Poetry Notebooks with Book Creator

Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks. -Plutarch

Each Friday, we take a break from our Writing Workshop activities and work in our poetry notebooks. Young children love poems and songs. Every week, we have a designated poem that goes with our unit. I have made a poster out of it and attached a plastic coat hanger to the back. The poem hangs on a hook in the classroom for the week. Each child has a black and white sewn composition book and we glue in a copy of the poem for the week. The children illustrate it and have the ability to go back and read poems from previous weeks. They love going back to some of their favorites and singing them or re-reading them.

Recently, I noticed their joy each Friday as they work in their poetry notebooks, and it saddened me that I don’t have space in the classroom to leave the poems out and let them accumulate. Then, it hit me…Book Creator! So I created a poetry book in Book Creator app that has their poems and I left a blank page beside each poem so the students could go in and illustrate them if they choose. Additionally, I recorded my voice reading each poem to help those who may not be able to read the whole thing themselves. When I finished poems up to where we are currently, I put it in Showbie and the children downloaded it to their iPad. They saved it to Book Creator and this allows me to add more poems as we go through the rest of the year. I will put the new poem in Showbie and they will download it and add it their poetry notebook.

IMG_0120

IMG_0121

 

I am undecided about next year…whether I will eliminate the hard copy and just do electronic. The kids do love using crayons and illustrating the notebook. The best part is, either way, they have poems at their fingertips to read, re-read, illustrate and enjoy!

Tell your story…do epic stuff!

Digital Reading Resources for Early Literacy

There is an art of reading, as well as an art of thinking, and an art of writing-Isaac D’Israeli

As a kindergarten teacher, my day is spent immersing my students in literacy activities. Regardless of the subject we are learning, literacy is a big part of it. We use Book Creator for our math journals.  I also use Book Creator app and iBooks Author for teacher-created texts for my students’ emergent reading levels. Through continuous literacy activities, we can build fluency. Having 1:1 iPads, my students have many digital books at their fingertips. Research shows digital texts engage even the most reluctant readers and increase reading achievement (see attached references: Research on Using Digital Texts to Enhance Literacy Instruction)

In addition to the items listed above, we use RAZ Kids to track student reading. With parents having access, students can also practice reading at home using leveled texts. RAZ kids allows me to set student reading levels as well as assign assessments such as running records.

My students also have a link on their iPad screens to Unite for Literacy. This website has numerous non-fiction text with audio support and are available in a variety of languages. With diverse images, children are able to relate to their world.

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 2.59.18 PM

Our iBook Shelves are filled with teacher-created texts and phonics readers from Hubbard’s Cupboard. There are free e-book downloads on word families and phonics. We have RAZ kids leveled texts and the Unite for Literacy collection. Of course we have a classroom library of a variety of paper books for students as well. The benefit of the digital books are the multi-touch and accessibility features, as well as the durability of them.

There are many online resources for early literacy, but these are some of my favorites. I encourage you to look into some of these to help build your own classroom collection. Here are a few more links to investigate:

Epic

PreKinders

Story Time For Me

Making Learning Fun

Share your story…do epic stuff!

Hour of Code 2015

It should be mandatory that you understand computer science. -will.i.am

Like thousands of other classes, my kindergarten students have been participating in the Hour of Code this week. While you can code anytime, the grassroots campaign takes place the week of December 7-13. All students should have the opportunity to learn how to code. It nurtures problem solving skills and stimulates logic and creativity. Steve Jobs said, “Everyone should learn how to code, it teaches you how to think.” While it’s easy to think this is something for older students only, even the youngest of students are able to learn how to code.

IMG_2448One of the easiest ways to teach young children to code is with the Kodable app.  Kodable is free. It is intuitive and simple to follow. We have been working on this app all week, specifically for the Hour of Code. While it promotes critical thinking and technological fluency, it is simply a great way for students to work both independently and collaboratively to problem solve. Watching my students work in this app this week, I’ve heard great conversations incorporating logic and the kids were building stamina and persistence. Kids who walk away from a task after the first sign of difficulty will sit and persist when working with Kodable. Problem solving, persistence, and critical thinking are valuable work force skills that students need to learn.

One of the additional benefits of introducing coding to my class has been the transfer of learning to other areas. My students have been so fascinated they have developed their own coding “game boards” for friends to build code to complete. The child who created the problem on paper asked a friend to put the arrows in the brown boxes to complete the code and then had the child add up the coins he earned. While watching him draw this, I noticed he counted the turns needed and then put that many brown boxes at the top for the friend add the code…a great example of problem solving for a 5 year old!

coding1

While there are other apps and websites for coding, my students’ favorites are Kodable and Minecraft. They were so engaged, both boys and girls, the Hour of Code could have easily turned into Hours of Code.

