In Their Own Words with Book Creator

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.-Robert McKee

Lessons from PeteChildren love to listen to stories.  They are also pretty adept at retelling them.  Often, the re-telling is far more interesting than the original.

One of our Common Core standards in kindergarten is that the child will retell a familiar story, including key details.  This week in our shared reading, we read Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin. There are many lessons to be learned from Pete and the children have enjoyed reading and re-reading this story.  They’ve loved singing his song along with him. We made the Lessons From Pete anchor chart yesterday.

Today, the children decided to make a book about Pete the Cat and creating pic collagehis new white shoes as a retelling.  They used a planning grid to map out their stories.  In Book Creator, they designed the cover and wrote their re-telling.  They illustrated their book by drawing in Doodle Buddy.  Once they finished their entire book, they went back and recorded themselves reading the story (and singing Pete’s song.) Here is a link to Eva’s Pete the Cat retelling.  I love her use of expression as she reads.

This activity was initiated by the kids and planned out by them.  They spent most of the day, off and on working on this project.  They were delighted with the fact that they came up with “the lesson” and were in charge of carrying it out.  The Pic Collage above shows them in their creative process.  They were spread out and deep in thought. From the collaborative work and rich conversations during their time working on the planning sheets, to the creation of their book and recording their own voice to retell the story, it was an amazing activity and not a bad way to end our week with Pete.

I could have had the children sit and retell me a story easily enough.  But it was so much more meaningful by having them do this in their own way.  Voice and Choice…the school work of champions…and as Pete says, “It’s all good.”

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

Come See Us!

Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death-Albert Einstein

group pic collageIn a recent post, I talked about raising the bar with iPads.  One of the best ways to raise the bar in education is having teachers learn from each other.  By seeing what is possible…truly possible, one can return to the classroom with a renewed sense of energy and purpose.  It is one thing to hear about something, but it is another thing entirely to see it in action.

My school, Drayton Hall Elementary, is an Apple Distinguished School.  We host visitors from all over.  These site visits have been very beneficial to those who have come.  Apple is hosting 2 such tours at Drayton Hall in the coming weeks.  The first one is March 28th and there is still space available on that tour.  The second tour is April 16th from 8:30-11:30. Click here to see the invitation. Drayton Hall April 16th

I’ve talked about the importance of kids learning from each other and it’s no less important for adults to continue to learn as well.  We have had teachers, administrators, board members and technology folks visit.  They have seen 1:1 iPads across all grade levels and across the curriculum working to personalize learning for our students.  When you can come away from a learning experience as a teacher and take it back to your classroom, the ripple effect has begun…not just with your students, but with your colleagues and their work

Have you ever been to a workshop or professional development and walked away with a new idea?  It is an exciting feeling to try something new and fresh.  As an Apple Distinguished Educator, I am connected to some of the best educators in the world.  As they share what they do, I find myself raising my own expectations and in turn, raising the bar in my classroom.

Many of my readers live in other countries and I realize a site visit isn’t very realistic.  However, make a point to find a way to connect with other educators.  Twitter is a great place to build a professional learning network.  Teaching is hard enough…connecting and learning from others makes it worthwhile.

As we say in the South….y’all come!

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

Raising the Bar with iPads

If you’re the band leader you ask more of yourself than anyone else, so they tend to raise the bar for me.-Kristin Hersh

If you look up the definition of the idiom “raising the bar” you will find it means to set a higher standard for people to follow.  Leaders in education are looking for innovative ways to improve student achievement by raising the bar.

H and A under tableA growing number of state and local leaders are working to redefine education in the 21st century, embracing technology and implementing creative reforms that help students customize their education. Initiatives such as blended learning, online classes, and virtual schools allow parents and educators to move away from outdated, ‘one-size-fits-all’ coursework and instead personalize curriculum to meet students’ unique needs. This is a hard shift for many who have difficulty with change or who see no reason to change.

iPads have changed the landscape of teaching and learning.  The ability to research, create, read, write and expand using these tools looks different for each child if done correctly.  I recently read an article that explored the effect of iPads on student achievement.  There was no disagreement on the engagement of students, but there were mixed thoughts on the achievement.  One teacher said the iPads take up too much of her time and she only uses them in her high school classes a few times a month.  (Wait, What?)

