Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Blogging With My Grade One Students

Whenever I get talking about my class one of the first things I'm happy to share is that my young students are blogging.  I owe the idea of having my students blog to Kathy Cassidy, a grade one teacher in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan that I have "friended" on Twitter.  While I have never met Kathy I have spent time reading her tweets and checking out her professional and class blogs.  Her class blog has a spot for class updates and a place for each child to have their own individual blog.  In September I checked out her students' blogs and I was impressed with what they were doing.  As someone always up for a challenge, I decided to give my students their own blogs too.

At first I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be able to do it, or more that my students wouldn't be able to do it.  I have several students new to Canada this year.  Many of my students speak a language other than English in their homes.  One of my students is a selective mute and does not speak or write at school.  Another student has extreme difficulty remembering letter names and sounds. Another is autistic.  I have a typical class in my school district with a variety of needs that need to be met. About 25% of my students do not have adequate access to the internet in their home  because they don't have a computer, or their computer does not work, or they do not have internet access.  So it wasn't going to be easy.

In all honesty it was tough getting started.  The link to our class blog where we have a link to our individual blogs was long.  But I really wanted them to go through our class blog because I wanted them to be aware of what was on it and how valuable it could be for them and their parents.  I think the first time we tried to find our own blogs it took nearly our entire time with the computers.  Nothing got published.  But I didn't give up.  I could see from Kathy's students' blogs how powerful they were.  With time we got better at logging into our individual blogs.  By Thanksgiving weekend (Oct 10, 2011) my students started submitting their first blogs to be published. I was ecstatic.

I also have a student that does not have permission to have her work published on the internet.  After a bit of searching on Kid Blog I discovered the publish privately setting.  I spoke with her mother and she was okay with her blog being published privately.  So now this one student is blogging too, her posts just aren't being published publicly.

As I write this post it makes me so proud to inform the world that my students have published 183 blog posts publicly and six privately, and have 34 sitting in draft mode.  My selective mute is an avid blogger.  My student that struggles with letters and their sounds is blogging.  My autistic student is blogging.  My limited English speakers are blogging.  EVERYONE in my class is blogging.  Many are blogging from home too - so far this school holiday I have published eight blogs written independently by students from home.

So why do I have them blog?

Blogging has provided my students with an authentic audience to write for.  I know some teachers feel the world is a scary place (and yes it can be) so they password protect the blogs that their children write.  I'm not one of those people.  My students know that what they write can be read by anyone who has internet access.  We've talked about how to blog responsibly and safely.  Many of my students smile knowing that anyone in the world can read their blogs.  Blogging gives them a voice.

Blogging has also helped them to get to know one another.  They have been encouraged to read each  others blog posts (see how I've snuck in authentic reading in there too) and comment on each others blog posts.   Speaking of comments they LOVE receiving comments.  I've made it my job to post a comment every time I publish one of their blog posts.  Yes, it takes time from me, but it's time well spent.  I've also utilized the private comment feature available on KidBlog to leave the specific feedback to help them improve for next time.

In addition each students' individual blog gives me a digital portfolio of their writing progression over time.  I am constantly reminding the children and their parents to go back and look at the older posts to see the change over time.  It's really quite incredible.

So what are some of the benefits I've seen from their blogging?

My students are writing.  Their writing is stronger, and they are much more eager to write.  They are authentic writers and they are telling their stories to the world.

My students' writing is getting read, and not just by me and their classmates.  They are receiving comments from parents, other teachers in our school, administrators both in our school and in our district, people higher up in our board office, and other students and teachers  around the world. Anyone who has taken the time to leave them a comment has taken the time to read their writing.

I have seen my new English language learners try to stretch their language learning with their blog posts.   My selective mute who is not yet comfortable enough to write in class is keen to blog from home and will even answer questions that are asked of her.  My student that struggles with letter names and sounds has gone from writing a string of letters (and then telling me what the letters say) to writing a sentence which can be read back to me.  The individual blogs have been a very powerful tool for everyone.

