Digital Storytelling in Kindergarten

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. -Confucius

I’ve been trying to find ways to incorporate more photography in my classroom.  It is a recent passion of mine and I think there is a lot of value in incorporating pictures into student work and writing… not my pictures, but their own.  After all, young children have a unique perspective on the world.  Their pint sized view lets them see things from different angles than adults.

Their iPads have cameras and they love using them to photograph everything from a spider in the room to their left nostril.  We have used the iPad cameras to document their work and their learning. For a change, we used my Olloclip on my iPhone.  You can check out the Olloclip here and here.  I’ve been using it to take several macro shots of foliage, but the fisheye lens was very intriguing to my students when I showed it to them.  After a few days being cooped up inside with rain, we took to the outdoors to try out a few shots.  I put their pictures in Showbie and they downloaded them into their PaperDesk Pro app.  This is a great app for journaling.  Once their photos were downloaded into their notebook, they wrote about what they saw.  Here are a couple of samples:

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Screen Shot 2014-03-19 at 12.53.03 PMThis takes a little while so we are doing a few each day until everyone gets a turn.  Because it was different from our usual writing workshop, the kids were excited to write about their picture.  They wanted to take more pictures and write about them.  Because we offer choice in our classroom, some children are taking screen shots of their creations in Blokify and are importing them into Paper Desk Pro and writing about them.

While some young writers struggle with traditional literacy, using digital storytelling engages students and encourages them to employ different kinds of literacies to complete their final product.  The PaperDesk Pro app allows you to add voice notes so students who have difficulty writing can dictate their story, or students who want to read what they have written may record themselves doing so.  Simply generating text can be daunting to a child.  Incorporating images, speech, or even music enables students to create in a way that they couldn’t otherwise.  The technology allows us to redefine the way we learn.

As we move into the final 45 days of school, I want my students stretching and exploring, learning and creating.  We will be app-smashing, building, photographing, experimenting, and continually redefining what it means to be literate in today’s digital world.

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

Running Records on the iPad

Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.-Harry S. Truman

Powerful teaching happens when teachers take information gained from observations and assessments of children’s literacy development into consideration when planning instruction.  Since observations can be subjective, it is important to include data from more formal observations as well.

We use running records as assessment tools to assess students literacy progress.  A running record is a tool for coding, scoring and analyzing a child’s precise reading behaviors. (Fountas and Pinnell).  Up until recently, I was using forms from the Fountas and Pinnell kit for running records.  While a great way to take a running record, it requires a lot of copies and paper.

running record imageI have found an app called Record of Reading.  It is a great app…not just because it was created by my alma mater, Clemson University…but because it is an electronic means of assessing reading behaviors.  You don’t need a calculator as it has embedded formulas for accuracy and self corrections.  The app even records the child reading while the teacher simultaneously takes the record. When replaying the record, the oral reading and the record are synced.  The record can be saved or emailed.  There is also a user manual if needed.  You are able to type or write directly in the app and it doesn’t have to be opened in a PDF annotator.  Best of all, it is FREE!.

Running records inform our instruction through capturing progress, assessing text difficulty, matching texts appropriately to students, and seeing and hearing reading behaviors directly.  They also help us group students with similar instructional needs as well as provide individualized instruction where needed.  They give explicit feedback to the student and to parents if needed.

readingWatching my students grow as readers is rewarding.  I love watching them go from non-readers to readers over the course of the school year. Creating successful readers requires knowing your students…knowing their strengths and where they struggle.  It also requires that we know our students’ interests so that we can have texts available to stimulate reading.  By keeping track of our students’ reading behaviors through running records, we can inform our instruction to best meet their needs.

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

Increasing Rigor with iPads

It is no longer OK to provide the vast majority of America’s children with a fill-in-the-blank, answer-the-questions, read-the-paragraph curriculum that equips them to take their place on the assembly line.-Lucy Calkins, Pathways to the Common Core

ipad and booksI was recently asked to observe in a 4th grade classroom at my school.  She was implementing some new literacy strategies and wanted some feedback.  It was affirming to see the rigor and engagement of her students. It was also a good reminder of the vertical articulation that needs to occur between grade levels.  As a kindergarten teacher, I seldom get to see my students in action after they leave my classroom.

Our literacy activities involve small group work.  In my class, students read and write for a variety of purposes on their level.  These activities include reading on the iPad as well as word work in various apps and some writing on the iPad.  In the class I observed, students were using iPads to research information for a news article.  They were seeking credible sources and the author of the article.  They were jotting down important facts and comparing information.  Later in the school year, my kindergarten students will be using iPads to research information on various topics.  They will be finding facts to incorporate into their writing. I am building up to that now with iPad activities of increasing complexity with my students.

