Using the iPad to Develop Student Agency

Through agentic action, people devise ways of adapting flexibly to remarkably diverse geographic, climatic and social environments; they figure out ways to circumvent physical and environmental constraints, redesign and construct environments to their liking… By these inventive means, people improve their odds in the fitness survival game. -Albert Bandura, 1989

Agency is the capacity to take purposeful initiative. Bandura’s quote above is a timeless reminder of the need for human beings to construct their own environments-including their learning environments. However, agency goes beyond just voice and choice. It is giving students the ability to actually own their education. It means strengthening growth mindsets in our students as well as in ourselves as educators. It means focusing on student learning and not on grades. It means creating a student-centered culture where students have choice in their learning pathways.

In our kindergarten class, we have found using the iPad is a great way to encourage student agency, particularly in literacy. By incorporating choice into our writing curriculum, students are more engaged in their writing across the curriculum. See a video on choice writing here.  When students use creation apps as a way to demonstrate concepts, they are creating new learning in deeper meaningful ways. You can read more about that here. 

Whether students are writing on paper…

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Or on their iPad…

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Or they are demonstrating math or science concepts….

 

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Student agency is encouraged as individuals choose activities and extend their learning. Agency requires collaboration between both student and teacher. This partnership depends on developing meaningful relationships with students. The iPad provides students with opportunities to create learning, expand learning, and share learning with authentic audiences beyond the classroom. This empowers students and encourages ownership.

Look at the ways you are incorporating technology into student learning and determine how much of their time is spent consuming content and how much time is spent creating it. By taking a look at our pedagogical practices, we can make minor changes to empower students and encourage agency.

 

Our One Best Image

“Do your best” by everyone’s mom in the world.

Do your best! Give me your best effort! These are words spoken to children by parents and teachers alike. But, what is “best”?  If we define it by today’s beauty and fashion standards, we would all feel grossly overweight and substandard. Perhaps, we should stress the word your in those sentences…do your best. After all, everyone’s “best” looks different anyway. As educators, we work daily to help children see the best in themselves, to gain confidence in their learning and put forth their best effort to achieve.

With the fall season arriving so very late here, we recently took our iPads on a walk to capture our “one best image”. This meant talking about what that looks like and how we might achieve that goal. As we were walking, several were excited about this leaf or that leaf and took several pictures along the way. Yet, in the end, the decision of their one best image had to be made. Once images were captured and deemed their best, we created a class book in Book Creator. Here are a couple of pages as examples:

fullsizerender-3 fullsizerender-4 Their simple sentence is their rationale for why this leaf was the best of all the ones they saw. Unfortunately, our area is not rich with fall color and we mostly have yellows and browns, but discerning eyes can look beyond the color at the details…and this, we decided, is the most important part of choosing our best.

Having children closely examine, filter, and discern are all important skills. We hope to do another “One Best Image” in the spring!

Give it a try!

 

Focus on the Learning, Not the Tool

The real power of interactive technologies is that they let us learn in ways that aren’t otherwise possible or practical. – David Lassner

Wow…where did the school year go? We have only 24 days remaining! At school, we have been busy going about the business of learning, and in the evenings, I have been busy going about the business of dissertation writing. The end for both is in sight!

I was recently asked for some lesson plan examples from someone looking for ideas to integrate the iPad into instruction. I felt badly, as I had none to send. I love sharing with others (thus, the purpose of this blog), but I don’t write lesson plans around the use of our iPad devices. My lesson plans reflect the content and the standards, but not the tools. My students have the choice to use the iPad or other tools in our classroom to demonstrate their learning, including paper and pencil. I don’t write lesson plans around the pencil, so I don’t write them around the iPad either.

That being said, the quote above concerning interactive technologies is spot on. Using and combining apps to synthesize concepts is only possible with the use of interactive technology. The best part is we don’t have to wait until children are older to utilize these technologies for learning. In my classroom, students choose apps to demonstrate their learning. Here are a few examples where students used the Drawing Pad app to illustrate and then used the Skitch app to annotate.

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As my students use labeling like scientists, they are learning that labeling gives more information about a picture. From here, the kids went on to write about their learning.

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Using a variety of creation apps, students have the ability to create and express themselves in a digital way that they otherwise can’t in an analog way. By focusing on the content, the importance is placed on the learning and not the tool.