So where do I go from  here?

First off I want my students to remember to end their blogs with a question. By ending a blog post with a question you are inviting your audience to think about your question and hopefully make a comment to answer your question.

I also want my students to go more global with their commenting.  We follow some pretty great grade one classes and it would be wonderful for my students to read and comment on their blogs too.

I want to continue to encourage the parents of my students to comment more often on their children's blogs.

I want to teach my children more web based tools that they can embed into their individual blogs.

I want to continue to encourage my students to write longer, more detailed and meaningful posts.  I have many capable writers and it would be wonderful to see more of that excellent writing on their blogs.

I want my students to use their blogs to show all types of their learning. It can be a great place to store math, science, or socials learning too.

It's a good thing our school year is only one third over, we still have so much more to learn.

So if you've read this post this far you MUST be interested in reading and commenting on my students' blogs right? :-)  You can find them here.  I'm also curious to hear how your students use their individual blogs.  I know Kathy uses hers to have her students document all types of learning.  I'd love to hear suggestions of how I can better utilize our blogs.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Plea For a Projection Device

School has been out for almost a week now and I can't stop thinking about how I'm about to lose my portable class Smart Board and the projection device that goes with it.  I knew it was an extremely strong possibility that it was going to happen but a small part of me was hoping that others would forget. You see in my school of 23 Divisions we have two Smart Boards.  One is mounted in the lab and one is portable.  I have had the portable one stored in my room for first term.

Last year we decided as a staff that the portable smart board was not being used enough because it was such a pain to move from room to room.  Maybe it wasn't so much the moving of the board, but the re arranging of class furniture to get the board in and out of classrooms.  After a lot of discussion it was decided that each term we would store the smart board in one teacher's classroom.  Others could come and borrow it but the reality is once it's in a classroom it doesn't really  move from there.  When the discussions were occurring I had mentioned that I would like to have it in my room (after teaching in Australia in 2009 with one in my classroom there) but I didn't want it in term 1.  My students would be too young then and not ready to handle it.

Funny how things changed for me and my thinking.  Twitter totally changed that and so when I returned to school in September I quickly scooped up the white board and its accompanying paraphernalia (laptop, and projection device).  Things didn't go as well as I had hoped for the Smart Board though as the laptop brought nothing but trouble.  A lot of lessons were scrapped and a lot of time was wasted trying to get things working.  Two visits from the school district tech team and I think things might be working better now.  But, in reality it doesn't matter.  My term with the board is over.

I'm okay with the technology moving into a colleagues classroom.  It's good stuff and it needs to be shared. Others need to learn with it too.  But I have grown accustomed to having the projection device available to me at all times.  When we are learning a new concept I can quickly plug into the projection device and show a relevant clip.  When new blog posts are up on our class blog I can easily share them with the class.  When we are working on commenting on our blog comments, and other blogs we can easily do it together over the big screen.  When a twitter chat is on we can use it to project the feed.  The spontaneity of being able to quickly and easily project what's on our laptop or iPad anytime through out the day was a real treat.

So what am I going to do?  For one thing I'm going to start booking the portable projection device.  I want my Friday mornings to continue to be class commenting and blog review time.  That isn't a spontaneous use of the equipment, it is planned and we've done it a lot this past term.  The problem is when I can't get the projection device (or the rumblings start when people notice I'm booking it out EVERY Friday  morning) I need another plan.  Plan two is to book the laptops.  If we can't blog and comment as a class, we're going to do it in groups.  Laptops will do.  In reality either option will be fine.  I'm also going to do my best to think ahead and book the projection device at other times too.  In reality though this is tough to do and in all fairness I know we have a policy in place limiting how many times in a week, and how far in advance you can book the equipment.  I certainly want the equipment to be shared equally between those that are utilizing it.    But most of all I'm going to write a proposal to my administration to lobby for a projection device stored in my classroom.  I would OBVIOUSLY share it with others when we are not using it but it would be stored in my room at all other times.

