Is all software created equally?

I had hoped to complete a vlog for this week’s post, but alas, one fun (sarcastic) trip to the dentist’s chair, and I’m not much for talking right now!  So, it will be a typical blog post from me again this week – I digress.

I’m going to focus on software tools this week, I have already shared the one I use, ScreenCast -O-matic – and I’ve already eluded to how awesome I think it is, and how I have used it here.

I thought it would be beneficial to discuss the pros and cons to some software and things that are important to me when I am evaluating a tool.

Reading Tools

This is where the Teacher-Librarian in me always shows up!  When I’m considering software, where else can I find more use for a way to add reading to my students (and my own children’s) day?

While using Daily 5, there are various component one that involves listening to reading and as such I have worked with many different tools and applications that offer an audio book type format.

TumbleBooks, GetEpic, Storyline Online

TumbleBooks is a great resource with free access through the Regina Public Library website.  It offers countless titles of picture books for young children, and there’s also Tumble Cloud Junior for middle years students.  I like this service as it is easy to access, free to use, has multiple language optiolns, and it offers students audio and visual opportunities with books

GetEpic is a site that I signed up for in the beta version, and like TumbleBooks, it offers a variety of story books with a similar format -kids can read independently or have the story read to them. While you have to have an account to access the service, the added bonus is that you can have a student log in that tracks what students are reading and for how long etc.

Storyline Online offers a unique platform where actors are recorded doing read-alouds of many popular book titles.  While it doesn’t offer the visual read along cues of tumble books, I have found kids to be engaged with the physical read aloud visual that is presented with it.

Starfall, Hooked on Phonics, and Endless Alphabet

Starfall is a great website that I initially started using when I was working with English as an Additional language students, and I found it to have value when teaching students to read.  There are a variety of levels for learners at different levels, and it works with alphabet letters and sounds and blends to help students interact with and experience letters and sounds in a different way.  On the web, there is free access to this site, and there are apps available with different devices – but some have a cost associated with them.

Hooked on Phonics is another great tool when working with kids who are learning letter sounds and blends.  I purchased this as an app when my daughter was a pre-reader, and it was helpful to engage her in practicing different sounds during ‘screen time’.

Endless Alphabet is hands down my favourite learn to read app as a parent!  We purchased this when my daughter was a pre-reader, and now my son is in the same stage and they both love playing it!  The ‘monsters’, the animation and explanation of words, each letter repeats its ‘sound’ while the child moves the letter to the appropriate space.  These things all proved to be very engaging for my children, and we can apply the things learned in the app with real life examples!  This is not available on the web, it is only available as an app, and while there is a larger fee associated with it (currently $11.99) I think it is well worth the price.

Now that I have shared some of my favourite go to’s for reading, I need to include some important technology pedagogy surrounding these apps.

By Lefflerd (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons

As far as Storyline Online goes, it really falls into the substitution category, it’s really no different than myself or someone else reading aloud to the students – they would be engaged in either sense, however, in the case of daily 5, it allows me the flexibility to have students listen to reading, while I am working one on one with another student or with a small group.


Both Tumblebooks and GetEpic would fall into the augmentation category in my opinion.  I feel this augments a regular read aloud as each word can be visually highlighted when it is read, which goes beyond what I would do in a read aloud, and enhances what students brains are doing while they are watching it.

Starfall, Hooked on Phonics and Endless Alphabet would also fall into the augmentation category.  These applications allow interactions with students, and gives feedback in some instances (visual and audio) if they are incorrect and as such I think it goes beyond students just consuming the information presented to them.

While I haven’t gotten into the Modification/Redefining realms with this post, I will say that while I am absolutely for higher level skills, thick questions and people building skills to problems solve – I still strongly believe that we need to lay a solid foundation for our students with skills to enable them to reach the higher levels of thinking!



11 thoughts on “Is all software created equally?

  1. Great post Amy! I am definitely taking a few of your “early reader” suggestions and implementing them into my class this year. I absolutely agree with your point about laying a strong foundation for children. The “enhancement levels” may not involve the deep critical thinking strategies, but they serve a purpose. I like to think of it as the SAMR pool model. You aren’t going to spend all of your time in the “deep end” and you need to be comfortable wading in the shallow end before you made it to the deep end.

    1. Erin I love your pool analogy! Truth be told, that was the graphic I wanted (because to me it’s more fluid and less linear) but I couldn’t find a cc version! I had never considered SAMR as you describe, but I think I may have to use that explanation now if that’s ok?

      I’m glad some of my suggestions can be helpful, I’m looking forward to what others have to share as I’d love to incorporate some new ideas where possible!

  2. Thanks for all the great suggestions Amy! It looks like you have rounded out quite a few that i will be checking out when I have kids. Have you noticed a difference in their engagement level with these apps as compared to simply reading books? I know there are those parents who don’t want their kids on any sort of technology, and I wonder if they are right in that it doesn’t help, or if they should try it because of the augmented engagement level. Of course, everything within reason, and it shouldn’t be used as a babysitter or in replacement of a parent reading with a child, but if it helps them learn and grow as early readers (or later ones too!), then we should be encouraging them more often with parents! Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks for the questions Liz! Ok I’m going to answer them as a mom and hope it is sufficient:

      I have always read to my children, daily- multiple times daily when possible. While I like technology and see value in it, I am very rigid in what/how much technology my children are exposed to. I work hard to ensure there is a balance of hands on learning with books/paper etc. However they also look for engagement with technology and that’s where I pre screen and offer educational options. I like to think we have balance (and yes I do let my kids watch things like Paw Patrol and Makko mermaids), but it’s done with balance in mind.

  3. Hi Amy, Thank you! THANK YOU! THANK YOU for all of your excellent recommendations! I’ve already looked into several of them – fantastic. I tried the preview of Endless Alphabet… So fun! I will definitely be buying that for my pre-reader. I’ve heard of Starfleet, but haven’t used it, so I’ll be trying out that and others, for sure. Thanks again !! Nancy

  4. Hi again, Amy,

    I just read my first Tumblebooks book) all by myself… Children asleep 2 hrs ago! :). I loved it. I’ve bookmarked it on my phone… My 6 yr old will love it! Thanks again.

  5. THANKS!! I know others have said it but your recommendations are so helpful for me as I teach daily 5! I do wish there were more resources for middle level students. Which one of these do you think would work best for my grade 7/8 kids?

    1. I’m glad I could be of help!

      Ok, for grade 7/8, some things I would recommend would be:

      The Tumble cloud junior site

      I would also consider doing things like using their interests to your advantage, if they like legends/myths, send them to a site such as
      where they can read (with the help of Google Read& Write if necessary, and check out Nancy’s blog for more info on Google Read & Write) and also create their own legends (for word work).

      I am also a huge fan (on the parent and teacher side) of SeeSaw (Read Nicole and Erin’s posts this week for more info on that). I think there is a lot of potential for it to be used with older grades to share their reading, book reviews etc.

      I’ve also heard of many teachers having success with Bookopolis with older grades (it would really fit in with Picking Good fit books).

      Hope some of these are helpful to you – I’m always happy to share ideas and listen to others ideas too!

      What kind of things are you currently doing in Daily 5 with your 7/8s? We are about to start middle years reading groups at my school, and this is my first time implementing daily 5 with older students — I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on what works!

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