Welcome to my blog! I'm Karen Belt, a teacher and leader of digital learning, working at Lynmore Primary School in Rotorua, New Zealand. I'm teaching in a Year 2 class using iPads to engage and motivate learners and improve student achievement. This blog documents my teaching journey and my learning processes with iPads in the classroom. I've proud of having been a member of the inaugural Manaiakalani Digital Teaching Academy(MDTA) program and last year a Spark Manaiakalani Innovative Teacher (MIT) and Manaiakalani Google Class OnAir teacher.

Monday, 31 August 2015

My 2015 inquiry ... revisit and review

As part of our ongoing inquiry into our practice, this afternoon we are meeting to discuss where we are at, and giving feedback and support to those in our group.  This term, I'm working with a new inquiry group.  My group, and links to their inquiry blogs are:

Russell  (Principal @ PES)
Ben  (Year 5 teacher)
Chrissie  (Year 2 teacher)
Sandy  (Creative Space teacher)
Willis (Maker Space teacher)

We have been given some focus questions to guide our discussion this afternoon and I've decided to unpack each question on my blog so I'm prepared for our session today.

One of the challenges/barriers my students have is……
Generally speaking learners' have less oral language than you would expect in a "typical" new entrants classroom. While there are many reasons for this, such as them not undergoing as many experiences in their pre-school lives, or speaking their mother language at home, it necessitates the need for us to gift rich vocabulary to the learners. This can be challenging to do in reading as so much time is spent on decoding, allowing little room for this necessary gifting.

To address this in my teaching I have tried…….
Following the professional development with Dr Rebecca Jesson, our team discussed the limitations we have in gifting vocabulary during our guided reading session. I was reminded of the need to 'read to' my learners, with the three texts being the optimum number each day. I've struggled with doing this up to now, due to the inability of my learners to sit still on my mat for even a minute, without calling out and interrupting the flow of the story. As detailed in an earlier post, I'm trialling a solution for this, and trying hard to achieve my target of "three books a day." This 'reading to' allows me opportunities to gift vocabulary, and I've also tried extending a text which the learners have been captivated by into a motivation for writing, allowing for further gifting of rich vocabulary as well as adding to the 'experiences' bank for each learner.

The impact of this so far has been …….
While only early days, I have achieved my target on 9 out of the 10 days tried, and the learners are actually asking "when" we will have story time each day. My star chair remains a huge motivator for learners who seemed unable to sit still in the past, so much so that I plan to extend it into all mat time sessions as an extrinsic motivator. To date, I've extended one of the books into a three day writing session and combined this with a fun out of class experience to support the learning. We unpacked some great vocabulary around the word "big" with a combination of gifted words and words that learners were able to share.

So .... where to next ??? …….
My next challenge is to find a way to continually use this exciting new vocabulary, particularly when learners are working independently. I plan to try and incorporate some of it into my Reading Activity projects, again scaffolding this carefully to ensure its used correctly in context as well as adds to the value of the activity.

Today's meeting this afternoon was great - we have an amazing group that covers different levels/areas throughout the school and its great to hear their challenges and what they are doing to make a difference in the lives of our tamariki in other areas and higher up the school. We were reminded (during our inquiry group and also earlier before we split into these smaller groups) that we are an innovative school and have 'broken new ground' on this journey into the whole school using 1:1 devices. I've been privileged to be part of the journey in the junior school and personally really enjoy the ability to continually try things so my learners get the best from me as a teacher. Having 1:1 devices makes learning more engaging, repetitive and visible in my classroom and my ongoing challenge is to continually ensure it is utilised to its fullest potential.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Counting in Tens with Explain Everything

We've been learning to count in tens in class, and will often do it as a whole class warm up.  I've been concerned that some learners are possibly saying "teen" instead of "ty" when skip counting.

