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.

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Learning Phonics with iPad Apps

Practice is the best of all instructors. -Publilius Syrus

The beginning of every school year brings a variety of ability levels to kindergarten.  I have children who are already reading and some who struggle with just naming upper and lower case letters and sounds.  I’ve stated that the best part of having 1:1 iPads in the classroom is the ability to differentiate for student need.  There are a series of apps by Good Neighbor Press we use a lot in the beginning of the year.

The first app I use is the Upper and Lower Case Letter Matching Pocket Chart.  This has students matching upper and lower case letters.  It takes about 3-5 minutes to complete the cycle.  This is particularly good for my young learners who are still working with this skill.  It is easy to use and engaging as the students are earning stars for correct answers.  It also helps with the ever-confusing lower case b and d identification.  This app is .99

Beyond matching, another app in the series is Matching Beginning Sounds.  Again, this is a 3-5 minutes cycle that is highly engaging and keeps students moving through the app.
Other apps in the series include matching rhyming words, ending sounds, consonant blends and digraphs, word families, compound words, and long and short vowels.

Math apps are also available from this publisher.  There are apps for shape matching, position words, counting 1-20, number and number words matching, fractions and single digit addition and subtraction.  Each of these apps can be purchased individually, or for $4.99, you can purchase Pocket Charts Pro and receive all 20 games in one app!

One of the reasons I like this app is because pocket charts are common in many classrooms.  These apps are recognizable activities that don’t require a lot of front loading to use.  It also give you a quick sense of an individual child’s abilities.  While I may have 1 or 2 pocket charts available during centers for students to interact with, having a variety of pocket charts apps in their iPads means no one has to wait their turn.  Instant access!  Because there is a variety of skill levels within the app series, there is virtually something for everyone.  When you can deliver just-in-time-practice to each individual student, you are increasing engagement as well as allowing the child to move at his/her own pace.  Students who are ready to move on aren’t held back by those needing extra practice.  Those needing extra practice aren’t being rushed on by those who are ready to move on.

As I’m finishing the 10th day of school today and finishing up all of my initial assessments, I see I have a wide variety of student abilities.  By using apps such as those in the Pocket Chart series, I know my students are getting practice right where they need it!

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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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Introducing iPads to Kindergartners

From small beginnings come great things. -Proverb

Today was the day. After a nice restful weekend and a bottle of Extra Strength Excedrin tucked away in my school bag, I was ready to seize the day.  I was ready to take the big step.  Today was the day to introduce iPads.  It was our 4th day of school and my students were itching to get their hands on them.  I had been asked repeatedly over the first 3 days, “When can we use the iPads?”   I kept telling them, “soon”.  As a child I hated that response from an adult.  Soon was never soon enough.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want them to use the iPads, I just wanted to skip over the “here’s how to use them” part.  You know, the boring stuff.  The oh-so-important-do-not-pass-go-do-not-collect-$200-do-not-rip-off-this-tag-under-penalty-of-law important kind of boring stuff.  5 year olds have a casual relationship with the “fine print”.

As soon as I said iPads today, there was instant silence, then instant cheers.  Uncontainable excitement.  I rolled them out in small groups.  5 at a time, keeping the basics short and sweet.  I took each child’s picture on his/her individual iPad and made it the home screen and the wallpaper.  This makes it instantly recognizable when opened by all.  We went over turning it on, navigating screens, choosing an app, closing the app, and putting the iPad to sleep.  We went over how to hold it, how to carry it and where to put it when finished.  Wide eyed and smiling, their joy was apparent. Their engagement was instant. Then, oh so quickly, their time with the iPads was finished and we had to put them away.  One by one, they returned them to the charging cart so I could lock them away for the day.  One child leaned over and said softly to his iPad, “Goodnight iPad. We can play again tomorrow.”

As for the rules and procedures, we get to do it all over again tomorrow and the next day and the next.  Modeling and reinforcing the “fine print” ensures that our  small beginnings will soon produce great things!

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New Beginnings

I have always been delighted at the prospect of a new day, a fresh try, one more start, with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning. – Joseph Priestly

After several busy days of meetings, professional development, and working in my classroom, the big day is finally here.  Today is the first day of the new school year.  Very shortly, I will have 25 excited, anxious, sad, and maybe even scared kindergarten students.  My own feelings are very similar to those of my new students.  I’m sad about the loss of the familiar students from last year and excited about the new students and possibilities this school year holds.  While it is disparate to feel both sad and excited at the same time, it’s a familiar feeling for me as I begin my 24th First Day of School.

