Focus on Vocabulary: Tiers 1,2, and 3

One forgets words as one forgets names. One’s vocabulary needs constant fertilizing or it will die.- Evelyn Waugh

Is it possible to overstate the value of words?  Our ability to function in today’s complex world is determined by our language skills. We use expressive vocabularies to speak, receptive vocabularies to listen and comprehend, and literate vocabularies to read and write.   A large vocabulary is  reflective of high levels of reading achievement. Yet, often, vocabulary instruction is over-looked in schools today as other skills get pushed to the forefront.

We used the iPads last year for phonics practice as well as vocabulary acquisition.  Our Tier 1 words (sight words), we practiced in several apps, most notably Spelling 1-2 and Spelling Bee.  We worked on Tier 2 words (essential for understanding text, non-redundant words) in Montessori Crosswords and our Magnet board apps.  Tier 3 words (infrequently used, subject specific words) can also be practiced with these apps.  These apps allow for many opportunities to talk about and work with words.

Young students learn to communicate through listening and speaking. As students learn to read, they develop fluency and automaticity through rapidly using decoding strategies.  A large amount of attention in the early grades is placed on high frequency words.  These are very important for emerging readers.  However, it can’t stop there.  We must increase comprehension through the use of Tier 2 and 3 words.  Research is showing that in 4,469 minutes of reading instruction, only 19 of those minutes went toward vocabulary instruction and acquisition.

The most recently released study of international reading achievement provides some strong evidence that the weakness in U.S. student performance is not the result of decoding problems or inability to comprehend narrative texts. Instead, it seems to be due to weakness in ability to comprehend.  informational texts (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, 2003).  80% of text that adults read is informational.

Through the iBooks Author software, I was able to create a few high-interest non-fiction texts that were on my students individual reading levels last year.  By having these texts on their iPads, they have them handy whenever they want to read.  I have also downloaded the I Like Books app.  It is a collection of 30 (free) non-fiction books.

Through the use of these reading apps and the apps mentioned above for practicing vocabulary, I am able to increase the rigor in vocabulary instruction.

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High Progress Classrooms, The Common Core and iPads

Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.- John F. Kennedy

I’ve recently completed training on High-Progress Literacy Classrooms and Common Core State Standards for Language Arts.  One of the guiding premises behind the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is the standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. The shifts from the old state standards to the new CCSS are student-focused.

Students will do more than just read texts for basic comprehension.  They will be expected to pull from multiple sources to synthesize diverse texts and ideas, consider multiple points of view and read across texts. The ultimate goal of each standard is that all students will demonstrate key skills articulated in the CCSS on their own.  The expectations spiral across grade levels to help students reach this goal.

During this training, I read something written by Donald Graves called The Cha-Cha-Cha Curriculum.  He states that it is a sign of the times that silent, sustained reading lasts only twelve minutes and that we race our children through everything ever recommended.  Time is our scarcest resource and to teach well, we do not need more techniques, activities or strategies.

Using the iPads the last 2 years really helped me hone in on the essentials in teaching reading and writing.  Students are able to construct their own learning. They are able to research, read, write, and create.  Much of our curricula still includes things we no longer need or no longer feel strongly about.  By cleaning out our “curricular closets” we are more easily able to focus on those essentials.

The CCSS will definitely provide more rigor in our instruction.  These standards are designed to help ready our students for post-secondary education and the workforce.  Our students now will become our future leaders.  I’m excited about the possibilities of using the iPads in conjunction with these standards in the fall when we return to school.

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Living the iLife: iPhoto, iMovie and Garage Band

Creativity is a natural extension of our enthusiasm.-Earl Nightingale

One of the great things about teaching young children is their ability to entertain themselves with just about anything.  Given a stick, it becomes a bat, a spear, a magic wand…their imagination has no limits.  My students role play, create, draw, paint, and pretend.  When is the last time you did any of those things?  Grown-ups don’t do those things right?  That’s for kids.  When did we lose our ability to create?

School systems are inherently driven by standardization.  Students are jumping through pre-designed hoops and creativity seems to be a side dish in the entree-heavy school system.  It seems to be overlooked that creativity can be a great intrinsic motivator. Creativity, if not nurtured, will take a nose-dive before a student leaves elementary school.