Tell your story…do epic stuff!

Using the iPad for Writing in Kindergarten

You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say. -F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’ve always believed we learn to write by writing. My students have a lot to say, but often have difficulty finding topics to write about. We have anchor charts around the room with writing ideas. See a couple below:

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However, no matter how many words we have in the room, some of my students still have trouble coming up with ideas for writing. They tend to write the same things over and over…I went to the park, I play video games, etc… We continually encourage them to stretch as writers and encourage them to think of new ideas.  For those those that have difficulty finding inspiration, we utilize the camera app on the iPad.

A colleague suggested taking a picture of the child during the day and have them write about the picture. This has been an extremely helpful suggestion. Here are a couple of samples of student work using this technique:

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With one of the children, I found him building something in the block center and on his own, he went to get his iPad to take a picture so he could write about it later. He said he would forget his “details” without the picture.

Supporting students where they are is so important in developing strong readers and writers. Student-centered classrooms provide motivation and autonomy. When we have internal motivation we are more likely to persist and attempt new things rather than when we act out of compliance.

I am so glad I have the iPad as a learning tool to extend and enhance learning…and more importantly, my students are seeing it as a tool, and not just “fun”.

Tell your story…do epic stuff!

Poetry Notebooks with Book Creator

Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks. -Plutarch

Each Friday, we take a break from our Writing Workshop activities and work in our poetry notebooks. Young children love poems and songs. Every week, we have a designated poem that goes with our unit. I have made a poster out of it and attached a plastic coat hanger to the back. The poem hangs on a hook in the classroom for the week. Each child has a black and white sewn composition book and we glue in a copy of the poem for the week. The children illustrate it and have the ability to go back and read poems from previous weeks. They love going back to some of their favorites and singing them or re-reading them.

Recently, I noticed their joy each Friday as they work in their poetry notebooks, and it saddened me that I don’t have space in the classroom to leave the poems out and let them accumulate. Then, it hit me…Book Creator! So I created a poetry book in Book Creator app that has their poems and I left a blank page beside each poem so the students could go in and illustrate them if they choose. Additionally, I recorded my voice reading each poem to help those who may not be able to read the whole thing themselves. When I finished poems up to where we are currently, I put it in Showbie and the children downloaded it to their iPad. They saved it to Book Creator and this allows me to add more poems as we go through the rest of the year. I will put the new poem in Showbie and they will download it and add it their poetry notebook.

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I am undecided about next year…whether I will eliminate the hard copy and just do electronic. The kids do love using crayons and illustrating the notebook. The best part is, either way, they have poems at their fingertips to read, re-read, illustrate and enjoy!

Tell your story…do epic stuff!

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!

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!

Phonics Strategies for Young Learners Using the iPad

Reading should not be presented to children as a chore or duty. It should be offered to them as a precious gift.-Kate DiCamillo

I am sorry for my low profile lately…for the last 10 weeks, I have been taking statistics for my doctoral program and it has owned me! There are only 2 weeks remaining so there is light at the end of the tunnel.

My school year thus far, has been one of the most challenging ones in recent memory. New district required assessments have consumed an inordinate amount of time and their results have generated different progress monitoring assessments for my lowest performing students.

Fortunately, I have iPads to assist in meeting the needs of all students, regardless of their skill level. Never has this challenge been more real than this year. Today’s post is to share some strategies I use with my most challenged learners in their endeavor to meet grade level goals in early literacy.

The majority of my struggling students are younger five year olds, with late birthdays. Their delays are mostly due to lack of exposure to literacy activities prior to starting school. This lack of exposure requires many, many repetitions to create some fluency in those critical phonics skills.

One of the interventions I use is the Wilson’s Fundations alphabet cards. These are cards that with daily repetitions, assist children in learning letters and sounds. We go through the cards each day several times. We say the letter, the picture name and the sound. For example: Bb, bat, /b/. Additionally, I have created a book in Book Creator by photographing each card and adding my voice over on each page saying the letter, picture, and sound. This way, students have the ability to practice throughout the day independently.Wilson's ABC

In addition to working with these cards and interacting with the e-book, we use the Word Wizard app. In our small group time, students open the app, I alternate calling out the letter, the word, or the sound and students find that letter and move it up to the grid. This app reinforces the child’s choice by giving the student the sound when the letter is selected.

