacher'. I am Project Lead of the RISE (Research-leads Improving Students' Education) Project. An EEF funded randomized controlled trial to evaluate if and how a Research-lead can improve outcomes for students. I am a proud member of the Institute for Effective Education (IEE) Executive Board at York University. I am also a proud member of the ResearchEd Advisory Panel. I write regularly for the TES and Teach Secondary magazine. My first book, 'Teach Now! Becoming A Great English Teacher' was released by Routledge in 2014 and my next book, entitled 'The Confident Teacher' will be out at the end of 2015.

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