Today I asked learners that were not working with me to take a photo of our 100s board in Explain Everything and skip count in tens.  We uploaded their work to their Google Drive and tonight I was able to watch all the movies quickly from my laptop and hear immediately which learners needed assistance.

Once again I love the power of the voice, and hearing what the learners are doing.  I plan to use this activity again tomorrow and have learners count to 20, again recording their voice.  This will enable me to determine if there are any learners that are mixing the "teen" and "ty" as they count through their teen numbers.

Monday, 24 August 2015

Enhancing the Literacy Experience

As part of our ongoing Professional Development we have been looking at reading with Dr Rebecca Jesson.  As mentioned in this previous blog post, my aim has been to ensure I'm reading to my learners 2 - 3 times a day.   An additional aim is to unpack some rich vocabulary with the learners and this often comes from our shared book experiences or from our whole class writing.  While ideally it would be great to embed this into guided reading sessions also, this can often inhibit the guided reading session which has a focus on decoding and allows minimal opportunities to gift new language which my learners need.

Last week after reading Bubble Trouble, we talked about the language in the book and what happened to the bubbles which the two friends in the story were competing to create.  This lead into our writing session and we wrote a story about bubbles being transparent - a word I gifted my learners.  Our whole class story for the day was:

"When we blow bubbles they are transparent because we can see through them."

I later added the word "transparent" to our growing vocabulary wall for learners to refer back to.

The learners were really engaged with book the book and the concept so I extended this into writing for a second day, with a plan to extend it into a third day and have the learners experience blowing bubbles and then free-write about the experience.  This idea came from something that occurs in a colleagues classroom, with a story/idea being built on over the week and vocabulary gifted to the learners that they are able to find and use in their own stories during the free writing session.  Our second day story was:

"The gigantic bubble floated away in the sky."

On the third day we went outside and had fun blowing bubbles.  It was really interesting to see the learners using some of the gifted vocabulary to describe what was happening to the bubbles.  Of course, what I was most interested in was what the learners would be able to write and what vocabulary they would choose to reuse.  A selection of the stories created include:

"The bubbles went up in the sky and I like bubbles."
"I like the bubbles.  The bubbles went up in the sky."
"We blow the small bubbles and we blow the big bubbles.  We blow the big bubbles and the bubbles float."

While it is only early days, for the first time I've attempted this I was really pleased to see how it progressed and how each day took the concepts and ideas a step further.  My next challenge is to find picture books to read to my learners which extend our inquiry topic so I'm able to combine my writing and inquiry curriculum areas as this will help cover more of the inquiry topic in my limited learning time.  I often find it is a struggle to incorporate all the ideas from our rich Professional Development into my programme and I'm sure this will occur more naturally as I move from being a beginning teacher into being more experienced.  I definitely enjoy the challenge of trying new things and love the sharing of ideas that comes about from our PD sessions, particularly at a team level as I find these even more applicable in my classroom.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Sound bites for comprehension

As my learners move up through the reading levels I want them to be aware they are reading for a purpose and that they need to understand what they are reading.  One of the ways we do this are through comprehension questions which ask them about what they have read.

While I often ask follow up questions during my guided reading session, I am also keen to include comprehension questions in my follow up Explain Everything projects which the learners work on independently.  I have done this in the past but found that learners can sometimes be tripped up by having to "read the questions."  They understand the question if its given to them orally, but may not be able to read all the words used if they have to read it - and its not always possible to phrase it in a way that it uses words that I know they will be able to read and understand.

I've recently tried using sound bites to ask the comprehension questions as part of their project, which is proving extremely successful.  The learner is able to listen to the question and then find the answer in their book and write it onto the page.

An example of this, for the book "The Duck with a Broken Wing" (this is one of six slides in the project for one group of learners who are reading this book later this week):

I've found using soundbites so successful that I am beginning to add them to many of the pages I create.  This allows the learner to listen to the instructions again and prevents them having to return to my desk if they have forgotten what I said when I scaffolded the project.   In most cases the sound bite is exactly the same as the text on the page so the learners are able to listen and follow along with the words.

