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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

September Wrap-Up

We must be deliberate in September-Debbie Miller

We are halfway through our first quarter of school, and at times, it feels like we haven’t accomplished much. But then I am reminded of the wise words of Debbie Miller about being deliberate in September. It is so crucial to go slow now so we can speed up later. Each small step we take now, is a building block for the future. We are front loading procedures, modeling appropriate ways to use our iPads, and learning about workflow.

Sometimes these small steps are difficult, especially when we are inundated with baseline assessments and other requirements. It is easy to overlook the importance of the small details…the procedures that seem like second nature, the instructions we feel we have said 100 times. However, skipping or short-changing these small early steps, often results in frustration for both you and the student.

Here are a few things we have been working on the last two weeks:

We participated in International Dot Day. We read Peter Reynolds’ The Dot and made dots on our iPads in Drawing Pad app. I collected all of the dots through Showbie and created a class Dot Book. We also Skyped with a kindergarten class in the UK, sharing our dots. Here is one of our dots.

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We also spent a week doing an author study of Eric Litwin. He is the author of the Pete the Cat books. We chose our favorite story and drew a picture of it in Drawing Pad. The class loved Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons. Here are a couple of examples:

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This week, we have been reading the Mrs. Wishy Washy series. After spending a couple of weeks drawing in Drawing Pad, we drew our favorite character in Mrs. Wishy Washy, saved it to our camera roll, uploaded it into Pic Collage and worked on a sight word sentence. This was our first app smash!

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The last one is Mrs. Wishy Washy flipping upside down as she slips and falls in the tub from the story Wishy Washy Day.  We made an anchor chart the day before with all of the characters in the story. This way, students used our word wall for the sight words and the anchor chart to write their favorite character. The environmental print in the classroom assisted greatly in this activity. If it seems too overwhelming to draw the picture, upload to Pic Collage and type the sentence, break it up over a couple of days. Draw the picture and save it one day and the next upload to Pic Collage and type the sentence.

Remember, focusing on those all important procedures, taking it slow, being repetitive, and modeling for students, greatly facilitates your ability to have independent student work later.

Let’s be deliberate in September!

Share your story…do epic stuff!



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.

Teacher Created Texts in Book Creator

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.-Benjamin Franklin

 Writer…this is not an adjective I would use to describe myself, but is something I sure am doing a lot of these days. Aside from this blog, my doctoral classes provide an endless source of writing “opportunities”. Writing and reading go hand in hand in literacy development; and as we are encouraging our students to read and to write, modeling is an appropriate strategy to use. We model reading daily for our students, but how can we model writing in such a way that our students have continued access to these writing samples?

I’ve written here about using iBooks Author to create leveled texts for my students. You can also see my story here.  I still use iBooks Author to create books for my students and I also use Book Creator to create books as well. We are studying the rainforest currently and I’ve made a few books pertaining to the rainforest for my student’s iPads. Here are a couple of sample pages:









This book on sloths is one of their favorites. I used the drawing tool to create an arrow pointing to the 3 toes.








The book on leaf cutter ants has vocabulary words underlined and the book on jaguars has my voice over if students need it. These books took 5 minutes to create. You can get many images from Creative Commons free. When I finish these books, I upload them to Showbie which allows my students to download them on their iPads. Another colleague on my team has created some rainforest books also. This way, we can share with each other and double our resources.

By creating your own books, you are able to control your own text complexity and content. I have also created some fiction books based on student interests such as dirt bikes, super heroes, baby animals, and princesses. These books are pretty simple but the kids love them. The side benefit is the children are able to see you as a writer and have your books to use as a guide as they are writing.

Teacher created texts provide you the flexibility to control text, vocabulary and content as well as provide your students anytime books, personalized content, and a model for writing. It is a small investment of your time that pays big dividends!

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



What Should We Be Doing? Using iPads to Personalize Learning

The more time you spend contemplating what you should have done… you lose valuable time planning what you can and will do -Lil Wayne.

Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be? We live our lives shouldering the burden of “shoulds”. Social media bombards us with images of what the perfect size is, what the perfect cupcake should look like, what the perfect home should look like and what the perfect wedding should look like. We are watching the “highlights” of people’s lives and comparing them to our “behind the scenes”. As professionals, we are held to some standard that determines what a perfect teacher or classroom should be, that often doesn’t come close to resembling the real world. It is enough to crack the sanity of even the most self-confident adults. So, how much more burdensome are these “shoulds” on our students…these little people who carry seeds of hope, creativity, innocence and wonder?

