The “Art” of the Matter

A work of art is the unique result of a unique temperament. -Oscar Wilde
As a classroom teacher, I see many personalities and temperaments daily.  As we work together, it is impossible not to know a child’s likes or dislikes, their interests and what turns them off.  All of my students want to shine.  Some shine more brilliantly than others, in a way that no one can miss.  Others shine more softly and feathery, like the moonlight.   The key is to weave these differences together into a tapestry that works and thrives together in a classroom.
photo-15One thing they all have in common is the love of art.  They love going to art class for special area and they love cutting, gluing, pasting, coloring and painting in class.  Most of them create excitedly and without hesitation, but a few of them have been bitten by the “not good enough” bug and are afraid to draw a bold line and get started for fear of doing it wrong.  When my students are creating, their engagement is nearly unbreakable.  So, why do we put art off until “after you finish your work?”  In our class, when we are creating content,  art is a necessary part of the process.
As adults, sometimes we see art as frivolous and something one does in one’s free time.  (And really, how much of THAT do we have?)  When we remove creativity and creation from our classrooms, we are teaching our children that it doesn’t have value…their creative selves are to be kept separate from their thinking selves.  Art is so much more than drawing and coloring.  Art is photography, music, poetry, writing, film making, and more.  How can these not play an important role in learning?  When students are able to use their talents, or develop and explore talents they didn’t know they had, they are learning how to be diverse individuals who have something unique to contribute.
I’ve always been interested in photography, but never really pursued it for many reasons, all mostly just excuses.  I finally made room in my life for it and can’t believe what I have missed out on for so long in not pursuing it.  I can’t imagine my life now, without it!
photo-4
As I watch my students work individually and collaboratively on projects, it is gratifying to see them encouraging each other as they work on creating content.  The creation apps on our iPads such as Explain Everything, Book Creator, Pic Collage, Strip Designer, Popplet and iMovie all contribute to the wealth of workflow in our curriculum.  Each piece of work is as different and unique as the child that created it.  And THAT is exactly why I teach…to celebrate and develop the uniqueness of each child.
I encourage and challenge you to look for the art in your classroom.  Is it put on the shelf for when work is finished or is it integrated into the workflow of the day as a regular part of learning?
Today we will do exciting new things…let’s get to it!
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Workflow and iPads

Don’t mistake activity for achievement.-John Wooden

boys workingIn a recent post, I wrote about moving beyond apps and concentrating your focus on content. What are your students learning, why are they learning it and how will they know they’ve learned it? As I unpack the common core standards with my students, I am focusing heavily on these questions…not so that I can answer them, but so that they can answer them.  With these questions in place and iPads in hand, we need to look beyond apps and instead focus on workflow fluency.

If you look up the definition of workflow, you find:

  1. The flow or progress of work done by a company, industry, department, or person.
  2. The rate at which such flow or progress takes place.

The flow of progress…how can my students demonstrate the flow of progress?  Just because they are interacting with an app does not mean they are learning.  iPad activity should be purposeful and connected.  It should also be personalized to what that particular child needs.  

Workflow and iPads allow students to redefine their work.  The technology allows for the creation of new tasks previously inconceivable.  It is transformative.  After our recent thematic unit on penguins, my students created their own books in Book Creator. workflowThis started with their own illustrations in Doodle Buddy which were imported into their book in Book Creator.  The students wrote sentences to go with their own illustrations.  Taking this a little further, students took some of their individual illustrations and labeled them using Explain Everything. They were able to record themselves explaining their work.  While the apps I used in this are great, there are others that do similar things.  Some of them are free.  Pic Collage is another way to demonstrate workflow and it’s free. The take away here is that students are able to use the iPad to demonstrate what they’ve learned and can use apps to explain in their own words what they’ve learned.

As we are striving to make learning more personal, we should teach our students about workflow fluency. By using the iPad to demonstrate workflow, our students are engaged, thinking critically, and are using skills of a 21st century learner.  Even the youngest among us can do it.

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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.

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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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PaperPort Anywhere

Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up. -A. A. Milne

One of the few challenges we have faced in implementing iPads has been the inability to get work off of the iPad.   Our district network is not set up to allow student email at this time, although I hear it is in the works.  Teachers are able to send email but students are not.  Dropbox is also not available as an option through our network. There are times when I have photographed student work with my iPad camera so that it is on my iPad.  We have also set up class wikis so that we can upload items to the wiki for a variety of uses.

On PaperPort, I have created a variety of folders.  Each child has a folder and I have a folder for images as well as iBooks that I have created on iBooks Author. The original account is created online at the PaperPort website. The PaperPort App is free and is downloaded on each student iPad.  As students create work or books to be saved, they choose to open the document in PaperPort and upload it to their folder.  It’s very simple and my kindergarten students can all do it themselves.  They are also able to go into the PaperPort app and download books that I’ve uploaded into their own iBooks libraries.

From Paperport, I am able share documents with parents or administrators as needed.  The iBooks I have created, I have shared with my grade-level team through PaperPort.  They simply go to the folder and download it to their student iPads.  This app makes it easy to scan, organize and share documents.

With a classroom full of busy children, we all need a little easy!

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Using Confer App in Reading Workshop

The biggest mistake regarding record-keeping is not writing things down or not remembering where you wrote it down.-David Mellem

Do you have an organized method for your record-keeping?  I have an old-school grade book and I have one on the iPad.  I have a stack for this and a pile for that.  One of the things that drive me crazy is having some things here and some things there. I have Language Arts and sight word assessments, math assessments, and running records for reading.  In my attempt to consolidate my “stuff” I discovered an app called Confer.