Monday, 17 August 2015

The importance of reading to ...

At our recent team professional development session with Dr Rebecca Jesson, I was reminded of the importance of reading to my learners.  Often in our busy day I struggle to find time to do this, and have yet to achieve the recommended three books a day.  One of the reasons for this is the inability of some of my learners to sit quietly and listen to the story - they feel the need to continually interrupt or jiggle around on the mat.

I set myself a challenge of achieving three books a day with my learners and discussed with other teachers in my team how they achieve this.  One suggestion was to read a story with the learners while they are eating their lunch.  I also decided that as many of my learners arrive late to class and this can be quite disruptive, to trial reading a book at the beginning of the day while waiting for these latecomers to arrive.

My final challenge was how to have them engage with the reading without the constant calling out - and again, based on a recommendation from another teacher, we're trialling the "star chair".  This is a reward for an individual learner that sits and listens to the story without calling out or wriggling around on the mat.  Not only does the individual get to sit on the chair for the next story, but they get to choose which book we read next (from a range that I have pre-selected and have available).

I couldn't believe the difference this star chair made when I implemented it last week - immediately every learner was engaged and focused on listening to the story - it made such a difference that even my Teacher Aide wondered what was going on when she entered the classroom and saw everyone totally still, silent and listening to the story.  While its early days, I successfully read three books a day three times last week - it is from these books that we're able to discuss the rich vocabulary in some of the stories as a whole class and introduce the learners to new experiences and ideas - we've had some rich discussions already and I look forward to this continuing!

Once again I'm reminded of the value of professional development as a way to enhance the learning for all in our classrooms as well as refocus us and ensure our pedagogy is the best it can be!

Introducing more tools!

I often use our Inquiry time to introduce more of the Explain Everything tools to my learners as I can then use these tools in other curriculum areas.

Last week I introduced some of the features on the inspector menu to my learners - duplicate, copy and paste.  As part of our inquiry topic, "Trade and Enterprise" we are learning about NZ currency and identifying the different notes and coins.  After talking about each denomination each learner took a photo of one note (play money which looks like the real thing!) and we used this photo to duplicate.

During the second lesson I introduced the copy and paste concept.  It was interesting to see that by not copying a new note, learners were pasting the first note they copied.  We were able to discuss this as a whole class and they could understand the concept of making sure the note you were copying had a dotted line around it first, otherwise the first note you copied was the one that pasted onto the new slide.  As with any new skill, the learners will need to continually practice this skill over the coming days to ensure its embedded and I look forward to providing many ways for them to do this across all curriculum areas.

Its always great to see how excited the learners are when being introduced to new tools and how quickly they pick up new concepts.  The plan is to extend this duplicating to create patterns with the money later this week.  I will provide one slide with a photo of all the notes and coins and learners will be able to copy, paste and duplicate this to create patterns and manipulate the different currencies.  I hope this will also help learners to understand concepts such as 10 x 10c = $1.00.  

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Sharing my experiences

It's always great to get opportunities to share my experiences and what exciting things I have happening in Room 19 with my learners using 1:1 iPads.  One such opportunity happened today with a group of visitors to Manaiakalani.    My Google Presentation touched briefly on some of the ways we use the iPad in Reading, Writing and Maths and I linked to examples that I have blogged about in the past.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Capturing the Prior Knowledge

Last weekend I enjoyed the EduCampAKL unconference.  It was great to share some of the things I'd been doing but also network and get new ideas to use in the classroom.

One of these ideas was the use of Thinglink - a way of presenting many ideas in one space.  I'm able to Chromecast my laptop on the TV in my classroom so that learners can see their ideas are added and valued.

The first activity we did last week was to answer the question "How do I get the things I want?"  I took a photo of the class as they were sitting on the mat and then we added an idea to each learner (some learners had to leave for lessons outside of the class).