You can read more about the Hour of Code here. There are coding activities for Star Wars fans, Minecraft fans, and even fans of Elsa and Anna from Frozen. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to code. Your students will be happy to teach you!

Share your story…do epic stuff!

Keep It Simple

Simplicity will stand out, while complexity will get lost in the crowd. -Kevin Barnett

American Thanksgiving has just passed and we are on the bullet train to Christmas! How are things where you are…busier than ever I am guessing? With all of the “must-do’s” that come with teaching, it is easy to let content design take a back seat to “getting it all in”. Lesson planning can become rote and robotic if we aren’t careful. Put your quarters in the machine and make your selection…

I have just returned from BarcelonaFullSizeRender 18, Spain. What an amazing experience! I went to work with the early childhood teachers at the American School in utilizing iPads in the classroom. The wonderful staff there was particularly interested in making the best use out of a few iPads per classroom. I taught math and reading lessons in their classrooms and watched the thrill of the young children interacting with their iPads. It can certainly seem challenging without a class set of the devices. My advice to them, as it has been on this blog all along, is to start small and take those baby steps. When starting something new, it is easy to get caught up and get overwhelmed. There is initial excitement but then real-life sets in and it just seems like too much work. Be realistic, but keep moving forward.

The truth is, designing good lessons is work. We are “content architects”. We must look at all of our students and provide experiences that reach each and every one of them. Whether you use the iPad or not in your classroom, content design is work. This work can be easier if we leverage the technology in such a way that students are engaged in student-centered learning. In Spain, we worked with the teacher iPad to demonstrate some new concepts to thIMG_2315e whole class and then worked on ways students could partner up to practice the new learning. We also talked about using the iPad in small group centers and small group instruction. My message to those fine teachers was you do not have to hang the moon simply because you are using technology. Short and simple lessons delivered in an engaging manner are just as effective.

Here is one brief example of an activity we did in Barcelona:

Using the Feltboard app, the 4-year-old students used the 4 Square sorting mat background. They pulled over shapes from the shape menu and sorted them by color and shape. Ideally, the teachers would give the children time to explore the app first without instructions. Then, using the teacher iPad projected up front, the teacher could demonstrate a mini lesson on sorting. The follow up would involve the students working in partners to complete the activity. Using the camera option in this app, students can take a screen shot of their work. Ultimately, this could be uploaded to a math journal created in Book Creator. When sharing iPads, my suggestion for this is to create a separate journal for each skill. This way, each child creates a page in the journal. When sorting is finished and you move on to the next skill, a new journal is created. This works for two reasons: 1. It is difficult for young students to create their own books when sharing iPads and 2: As each skill is finished and a new journal is created, it can be saved to the iBook shelf and students can look at all of their classmates’ work and continually review skills that have already been covered.

IMG_2288So, I encourage you to reflect on your own content design. Can it be refreshed and updated? How can you make small changes that might make big impact?

Share your story…do epic stuff!

 

Using the Backchannel in Kindergarten

When you give everyone a voice and give people power, the system usually ends up in a really good place. So, what we view our role as, is giving people that power. -Mark Zuckerberg

Have you ever had the pleasure of listening to a young child tell you a story or tell you about an event? It is usually fairly entertaining and fairly lengthy. They have definite opinions about everything and don’t mind sharing them, even when not solicited.

We work on giving our children choice in all aspects of their learning. Giving small choices early allows them to have greater voice in activities as the year goes on.  Today, we used a backchannel called Today’s Meet. Today’s Meet is a great for all students. It is also a way for older students to ask questions during instruction or share thoughts and extend the conversation in a blended environment. A first grade teacher in my school uses it to activate prior knowledge with her students. Her question posted on Today’s Meet was “What do you know about bats?” Her students all responded with bat facts. Our first time using Today’s Meet this school year involved answering a yes-no question. We are working on a Monsters unit this week.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 8.54.27 AM

Today’s Meet produces a QR code for your students to scan to join the class discussion. Students simply type their name to join the conversation and then type their answer to the question. Their responses show up in real time and the students enjoyed looking at the other answers.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 11.59.16 AM

Class discussions often result in some students either not answering, or not having a chance to answer due to lack of time and large class sizes. The backchannel gives everyone a chance to have their voice heard. Sometimes, it isn’t appropriate to interrupt a speaker. The backchannel allows a student to share conversation or questions without the bother of an interruption.

We will build on this activity and eventually move beyond yes-no questions as students become better writers. As the lead learners in the classroom, it is our responsibility to see that each student is given the power of their own voice.

Share your story…do epic stuff!

