iBooks Author

“There are many little ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”-Jackie Kennedy

How can I help my students be better readers?  What do good readers do? These are questions all teachers face daily.  For the past 3 years, we have been using the Fountas and Pinnell Leveled Literacy approach to teach reading and writing.  This has been very successful for us.  One of our biggest obstacles in implementing this program is obtaining resources for teaching guided reading.  Our leveled book collection initially was non-existent.  Over the last 2 years, our school has prioritized literacy and added books to create a leveled book room.  While we are in a much better position with resources now, adding books is expensive…and no one has any money.

Enter iBooks Author.   This free program for the Mac allows you to create your own multi-touch book.  It allows for creation of galleries, video, 3D objects, and interactive diagrams.  There are templates ready to use or you can create your own. I’ve been creating books for my students in this app and uploading them to their iBooks app on the iPads.  My first book was a non-fiction book about our city, Charleston, SC.  It was written with easier vocabulary, repetitive text patterns, and utilizing mostly sight words.  I created a second version using the same pictures with slightly more difficult vocabulary and increased sentence structure.  The third version has the same pictures, but was written for my above-grade level readers.  Knowing my students’ interests has also helped me decide on book topics.  I wrote a non-fiction book on Dirt Bikes and another on Soccer.  Looking at my state science standards, I wrote a non-fiction book on Baby Animals.  Some of my boys who are more reluctant readers, love the Dirt Bikes book and read it daily.

The Common Core State Standards indicate students need to be reading more informational texts. By 4th grade, students should be reading 50% literary texts and 50% informational texts.  Today’s workplace requires many different kinds of literacy.  Good readers read many different kinds of books. They think about what they read and they make connections as they read.  Good readers ask questions and make predictions.  With the iBooks Author app, I am able to create student centered texts that are literally at their fingertips.

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Redefining Literacy with iPads

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.  ~Alvin Toffler

We are all such creatures of habit and we seldom like change…I tend to go to the same stores, eat the same food and sit in the same spot in school meetings and in church.  My students tend to sit in the same (unassigned) spot on the carpet and get upset when someone else is “in their spot”.  The girls tend to be far more vocal about it, but the boys are all “Dude…” and it usually is resolved without much argument. 

Change isn’t always bad.  In the last 23 years, I’ve gone from teaching with chalk and chalkboard, to whiteboard and dry erase markers, to a Smart Board,  and now I use both Smart Board and iPads. I’ve adjusted the way I teach by learning one way, unlearning and learning anew.  I can’t seem to function without my iPhone and iPads, both personal and professional.  (Yes, I have 2 of them.)  When I think about my kindergarten students, I marvel at all that they are able to do and to experience in this digital age.  Their language is peppered with “Tell your mom to text my mom so we can have a play date.”  “We downloaded a movie from Netflix and watched it on the laptop.” “I played Angry Birds on my mom’s phone when we went out to eat.” “Why do you need a map when you can look at the GPS?”

When asked to define literacy, our first thoughts tend to go toward the obvious- reading and writing.  It seems more accurate to define literacy today. Librarian Valerie Strauss defines literacy today as Transliteracy.  She says, ” Literacy has evolved, to not be defined or confined by container or format. It’s not just reading words on a page. It might be decoding graphic novels, it might be decoding video. It will be literacy in forms we haven’t even dreamed yet. We should encourage kids now to get their literary riches in formats that appeal to them and that they are comfortable with, whatever it may be. That is the future. The literacy of the future is finding meaning in many forms.”

Ipads serve a very real purpose in today’s “transliterate” classrooms.  I find they are easy to incorporate in all areas of content; and my students, as young as they are, lead the way.  I’m glad I’m along for the ride.

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The Force is With Us…

In Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace Darth Maul said, “At last we shall reveal ourselves to the Jedi. At last we shall have revenge.” Well, that didn’t quite work out, did it? At least not then, and certainly not because of the tattooed Sith Lord. Sure, Maul killed the preachy Qui-Gon Jinn, but he in turn got cut in half by Obi-Wan Kenobi.