The next day we completed a new ThingLink and explored "Where does milk come from?"  It was really interesting to see what prior knowledge the learners had and this gave me a starting point with my teaching!  Importantly, the use of Thinglink means we're able to go back at the end of a unit and see how much progress we've made and what new knowledge we have!

I'm excited to see in how many other ways we can use this tool in the future!

Monday, 3 August 2015

My Inquiry ... where to next ?

At our first inquiry meeting this term we discussed with our new group where we were at with our inquiry and what plans we had for the direction of our inquiry.  We've received a significant amount of professional development over the last term, and this will continue this term.  The challenge is to integrate all this new learning into my inquiry to ensure acceleration in reading and activities that encourage higher order thinking.

As detailed in my post yesterday, I'm currently implementing activities in my reading rotation which ask the learner to re-engage with the text from a previous day, as I'm no longer able to see each learner every day (I still try to see my lower groups each day).  The initial activities I have created are more word work, recall and comprehension type activities but it is my intention to extend these as the term progresses to include activities which require aspects of higher order thinking.   The challenge with this is to have them generic enough that they work across a range of texts whilst still being engaging and challenging across a range of reading levels (Red - Blue).  This seems to be my next step.

I have found that as learners move up the reading rocket in the classroom, they are able to independently complete activities at a more complex level and spend more engaged on these.  This continues to motivate me in trying new things, while ensuring the learning is personalised and engaging for all.  

Sunday, 2 August 2015

So I can't see all my reading groups each day ..... now what ?

Last year, team teaching with Michelle, we were able to see all our reading groups each day, and I believe that impacted their learning immensely.  To date this year I've been able to see all my groups every day on most occasions.  However, as each learner progresses at a different rate, I've had to increase the number of groups I have and now with eight reading groups (maximum of three learners per group) its impossible to see them all each day and give them the attention they deserve.

The question I've been mulling around for the last week is how can I have the other learners engaged in purposeful activities during reading time on the day I'm not seeing them?  I currently have engagement in a variety of activities, including the Explain Everything activity they complete as a follow up to the text they read during their guided reading session.  Ideally, I'd like the learner to reconnect with this text on the second day.

I explored extending my Explain Everything projects so they were larger and took them longer to complete.  However I wasn't totally happy with this approach as the learners enjoy (and stay more engaged) through the variety of things they do during a normal reading rotation.   Combined with this, the learners that are quicker on completing their follow up activity could potentially complete it all on the day they saw me and would therefore have no need to engage with the text on the second day.

Last week I trialled a second reading activity which was slightly more generic.  I created a range of single page stand alone slides, focusing on comprehension, retell, word work, letter identification and pictorial representations (things that I've identified my learners need more work on).  A new feature of Explain Everything (v 2.71) allows me to insert whichever of these stand alone activities I want to focus on for the week into a new project with the touch of a button.  I'm able to create a second project quickly for individuals or groups to complete using their existing text, which I can add to the existing reading rotation.  The ease with which I can add slides from my existing bank ensures its not time consuming, but enables the personalisation which I value.  Importantly - all the instructions on the slides are verbal as well as written, so learners can listen to what they need to do, fostering independence.

Locate words in your text starting with each letter
Identify the words starting with the letter b

Match the capital letter with the lower case letter

As I review the work completed this week I'm excited that learners have definitely reconnected with the text on a second day.  Interestingly, despite scaffolding "retell" by demonstrating and modelling, most learners have not retold the story by summarising what happened, but instead read the entire book to their iPad.  I can't see this as a bad thing at all - I can hear what words they are struggling over, and while I need to provide further instruction and demonstration on retelling, the way they have completed the activity has provided valuable reading practice for individual learners as well as provided me with information for follow up lessons.

For this week I have kept several of the existing slides and introduced a few new slides, thereby ensuring learners can practice from the known as well as be engaged with new activities.  I have plans to add to my bank of slides as the needs of my learners change.