A great tool for the iPads is a suite of apps that help incorporate creativity into any content.  The iLife suite includes iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand.  iPhoto allows you to browse, edit, and share your favorite pictures.  iPhoto can also create slide shows and books.  iMovie allows you to turn video into movie trailers, tv news segments, and more.  With travel maps in your video travelogues, everyone who watches comes along on the adventure.  The drag and drop feature makes it easy to use.  Garage Band allows you to “get your groove on”.  You can use and edit existing music loops, or create your own using a variety of instruments.  Even if you have never played any of these instruments before, you are able to create a masterpiece.  Voice recordings are also available which you can then add to iMovie.

The iLife Suite gives students the power to create. Teachers often identify their main goals as helping children build cognitive and social skills. But the great engine that drives innovation and invention in society comes from people whose flame of creativity was kept alive in childhood.

Giving students freedom within a structure gives them a clear goal but also alternatives on how to get there.  By incorporating creative tools into the curriculum, students can explore the depths of their inner artist.

Check out the iLife Suite and see the possibilities.  Let freedom ring!

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iPads and Field Trips

The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page. -St. Augustine

Summer is a great time for travel.  Last summer, I was able to travel to Europe for the first time.  We visited the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium.  It was truly the trip of a lifetime and I would love to go back!  Travel opens our minds to different cultures, experiences and people…and amazing food!  This trip allowed me to see things and experience things I would never be able to experience in my little corner of the world.  In fact, it made me wish I had paid more attention in my World History class in college.  Walking through the poppy fields of Flanders takes you straight to 1918 and World War 1.  Standing on the battle site of Waterloo puts you in the bloody final campaign of Napoleon in 1815.  I soaked up the history and beauty of these historic gems.

Our students need to experience the larger world beyond their own little corners as well. Class field trips enable educators to broaden students and enhance their educational experiences.  With iPads in the classroom we can re-think how field trips are done.

Taking iPads on a field trip would allow students to capture what they are seeing, reflect on what they are learning, and create meaningful artifacts of the experience.  The information collected on the trip could be put into an iMovie or Keynote to share with others and for assessment.  Using the information gained on the trip and transforming it into an iMovie uses the higher order thinking skills we desire for our students.  To protect the iPads, students could place them in their school book bags.  That would allow the students to be hands-free if needed, but have the iPads handy at the same time.  Having a class set of back packs just for field trips would be the ideal.  I saw one on Amazon.com for $19.99. It is made for tablets and is lightweight enough for younger children. Now I just need a wealthy benefactor to get them for me!

What about the trips that are too far away or are too expensive?  Because of bus costs, increased gas prices and the cost of some venues increasing, we have had to cut the number of trips we take during the year.  What if you want to visit a place that is in another country?  The iPad can take you there via virtual field trips.  On a virtual field trip, you and your students can go just about anywhere on Earth — or even into the solar system.  There are many websites that have virtual field trips already set up, such as this one to the Great Wall of China, or you can create your own.

Field trips can be great educational additions to any curriculum.  By incorporating iPads, our students have endless possibilities to explore their world and beyond!

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Summer Fun and Draw Something

A vacation is having nothing to do and all day to do it in.  -Robert Orben

I live 10 minutes from this beach.  It serves as both an inspiration and a distraction depending on your frame of mind.  After a long school year, it is a soothing medication to frayed nerves.  The wind and waves are hypnotic.  On this day, soaking up the warm sun, I find I must confess something…

I am addicted to the Draw Something app on my iPad.

Draw Something is a free social drawing game you play with others.  You can find friends through email or Facebook.  Once you create a game with someone, you are given 3 words of varying difficulty to choose from.  You choose the word and draw.  When finished, it goes to the other person who watches your drawing being created on their screen.  They are given a tray of letters at the bottom they must choose from and re-arrange to guess the word.  Once they guess, it is their turn to draw and you must guess.  Coins are earned for the varying difficulty of the pictures drawn and they may be exchanged for additional colors. It is similar to the game Pictionary.  I find that using a stylus is much easier for drawing than using my finger.  It is fun and I think I mentioned…addictive. 