Students are so worried about what their work should look like, they miss the whole point of the activity. They don’t want to be wrong because they should know the answer. They want all of the parameters spelled out so they can produce.  This isn’t learning.  It is a recipe. As a doctoral student, I find myself looking for exact parameters on some of my assignments and find it very disconcerting when the assignment seems vague or broad. I am conditioned to want the recipe so I can produce what it is my professors want. The recipe is comforting because it lays out exactly what I should do. After all, isn’t that the whole point of the assignment?

Actually, no. The point is to problem solve, think critically, collaborate, research, think some more, write, hypothesize, write some more, and come out on the other side with a deeper understanding of the concept than before I started. Our students yearn to achieve but it is up to us to discard that recipe. It is up to us to teach and model divergent thinking, to allow students to struggle a bit, to learn to persevere when their first attempt isn’t successful and to allow for variations on a theme.

In our iPad math journals, students aren’t given a closed ended question that has one answer. Open format questions create greater potential for deeper reasoning. Students have the ability to think in flexible ways and not just provide the answer they should give. An example is: Ben has 6 buttons.  Some are green and some are purple.  How many of each?  Another is the example below. Students come up with their own addition problems.

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Giving students voice and choice to demonstrate their understanding of concepts frees them from following a recipe to produce a standardized product. Whether it is open ended activities in math journals or writing about their favorite super hero, we need to remove the “shoulds” from their vocabulary and ours… and shift toward “could”.  What could  be the answer here? What could you write about today? What could you be doing right now? Should somehow implies wrongdoing or shame but could allows room for thought and possibility.

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By using our iPads to personalize learning, give students voice and choice, and shifting our use of the word should to could, we open up possibilities, change mindsets, and give students freedom to be themselves. Heck, if adults did the same thing for ourselves, we might have a lot less anxiety and little more peace of mind!

That being said, the comic below shows my constant doctoral mindset:

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Ok…so, I have a little work to do on myself…

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

Building Early Literacy Skills With iPads

Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting -Edmund Burke

I am on spring break this week. It has been such a luxury to linger over coffee and the newspaper in the mornings. That has been about all of the luxury I’ve been able to enjoy because even though I’m on spring break from my job, I am not on spring break from doctoral classes. I have been immersed in scholarly articles on early literacy. So, while this is all fresh on my mind, I am going to share a few work samples from some of our recent literacy activities on iPads.

We have been using the Feltboard App for word work quite a bit lately. Here are a few samples:

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While we don’t usually work with /ow/ and /ou/ in kindergarten, it was a conversation in one of my reading groups and one of my students created this:

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My kids love speech bubbles! This was in response to a class read aloud.

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This is a 4 square writing organizer on Feltboard App. Students can transfer ideas from this to an organized short paragraphs.

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Using the app to recreate scenes from a story can help students have deeper conversations about a read aloud activity.


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This was created in Drawing Pad app during our insect unit.

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Literacy extension activities are important in building emergent literacy skills. When we read a book together, we often do some kind of literacy response. The iPad is perfectly suited for these extension activities with creation apps that allow students to show what they know by making their thinking visible, extend their thinking and  reflect on learning. We read for a variety of purposes. Sometimes I read to my class simply for pleasure, other times, after I read, we focus on building decontextualized language skills. We move beyond the concrete and talk about intangible aspects of the text. This allows me to help take their language skills to the next level. When we use the iPads to enhance literacy skills, we are synthesizing both tangible and intangible language. It encourages children to use more complex language forms. Simple activities such as rhyming words scaffold learning for more advanced literacy skills.

Immersing young children in literacy activities all throughout the day builds a strong foundation upon which future skills are built. These activities, along with reflection,  help students “digest” what they read and makes them better readers.


Today we will do exciting new things. Lets get to it!

Mid-March Madness with iPads in Kindergarten

All the world is a laboratory to the inquiring mind. ~Martin H. Fischer

We are only 7 days away from our spring break. I love my job, but am ready for a breather. The kids are ready too. You can say we have our own brand of mid-March madness! Today’s post is a bit of a hodgepodge of things. It is pretty reflective of my mind these days…all hither and dither. I wanted to show you some of the work going on in class and since the samples are from different subjects, I’m offering a bit of a Pu Pu Platter today. You know, a little appetizer from which you can pick and choose.

In writing, we are using mentor texts like crazy! We are working on adding details, expanding our writing and using various means to write. Sometimes the kids choose paper, sometimes iPad. Here are few samples.  The first one is a graphic organizer for writing about the pond. The student used Pic Collage to create the organizer.

