Here We Go Again

How do you restart something that had never been turned off? -Veronica Rossi, Under the Never Sky

It doesn’t matter how long I have taught, I always have trouble adjusting expectations with a new class. Of course I know these young children are new and are not at the same level as the class from the year before…it’s just…well, that class leaves when we are in such a good groove and it is hard for me to adjust a few months later. Summer vacation doesn’t seem to turn off the “old class” switch and turn on the “new class” switch.

No worries, it’s a short learning curve. It doesn’t take long to remind me of the need to start small and slow so that I can speed up later. We just finished our 10th day of school and we are currently using our iPads to enhance phonics instruction in small groups with Pocket Chart Pro, Starfall ABC’s and Magnetic ABC apps. We are also using them in centers as a choice in the math center and the ABC center. We’ve used Drawing Pad to draw a picture of something we like to do. Here is an example. She drew a picture of playing at school.

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In math, we have used Connecting Cubes to count objects.

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As well as experiment with counting and ten frames:

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We have also learned how to take a screen shot so we can upload our work! By experimenting with different apps in the early days, the students have an opportunity to explore and free-play while we are learning the proper way to use the device.

So how do you restart something that had never turned off? In my world, at least, I have to hit the reset button and remind myself to start small. The first few weeks of kindergarten are all about exploring our environment, getting to know each other, and taking things one step at a time!

Here’s to a great new year y’all!

Cheers!

Share your story…do epic stuff!

 

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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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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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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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