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!

Building Reading Stamina with the iPad

Believe me, my children have more stamina than a power station.-Robbie Coltrane

Building stamina in young readers is definitely a challenge.  Their attention spans are short and their energy level is high.  It is important to know children well enough to link each of them to the texts that will sustain their interest, and won’t be so challenging they get discouraged.  Every good English language arts teacher knows that immersing students in reading is far more important than teaching test-taking strategies. Many are also familiar with some of the techniques for helping their students monitor their reading throughout a reading task. Some use specific lessons and strategies for helping students maintain focus and gain stamina as they read, but finding the best lessons and other resources for teaching such skills is often time-consuming and difficult, requiring more hours than teachers have for seeking out new material.

Using iPads has helped increase my students’ stamina even during the short 57 days we’ve been in school.  As students build confidence in reading short, leveled texts, they are more likely to venture into more difficult texts.  I use LAZ leveled reader apps and my own texts that I’ve created in iBooks Author to supplement the reading materials in class.  As students have a few minutes of free time, or they are in the book center, they have high interest texts to choose from on their iPads.  Having these books at their fingertips makes it easy for anytime reading.  Re-reading familiar texts also increases their fluency.

Another way to use iPads in building stamina is to celebrate progress. Without getting too caught up on the number of minutes spent reading, celebrate the time that is spent reading. Share your favorite parts of books read by reading out loud with a partner on the iPad.  Illustrate your favorite parts in the Pages app and share with your writing group.

Spending longer periods of time reading means fewer interruptions and more time reading what you love. iPads provide resources beyond your regular classroom materials to facilitate this.  As your students move into higher grades, having reading stamina will help them navigate the longer texts and assignments.

I’d love for you to leave a comment, subscribe to my blog, and/or share this post with a friend.

Giving Students Choices in Reading

Readers without power to make their own choice are unmotivated. -Donalyn Miller-The Book Whisperer

I’ve stated before that I’m a voracious reader.  I have always loved books and the ability to be transformed by a story.  I particularly love Southern writers.  I’ve never quite understood how others aren’t “readers”. They read only when required and almost never for pleasure.  In order to create readers, we have to identify ourselves as a reader first.  We must “brand” ourselves as readers.  When I read to my class, I share what I like about that particular author. I tell about other books like that book.  I make connections with myself to the text, to others, and to the world.  My students know how much I love to read.

But what about those who struggle? Or those who don’t like it?  Getting to the root helps determine which way to help the child grow.  What don’t they like?  Are there books available that interest them?  How many informational texts are available on their reading level?  I can tell you that as much as I love reading, I would not be as enthusiastic if I were forced to sit and read instructional manuals all day, or books on mechanical things. Those are not my interest.  Taking an interest inventory helps know how to fill your book center or your iBooks shelf on your iPad.  Building an early foundation of excitement about books, whether paperback, hardback, or electronic, helps build an appreciation and love for books.

My students have a variety of genres available throughout the day.  We work to build enthusiasm for our classroom library and for our eBooks on our iPads.  By demonstrating authentic reading behaviors, doing away with worksheets, engaging kids in building stamina when they read, and giving kids choices about what they read, we can develop life-long readers.

Reading is so much more than phonics, sight words, and mechanics.  It is about building discovery, wonder, and awe around the written word.  It is power.  It is peace.

So what should students learn from us about reading?  That drill and practice worksheets aren’t making them better readers.  Reading makes them better readers.  iPads give me the opportunity to practice the mechanics of reading with individual students on their own level, but they also give them a choice of what they are reading.  There are leveled books in their iBooks libraries.  There are high interest books as part of their apps, plus all of the traditional books in our classroom.  The best part of all is that the choice is theirs!

I’d love for you to leave a comment, subscribe to my blog, and/or share this post with a friend.

Montessori Crosswords

Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.-Henry Ford

Learning to read begins with learning to talk.  Children listen to their parents and mimic sounds.  They eventually begin to associate these sounds with words that represent things and actions. From there, vocabulary increases as parents read stories, sing songs and rhymes. As children learn the alphabet and letter sounds, they soon learn that words are made of combinations of several letter sounds merged together.

While easy to write about, it’s not so easy to accomplish.  It is also a complex task to meet each child where he/she is and personalize their learning.  We immerse our students in a language-rich environment all throughout the day.  Part of that immersion involves using iPads.  One of the apps we like to use for associating letters and sounds is Montessori Crosswords.  Montessori Crosswords helps kids develop their reading, writing, and spelling skills by building words from a set of 320 word-image-audio-phonics combinations using a phonics-enabled movable alphabet.  Montessori Crosswords allows you to select words according to their difficulty or sound categories:
➜ Level 1 displays a three-letter word with no difficulty for beginning readers (CVC words)
➜ Levels 2 and 3 offer more complex words that contains more complex phonics (as long vowels sounds or blends), and also offer the option to automatically create multi-word crosswords in tens of thousands of different combinations
➜ Alternately, you can choose from 44 sound categories (i.e. choose words that contain a specific sound.  This app costs $2.99 and is worth it!