As we work diligently in our own classroom worlds to prepare our students to move up, it is important to keep a broader view.  We lay a foundation in each grade level that is built upon by the next.  It was good for me to step out of my kindergarten world into the world of “big kids”.  What I do each day is important and relevant.  I think we all need a reminder of that from time to time.

Our students face a different world of challenges than we did.  They will approach problem solving differently.  The implementation of the Common Core State Standards emphasize much higher-level comprehension skills than previous standards.  Readers of today are asked to integrate information from several texts, to explain the relationships between ideas and author’s craft.  Previous literacy efforts defined literacy in terms of basal reading programs with emphasis on seatwork.  The Common Core standards convey that “intellectual growth occurs through time, across years, and across disciplines.” While iPads alone can’t meet these standards, having a powerful, technological tool combined with strong teaching, we can meet and exceed these standards.

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More on Anchor Charts

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. -Benjamin Franklin

One of the first things we do in kindergarten (besides learning where the bathroom is) is to create an anchor chart together.  Anchor charts are charts that are created with the students to help them “anchor” their learning.  We make one for every letter of the alphabet, we make one with our classmates names, we make one for how to listen, we make one for colors, one for numbers, and any other skill I would like them to use on a regular basis.  We use them daily in our Reading and Writing Workshop activities.

My students love them and refer to them all throughout the day. They are engaged in the process of creating them so they take ownership in them.  After a while, they know more of what is on the charts than I do.  Space is a concern…and do I really need to leave a chart on Halloween words up all school year? Those questions are answered with the iPads.  I find that I leave the alphabet charts up all year; however, seasonal charts, or special charts made for a specific activity do not have to stay up and take up valuable wall space.  By photographing all of the anchor charts and syncing them out to the children’s iPads, they have the charts with them all year long regardless of whether they are on the wall or not.

A recent writing activity included writing about our families.  After making the Family Words chart, they were able to refer to it all week as we discussed our families.  We also wrote about foods we liked.  By having the anchor chart, students were able to write about these foods.  In a week or so, I can add these to their iPads and they will have access to these words even if I take these charts down.

Another advantage of having these charts on the iPads is that students don’t have to walk across the room to see them if they are writing something and need a word.  The charts are also available if students are reading on their iPads and would like to read the charts.  It is like Read the Room, only it is done in their seats.

If you aren’t using anchor charts, I highly recommend them.  They are quick and easy but they pack a powerful punch.  Parents can even make them at home and post on the refrigerator or in the child’s room.

By involving the child in the learning, they create connections that are critical for mastery of skills.

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The First Week of School

Excitement in education and student productivity, the ability to get a result that you want from students, go together and cannot be separated. -Major Owens

“Mrs. Meeuwse, this iPad has it all!  I can write and read and do math on it!” After 5 days of using iPads in the classroom, my kindergarten students are excited.  Did you notice that the child’s exclamation did not include the word play? That surprised me a bit.  They are so “play” oriented.   So far, no one as asked if they can “play” with their iPads.  They have asked if they can “work on them” or “get on them”.  Perhaps they are mirroring my own language in using them.  I am careful to use instructive language and modeling as we implement them slowly into our curriculum.  We have used them only in small group activities during guided reading  at this point.  My assistant and I both are showing them how to use key apps that we use frequently.

As we enter the second full week of school, I have completed my initial assessments and I have a better sense of what these small guided reading groups need to work on.  Since we use the Reading Workshop model, I have placed the children in small, flexible groups to work on specific skills.  One group is ready to read Level A books.  We have the LAZ level A readers on the iPads and this will give the children an opportunity to have just right books in their hands.  My students who need extra help in learning letters and sounds will have hands on time in centers with various manipulatives but they will also be working on a few specific apps to reinforce these skills.  One of these is the Starfall app.  Having a carefully mapped out plan creates comfort for you as the teacher, but also for the students as they know exactly what your expectations are.

The best part of having 1:1 iPads is all 25 of my students have access to apps that meet their individual needs. As we continue to work slowly and methodically through class routines and procedures both with and without the iPads, I’m reminded of Debbie Miller’s quote in Reading with Meaning: “We must be deliberate in September.”  Being explicit and deliberate about the smallest of details is important.  As our children become more confident in their abilities and activities in the classroom, their engagement soars, their inquiry shines and their excitement is unmeasurable.  We need to slow down to speed up!

