Sunday, April 6, 2014

Literacy First

As part of a continuous collaboration among educators interested in digital learning, Margaret Simon has started a weekly Digital Learning round-up on her blog:  DigiLit Sunday.  I'm joining the event for the first time today.  Stop by Reflections on the Teche to read, discover, and link.

The bell rang and students began entering the room, hanging up their coats, and chatting with friends.  After checking in with each other and completing the tasks of the morning, students began to settle into their work.  One student grabbed an iPad to read and comment on the most recent posts from friends on our Kidblog account.  Another went to the desktop to finish a post she had been working on the day before.  Still another grabbed yesterday's books to begin to enter titles into our community Shelfari account.  Some friends remained at tables reading books from baskets.

It wasn't long until we gathered around the carpet for our meeting, read aloud, and to begin our literacy block. Around the classroom during our literacy block, I noticed the quiet hum of the students.  They were grounded in their work as literacy learners.  Technology wasn't required for this, but was often a part of their choices.  In reader's workshop, students were reading independently and in pairs.  Some students were writing about their reading on dry erase boards and in their notebooks.  Students were using Pixie to share their thinking.  Others were stopping by Kidblog to read and comment.  Still others were using the time to read books on the recently discovered ToonBooks website.  In writer's workshop, students were writing stories on paper, some were painting their illustrations.  Others were using Pixie to write and illustrate books that could later be turned into podcasts.

Today there were a three iPads in the room, two laptops, and our three desktops, but students were focused on real world literacy.  What did they want to read?  What did they need to write?  What did they hope to learn?  What did they need to accomplish these goals?  I was struck by how seamlessly students used technology as they worked to make new discoveries.

Years ago, I remember "planning technology," but now it is just something that has become a part of the literacy work we do across our day.  It's been a journey and there is still much to learn.  I'm often asked how did we get to the place where students just know what they need and use the technology as they work.  I'm honestly not sure, and know it varies from year to year with different groups, but here are a few key elements to infusing technology into the literacy learning we do each day:

Staying Focused on Literacy:  In our workshops students choose to do the work of literacy learners.  They set literacy goals and consider the focus lesson in making choices across workshops.  They work to make meaning and share new understandings with others.

Ownership:  Students ultimately own the work.  They have time to pursue interests, develop new understandings, and make choices about their reading and writing.  They choose their books, topics for writing, and ways to share their thinking with others.

Availability:  Consistent access is needed for students to get in the routine of reading, writing, and responding in their literacy block using technology.  Students know they can use technology after finishing their morning message, in reader's workshop for reading and response work, and in writer's workshop to create and/or publish their writing for a wider audience.

Power Applications:  With young learners I try to choose 3-5 applications we will learn to use well in our year together.  Though we are not limited to these applications, having a core collection helps us to work independently.  I try to find applications that allow us to do a lot of different things within them.  In our classroom we utilize applications that allow students to create.  I look for applications that allow students to draw, type, insert images, and record voice.  Our go-to apps this year have been EduCreations, Pixie, Photo Booth, and Kidblog.  (We typically save work into Evernote, Google Drive, or DropBox.)

Gradual Release of Control:  As with anything we teach, students benefit from modeling, shared experiences, guided practice, and independent opportunities to try new learning.   For example, we begin our year with shared blogging, and studying mentors, as we work together to create posts for our readers about learning taking place in our classroom.  Then gradually students move toward independent practice and begin to utilize their personal blogging space for a variety of purposes.

Exploration:  Early in learning our "power applications" students have time to explore.  We usually begin using new applications together to create and share with others.  Most often we follow that with opportunities for students to try it and some time to just explore.  Students need time to try new things and not everything they create will be amazing, but everything will be something we can learn or build from in our next steps.

A Home Base:  We use Weebly for our learning community.  Through our Weebly site, Merely Learning Together, parents and students can access much of the work we do, websites we use, and other learning links from school or home.

Techsperts:  Each year I have students who rise to leading our use of technology.  The students in my classroom know who is savvy with particular applications, tasks such as saving, or general troubleshooting.  They often rely on these peers as I work with small groups and confer with individuals across workshops.

Time:  When using technology to read, write reading responses, create digital stories, and collaborate with others, students need time to work.

Trust:  In our classroom we talk a lot about possibilities for using tools to share our thinking.  We talk a lot about digital citizenship and our responsibilities with others in our learning community.  I've learned to trust them to make smart choices, to problem solve, and to try new ideas.  Most often, the students take our community places I never thought we'd go.

What is essential for infusing technology across your day?


  1. Technology in my reading block is a weakness for me. I know I need to improve especially since I will have our curriculum director's son in my class next year - yikes! I will be coming back to your expertise this summer as I look for ways to include tech in my classroom.

  2. This is so helpful to learn about the beginning of your year, Cathy. As I read, I was wondering how you began, and there was the paragraph that explains. Terrific to hear all about these primary students and what they're doing!

  3. This is such great thinking out loud for us to read about. I think access to technology opens the way for more seamless flow of use. For us, the scarcity of machines means planning way in advance is required, and that messes with the flow of natural learning.

  4. Wow this is amazing thinking Cathy. I am always impressed when technology is not an event but a natural part of the classroom environment. There are so many take away moments for me as I continue on our journey in Room 228.

  5. You have such a way of making your classroom feel open and safe. You have an amazing way also of expressing exactly how it goes down in your room. there is so much here for me to study and consider. I think I need to reflect--first--on how my technology is used in my room before I think about how to make it a more seamless part--like pencils and markers and scissors and paper. Thank you!

  6. How your students move seamlessly through technology speaks volumes for what you have done to make your classroom a place that values literacy and students as individuals. Thanks so much for joining the conversation and linking up. This is exactly what we need to be doing, sharing the day to day, how to's of making our students digitally literate.

  7. Terrific post, Cathy. I plan on sharing this with my staff, especially those that did not make our Skype chat.

    We have one teacher right now really liking Educreations in her first grade classroom. She had a question: How can you save an Educreation if you are not done with one?

  8. Absolutely phenomenal! I truly believe this is "Who Owns the Learning?" book study in action in first grade! I love how the tech planning is put to the side and through modeling and gradual release and trust, technology is infused in the learning. And of course I'm thrilled that literacy is still the focus! Thanks for sharing!