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!

Building Reading Comprehension with iPads

To me one of the most important skills learned in elementary school is reading comprehension –Erik Mickelson

Are you feeling it? You know…the drag of a winter gone on a little too long and spring just slightly out of reach? Are you feeling pulled in a million different directions? Could you use just a hot minute to sit for a bit and just be? I feel your pain. It’s this time in the school year where we have to dig deep and summon our inner teaching ninja and go the distance!

3803377162_ef4b7847c8_zIn my doctoral classes, we are working on scholarly writing. This is something that doesn’t come easy for me. I like to write, just not in the scholarly fashion. What I am finding during this process is I need to visualize what I am trying to say and what the authors of the scholarly journals are trying to say, in order for it to make sense to me. Without this visualization process, it all seems like meaningless words flowing on and on. How too, must our students feel when reading something that seems foreign?


My focus lately has been on these two  ELA Common Core State Standards for kindergarten:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.K.5.C   Identify real-life connections between words and their use

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.K.7  With prompting and support, describe the relationship between illustrations and the story in which they appear

In using my own experiences of late with academic reading and writing, I decided to take a closer look at these standards and dig deeper with my students. I read a couple of pages from Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema. This text is rich with imagery and language. I didn’t show them the book cover or the pictures of the first few pages.  I read the pages a few times before I let the children draw. I instructed them to think about the words as I read them and make a picture in their minds. Then, the students used Drawing Pad to draw the images they saw in their minds. Here are a few samples of their work:

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While this activity was engaging and the students enjoyed it, what happened later was unexpected. Some students came together during their choice time and shared their pictures.  They compared them and talked about why they drew what they drew. They asked for the book so they could have a book talk.  They discussed knowing what “a plain” was since we had recently talked about landforms. They had conversations about why birds built their nests in the ground (the text mentions “grass for the ground birds to nest in”). They made a list of questions in their notes app. They wanted to know when we could research the answers to these questions. Here is one list they made:

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Who knew that a quick 10 minute activity designed to get students to visualize words and meaning would turn into so much more?

Reading comprehension is a critical skill for students to develop. Finding creative new ways to build this skill can help all students think critically.

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



Teacher Created Texts in Book Creator

Literacy is one of the greatest gifts a person could receive. -Jen Selinsky

My kindergarten students are becoming voracious readers and most of them are ready for some fresh book selections. I like to create books for them to read and you can read more about that here. While I love using iBooks Author to create multi-touch books, I realize not everyone has access to a Macbook to create them. A good alternative is Book Creator. This is one of my students’ favorite apps to use, and it is a great way for educators to create their own texts.

Quick and easy are two mandates from time-pressed educators in creating learning materials for students. In fact, my dissertation topic will be looking at the successes achieved in classrooms that use e-books to enhance literacy and creating an implementation model. Why aren’t more educators creating their own texts? Is it will or skill?  Or, is it a lack of awareness of the power of these texts in literacy development? (Your comments below would be very welcome here as I am starting to research my topic!)

Anyway, back to quick and easy…Book Creator meets this demand. Take a quick inventory of your students’ interests and get to work! The boys in my classroom love dirt bikes and super heroes. Ten minutes later, I have 2 books cranked out to be added to their iPads. My girls love Disney princesses and baby animals. Ten more minutes and 2 more books. I use the Add Sound feature to assist with some necessary vocabulary words. I underline the word, speak the word using Add Sound, and place the speaker icon next to the underlined word. Then I upload the book to Showbie, our workflow app. My kindergarten students are able to go into Showbie independently and download the books to their iBooks app.

Here are a few screen shots:

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My students have been independently reading and partner reading with these books.  Some have asked if they can create their own books with drawings they have created on the iPad. One student started his own Super Hero book last week because I omitted one his favorites. Way to problem solve!!

Watching their excitement each time they download a new book is satisfaction enough for me. When they ask me for more, I remind them they are able to create their own books as well!

If you have Book Creator, I hope you will work on creating some books for your students.  If you don’t, what are you waiting for?

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!

