Lit Circles Meet iPad Revisited

My grade 3/4 students were given a new assignment posted on Showbie.  I love being able to post the text and then add the voice note.  The assignment was inspired by the article “Literature Circles Go Digital” by Karen Bromley , and her several grad students at Binghamton University in New York, ” in the November 2014 edition of The Reading Teacher (Vol.68 Issue 3).

I’ve have usually framed four roles for Literature Circles: Discussion Director to encourage global understanding of the text; Word Wizard to focus the reader on vocabulary; Friend of a Character to encourage a focus on characterization in the novel; and Connector to activate background knowledge and relate to the text. Each reader would prepare for one role for the literature circle. The next time, he/she prepared a different roles until all roles have been experienced.

Karen Bromley et al, offered a greater range of roles to their students:  Discussion Director (3 thinking questions); Illustrator (picture, diagram or graphic organizer with at least 5 words as labels to show something that happened); Investigator (Find information about the story, setting, author, illustrator or something important); Literary Luminary (funny, favorite, powerful, or special parts to read aloud); Mapmaker (create an action map or diagram that shows plot or describes setting); Connector (connections between the book and the outside world); Vocabulary Enricher (find interesting or unfamiliar words and find the meanings in a dictionary); and Summarizer (Write a paragraph or make a list that is a brief summary or overview of the main ideas and events in the story).

Leila Khodarahmi, my teaching partner (Wednesday to Friday) has worked extensively with our Grade 3/4 students using R5 strategies to respond to text.  I have worked with students (Monday, Tuesday) on developing their ability to express themselves in the writing process.  My expectation was that with the motivation of the technology, they would be excited about generating a response that was thoughtful and perhaps even “better” than what I would generally receive in a typical response log.  My goal was to prepare students for small group discussion by completing tasks to deepen their comprehension.   The technology allowed them to quickly generate a response that took a small piece of the text and generate a response, that may or may not have involved critical thinking skills.  For example,

Response 1:  Literary Luminator

Text is cut and pasted into BookCreator.  The student reads the text aloud and downloads pictures.  Their is no rationale for why the piece was selected  or why it is important to the global understanding of the text.

Response 2:  Illustrator

The student draws a picture on Draw and Tell.  The audio is used to briefly describe the picture.

Response 3:  Discussion Director

The student uses WORD to write three questions about the text.

Response 4:  Connector

There is one phrase written on BookCreator loosely referencing a personal connection with the book.

Response 5:  Vocabulary Enricher

Several unfamiliar words are listed with dictionary definitions and downloaded pictures.

During the literature circles, the responses on the iPad were presented to the group and students were impressed with the features of the technology but the responses did not generate discussion.  The response was generally “easy, peasy, done”.   I prompted students to share their thinking and make connections to the text.  It wasn’t clear whether all of the students had read all of the text or understood it.

My intention was to utilize technology to achieve a greater amount of engagement in the task which I hoped would result in a higher level of critical thinking and understanding of the text.  This was not the case.  Students took the path of least resistance to do the minimal amount of work to fulfill the assignment.  They reported they liked doing responses this way because “It was really easy” and “It was SO fast.”  It did not reflect an understanding of the text or an engagement in the task.  They were proud of their responses because the technology included audio or pictures that they could use the technology to get the work done and they thought were pretty impressive.  The focus was using the technology rather than understanding the text.

Dr. Ruben Puentedura and Dr. James Paul Gee have both given me a good starting point for reflection.  I have heard Dr. Puentedura speak on the SAMR model twice.  Although the academic description was interesting, it was having Dr. Puentedura working through the possibilities of applying the SAMR ladder to a series of lessons that I had completed, that was most thought provoking.  Essentially I had not redesigned the literature circles with the technology in mind.  Although students were familiar with the APPS and with responding to text, their focus was on completing the assignment.  I had simply substituted written response with APPS.

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Dr. James Paul Gee has done a lot of writing and presenting about creating smarter students through digital literacy.  Gee discusses the importance of “talk, text, and knowledge (TTK) mentoring” required to use digital tools effectively.   Obviously I need to provide more scaffolding for students to learn about creating meaning in the digital world.  The question is how?

