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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In the Dark: What Happens When You Lose Electricity?

Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out. -John Wooden

And then there was darkness…a recent school-wide power outage left us without the use of my laptop, the Smart Board, overhead lights, air-conditioning…all of the things we take for granted every day and that are absolute necessities in my book.   An announcement was made that it was uncertain how long we would actually be without power.  Hmmm…what do we do, now that we can’t see to move around our classroom, and can’t use our Smart Board? Our technology-dependent classroom came to a screeching halt.  As I am using my iPhone flashlight app to move around without stepping on someone, it occurs to me that all is not lost.  We may not be able to see to read or write in the traditional ways,  but we do have iPads.  Our wonderful back-lit devices allows us to carry on even in darkness.  We can read, write, spell, add, subtract, complete patterns, count, draw, sing, do yoga, learn a foreign language,  ok…you get the idea.  We all sat on the rug and played a favorite spelling game.  Using our White Board app, I called out words and they wrote the words on their iPads.  They held them up to reveal their answers. The glow of the back-lit screens even contributed to the ambiance in the room.  Everyone lowered their voices and it was almost like we were in a really nice restaurant.  Almost.

We played our spelling game and before we knew it, the power was back on.  That 20 minute outage could’ve seemed like an eternity but we “powered” through with iPads.  The kids were disappointed when the lights came back on.

The Multi-touch White Board app by Shifting Mind is a very versatile one.  We use it for multiple purposes and in all subject areas. You have the ability to have up to 9 white boards in use at once.  It is also possible to type in text rather than write or draw.  It uploads nicely into the Pages app and eBook Magic.

We made the best of things on that day. The kids thought it was an adventure and even ask if we can turn off the lights in the classroom whenever we do whole group iPad activities on the carpet.  It seems to keep them quiet so I’m all for it!

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Great Expectations: Closing The Achievement Gap With iPads

Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement. -W. Clement Stone

If you search the internet for technology and educational achievement, you will find a variety of opinions as to whether technology impacts achievement in elementary school.  Having taught school through a veritable technology spectrum that ranges from no classroom technology, to having an Apple IIe with no internet connection and a stack of 5 1/4 floppy disks, to 4  networked Dell Desktops and now iPads for each student, I can say the student motivation with technology has always been higher than without.

I’ve stated before that technology without purpose will not yield desired results.   Schilling and Schilling (1999) capture well the broad idea that expectations are vital to education. … the literature on motivation and school performance in younger school children suggests that expectations shape the learning experience very powerfully. For example, classic studies in the psychology literature have found that merely stating an expectation results in enhanced performance, that higher expectations result in higher performance, and that persons with high expectations perform at a higher level than those with low expectations, even though their measured abilities are equal.

In an earlier post, I shared reading results from the 2010-11 school year.  We used iPads from the end of January until the end of the year.  It was exciting to see such growth.  This year, with only 24 school days remaining, our data is equally exciting.

It is interesting to note that I had 2 students transfer in after Christmas as non-readers.  They are currently reading above grade level.  How is this possible? Systematic teaching in the Workshop Model and the ability to differentiate instruction to meet individual student needs on the iPad is the key.  Student-centric technology is the answer to the One-Size Fits All approach to learning.

The larger debate concerning the effect of technology on student achievement goes on outside our little classroom.  I’m not a statistician nor am I a researcher, but when 100% of my students are going to First Grade reading above grade level 2 years in a row, I would say iPads are an essential part of our learning environment.

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