As my students work on their emerging literacy skills through a variety of ways, I love that I have a tool that gives my students the ability to personalize their learning.  We have to be willing to look at our students as individuals and give them what they need as they need it.  Learning is not one size fits all.  Just because our lesson plans say we are teaching a certain skill this week doesn’t mean all of our students will master it in that time frame.  iPads give students the ability to practice just what they need.

I’d love for you to leave a comment, subscribe to my blog, and/or share this post with a friend.

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.

I’d love for you to leave a comment, subscribe to my blog, and/or share this post with a friend.

Teamwork

A single leaf working alone provides no shade. -Chuck Page

Even with a full time teaching assistant in my classroom, there are times when I could use a few extra hands.  25 kindergarten students often makes me feel like an octopus with arms going in all different directions at once.  We are 14 days into the school year, nearly 3 weeks.  I have some students who immediately fell into our class routines and procedures.  By now, most know what to do…however, there are a small handful who still need guidance. They are easily confused and have that deer-in-the-headlights look when I give directions. This is not uncommon and in time, all falls into place.  Fortunately, I have a few “Mother Hens” in my classroom who know just what to do and they assist those who need a little extra help.

Using the iPads is no different.  I have many students who are already pretty iPad savvy and a few who are still working on it.  Without me asking, the students are quick to help each other and show them how to find something or do something.  As one student helps another, the peer coaching aspect strengthens both students. Students are already learning to ask a friend before asking me.

One app we have used in partner activities is ABC Magnetic Board.  It is $4.99, but with the Apple Volume Purchase Program you can get it for almost half.  The app has upper and lower case letters in 4 languages, numbers, shapes, diacritics, signs and symbols, 5 sets of toys: summer, party, night, snowy winter and Christmas, and more than 15 backgrounds.  The pictures created can be saved to the camera roll also.  We have students partner up and spell names, sight words, match upper and lower case letters, and beginning sounds using the pictures in the app.  There is a free version, but it is pretty limited.  At this point in the year with a wide range of abilities in my room, this app allows differentiation for students on different skill levels.  It also allows cooperative learning.  This app is better than the classic version of refrigerator magnets because each letter can be used multiple times (and pieces don’t get lost!)

As my students work to become “experts” on a variety of tasks and skills, knowing there is a helping hand nearby encourages children to try new things and step out of their comfort zone.  It is part of our classroom culture to work together as a family.  Family members help each other.  Watching my students work together this early in the school year, I know there will be many great things to come.

I’d love for you to leave a comment, subscribe to my blog, and/or share this post with a friend.

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!

I’d love for you to leave a comment, subscribe to my blog, and/or share this post with a friend.

eBooks in the Classroom

Teaching reading IS rocket science.- Louisa Moats

Have you seen the size of textbooks lately?  Measurements go from about an inch to 3 inches.  Forget portability.  Carrying a load of them will surely result in a trip to the chiropractor.  Enter eBooks.  They are rapidly growing into a popular option with all of the electronic reading devices available.

Don’t get me wrong…I still love reading to my students with a physical book. We get cozy and listen.  We drift off to fun and faraway lands.  We laugh at the antics of our favorite characters and we learn to love reading.  Many students don’t have someone cuddle up with them, to read favorite stories and drift off to sleep to the cadence of familiar words from an oft-read story.  eBooks simply offer options for my readers.  Many ebooks have interactive features and vocabulary support that physical books don’t have.  eBooks are easily updated as information changes.  Our iPads hold many eBooks and enhance the “learning on the go” concept. You can take a virtual library with you.  No trees were cut down to make an eBook.  Another consideration is that many eBooks have accessibility features for English Language Learners.  Some students may find reading on an iPad more engaging than an actual book.  While many arguments may be held over traditional books versus eBooks, I simply want my children to READ and to love reading.  eBooks give us the ability to differentiate.

The Common Core State Standards stress readying students for college and career.  Growing good readers requires a large variety of reading resources. I have spent some time recently with Sylvan-Dell publishers.  They have 70 titles in English and Spanish available in eBook format.  The picture books that they publish are usually, fictional stories that relate to animals, nature, the environment, science, and math. Each book has a “For Creative Minds” section to reinforce the educational component of the book itself. This section will have a craft and/or game as well as “fun facts” to be shared by the parent, teacher, or other adult.  The illustrations are realistic and engaging. The books are great for school purchase or for parents to have at home on their iPads for their children. The books are leveled in a variety of ways to meet the needs of different reading programs.  There is a 30 day free trial with no obligation available.

I am all about engaging minds and growing life-long readers.  Having an arsenal of resources both physical and electronic only strengthens my teaching.  In this day and time, teachers need all the help we can get!

I’d love for you to leave a comment, subscribe to my blog, and/or share this post with a friend.

Focus on Vocabulary: Tiers 1,2, and 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d love for you to leave a comment, subscribe to my blog, and/or share this post with a friend.

High Progress Classrooms, The Common Core and iPads

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’d love for you to leave a comment, subscribe to my blog, and/or share this post with a friend.