While this app isn’t appropriate for my students, the concept is appropriate. Initially, I could introduce the game on my iPad with the Whiteboard app.  I could draw something they would be familiar with and have a few letters at the bottom for them to unscramble to guess the word.  Showing this on my Smart Board would allow all to see and participate.  Once they have the concept of the game, they could then partner play on their own.  This would build spelling skills, vocabulary and fine motor skills.

Of course, I will spend this summer in *ahem* Research and Development to perfect any “kinks” to make it easier for my students…after all, it is about them right? Um, gotta run…it’s my turn and I need to figure out how to draw Lady Gaga.

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Mirror, Mirror, Reflecting on the School Year

I had chosen to use my work as a reflection of my values.
-Sidney Poitier

School is finally out! I have a 10 week summer stretching long before me.  Since this isn’t my first go-round with summer vacation, I know how quickly it vanishes.  I used to make a long list of things I wanted to accomplish both at home and for school.  I would find myself frustrated at the end of summer having accomplished less than half of that list.  Instead, I’ve learned to enjoy the time of no deadlines, no paperwork, no alarm clock and no schedule.  I’ve learned…to reflect.

Teaching, for me, is a calling.  It is rewarding and draining all at the same time.  By the end of the school year, I need to recharge and reconnect with me. Reflection of the year happens slowly over the summer.  At first, I just need to decompress.  I also congratulate myself on the things that went well.  We all need to do that.  Later, I begin to think of things that I could have done differently or that I want to change.  Sometimes, it is just a matter of tweaking something and other times it is more drastic.  Reflection helps us to stand back, out of the fray, and look at things a bit more objectively.

Using iPads the last year and a half has been a major source of my change.  It has definitely been a “learn-as-you-go” operation.  So much of what we have done has gone well and so it is easy to rest on that.  Test scores are up, student achievement is up and parent approval is high.  Those are all things to celebrate, especially in such a short amount of time since implementation.  Still, there is always room for improvement.

I’ve been using iBooks Author to write some leveled texts for my students.  I’ve also written a few books for content areas such as Social Studies, Science and Math.  I wrote many of those toward the end of this year and was unable to utilize them much with my class.  I want to write more books this summer and have them ready to go for student iPads in the fall.  I also want to do more personalization of the books with the students to increase their interest.  My goal is to write a short “All About” book for each student in the fall.

In addition to the iBooks Author, I want to incorporate iMovie and create short videos for students and parents.  I just purchased Roxio Toast 11 so I can burn DVD’s from iMovie.  The new MacBook Pro doesn’t have iDVD. So many skills and some good content can be incorporated when students make their own iMovie.  This also puts their engagement through the roof.

Wow…I’ve been out of school 3 days and I have quite a list.  I’m sure I will work on this and tweak it over the coming weeks.  I can’t wait to see how it will all turn out!

How does reflection work for  you?

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iPads in the Classroom: A Parent’s Perspective

School is officially out for summer. Today’s post was written by Angie Mizzell. Her son Dillon was in my class this year.

“Mom, how many trees are in the world?” my son asked a few weeks ago, as we were driving to school down a two-lane, tree-lined road.

“That’s a really good question. I don’t know. Billions? Trillions? A lot.” And then I remembered a blog post Kristi had written. “I wonder if there’s a way to find out?”

He responded quickly, as if he’d come to the conclusion on his own. “I could type on my iPad, ‘How many trees are there.'”

When my son started school last August, he was still learning letter sounds. Today, as an official kindergarten grad, he’s reading on a first grade level and doing Google searches to find out how many trees exist in the world. (Turns out I’m a good guesser.)

Did the iPad contribute to that? That’s a question for people who collect data. I’m a mom, and I tend to operate under this philosophy: Seeing is believing. And what I’ve seen is a teacher who uses iPads to meet her students where they are and take them as far as they can go.

I visited the classroom earlier in the year, and it felt familiar to me—a mix of what I recall about kindergarten and first grade combined: Students writing on primary ruled paper, breaking up into smaller, focused reading groups and playing in centers (think blocks and housekeeping). And of course, the children were oozing with cuteness.

I watched a child at the SMART Board, building words by dragging letters from the bottom of the screen. I was intrigued by how engaged my son appeared while working on his iPad.

It’s the natural evolution of things. Today, when my child walks around with a notebook and a pencil (his journal, he says) recording thoughts, I realize the “old” and the “new” can coexist.

My son represents the future, and I’m encouraged by what I see.