Phonics Strategies for Young Learners Using the iPad

Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift.-Kate DiCamillo

I am sorry for my low profile lately…for the last 10 weeks, I have been taking statistics for my doctoral program and it has owned me! There are only 2 weeks remaining so there is light at the end of the tunnel.

My school year thus far, has been one of the most challenging ones in recent memory. New district required assessments have consumed an inordinate amount of time and their results have generated different progress monitoring assessments for my lowest performing students.

Fortunately, I have iPads to assist in meeting the needs of all students, regardless of their skill level. Never has this challenge been more real than this year. Today’s post is to share some strategies I use with my most challenged learners in their endeavor to meet grade level goals in early literacy.

The majority of my struggling students are younger five year olds, with late birthdays. Their delays are mostly due to lack of exposure to literacy activities prior to starting school. This lack of exposure requires many, many repetitions to create some fluency in those critical phonics skills.

One of the interventions I use is the Wilson’s Fundations alphabet cards. These are cards that with daily repetitions, assist children in learning letters and sounds. We go through the cards each day several times. We say the letter, the picture name and the sound. For example: Bb, bat, /b/. Additionally, I have created a book in Book Creator by photographing each card and adding my voice over on each page saying the letter, picture, and sound. This way, students have the ability to practice throughout the day independently.Wilson's ABC

In addition to working with these cards and interacting with the e-book, we use the Word Wizard app. In our small group time, students open the app, I alternate calling out the letter, the word, or the sound and students find that letter and move it up to the grid. This app reinforces the child’s choice by giving the student the sound when the letter is selected.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 11.13.00 AM

For reinforcement of letter sounds, we also use Starfall ABC’s app. This gives students multiple opportunities to see the letter, hear the sound, and practice interacting with initial sound activities.

Beyond phonics, I create “Just Right Books” for students that are on their independent reading level. These books are created in Book Creator and in iBooks Author. For non-readers, the text is read to the child with supporting picture cues. I have a free book in the iBook Store explaining the process here and blog posts about it here and here.

There are many apps and books available for purchase, but creating simple activities with much repetition is what our struggling students need most.

Share your story…do epic stuff!

Here We Go Again

How do you restart something that had never been turned off? -Veronica Rossi, Under the Never Sky

It doesn’t matter how long I have taught, I always have trouble adjusting expectations with a new class. Of course I know these young children are new and are not at the same level as the class from the year before…it’s just…well, that class leaves when we are in such a good groove and it is hard for me to adjust a few months later. Summer vacation doesn’t seem to turn off the “old class” switch and turn on the “new class” switch.

No worries, it’s a short learning curve. It doesn’t take long to remind me of the need to start small and slow so that I can speed up later. We just finished our 10th day of school and we are currently using our iPads to enhance phonics instruction in small groups with Pocket Chart Pro, Starfall ABC’s and Magnetic ABC apps. We are also using them in centers as a choice in the math center and the ABC center. We’ve used Drawing Pad to draw a picture of something we like to do. Here is an example. She drew a picture of playing at school.

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 7.45.42 PM

In math, we have used Connecting Cubes to count objects.

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 7.45.12 PM

As well as experiment with counting and ten frames:

Screen Shot 2015-08-29 at 7.46.07 PM

 

We have also learned how to take a screen shot so we can upload our work! By experimenting with different apps in the early days, the students have an opportunity to explore and free-play while we are learning the proper way to use the device.

So how do you restart something that had never turned off? In my world, at least, I have to hit the reset button and remind myself to start small. The first few weeks of kindergarten are all about exploring our environment, getting to know each other, and taking things one step at a time!

Here’s to a great new year y’all!

Cheers!

Share your story…do epic stuff!

 

Finding Your Story

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.-Maya Angelou

Well, I’ve been a little busy since my last post. Summer is almost over and I’ve been busily plugging away at my doctoral classes and have recently returned from the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in Miami. These institutes provide me with inspiration and refill my creative cup to begin a new school year.

once-upon-a-time-719174_640Our institutes often focus on the power of story. We all have one. As a kindergarten teacher working in Charleston, SC, I wasn’t convinced I had a story…and if I did, who would want to hear it? As educators, we neglect our story and we downplay it. We use the word “just” in apologetic tones as if to say, “I’m JUST a teacher”. I found great inspiration in one of our keynote speakers in Miami.  Jason Hall, founder of Slow Roll Detroit, reminded me no story is too small. You can see his story here. My two take aways from his story is “leave no one behind” and “sometimes the journey redefines the destination”.