Whatever technology you incorporate must be a part of your curriculum.  It’s not about the apps.  It’s not about having iPad time. When adults in the workplace work on a project or assignment, they have the “what”.  They then must decide the “how”.  You look at the job and decide what tools are necessary for completing the job.  Back in the dark ages when I was in college, we hand-wrote every paper that was turned in.  Now, a handwritten essay won’t even be considered and it is turned in electronically.  Our students today will be entering the work force in the future.  They have to learn how to look at a problem and decide the best tool for solving it.

If we wait until iPads in classrooms raise every test score then they will never be purchased.  This is not a magic bullet.  We still need quality teaching and best practices.  The iPads enable us to raise the bar by meeting individual student needs…but only if the teacher empowers his/ her students to take charge of their own learning.

My grade level team works together to reflect and change. We have high expectations for our students.  They help me raise the bar in my own teaching.  How are you raising the bar?

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

Dear Diary

For any writer who wants to keep a journal, be alive to everything, not just to what you’re feeling, but also to your pets, to flowers, to what you’re reading-May Sarton

dear-diaryI always liked the idea of a journal.  I say the idea of a journal because, despite my best intentions, I can’t seem to keep at it.  I always start with great enthusiasm but then it fades and I put it aside. I think it’s because my hand gets tired of writing and my writing is pretty messy.  I love paper and pens and beautiful blank books with endless lines just waiting for my life stories to be recorded.  A friend of mine gave me a beautiful leather bound journal that I love to hold and look at and imagine all of the things I will probably never write in there.   This blog is the closest I will come to a real journal, I’m afraid.

My students journal daily as part of their center time.  They have a choice of writing on paper or writing on their iPads.  We use an app called iDiary for Kids.  iDiary is a journaling platform where students can write personal journal entries, draw pictures or upload images from the camera roll.  Stickers are also available to enhance the page.  The kids can personalize their journal by choosing cover color and an animal icon for the front.  They can even choose font and font size. They like that there is a password (which I set the same for all.)

Journal writing is a great way for students to record the events of their day and use sequencing skills to do so.  Students who are reluctant writers are motivated to write in the app.  Students have voice and choice in their writing by choosing paper or iPad.  They also have choices in topics, pictures, look and style. Some of my students enjoy writing about whatever theme we are discussing in class, others write about family events, favorite activities or what they’ve done during the school day.  wells idiaryJournal writing is a chance for a child to explore his/her mind.  It develops communication skills and strengthens the reading-writing connection.  By having kids write every day in their journal, we are building stamina for writing longer pieces. In November, my students were writing 1-2 sentences over 15 minutes and they thought that was looong.  Now, they sit for 20 minutes to an hour writing and writing and writing.  Because their keyboarding skills are so emergent, they type far less than they will write on paper.  It isn’t unusual at all for my kids to get up and get a second or third sheet of paper when writing.

Developing strong writers and readers is critical to life long learning.  iPads give my children choices in their learning.  When children can take charge of their own learning, they are automatically engaged.

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

Reaching Each One with iPads

boys workingBelief in oneself is one of the most important bricks in building any successful venture.-Lydia Child

I was observing my students working independently the other day and was feeling pretty good about how far they have come this year.  During this observation, I noticed one of my students sitting quietly.  His facial expressions indicated there were problems.  I walked over to see if I could help and noticed he had done nothing.  He hadn’t even started.  As I talked quietly with him, I discovered he had no idea how to get started.

Have you ever been that one?  The one who “didn’t get it”?  I vividly remember being the one in 3rd grade who didn’t get 2 digit multiplication.  Everyone else around me got it and I felt stupid.  My teacher at the time, bless her heart, did what she thought was the right thing to do and that was call me up to the board to stand there, in front of everyone, until I understood.  I am 47 years old and have never forgotten that moment of shame and embarrassment.  Remembering that feeling, meant that how I handled the next few moments with the young man who hadn’t started his work, was critical.

