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Explaining the App-Based Lesson: Its Essential Elements

app teacherThis post is the first in a new series that will provide multiple examples of app-enhanced lessons.

The idea of using iOS, Android, and Windows apps is certainly appealing to educators, and it should be as schools transition to 1:1 instructional models that emphasize blended learning techniques. However, the notion that an app can replace a teacher is farfetched. It is the teacher who crafts lessons that maximize the learning and instructional potentials offered by apps. In this vein, there are a few central tenets that need to be discussed regarding designing and implementing app-based lessons.

  1. Teachers Drive Lessons, Not Apps

First and foremost, teachers are always responsible for the learning that takes place in their classroom. This includes selecting apps, assessing the quality of apps, designing lessons that utilize apps, and then measuring student learning as a result of using those apps. When selecting apps, teachers need to consider the purpose for which they intend to use the app, and the same is true when assessing an app’s quality. The starred-rankings in the App Store and Google Play only offer a generalized perception of the app, not pinpointed areas of strengths and weaknesses. After making these judgments about an app’s qualities, teachers must craft lessons that utilize an app’s strengths and combine them with other instructional materials, apps, and experiences that enhance student learning. Finally, following the lesson, teachers still need to assess student learning, which may include paper-and-pencil and/or digital techniques.

  1. Know the Types of App’s

As there are different strategies and materials for introducing and engaging students in content learning, apps have specific purposes as well. For example, some apps are content-based, meaning they provide students with access to information and data. Other apps are skill-based, which use repetition to teach students how to complete a specific task. Creation-based apps represent and another type of app, and they can be used by students to showcase their learning. Finally, there are teacher-resource apps that are tools teachers can use to complete classroom tasks (e.g., take attendance, manage the classroom), plan lessons, communicate with parents and colleagues, and record grades. Understanding that apps have different purposes is crucial for selecting apps and using them in the classroom.

  1. Blending Apps into Lessons

When planning instruction, my lessons tend to follow a similar, two-part pattern that first introduces students to content or skill and then have students demonstrate their learning. To begin a lesson, I typically use a content-based app that lets students explore information such as articles, videos, images, and more that relate to the topic we are studying. Other times, I may use a skill-based app that allows students to conceptualize the tasks they are to complete. At this point, I provide students with direct instruction regarding the tasks they are to complete. This instruction may take the form of a mini-lesson, typed instructions, or following a series of steps I have premade and posted to a class website for students. Once students have a firm understanding of the instruction, I use creation-based apps that allow students to demonstrate their learning or completion of the task. The products students make with these apps are what I grade and hold students accountable for completing.

  1. Planning Blended Learning Lessons

When designing these lessons, I work to keep my planning stated in the simplest terms possible because it helps students and colleagues understand the lesson’s goals. For example, I use a three-part instructional objective and then break the objective into steps. In Figure 1, you can see an example of my planning process:


In the objective, I commonly open with the phrase “Students will” because it states my expectation for student work. I then use a verb from either the Webb’s Depth of Knowledge or Bloom’s Taxonomy and couple it with the content that they will be applying to the verb. In this example, students will “select and analyze” (verbs) a “short story” (content). Writing this statement with verbs and phrases helps to pinpoint the specific actions students are to take. The final component of the instructional objective is the “by statement” that focuses on how students are going to demonstrate their learning. In this example, students will exhibit their analysis of the story ”by creating a storyboard graphic organizer” and “by justifying if they did or did not enjoy the story.” Together, these three components outline both the objective of the lesson and what students must do to satisfy it. Once the objective is in place, I break the lesson into steps. I found dividing the lessons into steps useful because they outline the procedures students must complete in order to satisfy the lesson and they also name the specific apps students must use in order to complete the lesson.

  1. Model, Support, and Grow

When beginning to use app-enhanced instruction in the classroom, teachers must be willing to model the apps. As seen in the above figure, I show my students screenshots of the app and in the classroom I model how to use the app. Providing students with a device and app is limiting; rather, students learn and grow from effective modeling of both the app and what they are expected to do with the app. Lastly, start with a handful of apps. From my own experience, students and you will perform more effectively by using a limited number of apps at first, especially when working with content-based apps. As you and your students become more comfortable using an app, consider if you can use it in new, creative ways. Only when ready or when limitations of the app are found should new apps be introduced.

In close, using apps for blended learning lessons has a lot of potential, and teachers should be encouraged to use apps and tablets as 1:1 device initiatives are being implemented in schools. However, it is unrealistic to think teachers and students have all the knowledge they need in order to use apps meaningfully. Rather, incremental growth for planning lessons and using these emerging technologies needs to be at the center of expectations for using app-based lessons. If I can offer any additional support for using apps in the classroom or you have some thoughts about app-based lessons, please email me at info@appedreview.com.