Finding Your Passion for Teaching

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.-Nelson Mandela

I am in the third week of my doctoral program and the words I am currently using to describe it are “wonderfully awful”. It is exciting and challenging and….no surprise, a lot of work.  A. Lot. I have spent the last 3 weeks teaching school all day and studying all afternoon and evening…and all day Saturdays and Sundays. At times I look and feel like a zombie.  I am thrilled to have this brief opportunity to turn away from “scholarly writing” to writing in my own voice in this blog post.  It’s a sweet breath of relief. So if it is so wonderfully awful, why then, am I subjecting myself (and those around me) to this significant life change? Why, when I have only four years remaining before I retire from teaching, am I putting myself through this? Don’t think that I haven’t asked myself those same questions more than a few times over the last three weeks. After much reflection, it simply comes down to passion…passion for the art of teaching, passion for helping and empowering others to be more and learn more, passion for lifelong learning, and passion for the meaningful integration of technology into teaching and learning.

Everyone one of you has a journey. Each of you have a passion for what you are doing. Educators have to have passion in order to do what they do. It isn’t an easy calling.  It isn’t an easy art. It is easy to lose your passion, however. How do you keep your passion alive? How do you feed those creative energies that fuel you each day? I am not suggesting that you need to join a doctoral cohort in order to rekindle your passion. This is my journey, but it doesn’t have to be yours. Reading professional texts, visiting other educators, finding a PLN (professional learning network)…all of these things can renew your passions.  One of the texts I highly recommend is Tony Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach The New Survival Skills-And What We Can Do About It. It is thought provoking and will definitely get you fired up.

IMG_0336As for visiting other classrooms, this can be a truly rewarding experience.  I recently was visited by some wonderful educators in Atlanta. They spent the day observing in my classroom.  Their observations and conversations helped them reflect and plan strategies for moving forward. Sometimes, simply seeing something in person is all you need to spark creative ideas. Educators need to take more time to collaborate and engage in meaningful dialogue with other educators. On the occasions I have visited other classrooms, I have always come away with something that may have seemed very simple, but impacted in big ways. It is worth the effort to get release time from school to engage in personal professional development.

So, where are you at this point in the school year? Are you weary? Are you on autopilot? Do you even know where you are? It’s ok. Our profession is not always equipped to provide us with what we need to be effective, passionate, educators. What steps can you take today to ignite that passion that brought you into this profession? I can’t stress enough how important it is to shake things up at times, to step out of your comfort zone, to stretch, to grow.

You can do it. Let’s change the world.

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

Using the iPad for Addition

The essence of mathematics is not to make simple things complicated, but to make complicated things simple. -S. Gudder

We have been working on adding recently in class.  We have used counters, fingers, blocks…you name it…if it’s countable, we’ve used it! Fortunately, we also have some apps that help us with addition also.  We have been using them to create addition problems and then put them in our Math Journals we have created in Book Creator.  You can see more information on these here.

First, we used dice.  We rolled the dice, took a picture in our Math Journal and then wrote our number sentences.  Here is an example:


Another day, we used a number line.  I found the image online and uploaded into a shared folder in our Showbie app. The kids then downloaded the image into their Math Journal. They used the pen tool to make a starting dot, draw their “jumps” and their ending dot.  They then used the text tool to type their number sentence.  Here is an example using the number line:

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Another day, we used our Number Frames app to add and make ten.  The students chose their own equations and put red dots in the frame first, then filled remainder of the frame with blue dots.  Then they wrote their number sentence. After taking a screen shot, the children put it in their math journal. Here is an example:

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We also used an app called Number Pieces to add and make ten.  The students pulled over a set of ten and then chose 2 different color blocks to make the ten.  Then they wrote the number sentence, took a screen shot and added it to their math journal. Here is an example:

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And lastly, we used our Felt Board app.  While we usually use this app for story telling and language, it has shapes and numbers as well.  The children chose their shapes and then used the numbers to make their number sentence. After taking a screen shot, they added it to the Math Journal.  Here is an example:

feltboardWith the exception of rolling the dice, I allow my students to choose their own number sentences.  It is a great way to give them voice and choice, it encourages them to think critically and independently.  Also, I find that some of my more advanced students will choose more difficult problems…ones where the sum is higher than ten, simply because they can.  I was also pleased to see a lot of different “impromptu” adding going on with other materials in the classroom during their choice time.

I encourage you to use a variety of apps and means to teach different skills.  You don’t have to have apps dedicated to the skill.  Get creative!  Better yet, let your students get creative and see what they come up with!

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

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!



Using iPads to Plan in Kindergarten

Productivity is never an accident. It is always the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning, and focused effort. -Paul J. Meyer

Happy New Year! After 2 weeks and 3 weekends, we are back in school.  It was evident we had a little “brain drain” over the holidays.  Hopefully we can catch up and get moving by the end of the week.  After winter break is when we pick up speed and move full steam ahead.

