Letter Review

In September I benchmark my Grade 1 students on their letter names and sounds (see my: Grade 1 Phonics Assessments). Then students who need additional review are placed in my room, as well as continue to review the letters in their classrooms. A typical intervention alphabet lesson includes:

  • review any letters that we have previously studied (name, sound, and action) with the large Letterland flashcards
  • introduce the new letters (name, sound, and action) with the large Letterland flashcards
  • practice forming our sounds with each student watching my mouth, discussing what my mouth/tongue looks like, and then practicing in their own mirrors to replicate the sound/mouth movements (I listen and correct sounds/formations as needed)
  • read the Letterland story for the current letters
  • brainstorm our own words that start with the letter sound
  • listen to the Letterland song for the letter while students repeat the sound and action (movement break)
  • sort 8 items/toys by initial sound for the letters (also focusing on turn taking)
  • find the names of our classmates that start with those letters and adding them to our word wall (we sometimes discuss sight words, too)
  • practice letter formation, after listening to “Start Your Letters at The Top” (Handwriting Without Tears), on our whiteboard tables
  • We also use activities from the Florida Center for Reading Research K-2 Phonics Curriculum and various letter songs on YouTube.

As a review of multiple letters or the entire alphabet we bowl or fish for letters (while the other students practice their writing), and play alphabet Jenga, Twister, dominoes, memory, Bingo, etc. One of our favorite reviews is the alphabet scavenger hunt!

I hide lowercase and uppercase foam letters of all sizes around my classroom. Students are put into teams or they can work as a group. When I hold up letter flashcards, everyone must state the name and sound and show me the letter action. I pick two students (from opposite teams) and they must search for the letter around the room while the rest of the students cheer them on. Students can receive two points – one for finding the letter and another for stating the name/sound when they bring it to me. I keep track of their points on the board and then we practice counting by 5s afterwards. The activity only takes about 30 minutes and allows me to take some anecdotal notes on each student’s letter proficiency. The best part is the student engagement!

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To Use Technology or Not to Use Technology: It’s Not Even a Question

Computer Hard Drive Half-Full

Today I will be reflecting on Wendy Donawa’s and Leah C. Fowler’s “The YA Reader in the Digital Age” from their book Reading Canada. This chapter focuses on using technology in ELA classrooms. Donawa and Fowler (2013) state that “technology ought to be a seamless, integral part of what [teachers use] in the classrooms, especially in literature classes. Students and teachers want and need a connected classroom” (p. 188). This quote fits perfectly with my reason for becoming a teacher: my purpose is to help students realize their potential, uncover their unknown and known interests, and gain the confidence needed to share their knowledge and perspectives with others (both face-to-face and online). In my opinion, the purpose of learning is connection; we learn to share, we share to learn. Technology is a tool that teachers can and should utilize to get students engaged with collaborative learning. Furthermore, the use of technology improves “students’ interest, engagement, learning and success with Canadian [and other] literature” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 190). This is how I view technology in my classroom. I believe all methods of instruction need to be utilized and would suggest that the only wrong strategy is an over-used strategy. Technology – although I will have to step back and explicitly teach certain programs – is not the lesson but the tool. Donawa and Fowler (2013) suggest that “mastering digital tools and technology is not the goal of instruction, but if they are well integrated for reading, research, and analysis of literature, they motivate, engage, and support learners” (p. 179). Appropriate use of technology is vital, as our directive is to implement the Saskatchewan Curriculum. Therefore, technology is a tool in accomplishing that goal. Donawa and Fowler (2013) note that “technology needs to be relevant to the objectives, topics, and assignments; it should be high quality, fast, accessible, glitch-free, focused, and specific. Classroom sites or web-based instruction platforms can be marvelous resources for teachers’ tailor-made assignments and activities that enhance learning key principles. Teachers and students support success when they co-create relevant resources and links that connect for learning” (p. 188). Some of the platforms – albeit, not always glitch-free or accessible to all – that can be used are:

Teacher Resources Student Resources Both
Teachers Pay Teachers

Twitter (ex. #edtech; #edchat)

Youtube Youtube
Teaching Channel Prezi EBooks
Edutopia Blackboard
Facebook (ex. Sask. Teachers’ pages) WebCT
Pinterest

Upworthy

TedTalks (Ed)

Class Wiki or Blog (ex. kgorhamblog@wordpress.com; kidblog)
 Google Docs Moodle

I believe that adding technology into our repertoire does not discredit or ignore previous methods or disrupt a sound ELA curriculum. Through the use of technology in the classroom, students can develop “inquiry strategies… receptive and expressive literary skills, and form meaningful online relationships and participate in reading communities” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 179) and still work “on classic literary strategies: phonemic awareness, oral language development, spelling, vocabulary, writing, comprehension, and fluency” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 193) through online exploration. We are not replacing the old with the new but shifting from individual classroom studies to global knowledge sharing communities; “the impact of the digital world and on readers and reading, and on literature production, has been profound” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 179). Donawa and Fowler (2013) note that “we have come to expect an unlimited choice of information and communication as a norm and a right” (p. 180); technology is not going away and it is time to embrace it in our ELA classrooms.

Computer Hard Drive Half Empty

With the positives always comes the negative. Although I do believe technology is something we must incorporate, there are definitely some cons. One of my biggest issues with technology is the overload! I often feel bogged down; I can never keep up to all the information that comes my way and I am sure students feel the same. As an educator with endless amounts of great resources and new information each day, it is hard to pick what to study. We need to help students – who are coming of age and figuring themselves out – navigate through a vast amount of sources and engage with positive choices.  Donawa and Folwer (2013) note that this can be done through instructional scaffolding (p. 191). But this is harder than it sounds, especially when you can find anything to back up your opinion. I often wonder how we can determine if anything is credible? Are we not more incline to believe that an article that supports our preexisting belief is more credible than something that challenges our ideas? Technology is a great example of this: take for instance the many pro. technology articles on edutopia or #edtech on Twitter versus John Lornic’s work or Fusion New’s “This is what it’s like to be one of the 75 million Americans living without Internet access:”

(Note: John Lornic (2007) suggested that “multi-tasking, although inseparable from pervasive electronic distraction, is a phrase initially used to describe the capabilities of a the computer, not the human brain” and that “the sheer glut of data itself has supplanted the kind of focused reflective attention that might make this information useful in the first place (p. 50; 59)).  Even Donawa and Fowler, who are promoting the use of technology in ELA classrooms, suggest that “the generous support of information technology and competency-based learning may well be the prudent fostering of a future workforce, but it is generally accompanied by diminished support for art, music, literature, and liberal education” and furthermore, “ceaseless electronic demands… replace human interaction or inner contemplative and cognitive activity” (2013, p. 180). How do we pick what to focus our attention on and what to believe? And how do we teach this to students when we are figure it out ourselves?

Another issue I have with technology is the lack of access. Donawa and Fowler note that “Canadian students have a media-textual world at their fingertips through home, school, or public library computers” (2013, p. 189) and although this is true for most, over 75 million Americans are without technology access (see above video). This creates a socio-economic divide and also disproves the misconception (see page 191 in Reading Canada) that students are “digitally competent and able.” Many students need explicit instruction and just as learners are ready to learn at different paces, their ability to access technology is diverse. I want to flip my classroom one day but what if I had students who did not have access to technology? Could I do it? What could I do to assist those students and even the playing field?

Searching for Files

In the end, I will utilize technology in my classroom because the pros outweigh the cons and it is not an option. It is here to stay and it is a mode of teaching that works. Not only that, but it is ingrained in our lives; it seemed like I was helpless on my trip to Minot when I had to shut off my data and couldn’t consult Google Maps or Goolge whenever I wished. Technology is part of us and the theoretical framework of an ELA classroom can be met through the use of technology. For instance, technology fosters inquiry-based learning (answering self-directed, real questions), and constructivism (“learning is a socially mediated process, where learners are actively and relationally involved in a process of meaning-making and knowledge production” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 191). By utilizing technology students get “choice, pace, and control over their work” (Donawa et al., 2013, p. 193). Technology fosters motivation, responsibility, independence, interaction, engagement, critical thinking, exploration, and reflection. Our learners may be all over the map with technology but as teachers it is our job to start with the zone of proximal development and expand their horizons, albeit at their own pace. Furthermore and most importantly, technology = digital citizenship = citizenship.