This fall I have made a real effort to integrate technology into my classroom.  I have been avidly learning from others via Twitter.  I have created a class blog, given my students their own individual blogs.  We have used technology to help us with our reading, our writing, and our math skills.  We have read and commented on blogs around the world.  We have exchanged postcards and Christmas cards with students around the world.  We have taken part in and started twitter chats with other primary classes.  Technology has helped us learn how to share and to take turns.  And we are only just beginning to embrace our technology.  It has taught us how to think about things differently and show our learning in less traditional ways.  There is still so much more I want to do with my class.  So to take a step backwards by losing technology is breaking my heart.  My class and I have grown too accustomed to it.  With the introduction of the class iPad the last two weeks before school holidays (and it's accompanying attachment that has made it simple to project onto a screen) there is now even more that I want to do with it.

Hopefully my plea will fall on the right ears and I will be able to get a projection device stored in my classroom.  Fingers crossed everyone!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

iPod and iPad Apps I'm Using in My Grade One Classroom

Although I have only had an iPad in my classroom for two weeks  I am being asked to share the apps that I have discovered.  Here is a small collection of some of the apps I have used or plan to use with my grade one class.  Hopefully over time I will continue to update this table.

If you are using some apps that feel would be great for my grade one students to use too please feel free to suggest them in the comments section of this post.  A huge thank you in advance if you do.

You can find my list  here.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pushing Boundaries

As I started to leave a comment on one of Aviva Dunsinger's blogs I couldn't help but stop to think about how discovering twitter for educational purposes has really changed me as a teacher. Prior to twitter I was a hard working teaching who questioned things and looked for ways to make things better. But with the discovery of educational twitter and connecting with such incredible primary educators my questioning and desire to get better has exploded.

For example two weeks ago Aviva @grade1 posted on twitter that her 1/2 class was going to have a game of I Spy using the hash tag #Ispy2011.  It was a way to get her students to write for an audience as they provided clues describing common objects around a classroom.  Aviva invited the rest of the world to try to guess the answers, and write clues for her students to try to figure out.  Seeing that on twitter finally prompted me to create a class twitter account @MsLsClass so that my class could play along.  While Aviva had her students do this activity on their own as part of a literacy rotation, we did it as a group activity.   My students loved trying to guess what was being posted. It was our very first twitter experience.

Aviva's activity made me think about what I was doing with my class and how I could integrate technology into it.  Each year  around Christmas time I have my students create secrets about Santa.  I have a little paper form where we write and illustrate our secrets.  We post them around the room and some years around our school so that others can read our secrets.  Having just played I Spy with Aviva's students on twitter I decided to create the hash tag #santasec2011 to have my students share their secrets about Santa.  I posted it on twitter and invited the world to join in with us.  The world came, or at least a few other primary classes came.  Twitter is a powerful tool and I look forward to getting my students more involved with it.

This past week I set up a closed facebook group for my class to help encourage more of my students' parents to be involved.  The facebook group will not replace the classblog It will only provide another avenue to the blog.  I figured if my parents are regularly checking their facebook accounts for their day to day lives why not connect them on facebook and provide them with a direct link to our class blog every time it gets updated.  So far I have three families in the group but the notice only did go out yesterday and we have just started school holidays.

In addition, with the iPad that I was given to use in my classroom, my use of technology integration continues to explode.  In the two weeks that I've had the iPad it has constantly been in the hands of my students.  As I said in another post we are using it to read, write, do math, create, explore, and discover. I even took it on our field trip and we practiced math facts as we waited for the performance to start.   I have discovered wonderful apps that will help my students with their individual learning needs.  For example I have one student that is a selective mute. I've down loaded Talking Tom as a way to get her to speak at school.  Granted the speaking will be done in complete privacy but if I'm lucky the motivation of having the silly cat repeat her words may help her take that first step of talking at school.  Right now she is giggling like crazy when others talk to and are repeated by Talking Tom.  Then there's Dragon Dictation. I have another student with severe speech language issues and a severe learning disability.  He will be using Dragon Dictation to practice speaking clearly.  If he is successful with his speech he will be rewarded with personalized typed text that he can then use to write his journal entry.