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Learning in the 21st Century

Multimedia brought the world into the classroom, smart technologies will take the classroom into the world.” -Steve Wheeler

My 90 year old father-in-law always seemed to be fascinated by the fact that we could call him from just about anywhere with a cell phone.  This technology was as foreign to him as a phone tethered by a coiled phone cord on the wall will be to my kindergarten students.  I mean, aren’t we all just a little surprised when we meet someone who doesn’t have cable tv, or not just a smartphone, but not even a cell phone these days? The technology treadmill just seems to keep on increasing speed and incline making it difficult for some  to keep up.

Our students, even the youngest ones, get it.  They understand the value of connectivity, media, and mobile learning.  Being restricted to 4 desktop computers in a classroom of 25-30 students is archaic at best. Less than 0.01% of the information we generate today is ever printed on paper. Information technology is becoming more and more personal and “pocketed”.   The core issue is that teachers need to be at the center of their own learning if they are to change their life-long habits and beliefs regarding the use of technology.  Perhaps we’ve looked at this backward.  Perhaps instead of trying to integrate technology, we need to redefine literacy and integrate that. Information literate people are those who have learned how to learn.  It is difficult to teach students and prepare them for an uncertain future.  Our best approach is to teach them how to teach themselves. Learners are creating their own learning spaces, blending face-to-face with virtual, and formal with social.

Do you remember your 3rd grade teacher (or any grade for that matter?)  Mine had been teaching for 30 years when I was in her class.  She taught the same thing in the same way on the same day of her 30 plus year career.  Bless her heart.  Today, no teacher should believe he/she can teach the same thing the same way.  iPads have been transformative to my teaching.  Not only is the learning mobile and individualized, it is engaging and collaborative.  Our school district is continuing to explore and expand the use of iPads in elementary, middle and high school classrooms.  A recent article in our local newspaper outlines where we are as a district at this point.   As a district, we are striving to put the learning in the students’ hands.  As educators, we have to realize that mobile learning isn’t about delivering content to mobile devices, but instead is about learning how to operate successfully in and across new and ever changing contexts.

I am more energized about my teaching now, more than ever before.  iPads have been a game changer.  I can’t imagine ever teaching without them and I’m excited about finding new ways to incorporate them.  I too, am learning on the go!

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Reflecting on Student Growth and Achievement

I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.-Marie Curie

Recently, I was looking at photographs taken of my students on the first day of school. They looked so little and baby-faced.  It was amazing to see them then and to see how much they have grown this year.  They are taller and their faces have changed.  Because I am with them all day, every day, the change wasn’t as evident.

The same goes for their work.  They work hard all year and little bit, by little bit, progress is seen.  Several years ago, I started keeping a writing portfolio of student work.  I save a writing sample from each child, each month.  At the end of the year, I put them all together in a portfolio to send home to parents.  It is so wonderful to look through the pages and see the growth that occurred throughout the year.  We start on the first day of school:

Students write their names and draw a picture of themselves.  If they are able to, many will write on or label their pictures.  Each month, growth is evident.  By the end, it will look something like this:

What a difference 9 months makes!  It looks so easy, yet a lot of hard work went into this progress. Many times I ask myself, “Are we there yet?” It takes looking at the beginning to appreciate the end product.

How do iPads fit into this? The iPads were used as a companion in both the Reading and Writing Workshop.  Students used them for reference, for reading, and even some writing.  The apps provided them with practice in reading and spelling, which in turn, helped them in their writing.  Their writing on the iPad has been incorporated into their blogging experience, in their creation of books in eBook Magic and in Pages.  While they tend to write more prolifically on paper, they do enjoy writing on their iPads.  It has also given them some beginning keyboarding skills.

They have had a variety of experiences in using iPads, reading books, class discussions, writing stories, using anchor charts, partner work, and various other literacy-building activities.  The key words here are “variety of experiences”.  When you immerse students in a literacy-rich environment, incorporate a systematic approach to reading and writing, and differentiate instruction with iPad technology, students can’t help but succeed!

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Using Confer App in Reading Workshop

The biggest mistake regarding record-keeping is not writing things down or not remembering where you wrote it down.-David Mellem

Do you have an organized method for your record-keeping?  I have an old-school grade book and I have one on the iPad.  I have a stack for this and a pile for that.  One of the things that drive me crazy is having some things here and some things there. I have Language Arts and sight word assessments, math assessments, and running records for reading.  In my attempt to consolidate my “stuff” I discovered an app called Confer.

Confer is an app that lets you record and track your students both individually and in small groups.  I teach Reading and Writing Workshop and this app  works very well with that method.  I can take notes on individuals and small groups. I can view students by “tag”, “strength”, “teaching point”, or “next step”.  Creating small flexible groups allows me to see at a glance what those students are working on, what reading level they are on, or what I need to do next with them.  Confer also allows you to upload your data to a Gmail account as a spreadsheet or to upload to any iOS device or to Dropbox.