One of the reasons I love having iPads in the classroom is the ability to give my kids what they need.  That means that “the one” who needs extra support can get it without the embarrassment of everyone knowing.  It also means that those who are ready to move on are able to do so without having to wait on others to catch up.  When we personalize learning for students, we are giving them what they need, when they need it, for as long as they need it.  Engagement comes when we give students voice and choice. It is hard to hear the student’s voice when we are the ones doing all of the talking.

I think it’s important for us all to remember those times when we were “the one”.  How we handle situations when students struggle can make the difference in how that student sees himself/herself as a learner for many years to come.  Utilizing technology with personalized learning helps engage learners on their own terms.  No longer do our students have to feel like they are standing alone while everyone else moves on.

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

Help Wanted

We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.-Ronald Reagan



I recently found myself in a situation where I didn’t know how to do something with one of our new apps.  I could have probably figured it out if I devoted all of my attention and time to it but knew there was someone who already knew just how to do it.  So rather than spend precious time trying to figure it out, I just went to Ella. Ella is an expert at figuring things out on the iPad.  She never lets me down and if she doesn’t know the answer right away, she persists and comes back to me, usually 10.4 seconds later with the answer.  We all need an Ella…she is like a real-life Siri, only way cuter.

Working together as a community of learners benefits everyone.  Today, my class partnered with a second grade class to demonstrate how to use an app.  The second grade class had just gotten Explain K and 2 largeEverything which is an app my kids are already familiar with. It was a great activity watching 5 year olds teaching 7 and 8 year olds.  My kids were very nonchalant about the whole thing…like it is no big deal to teach older kids, because to them it’s not.  Even better, was the second graders didn’t seem to mind being taught by the younger children.  Once again, there were 50 kids in my classroom and all were engaged and on task.

How do we create an environment where teachers learn from students and students learn from each other, regardless of their age?  We allow the experts to share what they know.  The students in my class know which child in my class can help them with a variety of needs.  Everyone has their own area of expertise.  Students are engaged in a way that provokes conversation.  Students are invested in their learning because they are able to make choices about how they learn.  The adults don’t have to always be in charge and they recognize that students have a lot to offer, even if they are 5 years old.  The learner knows it is ok to make mistakes and the teacher gives the children the opportunity to create…surprise me!

My kindergarten students have many years before they enter college and then the job market.  They have much to learn in the coming years.  They also need to learn how to work with people both younger and older than themselves.  Working cooperatively with peers, and eventually co-workers is a critical life skill.  Today’s teacher doesn’t have to have all the answers.  We just need to be able to ask an expert…even if that expert still needs a booster seat 🙂

Hope helps 2nd grade

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

Some Days are Like That

The greatest sign of success for a teacher is to be able to say, “The children are now working as if I did not exist.” -Maria Montessori

For the record:  Heloise does not have a helpful hint for the best way to remove vomit from an iPad.  Being faced with this very dilemma recently, I realized I had no lifestyle guru to turn to for help.  I just had to push up my sleeves and get to cleaning it.  Into every kindergarten teacher’s life, a little vomit (or other body fluid) must fall.

1348014842153_2047932Some days are like that…a lesson bombs on the same day your principal comes to observe, whining and tattling rules the day, no one seems to be listening, and someone vomits on an iPad.  The best part of those days is when they are over.  A recent visitor to my classroom marveled at how well behaved my students were and how they were so independent.  She noticed they do not interrupt me when I am teaching small groups.  She asked if they were like this all the time or just because there are visitors in the room.  I replied that most days they are independent and well behaved.  I work diligently in the beginning to make them as independent as possible.  Personalizing their learning and giving them the voice and choice to make their own decisions about their learning is a big part of creating that independence.  However, we all have days that are not stellar.

IMG_0366Recently, we were having so many problems with kids not getting along we re-visited our Code of Cooperation.  We discussed where we were falling short and what we could do to correct the situation.  We talked about what each of our agreements would look like.  What does it look like when we listen to others?  What does it look like to be nice?  After our discussion, the children made a Pic Collage to demonstrate their understanding of what our Code of Cooperation should look like.  Here is an example:


While this won’t solve all of the world’s problems, it helps from time to time, to re-visit expectations and reconnect with what we are about.  It helps us as teachers to return to our fabulous selves and remember that, while “vomit” happens, tomorrow can be a better day.

Here is a great video for when you have one of those days:

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