Huh?  I’m clearly out of my element.  I introduced a new book in our reading center today. It is an encyclopedia of Lego Star Wars characters.  Saying it was a huge hit is an understatement.  The above discussion, or something like it, was taking place today between Hagan and Caleb.  They are my Star Wars experts.  The excitement over this new book was not unexpected.  Interest inventories taken on my students clearly showed the need for this new addition.  However, what happened next was unexpected. In the midst of all of the Star Wars techno-babble, the boys decided it would be great to go to the iPad and write about it.  They planned out what they wanted to each write and how they would illustrate it. The discussion  was amazing.  Their engagement was priceless.

I am passionate about my students’ writing.  We have several author studies throughout the year and I use mentor texts to inspire their writing. It is essential in teaching creative writing to provide opportunities  to link writing topics to who the children are familiar with and to what excites them.  Conferring with the students, having them look at their own writing and sharing their writing helps them make connections with good reading and writing skills.  The use of iPads, in conjunction with systematic teaching in Reading and Writing Workshop,  is producing the most advanced reading and writing that I’ve seen in the 23 years I’ve taught. The data is compelling.

Hagan and Caleb-Star Wars aficionados

Whether the students are writing on iPads, blogging, creating eBooks, or writing with pencil on paper, they are immersed in rich language all day long.

So, whether you side with Darth Maul or Obi-Wan Kenobi, I believe “The Force” is strong in kindergarten!

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I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends

Have you ever had a divine, glorious, light-coming- down- from -the- heavens moment? One that says, “YES!  They finally get it!”  A recent student conversation was music to my ears:

Tahra: “Mrs. Meeuwse, I think I need help spelling the word ‘children’.”

Ansley (before I could respond to Tahra): “I saw that word in a book I was reading today.  I can get it and show it to you.” Ansley goes directly to the book and brings it back. Opens it right to the page and points out the word “children”.

Tahra: “Thanks, Ansley.  That was helpful.” Such nice manners!

What!?  This conversation was awesome on many levels but  I was truly delighted they worked together and solved a problem without me!

Cooperative learning creates an environment of active, involved, exploratory learning. It also develops social skills and higher order thinking skills.  Creating an environment where cooperative learning takes place all throughout the day is important.  It builds student confidence knowing they aren’t alone.  Using iPads, students are constantly teaching each other (and me!) how to do something.  This sharing of information and exploration is seamless as we move throughout the day.

Tahra and Ansley reversed roles a little later.  Ansley thought of some ideas for her blog posts and wanted to write them down.  Tahra showed her how to make a list in the Notes app on her iPad.  The children enjoy  helping each other.  Problem solving skills are also being reinforced, not to mention my name is called a few times less each day.  They are learning to “ask the experts” in the classroom.

John Lennon was right. We all need some help from our friends. I know I do and I have 26 little friends who are there when needed!

Jayde Talks Blogging

Jayde takes a break from her writing to pose for our picture.

Last week, I posted about my students using their iPads to blog using Kid Blog and I shared a  writing sample from Jayde.  She shared that she wanted to write a new blog for girls.  She included a few topics that she would like to blog about.  What strikes me about this young writer (besides the fact that she is 6 years old) is that she already has a basic understanding of her niche.  Pro blogger states that many writers ask what to blog about rather than how.It further states that niche blogging appeals to readers.

I interviewed Jayde about her blogging ideas.  Here is an excerpt of that interview:

Me: “Jayde, tell me what you like about blogging.”

Jayde: ” I like writing about things I like and I like to read what other people write. ”

Me: “What made you want to write a blog for girls?”

Jayde: “I like dolls and rainbows and I like cheerleading.  I have friends who like those things too. I think other girls like them too.”

Me: “How do you decide what to write about?”

Jayde: “I just think of things I like and what my friends like.  It’s easy.”

Jayde at work.

There it is folks…Jayde knows what it’s all about. French-Cuban author Anais Nin says, “My ideas usually come not at my desk writing but in the midst of living.” It inspires me to know that Jayde and the other students in my class are busy 5 and 6 year olds living and writing what they know.

What inspires you?