The downside is the cost.  It is $14.99.  There is a lite version, but it’s a little too lite.  The plus side is that it is easy to use and is very portable in the iPad.  While I use it exclusively for running records and guided reading groups, it can be used in any subject that you wish. When I meet with my grade level team, principal or a parent, I have the data right at hand.

With 30 kindergarten students, having the ability to look at student data in both small group, individual and whole class views quickly is not only convenient, it is necessary.

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Using Anchor Charts with iPads

I like to read and write about trucks and cars. I would do it all day long.-Kade age 6

How many students would like to read and write all day long?  I love how when I say it’s time for Reading or Writing Workshop, my kids give a fist pump and say, “YES!”  I’m pretty sure I was never that excited in school.

When children are engaged, and feel confident in their abilities as readers and writers, they are excited about learning.  We use the Reading and Writing Workshop model to teach literacy.  My room is filled with various anchor charts that I create along with the students.  At the beginning of the year, we make an anchor chart for each letter of the alphabet.  The children give me words that begin with the given letter and I model writing it on the chart  and draw a small picture beside it.  We then hang the chart on the wall.  When all of the alphabet charts are made, we go to word families and commonly used words, family words, color words, number words, etc.  We make charts about how to be good listeners when we are launching the workshop model in the fall.  We make charts on why writers write.  We make charts for non-fiction writing ideas, and for what we do when we are in the reading center.  These charts are available for the children to refer to all year long.  Because they helped in the creation of them, they are quick to use them and they serve as a visual reference.

The only problem is that I am out of wall space and even after stringing clothesline across my room, I still do not have enough space.  I wanted my students to still have access to certain charts but I needed to make room for more! I started taking pictures of some of the charts and I synced them out to each student iPad.  The charts are now in each student’s camera roll.  The ones we use all the time are on the wall and they are able to still see other charts when they need to. We made this Ideas chart because earlier in the year, some students were having trouble thinking of things to write about. This is one of the charts on their iPads.

The other plus for having them on the iPad camera roll is students have the ability to look at them right where they are.  If a child is sitting across the room from one particular anchor chart, they don’t have to get up to go across the room to look at it.  Since my students can only remember one letter at a time when copying something, they might make 6 trips across the room to see a particular word.

Anchor charts are wonderful reference tools that help “anchor” new and ongoing learning to previously introduced concepts. My students know exactly what is on each and every chart and they use them all throughout each day.  Long after I’ve forgotten what is on the chart, they still refer to it with each other. At the end of the year, I take them down and give one to each child to keep.  They love it!

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Developing Strong Readers

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” ― Stephen King

My students are readers.  They read everything they see. They read books in the reading center, they read books in guided reading, they read anchor charts all over our classroom, they read books in the science center, and they read on their iPads. I model writing each day during Writing Workshop on a chart tablet.  When I fill the tablet, I put it in the reading center for them to read.  It is fair to say, they read in some way all day long.

One of the free apps we enjoy by GrasshopperApps.com is I Like Books.  This is a collection of 37 picture books that cover a variety of topics on things children like, such as, animals, drawing, music, planes, snow, trains, pets, trucks, etc…You can add your own voice by recording the entire story.  There are word highlights, and 3 play-back modes-read to me, read by myself, and auto-play.

The I Like Books App is just one of the reading options we have on our iPads.  In addition to the books I’ve written in iBooks Author that have been uploaded to their iBooks libraries, they have LAZ leveled books, plus other individual books of interest such as Toy Story, Dr. Seuss books, some books by Story Chimes, Little Critter books by Mercer Mayer, and books by Learn to Read. The children have created a few books of their own through eBook Magic that are also available in their iBooks library.

When we immerse young children in literacy-rich classrooms, the foundation of basic early literacy concepts, skills and positive attitudes are developed.  This concept of literacy immersion centers on the idea that children need to exist in a literature-friendly environment. Reading and writing are critical modes of communication in all areas of life.  When we incorporate inter-disciplinary connections to literacy, we increase student success.

Setting up the classroom for literacy immersion is  deliberate and carefully planned.  Children observe the teacher modeling reading and writing, they participate with the teacher in shared reading and writing and they participate in independent reading and writing activities all throughout the day.

As children develop and strengthen their early literacy skills, they are also expanding vocabulary and writing skills, developing longer attention spans, enhancing creative thinking skills, and enhancing their memory skills.

My children would just say they are having fun.

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