My new students have already come in, met me and seen our classroom.  Their first questions were not the same as those I’ve had in the past…”When is recess or lunch” or “When can we play at centers”…their first questions, almost unanimously, were “When do we get to use our iPads?” Hmmm…good news travels fast! Their parents are also interested in the apps we use so they can get them on their iPads and iPhones at home.  Having both students and parents excited before we even begin is a good place to start.

As excited as they are to begin, I have a lot of front loading of procedures that needs to take place.  I can’t allow both their excitement and my impatience to begin to short cut those very important steps.

As I plan for my first iPad implementation with my students,  I’m excited to think of all the great things we will do this year.  Last year’s students amazed me at their iPad ideas.  I know this year’s class will create their own fresh start, their own special magic!

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Going for Gold

Be firm on principle but flexible on method. -Zig Ziglar

Watching the Olympics the past 2 weeks, I’ve marveled at the flexibility of the athletes, particularly the gymnasts.  They can put their bodies into positions that seem almost super-human to me.  I can’t even bend over and touch my toes.  Their abilities come from intentional practice, training and coaching.

Flexibility isn’t restricted to range of movement with our joints and muscles.  It is also about being willing or disposed to yield.  I’ve been teaching for, well, forever it seems.  It is super easy for me to reach into my file cabinet, pull out a unit of study and go on autopilot…teaching the same lessons, using the same examples, smoothing out the same, wrinkled and faded artifacts and expecting the same answers from my students.  It is literally, a no-brainer.

The longer we teach, the easier it is to develop tunnel vision.  A few years ago, I found myself going through the motions of teaching.  I wasn’t happy but couldn’t figure out why.  My rigidity was more like rigor mortis. When I started using the iPads, I found a new spark of excitement that energized my teaching.  I found the joy of student-led learning and being open to the moment.  When I became present, I discovered how my students became more engaged.  I realized that being on autopilot is a death knell to the classroom.

To be sure, iPads required a new flexibility for me.  I still had an overarching goal but I learned to be not just accepting of student-led learning, I became expectant of it.  The beauty of this shift in my teaching was that my students exceeded even my usually high expectations.  My mantra to teachers in other grades who seem reluctant to incorporate iPads is “If my 5 year old kindergartners can do it, surely your students can also.” Just like those Olympic athletes, our own teaching flexibility requires intentional practice, training and coaching.  It starts from the top in administration.  When administrators create a culture of flexibility, team-work, and open-mindedness, then teachers feel empowered to try new things, reach beyond what they think is possible, and “Go for Gold!”

Are there parts of your life/career that are on autopilot?  Try to find one thing that you can change and allow yourself to feel energized by it.  Your enthusiasm will be contagious!

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Comfort Zone-Exit Stage Right

I’m continually trying to make choices that put me against my own comfort zone. As long as you’re uncomfortable, it means you’re growing. -Ashton Kutcher

I return to school in 7 days.  Recently, I was asked to mentor a new teacher hired on my grade level.  My plan was to meet her at school and go over the important things she would need to know to get started.  I went to school the day before our meeting and moved my furniture and set up my classroom.  There was no way I was going to be able to sit in the chaos of jumbled furniture and plan with her.  I guess you can say I have high organizational needs.  My brain functions better when my environment is in order.

While we have different ways we approach things, whether it’s our classrooms, our homes, a new task, we all have a comfort zone in which we operate.  Our students are no different.  As I prepare for a new class of spunky 5 year olds, I am looking forward to watching them learn and grow.  As educators, we have to stretch ourselves and step outside of our comfort zones in order to innovate. In order to make a little magic.   There is tremendous enthusiasm for iPads and other technologies in education and it’s definitely part of learning’s future.  The opportunity to share information, collaborate around the world, to consume endless amounts of content and get access to information anywhere, anytime, anyplace, is a game changer that fundamentally will have a huge role in the future of the way learning takes place.

Ironically, using iPads is not out of the comfort zone of our students.  They come in ready and excited to get started.  Part of good teaching is staying a little ahead of the game.  Having a plan for implementation, and yet, allowing students to have the freedom to stretch and create is necessary for true success.  Teachers are good at planning….but not all are comfortable letting go and giving kids time to figure things out themselves.  For some, it’s threatening when students know more than they do.  The new Common Core State Standards stress the importance of student engagement in the whole brain activity of creative problem solving.

As we prepare for a brand new year, I’m thinking about how I can stretch myself and step out of my comfort zone a little. I’m looking to make a little magic.  With the iPads, the possibilities are endless.  Are you willing to stretch with me?