My list of examples of change and growth because of inspiration or knowledge I've gained from twitter goes on and on.  Just getting me to think like this has been 100% inspired but what I've learned and read on and via twitter.  The connections I've made with like minded educators  has introduced me to so many new things I would have never known about without it.  It is pushing my boundaries far further than I every thought I'd want to go.  It has made me realize that twenty years into the best profession in the world, I still have so much more to learn and discover.  It has reminded me that need never be a dull moment in my career.

With that in mind there are still several things I'd like to integrate into my teaching or classroom.  This list is far from complete but it is a place for me to document what is spinning in my head these days.

I want to...

- use our big buddies to teach and help us learn how to use storybird (with hopes that my students will be motivated to use it on their own)
- show my class audioboo and use it to digitally document their oral reading and post it on our class and/or their individual student blogs
- revisit Voki as a tool for demonstrating our learning
- create QR codes for my classroom books stored by author providing direct links to the author's website to hear stories read by the author or to learn more about the author
- introduce Voice Thread, ShowMe, ScreenChomp, Explain Everything,  Puppet Pals, Toontastic, Sock Puppets, Wordle, as a way of documenting and sharing our ideas with others
- get my students tweeting our class happenings independently
- *find ways to get more technology permanently into my classroom
- create a google doc list of apps I use for teaching and provide the link to other educators and to the parents of my students
- continue to expand my Personal Learning Network and find a way to stay on top of all the amazing information coming my way
- continue to share my learning with anyone who will listen, and provide support to others where ever I can

As  I begin my well earned two week school holiday I will continue to ponder, discover, explore, and push my boundaries.  I'm curious to know how your teaching has changed either because of your interaction with other like minded educators, or your experiences on twitter.  I'd love for you to share too.

*Right now I have my school's one portable smart board and projection device in my classroom but I am only allowed to keep it for one term.  That term has just ended and I am pretty bummed to know it will be gone (but happy to know that other like minded educators in my school will get the chance to use it).   I will canvas my new administration for my own projection device to use with the ipad I've been given, but if I'm not successful there I will be looking at other avenues to get a permanent projection device into my classroom.  Having to sign out the school's shared one will totally mess the spontaneity we've had with having the portable smart board in our class.  Knowing that I'm about to loose it makes me realize how valuable it has been.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Teaching Children to Read - Keeping It Simple

Sometimes I think we over organize our reading programs with literacy rotations, guided reading sessions, and many must do jobs for our students. In the past I was one of those teachers rotating students through a weekly rotation, planning different activities for my different levelled learners.  I think I spent so much time making sure my students were on task doing the right thing that I had little time left to actually teach my students.  This year I've tried something different, and so far I like it.

This year I am trying to start every reading session with a read aloud.  Sometimes the read aloud is purely for the sake of enjoying good literature, but more often than not it's used as a tool to teach my students a specific reading strategy. I try to make sure that all my students are in my class during the read aloud.  This isn't really new for me, but ensuring that all my students are present for this lesson is.

At my school I am extremely lucky.  I have an excellent Learner Support Team (LST).  Typically as I finish the read aloud and the mini lesson someone from our grade one LST team appears at my door.  They are there to collect my struggling readers.  They come four days a week and my struggling readers are slotted into one of three groups.  You see, there are three LST teachers that work with our grade one students at the same time.  The three of them take a look at all the struggling readers in our four grade one classes and create reading groups depending on the needs of our students.  Their groups are fluid  and the children in my class that require additional support are also fluid.  The LST teachers work with the low of the low, the medium low of the low, and the high low of the low freeing me up to teach the reading to the rest of my students.

When those students are taken from my room the rest of my students turn to their just right book boxes.  These boxes are filled with books at their just right reading levels, along with books that they are keen to learn to read, and/or old favourites.  We keep our past guided reading books in these boxes too.  With their book boxes in hand they find a comfortable, safe place to read around the classroom.  Once everyone is settled I start a timer.  During this time most students read independently on their own.  I have read over and over again that one of the best ways to become a better reader is to READ.  During this time my students READ.