What are the applications that will require my students to use technology to create meaning in complex and thoughtful ways?

What will allow them to create connections with others to help them in finding the answers to their questions or ask new questions?

Are my expectations of digital technology based on the best responses that I was able to cox out of my most responsive students during Lit Circle?

The process of learning continues…

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ABC Research Reports

My Grade 3 students in the GR 3/4 class I teach on Monday and Tuesday are doing research reports using BookCreator for The Celebration of Learning at our school.

The teacher librarian in the school has created a strong collection of books on Canada at a variety of reading levels to support the high number of ELL learners in our school. She has also developed a unit of study on Canada to teach research skills to late primary/ early intermediate students. Students used a collection of books on each province and territory to answer questions, develop mapping skills and complete tasks in the library. In the classroom, they used databases to find information.

Once the students demonstrated their ability to find and record information accurately, the Grade 3 students each chose a province or territory to research and share their learning at The Celebration of Learning.

I shared several ABC books that had a specific theme and shared content area knowledge, including:

Campbell, Janis and Collison, Cathy(2005). G is for Galaxy. An Out of this World Alphabet. Sleeping Bear Press, Chelsea, MI.

Napier, Matt (2002). Z is for Zamboni. A Hockey Alphabet. Sleeping Bear Press. Chelsea, MI.

Thornhill, Jan (2012). The Wildlife ABC. A Nature alphabet Book, Owlkids Books, Toronto.

Students Were already familiar with BookCreator and airdrop through our work with Joanne Carlton and Zhi Su, our Technology mentors. Students were given the task to create an ABC Picture Book about the province or territory that they had chosen. The title of the book title was to include the province or territory and the first letter.

ie. Y is for Yukon
B is for Beautiful British Columbia

The challenge has been helping students to choose facts that are backed up with research and specific to the province or territory. “B is for brown houses in the Yukon” does not help us to learn about the Yukon, even though it may be a fact from picture cues in a book. The huge advantage of using BookCreator is the ability download maps, flags, pictures, illustrations from drawing pad and add audio clips. Students find images and share them with each other via airdrop. The challenge is to keep them focussed on the task of using the images to support research.

I’m looking forward to see how this project plays out. I’ll keep you posted.

PILOT – Professionals Investigating Learning Opportunities with Technology

Four teachers at Tecumseh Elementary committed to working together on PILOT. Our job was to engage in an inquiry using technology with our students. We were provided with an iPad cart with 20 iPads for class use, 3 iPads for use of Resource teachers, 5 desktop computers in the library and Apple TV.

Students and parents in all of the classes were taught about iPad care and signed a use agreement.  For much of the term, teachers explored the technology with their classes with a focus on the tools. We had general discussions about developing writing and thinking skills but specific definition of an inquiry question was vague and the focus was how do you…

It was once we started to share what we were doing that our learning intentions became more defined. On teacher had started writing a Seasons Book with her Kindergarten students using Book Creator. Marion Collins started working with her Grade 6 students using keynote and Book Creator.

Virginia Bowden continued the work she had started with Kidblog with the Gifted students attending pull out Gifted programming in the district, used iMovie to have students create trailers on themselves and Prezi to develop research skills.

I continued the word I was doing with the Gifted students (in the district Multi-age Cluster class) during computer prep to develop their own blog on Kidblog and focused on having my Gr 3/4 class use Raz-Kids to support home reading and Book Creator to develop writing skills and explored search engines to answer questions.

Initially the focus was on learning how to use the tools and it looked like each of us were taking some very different directions. We narrowed the common elements down to the focus that each of us had taken in developing literacy skills.

Our discussion and questions were great:

  • How can we develop fluency in writing?
  • Adding pages encourages younger or less proficient writers to extend their writing. What about older and more proficient writers?
  • Does a lack of a keyboard limit the amount that students write?
  • Are templates available for report writing in Book Creator?
  • Is Book Creator more conducive to writing picture or poetry books?
  • Is the best way to teach note taking still having students write phrases with facts on paper; outlining / sort facts into groups, and creating their own paragraphs?
  • Are library books still the best way to match ELL students with reading material at their own level?
  • How can we get students to question the source of the information they read online? Hear on media or read in books?
  • Does using iPads break down gender barriers in oral communication?
  • Does adding sound clips lend itself to developing expressive reading skills?