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Back to the Basics: Planning for a New Year

The beginning is the most important part of the work.- Plato

I go back to school in exactly 17 days.  *Sigh*.  The new school year always brings a convoluted mix of emotions.  Few advents bring such excitement and dread. However, one thing I have learned over the years is the absolute necessity to start the year right with your students by front loading procedures.  Harry Wong is an educator, speaker and author.  He states that “The three most important student behaviors that must be taught on the first day of school are discipline, procedures, and routines.” By being vigilant the first few weeks of school in establishing rules and routines, you set yourself up for a successful rest of the year.

Implementing iPads at the start of the year also requires front loading of procedures and rules.  Whether you have a class set like mine or a few for students to share, proper use is an integral part of classroom management.  Our school year starts on a Wednesday.  I spend those first 3 days teaching classroom procedures and do not incorporate iPads.  Older grades whose students used iPads the previous year might not need to wait 3 days.  With 5 year old students (and some are actually 4), I need all 3 of those days to get classroom procedures rolling.  The next week, I begin pulling small groups of students for reading groups.  I will introduce the iPads in those small groups.  We learn how to turn them on and off, how to navigate screens, how to hold them and how NOT to hold them.  We work our way through a few phonics apps and then put them away.  We will do that each day for that first full week of school, while continuing to go over all other classroom rules and routines.  The second full week, I will usually do a whole group math activity or phonics activity with the iPads.  We continue to reinforce proper use and handling and I model desired activities by connecting my iPad to the Smart Board.  Students can watch and follow along.  This has been successful for me in using the iPads the last 2 school years.

Those without class sets of iPads need to define how you want them used before giving them to students.  The old adage “Failing to plan is planning to fail”, comes to mind.  While there is nothing wrong with letting students freely explore the iPads, there needs to be a broader vision of their use.  This vision should be systematically communicated to students as they integrate them into the classroom.

I also find it helpful to think of what trouble students can get themselves into and be proactive.  The iPad has several features which allow you to control student access.  The first thing I do is turn off the “in app purchase” feature.  You can also turn off the camera, access to Safari and deleting apps features.  I don’t turn those off in general, however, if you have someone using the iPad in ways you don’t want, these are alternatives.

Starting the school year with iPads is exciting.  Having a firm vision on their use and purpose will help guide you through the first few weeks.  When in doubt, go back to the basics!

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Who Are You? Are You a Reader?

I call everyone ‘Darling’ because I can’t remember their names. -Zsa Zsa Gabor

This post would be more suitable for the beginning of a school year.  However, it is never a bad idea to plan ahead!  My students always have difficulty learning the names of their classmates.  They will say “that boy over there” or “some girl”.  This year, I took a picture of each student with my iPad and imported them into a class book.  I used eBook Magic but you could also use iBooks Author.  It is a simple book.  Each page consists of only the child’s picture and a sentence that says, “I am ___”  The simplicity of this book was so helpful at the beginning of the year.  Students learned names much more quickly, but more importantly, they were “reading”.  For many, this was their first book to read on their own.  I underestimated how much they would love this book.  It excited them to see their own picture in a real book as they called it.  Even more surprising, they continue to read that simple book even today, with only 25 school days remaining.

Thinking about next year, I will definitely make the book again with my new students.  However, I want to add some other books as well-  books about the children themselves.  We do a lot with thinking maps.  At the beginning of each year I feature one child each day and make a circle map.  On that map, we write various items that describe the child’s likes, favorite things, and descriptors of that child. We display the circle maps in the hall.  I will take that circle map and make a short book in eBook Magic about the child and upload it to each child’s iBooks.  By the end of the first nine weeks, each child will have a book about themselves as well as books about their classmates.

Providing students with opportunities to experience both narrative and informational text will improve both their motivation and achievement. 46% of students in the United States start kindergarten unprepared for school. The achievement gap tends to widen through the years and often students who enter school behind their peers, stay behind.  By providing high interest books in the reading center and on their iPads, we develop print motivation which is a child’s interest in books. Children with print motivation will work harder to learn to read. They will identify themselves as a reader.

By taking incremental steps in our classrooms, providing high interest reading materials, and engaging students at an early age, we can work toward decreasing that achievement gap one classroom at a time.  The iPads give me the opportunity to create my own reading material through eBook Magic, iBooks Author and even Pages.  After all, who wouldn’t want to jump into a book written just for them?

Wouldn’t it be great for a child to say, “Who am I?  I am a reader!”

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