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In this sample, the student used the app Paper Desk Pro as a Reading Response journal after hearing the story In the Tall, Tall, Grass by Denise Fleming.

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This last writing sample is one child’s Writer’s Workshop for the day. She chose this piece to be published from her writing folder.




In math, we’ve been working on addition, subtraction, and 3-D shapes.  Here are a few pages from one child’s math journal created in Book Creator app. This image and the next are from the app Number Pieces.

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This app is Number Rack. They are like rekenreks.

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This is a screen shot from the math journal created in Book Creator. Students took photographs of 3-D objects in our room and labeled them.

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In addition to these samples, the students are working on their own books in Book Creator and projects in Explain Everything. They are planning their own day, choosing apps for demonstrating their learning, reading constantly and using inquiry skills across the curriculum. This is such a fun time of the year with kindergarten. With only 49 days remaining in this school year, I’m soaking it all up and enjoying my time with them. They need me for so little now and I enjoy just sitting and being part of their world.

Giving kids of all ages voice and choice in their learning provides deeper learning opportunities and long-term connections to the world around them.

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

Creativity and Inspiration with iPads in Kindergarten

A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.-Brad Henry

I would love to say today’s post is about an awesome lesson I taught, or an amazing activity I had my kids do. The most credit I can claim is allowing voice and choice in the classroom and giving my students time and opportunities to create.

Today, during their free time, two girls were playing school. They were pretending to teach each other. One was teaching math, the other, phonics. I was working with some small groups of children and did not see the “work” they had given each other to do until later. The one teaching phonics, had her “student” use the Feltboard app and Pic Collage to create this:


The phonics teacher had the student create the C page in Feltboard app, save to the camera roll, import into Pic Collage and label the items. The one playing the math teacher had her “student” create this:


She had her student use Feltboard app to demonstrate how many ways she could make 10. Hmm…why didn’t I think of that?

Our students love learning. They love creating their own learning and they love teaching each other. The truth is, they come up with some pretty amazing things on their own when we give them the opportunity. When we schedule every minute of their day, there is no room for creativity, problem solving, critical thinking, making, doing, or being. Giving our students time to think, collaborate, and create allows them room to grow and room to be.

Another child chose to spend her free time writing today. Here is what she wrote:



Do you set your classroom and students up for success? Do you open up parts of their day to create, to have voice and choice in what they do and how they do it? Do you enable and environment of curiosity rather than compliance? When we do these things, richness flows as even the youngest of students demonstrate they are quite capable of doing some pretty amazing things.

Are you the great teacher that inspires hope, ignites hope and instills a love for learning?

Today we will do great things. Let’s get started!

Building Vocabulary with iPads

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

In working with young children all day, I find that my vocabulary sometimes is lacking when having adult conversation.  I’ve caught myself saying “Put on your listening ears” in regular conversation. My “cool factor” is definitely a big zero at times.  Interacting with 5 year olds most of every day definitely requires me to work at maintaining my end in an adult conversation.  I work crossword puzzles, play the ubiquitous Words With Friends, and I read.  If don’t work on it, then “criss-cross applesauce” is likely to spring forth the next time I sit with a friend for some coffee.

FullSizeRender 2Our students are no different.  Vocabulary development is an on-going skill that needs practice.  Young children are building vocabularies each day.  Misconceptions are prevalent.  As a child, I thought a “chest of drawers” was “chester drawers”.  One former student called her “backpack” a “pack-pack”.  Listening to my students stretch and grow in their vocabulary development is interesting to say the least.  One child said he loved “arts and craps”.  Yes, friends, it is something we work on every day.


A recent activity with the book Snowmen at Night was particularly good for vocabulary work for my students.  First, we live in an area that has almost no snow in the winter.  Sledding, snowball fights, ice skating are all things my students read about, but don’t usually get to participate in.  After discussing the story, we thought of things a snowman could do at night.  We used the app ChatterPix to let our snowmen tell about themselves.  Here is a short one.


We also used the story during our Writing Workshop time to write about what a snowman might do at night.  Here is one sample:

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Vocabulary knowledge aids in activating and building background knowledge to make connections to text, and having vocabulary knowledge can increase reading comprehension and fluency while reading. Using word walls, mentor texts, non-fiction texts across all subjects, and especially creation apps on the iPad give students many opportunities to interact with new vocabulary.

We have used Pic Collage, Explain Everything and Drawing Pad in other vocabulary activities.  Consider using creation apps on the iPad to help develop student vocabulary.

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