Our inquiry question is still broad enough to let us pursue our individual interests but narrow enough to focus our discussion on how we are using the tools to support the language development of our English Language learners. Our intention is to make observations and reflect on the ways that technology is being used in our classrooms to develop oral language skills, reading skills, writing skills and the ability to represent ideas in visual formats. We have a general direction. The thinking and focusing continues. We’ll keep you posted.

Talking Technology Tools

I am currently working with a team of teachers in my school, Tecumseh Elementary, on a Technology pilot project: PROFESSIONALS INVESTIGATING LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES WITH TECHNOLOGY. Our tools include 20 iPads for classroom use, 3 iPads for Resource teacher use, 5 desktop computers in the library and apple TV. Have we gotten over talking tools yet? No so much.

We are immersed in the grand quest to learn about logistics of the technology use- all of the possible Apps and a myriad of questions.   Although we are all familiar with iPhones, iPads, and/or Apple computers, the technology is not intuitive. We have all committed to attend the after school technology sessions where we are introduced to the educational possibilities and provided with tech support. The sessions are a challenge due to the significant range in background knowledge in technology of all of the groups and individuals attending.

All four of us involved in PILOT at Tecumseh agreed that we would start with teaching responsible use of the iPads to our students, who range in age from 5-12 years old. One of the teachers created an agreement to be signed by students and parents and posted on the iPad cart. What are really interesting are our various approaches after that point.

I assigned each student a number and an iPad and gave students the opportunity to explore. When one student had discovered something interesting, I stopped the group and showed them what a specific student had done and asked how many other kids knew how to do it. (Note to self – Figure out how to use the Apple TV so I can do a better job of this sharing with a group.) Students became the teachers/mentors for other students wanting to try. Lots of dialogue. Lots of engagement.

My first assignment started with a goal of focusing my Grade 3/4 students on observing the change of seasons and creating a book using Book Creator that included:

  • The ideas from the sense poetry we had just created by webbing in our “Thinking Books” (I see, I hear, I smell, I taste, I fell… Stems are used to collect ideas, create an image, remove stems for finished poem)
  • 6 of the 12 photographs taken with the iPad when we did our “Sensing Fall” walk around the school (art work) and playground (signs of fall)
  • Book cover with a title, author / poet and 6 pages minimum.

As I was handing out the iPads, several students went to Drawing Pad to record the Book title, their name and start to decorate the cover of their books. We decided as a group that this was a great idea and the criteria would also include the use of Drawing Page to create the book cover.

My Grade 4 students who came from Tecumseh Annex and Moberly Elementary used Book Creator last year, so as students needed help adding pages, pictures or audio-clips, they came to me or one of the “teachers”.  This way we avoided the wait time of line-ups or everyone stopping to step through the process at the same time.

One problem some students encountered was the fact that their initial writing had ideas that were not matched with the pictures they took on our sense walk. It became an option to download photos from Internet to match the text. The storage room in the classroom became the “sound room” to add the audio-clips.  Lots of time was spent reading and re-doing the clips to ensure the sound clips sounded “good” (  Good was defined as reading with expression).

Finished products emerged over the course of several sessions (3-6) with the iPad.   What was surprising was the huge difference in the books including:

  • Poetry books with one line of poetry per page and one picture
  • An entire poem per page with a picture
  • Several pictures on a page, text on another page
  • A sentence with an observation (using the original stems) on a page with a picture
  • A fact about the picture on the page
  • One book that had nothing to do with the change of seasons, our sense poetry or the pictures we took. (The student let me know that he erased that book because he wanted to write about something else and all of the illustrations were done in drawing pad.)

Assignment #1 and reflections on a whole bunch of new questions including but not limited to:

  • Naturally stimulating oral language in English Language Learners
  • Apps to develop fluency in writing
  • Vocabulary development
  • How to set up Showbie for saving work for viewing at home and on different tools
  • Commenting on work electronically with “electronic post it notes”
  • Creating book trailers
  • Using Keynote
  • note taking for research – pen and paper vs. online

This is what I love about education – Always so much to learn. Always someone who wants to have the conversation about the learning.