Digital Reading Resources for Early Literacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PreKinders

Story Time For Me

Making Learning Fun

Share your story…do epic stuff!

Hour of Code 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share your story…do epic stuff!

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!

The Power of the iPad in Kindergarten

Technology won’t replace teachers, but teachers who don’t teach with technology will be replaced. -unknown

Last week, our school iPads were replaced.  We were very excited to exchange our iPad 2’s for the new iPad Air.  Our old iPads served us well but were suffering from frequent app crashes. The replacement took about a week…no small feat when you are talking about over 800 iPads. The excitement over the idea of new iPads was suddenly replaced with the knowledge that we would be without iPads for a few days. My kids quickly realized this and asked, “Um, how will we do our work with no iPads?”  I responded, “I’m not sure…maybe we will do some worksheets.” Puzzled, the kids responded with, “What are worksheets?” You see, they had never completed one before.

It was definitely like going back in time and I’m certain I don’t ever want to teach again without having those devices. My students were used to having choices about their day and about demonstrating their learning. I was used to personalizing their learning and serving as a facilitator while they directed themselves. Student-centered and student-directed learning is one of the keys to educational change.

So, now we have our beautiful new devices and the kids immediately went to work. Their work. We have been working on number stories in their math journals. Even though I’m providing the number stories, there is still choice. For example, Sam had 7 buttons.  Some were blue and some were yellow.  How many of each were there?

Here are a couple of samples from my kids:IMG_0004

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One was being a wise-guy, but still got the right number of buttons. By making these number stories open-ended, students have the ability to use multiple pathways to get to the answer. Another student and a partner, worked together to create what we call an “incredible equation”. One of the students was stronger in math (clearly, as he is able to multiply and divide at age 5) and the other was working on grade level. Together they made this:

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By letting my students work where they are, and not where a worksheet forces them to be, the sky is the limit. The iPads give my students the freedom to move on, to move up, and to be in charge of their learning.

So, yes, I am thrilled to have our iPads back. We saw first hand the power of the iPad in our classroom. Even though we have only 22 school days remaining, we are going strong to the end!

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:

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

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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.

 

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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!

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:

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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.

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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!

2-Page Spreads in iBooks Author

Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching. -author unknown

Recently, I was presenting on iBooks Author from the Early Childhood perspective along with 2 other Apple Distinguished Educators presenting from the middle school perspective.  I was so excited about their work and was inspired to try my hand at creating a 2-page spread activity in iBooks Author.

The idea behind the 2-page spread is that you don’t have to create an entire book…you can create an interactive experience across 2 pages.  My ADE friend, Sean Junkins has created a short, step-by-step guide for this process.  You can download his book here.

With Thanksgiving coming up, my 2-page spread is about the first Thanksgiving.  I started with creating a panoramic picture in Keynote.

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Then, following Sean’s directions, I created the 2-page spread in iBooks Author.  Once this was complete, I added the pop over widgets and the Keynote widget to deliver content.

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This is page one of the 2-page spread.  The small Pilgrim hats are pop-over widgets that contain information.  See the example below:

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The other pop over widget tells what food was actually served at the first Thanksgiving.  This allowed for good discussion and comparison with Thanksgiving today.  (This also meets our Social Studies standard for kindergarten in comparing lives now and long ago.)

The second page of the 2-page spread has a Keynote widget that when played, shows Pilgrim dress and Wampanoag Indian dress for the feast.  The small hat is the link to the Keynote.

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This is the first page of the Keynote.  The 2-slide Keynote link is below

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As the week progresses, I can add other content to this 2-page spread to engage my students in key facts about the first Thanksgiving.

If creating a book in iBooks Author is too daunting, try creating a 2-page spread or a virtual field trip as mentioned in Sean’s book.  His idea is not just create a book, but to create an experience.

I am excited to try other 2-page spreads to go with our upcoming units.  Remember, as life-long learners, we have to stay thirsty for knowledge.  In this case, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks!

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