While most of my students are reading I pull a small group for guided reading.  I find in term one I tend to pull similar reading level groups as we are all new to reading strategies for comprehension, accuracy, and fluency.  During these small group sessions I always have a focus, and a reading strategy to teach (or review).  As I begin term two I think I will have more of a balance between similar levelled reading groups, and strategy specific groups to encourage my groups to be more fluid. While I am teaching this small group of children the rest of my class is on task reading.

Sometimes the timer goes off before I am done with my group sometimes it doesn't. It doesn't really matter though.  My students that have been reading books from their just right book boxes know that once the timer goes off the students are free to "free read".  In my room "free read" can include pretty much anything as long as the  main focus of the activity is reading.  Some children head on line to Starfall or Tumblebooks.  Others play with our word blocks to create sentences. Some share their book box books with friends.  Some continue to read on their own.  Some explore the literacy centres I created in the past.  With the introduction of our class iPad some are reading there.  But really, the goal of this time is to continue to have my students practice their reading and to be perfectly honest I don't really care what they are reading as long as they are reading.  A favourite activity this month is playing the oops game - focussing on reading our weekly word wall words. Last month they were into reading a silly story starter book that as you flipped the pages you created different (funny) sentences.  It's amazing how easy it has become for me.  Instead of me gearing my students to read this, or complete that reading activity, they are happily choosing what they want to read.  It's also cool to see my stronger readers share their knowledge of reading with my less able readers.  My goal is to have my students read and by giving them this "free read" time, they are reading, what they WANT to read. It's huge, and so simple to do.

As I finish up my guided reading group those students also join the rest of their classmates at "free reading".  During this time I am free to have one on one reading conferences with my students, or to rotate around the room and chat with my students about their reading.  It's a magical time and provides me with so much insight into my students reading.  It's invaluable time spent teaching and learning with my students.

We end each reading session with Reader's Chair.  Depending on time we have at least one student read to our entire class.  We provide feedback on their reading, and provide suggestions to help them improve.  It's powerful learning/teaching.   I think in the coming term I may  look at perhaps having more reader's share their reading.  I'm thinking about maybe having a different reader's chair take place in the four corners of our room so that more children get a chance to share their reading to their classmates.  Not exactly sure how it will look but it is something I'm thinking about.

So my question to you is how do you teach reading? What have I forgotten in my reading session or how could I make it even better?  I look forward to hearing from you.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Teaching with an iPad - Four Days In

On Tuesday, December 6th, for the first time in my teaching career I began teaching with an iPad.  With virtually no experience I let it go into the hands of my grade one students.  In four short days this is a small snapshot of what it allowed my students to do:

• write and publish personal blogs
• read and listen to on line stories
• practice basic subtraction facts in a variety of game  settings
• work collaboratively to solve math problems
• work collaboratively to create animation movies

Needless to say the ipad has been a hit with everyone in the class.  It engaged my students with special needs by allowing them to work at their just right level. It helped my selective mute socialize and collaborate with a classmate which made the student feel safe enough to laugh out loud.  It instantly became a vital tool in my classroom and I know I haven't even begun to tap its potential for teaching and learning.

With a school holiday coming up in a little over a week I am super excited to be able to spend some quality time getting to know my iPad better.  Already I know I want to use it to allow my students to document their learning in a way that seems right for them.  I want to use it to help enrich my students, and provide additional support where it's needed.  I want to go through the many apps that have been recommended to me by my Twitter PLN as I know I have barely scratched the surface in that area.

Here is to exciting times ahead.

Monday, December 5, 2011

An Incredible Opportunity

I'm in shock.  Really.  I have been given an opportunity that I never ever expected and I'm still in shock that it has actually happened.

