Thursday, June 30, 2011

Online Literature Circles

This year I was introduced to the concept of back channeling in the classroom as I wrote about in a prior post. I see so much value in giving students the ability to communicate with each other simultaneously online, so when I cam across an article about online literature circles, I was immediately interested. This article talks about the increased communication among students that happens when they can use an online vehicle such as or Moodle to share ideas, thoughts and introspections about their work. With a few guided questions from the instructor, these online communications can quickly advance into the upper levels of Blooms Taxonomy, something I believe is essential for understanding and retention of information. What I really like about this particular article is how it explains step by step the process of starting online literature circles in your classroom. While it addresses middle school classes, I think it could be used in grades three and up, making it a valuable tool in the classroom. I am hopeful to start this with some of my teachers next year.

Improving Fluency with Voice Recording

One reading strategy for improving fluency is to read a selection over and over. Think about how much more powerful this could be if the student could play back their reading, listen to it, evaluate it and then redo it? With technology, this is possible. There are many ways to record your voice from Web 2.0 tools to different software programs. I want to focus on two different approaches to improving fluency with technology, because tools may change, but the purpose is the driving force.

All students should have a digital record of their fluency so the student, their families, and their teacher can all look back and have concrete evidence of growth. Two software programs that are available in our school are Power Point and Photo Story. Each allows the student to create a page with the date and information on what they are reading. Once the page is created, they can record their reading right on that page. After recording, they should listen to it and evaluate their performance. The recordings can be easily deleted so the student can redo them. Once they feel they have done their best, the file should be saved. At predetermined intervals, the student should create a new page with new recordings. At the end of the year, the student can go back and listen to all the recordings, a concrete portfolio of their growth.

Another strategy involves making podcasts of Reader's Theatre performances. Because you are not keeping a running record, additional software that could be used are Audacity, and any Web 2.0 tool that records your voice. The students practice the piece and when ready, record their performance. The advantage of using Web 2.0 tools is the ability to have them immediately accessible on the internet to share with the class, family, and friends. What makes it so powerful to do Reader's Theatre this way is the total reliance on voice to carry the performance, thus expression in fluency is key. It is kind of like the old-time radio shows people would listen to. An article on implementing this in your classroom can be found here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Comic Book New Endings

One day on Twitter I saw that @techieang had just co-planned a literacy lesson with another teacher at her school. I thought that was a great idea and after connecting with her, we co-planned a "virtual" lesson for our students. Since she teaches a 2/3 grade split and I was looking for something that would also work for one of my 1st grade classes, we came upon the comic books at Professor Garfield Toon Book Reader. Not only could we read the same online stories, but there were four different ability levels to choose from.

We planned our lesson around the elements of comic books and how they help us read them. Next the students read one, thought about the choices the character made, and came up with a new ending, or for her older students, changed the story in the middle. While we had some technical difficulties with getting the website to work on her iPads, and the text was blurry on some stories, both classes were able to complete and share their new endings.

As it was the end of the year, I asked my first graders to tell me all the different ways they could create a comic with the software programs we have at school. They came up with using Kidspiration, SmartNotebook software and Microsoft Publisher. Some of them even remembered that we could take pictures from one software and paste it in another. Below is a movie compilation of some of their pictures. I am very proud of their ability to use different software to fit their needs and the effort that they put forth in this project. They had to read the story twice, complete a planning form, create the picture and then post the picture and their explanations on their blogs. With help from their classroom teacher, we were able to finish in time to share with the other class.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Allowing Creativity and Student Choice

Today our first graders brought in their homemade wagons for their wagon parade. It was the culminating activity for their motion and balance unit. There was only one rule, it had to be a wagon that would carry a stuffed animal. Because there was only one rule, the students were allowed the freedom to create anything they wanted to. We had around 80 first graders participating and therefore had 80 different, unique and very creative wagons!

As teachers, how often do we require every student to produce the same project, following the same rules and therefore looking the same. I always think of this when I walk down the hallway and see 20 projects on the wall that are almost identical. When each student is given an open ended task, with few restrictions, they must use creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and communication skills to come up with an end product - all the 21st Century Skills we desire our students to develop. Our wagon parade was a perfect example of what can happen when we have less requirements instead of more.