Extra-Curricular Activities, Interning, and the Essence of Time

My belief has always been that life is about others and not ourselves. Thus, I have always been an avid volunteer and even though I get tired, or feel like I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off, or wonder “why am I doing this?” there are always those moments that show you just how important your time is.

As an intern, I believe the program allows us to gracefully enter into full-time responsibilities. Therefore, to keep myself busy and not coasting through the first month or two (as this will never be a reality once I have my own classroom), I decided to help coach/mentor Cross Country, Bantam Boys Volleyball, and the SRC. I believe that although I am giving my time, it is not selfless because you always benefit from being kind to others. This post is not to say that giving up your lunch hour or weekend is easy but what I am saying is that this volunteer time matters and there are benefits to doing so for both myself and the students. This week alone, I had three “this-is-why-I’m-doing-this” moments!

Moment number one: This weekend I had one student attending Cross Country Provincials after getting 6th place at Districts. It was so nice to see him thrive in athletics and to build a relationship with him in an environment that he enjoys. Furthermore, at Districts he was nothing but kind; congratulating people as they finished the race, shaking his competitors’ hands before starting, and hugging the kid that encouraged him to continue are just a few of the GOOD SPORTSMANSHIP things I saw him do. Note: I saw him do these things but never told him to.

team pic coacheskieran5

Moment number two: This week several students on the SRC gave up their lunch hours to help organize and wrap up recent fundraisers. Students were not required to volunteer their time but chose to take responsibility for the work and make their school a better place. It is easy to forget how much kids really care about their school and what is going on around them but they DO CARE and most of them are willing to put in EXTRA EFFORT to make their environment the best place possible.

Moment number three: This weekend the Bantam Boys Volleyball team placed first at the Gravelbourg tournament. However, it is not the standing that touches me. It’s that this group of boys LOVES what they are doing and GIVES IT THEIR ALL. It is nice to see them in an environment that they enjoy and thrive in. Not only do they try hard, but they are very nice to each other if someone makes a mistake. With fair playing time and younger students learning it is not uncommon for older students to get frustrated but instead, these boys support one another and allow each other to grow. After the tenth set out of eleven this week, I was surprised to have a kid come off the court and say “I don’t want it to be over. I LOVE VOLLEYBALL SOO MUCH! Why does the season have to be over in October?” The others nodded in agreement. I couldn’t help but think, “aren’t you tired?” as I smiled at his enthusiasm. And that was my third “this-is-why-I’m-volunteering-my-time” moment this week. Because what happens on the court (or on a committee) may not follow a curriculum. It is not school work and it may not be considered formal learning. But on the court (or on a committee) the students ARE LEARNING – to get along, preserver, focus during boring games, support one another, work hard, achieve greatness, bounce back from a mistake, react/problem solve quickly, be lifelong learners, be engaged citizens, use metacognition, and the importance of an active lifestyle –  and they ARE ENGAGED! My time matters and to any other teacher, community member, or parent who volunteers their time: your time matters, too!

IMG_3673 Fall 2014 047

I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate Spoken Word

Video

I love this video for three reasons. 1. I am not against exams but I do believe that we need to make sure we allow students to show their knowledge in many ways. A test result is not the sole measure of intelligence (especially if students are graded on the curve). 2. Spoken poetry is a great English-related activity to do with students. 3. Spoken poetry is a great way to get students involved in social justice issues or to explore their interests.

We need to find ways to engage students and engagement is not found on a piece of paper, whether that paper has an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ or an ‘F.’ Learning is more than an exam, it is lifelong!