This evening I was given the opportunity to join a local high school during their training on ipads at the local apple training centre.  This wasn't an opportunity open to anyone, and certainly not someone like me, a grade one teacher at a completely different school.  From the moment I was asked a couple of weeks ago I haven't stop thinking about it.

This summer, after discovering twitter, I set some goals for myself.  I wanted to move my teaching into the 21st century and I wanted to use technology to get there.  At first I was completely over whelmed with twitter, but with time and patience it all made sense to me.  I found a way to make it work for me and along the way I "met" some incredible educators.

One person that I met is Elisa Carlson.  Elisa is Director of Instruction with my school district.  She has a lot to do with the technology in our district and is providing educational opportunities to many.  She is breaking new ground as she attempts to take our district into the 21st century.  It's no easy task with close to 70,000 students and many administrators and teachers.  Elisa has been  closely following what I have been trying to do with  my grade one class this year and she liked what she saw.  It was Elisa who made this opportunity happen and I can't thank her enough.

Another important person I met is Orwell Kowalyshyn.  He is one of our district helping teachers, and he has done a lot to help me.  Orwell has answered many of my tech questions.  He has helped me arrange   the district loaner set of ipods and ipads into my school.  He has given me a lot of his time - and with a district the size of ours, I know that it was probably above and beyond what is expected in his role.

So why is this opportunity so special?  Not only did I receive excellent training from Bryan Hughes but I also received my very own Ipad 2 to use with my class this year.  I feel like I'm bouncing off the walls I'm so excited.  Already I've come up with a few ways that we will be using it in my class tomorrow! It isn't so much the tool that I was given, it's all the amazing learning that we will be able to do with it.  Teaching my students is still my number one priority, but with this new toy, the teaching (and learning) just got a whole lot more fun.

To Elisa and Orwell, and the staff at F.H. High School I am very thankful for this opportunity that I've been given.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Playing with Audio Boo

A while back  I told my students about a tool I had heard about on the internet called Audio Boo.  I told them that one day we'd be able to record their reading and post them on either our class blog or their individual blogs.  Anyhow I've just realized that I haven't yet tried Audio Boo myself.  So this evening I did just that.  I can't wait to try this with my students. I know they are going to love it and what a great authentic way to document their reading progress through out the year.  Now if only I had recorded them back in September. They have already made so many gains.

Trying to Find Balance

I love my job, I always have, and I hope I always will.  I get excited about a lot of things my students are doing and I love learning new things myself.  However I find these past few months I am constantly being over whelmed by how much is out there for me to still learn.  Don't get me wrong, I've never felt that I've known it all, nor did I ever think I would know it all.  But little has changed since I wrote this blog post back in July.

I am one that thrives on change and growth.  I like to attempt to do what others believe can't be done - heck I've completed five Ironman distance triathlons with very little natural athletic ability.  But professionally this has been a real struggle for me this year.  Again, don't get me wrong, I am really happy with what I'm accomplishing with my students this year. They are a constant source of amazement for me which makes going to work so much fun.  I know I'm doing a better job teaching grade one this year than I did last year.  But, the more I read the more I learn there is so much more I could be doing with my students.  I don't like dealing with the fact that I can't do it all.  I don't like feeling like I'll never be as good as I think I can be.

In all honesty sometimes I wish I was like some of the others I know, those that are happy with where they are already.  Things would be so much easier then.  I would be able to find balance and peace in what I'm doing.  But I have never, nor will I ever be that type of person.  I like doing the hard work, and getting that feeling of satisfaction when I see my hard work pay off.  That's something I'm trying to instil in my students too.  I actually like working hard, and being challenged, and constantly challenging myself.

So where does this strong desire to achieve and this struggle of knowing I'll never really get there leave me?  It leaves me trying to find balance.  The big question is how do I find this balance?

Playing with QR Codes

One of the goals I set for myself back in August was to learn and use as many web 2.0 tools as I can.  Today I've been playing with QR Codes.  I can't  believe how easy they are to create.  I can't wait to teach my students how to make them and what we can share with them.  Another exciting thing to add to the list.  Check out my very first one.