writing-common core

How Apple can improve students struggling with writing


Apple’s iBooks Author and Book Creator is an opportunity for students to have a global audience for their writing

writing-common coreI was teaching special education students in grades 5 and 6 in an inner city school in Canton. Time was going by and students continued to struggle with writing. I was determined to make a difference and change these students for the better. They were going to become great writers if it killed me.

While my goals were commendable, they weren’t being achieved to the degree I wanted. Then, two years ago, Apple introduced a software product called iBooks Author and things would change for me forever.

For the first time people were given the opportunity to self-publish in an easy manner. I saw this software as an opportunity for students to have a global audience for their writing. Blogs and other ways of having a global audience have been around for a while but this was something truly different and I ran with it. Students were excited to be writing for someone other than their teacher. Engagement increased. Time on task increased and the energy in the classroom changed to something you can normally only dream of.

Within three months we had written and published three iBooks in Apple’s iBookstore. We were graphing the downloads in the hall on chart paper, estimating how many downloads we would have by the end of the year and planning our next books. Comments from all over the globe came pouring in and it meant a great deal to the students. For the first time in their lives, they had a real, authentic audience for their work.

(Next page: Apple’s iBooks Author and Book Creator boost student creativity)

I soon changed jobs and moved to Alliance City Schools. The iBook ideas continued and we soon published two more iBooks using iBooks Author. Again, things were going smoothly until one day when I met Pam, a speech and language pathologist for one of the elementary schools in Alliance. This begins the journey of my use with the Book Creator app.

Watch this tutorial of Apple’s iBooks Author

Pam was referred to me by our district network manager. She was in need of instruction on using iMovie on her iPad. I knew I could help her so we met to discuss using the iMovie app. She explained to me that she had a group of 4th grade autistic boys that needed some serious motivating and help. They weren’t interested in doing any kind of work at all and she thought iMovie would help. I asked her what they were struggling with and she mentioned social skills. Immediately my mind went from iMovie mode into something else, something more powerful.

I explained to Pam that I had another idea. It was an app I recently learned about. I was looking for a group of guinea pigs and this was the perfect opportunity for me to try Book Creator out with a group of students. Pam explained to me this was a tough group of kids. She looked at me with cautious eyes when I explained that we were going to write a book using the Book Creator app.

Watch how Book Creator is the simple way to create beautiful books on your iPad.

She looked at me like I was on drugs when I told her we weren’t only going to write a book but that we were also going to publish this book for the entire world to download. I began meeting with her and her students once a week. I explained to the students that they would soon be globally published authors.

They were so excited about their book it was contagious. We began using the Book Creator app to make videos of inappropriate social skills interactions (this wasn’t difficult because this is what they did on a daily basis). We also made videos of appropriate interactions (great learning opportunity for the kids).

Students started using Pam’s iPad to write their stories, information and author bios. The students also realized they could record their voices using the app and they did. They believed this would help them be better readers. Adding their own pictures was icing on the cake. After a month of work, the book was ready and we published it in the iBookstore. The downloads started flying in and this is where the real transformation occurred.

The students in Pam’s group were so excited about the downloads. They put a map in the hall and began to chart which countries had downloaded their book. This seems like such a small thing but to these students it was the world. These students who were afraid of talking to others, had few friends and were thought of as outcasts soon became the stars of the school.

The students were talking to kids in the hall explaining why there was a red pin in Japan and Norway and Canada. One student’s parent, who never came to any IEP meetings, showed up for the first time. She was so excited to see what her son had done that she came to the first meeting at the school in four years.

The students couldn’t stop writing and wanted to make more and more books. They had so much fun and learned so much while using this app that they have started a series of social skills books. As of today, they have written and published three iBooks in the social skills series.

Overall we have published 20 iBooks using iBooks Author or Book Creator. Our student written iBooks have been downloaded in 48 countries around the world and we just passed 22,000 downloads.

What I believe

I believe students need to contribute more in the classroom. They need to be creating content and be a part of the learning process. They need to show us what they know and they need to be able to explain it. Using Book Creator has the potential to transform learning for you and your students.

Students and teachers need to share what they do. This really makes a difference in the authenticity of the learning. I truly believe that students want to share what they do and when they have a bigger audience, the work gets better.

“When students create for the world they make it good.  When students create only for their teachers, they make it good enough.” -Rushton Hurley

Jon Smith is a Technology Resource Teacher at Alliance High School in OhioJon will be presenting on how iPads can help with student writing during the 2014 Building Learning Communities conference in Boston July 15-18. For more information, see http://novemberlearning.com/blc-education-conference-2014.

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