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For reinforcement of letter sounds, we also use Starfall ABC’s app. This gives students multiple opportunities to see the letter, hear the sound, and practice interacting with initial sound activities.

Beyond phonics, I create “Just Right Books” for students that are on their independent reading level. These books are created in Book Creator and in iBooks Author. For non-readers, the text is read to the child with supporting picture cues. I have a free book in the iBook Store explaining the process here and blog posts about it here and here.

There are many apps and books available for purchase, but creating simple activities with much repetition is what our struggling students need most.

Share your story…do epic stuff!

September Wrap-Up

We must be deliberate in September-Debbie Miller

We are halfway through our first quarter of school, and at times, it feels like we haven’t accomplished much. But then I am reminded of the wise words of Debbie Miller about being deliberate in September. It is so crucial to go slow now so we can speed up later. Each small step we take now, is a building block for the future. We are front loading procedures, modeling appropriate ways to use our iPads, and learning about workflow.

Sometimes these small steps are difficult, especially when we are inundated with baseline assessments and other requirements. It is easy to overlook the importance of the small details…the procedures that seem like second nature, the instructions we feel we have said 100 times. However, skipping or short-changing these small early steps, often results in frustration for both you and the student.

Here are a few things we have been working on the last two weeks:

We participated in International Dot Day. We read Peter Reynolds’ The Dot and made dots on our iPads in Drawing Pad app. I collected all of the dots through Showbie and created a class Dot Book. We also Skyped with a kindergarten class in the UK, sharing our dots. Here is one of our dots.

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We also spent a week doing an author study of Eric Litwin. He is the author of the Pete the Cat books. We chose our favorite story and drew a picture of it in Drawing Pad. The class loved Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons. Here are a couple of examples:

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This week, we have been reading the Mrs. Wishy Washy series. After spending a couple of weeks drawing in Drawing Pad, we drew our favorite character in Mrs. Wishy Washy, saved it to our camera roll, uploaded it into Pic Collage and worked on a sight word sentence. This was our first app smash!

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The last one is Mrs. Wishy Washy flipping upside down as she slips and falls in the tub from the story Wishy Washy Day.  We made an anchor chart the day before with all of the characters in the story. This way, students used our word wall for the sight words and the anchor chart to write their favorite character. The environmental print in the classroom assisted greatly in this activity. If it seems too overwhelming to draw the picture, upload to Pic Collage and type the sentence, break it up over a couple of days. Draw the picture and save it one day and the next upload to Pic Collage and type the sentence.

Remember, focusing on those all important procedures, taking it slow, being repetitive, and modeling for students, greatly facilitates your ability to have independent student work later.

Let’s be deliberate in September!

Share your story…do epic stuff!

 

 

iTunes U and You

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. -Martin Luther King

itunes uThinking critically and intensively is not reserved for older students. We work diligently to create learning experiences in kindergarten that allow our young students to think deeply about various topics. Having iPads allows us to enrich learning experiences in a way that wasn’t possible before. One of the iPad tools that is often overlooked is iTunes U. Why iTunes U?

  • It is a free repository of classes and educational content
  • Students have access to content anytime and anywhere
  • Content is easily updated and changed
  • Discussion feature allows rich conversation between students

While there are a large number of free classes available on iTunes U, perhaps you should consider creating your own. With the end of the school year only a few weeks away, it seems odd to be thinking of adding new things to your teaching bag of tricks, but this is the perfect time to do so. You can use some of your summer to create your own courses. It is easy to do. Simply log into the iTunes U course manager using your Apple ID and add your content. What are the benefits to creating your own course?

  • Content is more meaningful to students
  • Content can be customized
  • Easy to create, easy to update
  • All resources are in one place: books, documents, videos, images, web links and apps

Here is the link to a Spiders course I created for my kindergarten students as well as one for teachers on Personalized Learning and another course created by a 4th grade colleague about my school and how we innovate instruction using iPads.

iTunes U allows you to customize the learning experience for your students, even the youngest ones. It is also a great way to create a learning portfolio for students. Up to 5 people can collaborate on a course so you and your colleagues can work together and share the wealth. If you aren’t comfortable creating a full course initially, create a chapter and keep adding. It is easy to update any time.

If you aren’t already using iTunes U, consider giving it a try. It will open a whole new world to your students for learning and engaging in content.

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