Confer is an app that lets you record and track your students both individually and in small groups.  I teach Reading and Writing Workshop and this app  works very well with that method.  I can take notes on individuals and small groups. I can view students by “tag”, “strength”, “teaching point”, or “next step”.  Creating small flexible groups allows me to see at a glance what those students are working on, what reading level they are on, or what I need to do next with them.  Confer also allows you to upload your data to a Gmail account as a spreadsheet or to upload to any iOS device or to Dropbox.

The downside is the cost.  It is $14.99.  There is a lite version, but it’s a little too lite.  The plus side is that it is easy to use and is very portable in the iPad.  While I use it exclusively for running records and guided reading groups, it can be used in any subject that you wish. When I meet with my grade level team, principal or a parent, I have the data right at hand.

With 30 kindergarten students, having the ability to look at student data in both small group, individual and whole class views quickly is not only convenient, it is necessary.

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Developing Strong Readers

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” ― Stephen King

My students are readers.  They read everything they see. They read books in the reading center, they read books in guided reading, they read anchor charts all over our classroom, they read books in the science center, and they read on their iPads. I model writing each day during Writing Workshop on a chart tablet.  When I fill the tablet, I put it in the reading center for them to read.  It is fair to say, they read in some way all day long.

One of the free apps we enjoy by GrasshopperApps.com is I Like Books.  This is a collection of 37 picture books that cover a variety of topics on things children like, such as, animals, drawing, music, planes, snow, trains, pets, trucks, etc…You can add your own voice by recording the entire story.  There are word highlights, and 3 play-back modes-read to me, read by myself, and auto-play.

The I Like Books App is just one of the reading options we have on our iPads.  In addition to the books I’ve written in iBooks Author that have been uploaded to their iBooks libraries, they have LAZ leveled books, plus other individual books of interest such as Toy Story, Dr. Seuss books, some books by Story Chimes, Little Critter books by Mercer Mayer, and books by Learn to Read. The children have created a few books of their own through eBook Magic that are also available in their iBooks library.

When we immerse young children in literacy-rich classrooms, the foundation of basic early literacy concepts, skills and positive attitudes are developed.  This concept of literacy immersion centers on the idea that children need to exist in a literature-friendly environment. Reading and writing are critical modes of communication in all areas of life.  When we incorporate inter-disciplinary connections to literacy, we increase student success.

Setting up the classroom for literacy immersion is  deliberate and carefully planned.  Children observe the teacher modeling reading and writing, they participate with the teacher in shared reading and writing and they participate in independent reading and writing activities all throughout the day.

As children develop and strengthen their early literacy skills, they are also expanding vocabulary and writing skills, developing longer attention spans, enhancing creative thinking skills, and enhancing their memory skills.

My children would just say they are having fun.

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Knowledge is Power: Students Taking Charge of Their Own Learning

Research is creating new knowledge.-Neil Armstrong

We have been studying the rainforest.  Kids love animals and the plethora of exotic animals in the rainforest creates instant interest and curiosity.  One day the wonderment and inquiry had reached fever pitch.  “Does the poison arrow frog have any predators?” ” How big is a giant anteater anyway?” “Are howler monkeys nocturnal or diurnal?” And my personal favorite question that was asked, “How does chocolate come from the rainforest?” I started writing down all of our questions so that we could figure out how we would solve them.  Before I finished, someone said, “I think we should look on Safari on our iPads.” Someone else immediately asked if they could “research” rainforest to find some answers.  Do you see the rich vocabulary here?  These questions and statements are not being paraphrased.  This is what happens when children feel empowered to take charge of their own learning. I barely had nodded yes to the research question when my room looked like the start line at the Boston Marathon.  Someone found a website on Safari that had several rainforest animals.  Peer sharing began immediately.  The students started finding images and information about animals that interested them.  They helped each other and they were engaged, focused and excited.  Without me giving any directions…on their own they started saving images and importing them into Pages.  They debated font size, picture size and word choice.  I facilitated, checked-in with groups, answered a few questions and mostly just let them have at it.  Their conversation was rich with the language of inquiry. They worked on this for over an hour before we had to stop. After lunch they came back to it and worked until they finished.  Here is one student’s work that is finished. Keep in mind these children are 5 years old and have no keyboarding skills other than “hunt and peck”.

This lesson was completely student-driven.  It all started with me reading a non-fiction book on the rainforest.  My plan was to go in a different direction but once the questions started, I knew my plan was out the window and we were headed down a different path.  But…isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?  Inquiry-based learning teaches problem solving and critical thinking skills. It develops student ownership of their learning and builds student interest in the subject matter.  Inquiry allows students to create their own knowledge. The iPads give the accessibility needed for each student to do the research.  With only 4 computers in our class just 2 years ago, this would have never been possible.

I’ve been asked what happens when the children become bored with the iPads.  They say, “Oh, it’s a source of fascination now, but what happens when it no longer is?”  My answer to that is two fold.  First, if it is being used as a toy and not a learning tool, then it will gather dust on a shelf somewhere.  However, if it is integrated into the curriculum properly, it will be as valuable to students as our own laptops, smartphones, and computers are to us as adults.   When was the last time you used a phone book to look up a phone number or address?

My friends, knowledge is power.  Our students are overflowing with wonder and an urgency to learn.  We need to equip them with all the tools necessary to be successful.

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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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