It’s Just How We (Blog)Roll…

“Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”-Willa Cather

This week, I stepped into the world of blogging on the iPads with my kindergartners.  Through KidBlog students can blog in a safe and secure way. The website states “Kidblog’s simple, yet powerful tools allow students to publish posts and participate in discussions within a secure classroom blogging community. Teachers maintain complete control over student blogs. ”

What could kindergarten students possibly have to say in a blog?  Seriously?  Have you been in a kindergarten classroom?  They ALWAYS have something to share.  This forum allows them to share as much and as often as they like.  Blogging supports writing and reading skills as well as digital literacy.

I showed my students this blog and then talked with them about what they might want to share on their own.  We brainstormed different ideas and then off they went making lists on their iPads of possible blogging topics.  I posted to the class and then had them read and respond to my post first.  Then I had them write their own posts. Next, I had them choose some of their classmates posts to read and respond.  This all happened in one day!  Since then, each day, they are asking me if they can please write in their blogs.  My next step is to connect with a first grade class in our building and become Blogging Buddies.

Obviously, I am monitoring all posts and comments.  I am also posting on the blog site and responding to their blogs.  This modeling is important.  The students get excited when they see I have responded to their blog.

One student's thoughts about blogging

Blogging is allowing my students to bring their own voice alive in the classroom and construct their own learning.  It gives them an important sense of being a writer.  After all, we are what we think we are.

Anchor Charts: Why We Use Them!

Sorry, this isn’t a blog post about boating in the beautiful Charleston area. The anchors I’m referring to are anchor charts. 

Anchor charts are valuable visual support tools to assist students in learning new concepts.  Teachers and students may refer to them all throughout the year.  When we are working on new content in our Reading and Writing Workshop mini lessons, anchor charts are co-created with teacher and students to help “cement” the learning.  They help to make abstract ideas more visible for students.

So where do the iPads come in? The anchor charts are only the start. Due to space restraints on the chart paper, I’m unable to add all of the connections that the students share with the class.  Students then use their iPads to jot down their own ideas.  We use the Notes app to make a list of things that go along with our anchor chart.  Students may then use that list as they are writing to activate their schema.  Students also use the Pages app to write more complete thoughts and incorporate images. By using the iPads, students are able to quickly record connections as they make them, then refer to them as they need them in their writing.

Emergent readers and writers struggle at times with ideas.  The anchor charts and the students’ abilities to extend them with the iPads are a perfect pairing for successful learning!

Take a Look, It’s In a Book…

“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” Dr. Seuss

I thought it was appropriate to start this post with a quote from Dr. Seuss as it is his birthday month.  There is nothing better than getting lost in a good book.  In fact, I’m often sad when I finish a book.  I miss the story and the characters.  As a teacher, I want to instill that love of reading into my students.

I’ve spent most of this school year in a Literacy Leader cohort through the State Dept of Education of SC.  Through this cohort, I’ve reflected and changed my teaching of reading.  My goal for this year was to re-vamp my reading center and make it a place students want to go.  The transformation is very Barnes and Noble-esque…we even have free Wi-Fi.  I’m only missing the coffee bar. Hmmm…something to work toward!

Students have leveled books for Just Right Reading, there are baskets of different genres, a Featured Book section featuring books from our current unit of study, a featured author basket, a New Arrival basket complete with baby blanket and stuffed animals, a big book section and a poetry section.  Students have comfy chairs and pillows to snuggle into and get lost in a book.  Oh yes…they can also get lost in their iPads.  The students have leveled readers on their iPads as well as other books of interest.

As a life-long reader, I have just transitioned to e-books in the last 2 years with my iPad.  I was concerned at first that I wouldn’t like the feel of reading a book on the iPad.  After all, strong in my memory of childhood, is curling up with a stack of books and enjoying the pictures, the pages, and the smell of my favorite stories.  I have long run out of room in my house for any more books but my iPad is ripe and ready for as many books as my iTunes gift card can support. I’m on board the e-reading train! My students also love reading from their iPads.  They even create their own stories in a wonderful app called eBook Magic that I can then share with the other students in the class.

I am a voracious reader…a walking-down-the-hall-trying-not-to-bump-into- things, head-under-the-cover-hiding-the-flashlight, will-even-read-the-cereal-box-when-I-have-nothing-else-to-read reader.  I want my students to find that love in whatever way they can. The iPads are helping transform even my struggling readers into life-long readers.

What kind of reader are you?