One of the things I truly believe is that student engagement is dependent on their voice and choice in both the planning and execution of learning.  When we include even the youngest of children in the process, we get so much more concentrated effort from them.  This concept is the same for adults.  Aren’t we usually voicing concern as educators how our  voice needs to be heard in the decisions made on behalf of our students? When we are excluded from the process of decision making, we are less likely to buy into whatever it is we are being asked to do.  We are also less likely to implement changes with fidelity.

My students have quite a bit of choice in this classroom the first part of the year but after Christmas, they are included in the planning of their day.  Now, just as I would never open a closet door to a 3 year old and have them choose what to wear from an entire wardrobe of clothes, I would never just let go of the reins completely of the classroom.  I utilize a gradual release of responsibility and have some controlled choice in the beginning.  Giving students a few choices  all throughout the day, from the beginning of the year,  builds their confidence in their own abilities to make bigger choices later.

As my students walk in each morning from now on, they will have 5 must-do activities.  They may choose which order these items are completed.  They will open their notes app on their iPads and write out their plan for the day.  They then refer back to that note all throughout the day to see what they chose to do next.  The SmartBoard looks like this when they are making their plan:


In the reading center, I want them to read  2 books on their reading level and then they may choose other books as well as book on their iPads to read. For writing,  they will work on their Writer’s Workshop.  A few of my students still need scaffolding and support with their writing so I have a specific conferencing time with those children. Today, I chose the app Pic Collage for them to illustrate and write a sentence but soon, they will have their own choice of creation apps in which to demonstrate understanding of unit-related vocabulary words. This work is saved and uploaded to Showbie for their work flow. Math includes small group activities and word work currently is involving word families.  Students use the ABC Magnet Board app to make 6 words of their choice in a given word family.  Today’s word work from one of my students looked like this:

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The student takes a screen shot of this work so that it is saved in the camera roll.  I can have them upload it to Showbie if I need them to or it can just stay in the camera roll as a work sample.  This particular app is great because it says the letter sounds as they manipulate them and once the word is created, it reads the word to them so they get immediate feedback.  Word Wizard is another great app for this kind of activity for the same reason.

So at the end of the 5 must-do activities, once all work is completed and checked, the student has free choice of any activity in the classroom.  This helps encourage timely work completion and on-task behavior, but in general, those things aren’t really a problem.  Their engagement is much higher as they have been a part of the planning process.

As students gain more independence and confidence in their abilities to make choices and move forward on their own initiative, this allows for other possibilities such as 20% time, Genius Hour, Makerspaces, etc…Again, this goes back to gradual release of responsibility, front-loading procedures, and giving students opportunities to develop those decision-making “muscles”.

As you start 2015, consider ways you can give your students more choice in the planning and demonstration of their learning.

What’s the plan??

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

The Hour of Code in Kindergarten

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

The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in over 180 countries.  It is designed to demystify code and show that anyone can learn the basics.  Every student should have the opportunity to learn computer science.  It helps nurture problem solving skills, logic and creativity.  By starting early, students will have a foundation for success in any 21st century career path.

IMG_0024Our class has been working with the free Kodable app to learn coding.  It is a perfect way to offer a kid-friendly introduction to programming concepts and problem solving.  With Kodable, kids can learn to code before they even learn to read. In the short time we have been using Kodable, I already see computational and critical thinking, collaboration and perseverance. Some students are working with others, while some want to figure it out on their own.  I also love that they won’t ask me to help them.  Rather than come to me, they are going to others or sticking with it until they figure it out themselves.  This is how problem solving skills are developed and strengthened.  It is also interesting to see that some need to run their finger along the maze for each step to know which arrow to choose, while others can do it quickly in their heads.


Here is what one of the Kodable screens looks like:



The goal is to get the fuzzy ball from one side to the other, while obtaining as many coins as possible. The students have to work on left and right, up and down, but they also have to use the color squares in the coding if they want the fuzzy ball to grab those coins in the middle.

The interest and engagement in this app has spilled over into other areas of the classroom.  The students are building their own mazes and having their friends figure out the code to move across the maze.




Watching my students analyze and problem-solve, either solo or cooperatively, gives me a good indicator of where they are in the development of these important skills. The kids are completely engaged and their conversations are rich with logic and reason.

If you are thinking about the Hour of Code, give Kodable a try!

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