So, back to the idea of story. Adults aren’t the only ones with a story. My youngest students, even at age 5, have a story. Our job is to nurture that story and help them see their stories matter. Often, we relegate young children to the side because they are “too little ” and they can’t possibly have anything worthwhile to offer. How many times have you said “Yes, uh, huh” absent-mindedly as a child is talking? I’m not pointing fingers here…I’m just as guilty. We are busy people. But, when we do that often enough, we reinforce to that child their story isn’t  worth telling. They become less willing to flex their creative muscles because they don’t feel capable, they don’t have anything to say.

Jason Hall

Jason Hall

Maybe you aren’t comfortable with you whole story yet. Maybe you are working on a verse or two. Here is my current verse. I’m excited to continue to build my story one verse at a time. With a new school year 3 weeks away for me, I’m vowing to lean in more. I’m committing to nurturing the story in my students. I’m committing to nurturing my own story and the stories of others. Jason Hall has it right…roll slow, leave no one behind, and embrace the idea that the journey can redefine the destination. His story started small and as he shared it, it became epic.

 

In other news, I wanted to quickly share a few websites that are great for royalty free, attribution free images.

Pixabay

Morguefile

Photosforclass:  This is student safe and all images come with automatic attribution.

In the spirit of story and my new-found inspiration, my new closing line will be…

Share your story…do epic stuff.

 

End of Year Roundup

It’s May…teach yourself. -Jen Hatmaker

FullSizeRender 6

Image by Jen Hatmaker

People, truer words have never been spoken. The countdown is on here and we are doing a serious blitzkrieg to the finish line with 10 days of school remaining. Correction, 8 full days and 2 half days. There is no kind of tired like end of the school year tired, but with active, wiggly, excited, over the top five year olds, I must forge on. This tidal wave of crazy is unavoidable so I just get on the wave and ride.

In an effort to maintain some sanity, we are busy with a lot of choice writing. Many students choose to write more about interests from our thematic studies, others gravitate toward journal writing, and some want to capture/savor moments from field trips. During choice time, when students choose to write, they not only choose the topic but they pick the genre and the tools. As students engage in authentic work, they learn more about app functionality and share features with one another. In this sense, they really are teaching themselves. When they next use the app, their work is 100% focused on the learning (the writing, the communicating, etc), not the app itself.  Even the youngest students can learn quickly how to live and think inside of an app as well as move across apps.  Our job as teacher of writers is to focus on the writers and teach writers -not apps.  We need to help them apply and share learning, and grow their skills. So, in our classroom kids often choose between Pic Collage, Drawing Pad, Feltboard, Paper Desk Pro and Book Creator.

Here are a few samples of their work from the last two weeks. None of these were assigned. It was all their choice during their free writing times.

IMG_0053

 

IMG_0010

IMG_0015

 

IMG_0017

 

IMG_0035

 

The children are app smashing, creating, and collaborating. Their energies are currently directed toward choice writing and not toward mischief (thank goodness). By using student interests and prior experiences, students are actively and authentically writing. We have a collaboration table in the classroom where students can go and discuss writing ideas with peers. These can turn into lively, rich conversations, which in turn, produce some pretty amazing writing.

For my readers who are nearing the end of your school year, hang on and ride the wave. It’s May…they can teach themselves!

Today we will do exciting new things. Let’s get to it.

iTunes U and You

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. -Martin Luther King

itunes uThinking critically and intensively is not reserved for older students. We work diligently to create learning experiences in kindergarten that allow our young students to think deeply about various topics. Having iPads allows us to enrich learning experiences in a way that wasn’t possible before. One of the iPad tools that is often overlooked is iTunes U. Why iTunes U?

  • It is a free repository of classes and educational content
  • Students have access to content anytime and anywhere
  • Content is easily updated and changed
  • Discussion feature allows rich conversation between students

While there are a large number of free classes available on iTunes U, perhaps you should consider creating your own. With the end of the school year only a few weeks away, it seems odd to be thinking of adding new things to your teaching bag of tricks, but this is the perfect time to do so. You can use some of your summer to create your own courses. It is easy to do. Simply log into the iTunes U course manager using your Apple ID and add your content. What are the benefits to creating your own course?

  • Content is more meaningful to students
  • Content can be customized
  • Easy to create, easy to update
  • All resources are in one place: books, documents, videos, images, web links and apps

Here is the link to a Spiders course I created for my kindergarten students as well as one for teachers on Personalized Learning and another course created by a 4th grade colleague about my school and how we innovate instruction using iPads.

iTunes U allows you to customize the learning experience for your students, even the youngest ones. It is also a great way to create a learning portfolio for students. Up to 5 people can collaborate on a course so you and your colleagues can work together and share the wealth. If you aren’t comfortable creating a full course initially, create a chapter and keep adding. It is easy to update any time.

If you aren’t already using iTunes U, consider giving it a try. It will open a whole new world to your students for learning and engaging in content.

Today we will do exciting new things. Let’s get to it.