Sooner or later the teacher using an iPad in the classroom reaches the transition point between using apps for single function purposes and using apps or app workflows to create original content. There is nothing wrong with using iPads to provide extension work or to reward success by allowing the students to enjoy a game of Jungle Coins or Math Bingo, of course. But teachers who encourage students to use more multi-dimensional apps typically report greater degrees of satisfaction and success with iPads as tools to enhance learning.
In the same way, there appears to be an interactivity transition between traditional eBooks and something Ladybird has come up with that is currently attracting plaudits from UK technology commentators. The app has the clumsily long title of Ladybird Classic Me Books, but Me Books will do for now. Ladybird will need no introduction to anyone who grew up in the sixties, seventies or eighties in the UK, and indeed even today’s youngsters will have seen this enduring publisher’s titles on everything from jigsaw puzzles, to coasters to postcards to reissues of the original volumes over the past two years as the nostalgia market has propelled Ladybird’s back catalogue back onto the public consciousness!
The idea of the Me Book is to take interactivity to new heights of personalisation. Readers can even replace the bundled narration with their own reading (or that of a parent) or they can combine different voices so that for example, daddy reads the voice of the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk, or mummy the voice of Cinderella. Moreover, there are hotspots on each picture page any one of which when tapped will provide extra sound effects, comments or other audible aids to understanding or enjoyment. The reader can also create his or her own hotspots anywhere on the page or replace the ones that come bundled with the book.
These hotspots are the killer feature of the app. Anyone who reads regularly with young children will recognise that much of the enjoyment of reading comes from observing and commenting on the activities going on at the sides and in the background of the main events (hence the popular “Find the Mouse” game that accompanies readings of Goodnight Moon, or the mischievous activities of the characters in Richard Scarry’s books – to name but two examples more or less contemporary with the rise of Ladybird). The ability to create hotspots that allow these peripheral characters a voice, therefore, is an excellent way to engage the reader in the story and to allow him or her to extend the story without losing sight of the central plot. Students with whom I read loved creating conversations between the mice, squirrels and other wildlife in the story of the Three Little Pigs, where these peripheral characters provide much of the amusement alongside the main story (see picture below)
Students create hotspots (and, therefore, the potential for Readers’ Theatre) by drawing a circle with their finger anywhere on the screen. The resulting purple patch (see example below from the story of The Three Billy Goats Gruff) becomes the hotspot and replaces any hotspot that was already there – including the ones bundled with the software. However, teachers (and parents) may prefer the bundled narrations and hotspots (which are generally of high quality) and so there also exists the option of erasing the students’ hotspots and returning to the default bundled ones.
Currently, only fourteen titles are available from the bundled store and not all of them are the classic editions of the Ladybird titles that are promised (the Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Gingerbread Man versions are the easy reading editions from the Read It Yourself series ladybird launched in 1977), and each edition costs a steep £1.99 but more titles are promised in the future and, as a special offer over the current Christmas holidays, the titles were on sale for just 69p each which bodes well for future pricing. This app appears to be showing the way forward for true interactive eReading.