Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Embedding Digital Mentors

When my principal first asked me to consider collecting my thoughts on the work I have done integrating digital reading and writing in my classroom last spring, I began to think about how much of what I had experimented with was embedded into my practices that support student learning. When we can define our beliefs about student learning and teaching we begin to reflect on what is important to our own practice. The Digital Learning Collaborative state their beliefs about learning so clearly and simply:
Learning takes time.
Learning is a social practice.
Learning with technology should be embedded with sound instructional practice.

This third belief is what I want to concentrate on throughout the post. My beliefs about my own best practice have evolved over the years as I have learned more and taught more. For me, reading, writing and math workshop guide the learning that happens in my classroom. I want to begin with sound practice because I often think when working with technology, teachers feel like learning has to be about the tool. I know I have forgotten this simple premise and at times and needed others to remind me that embedding digital practices does not mean kids need to be able to use a tool perfectly. I think we can get caught up in kids knowing a tool rather than understanding how the tool can help us, share, collaborate or deepen our work around an instructional goal we have for our students. As teachers, we sometimes receive pressure and messages to try new tools without really understanding why and how it can help us or our students in the classroom. So, I think we have to constantly think about why and what we want our kids to be able to do and look thoughtfully for tools and mentors that will compliment our goals for students.
So I decided to share with you in this first post how digital mentors are assisting in my goals for the readers and writers in my primary classroom. When thinking about digital mentors, I am thinking about digital places where students can read, write and learn to support their work in workshop.

What are the goals I have for my readers and writers?
How can digital mentors support these goals? ( I will share 2 in this post and the rest in the following post)

1. I want my students to enjoy reading traditionally and digitally. After reading this article, Why Books Are Better Than E-Books, in the NY Times, I was a little disheartened about the work I am doing in the classroom to teach children about the value of digital reading. I know the value of children reading picture books as they turn the crisp pages anxious to see the next bright and beautiful image. Students sitting side by side a friend or a parent reading and talking about a picture book is irreplaceable. But, I also know that as a teacher I have to be a leader in teaching children how to read and access information online. Reading digitally has created an excitement for learning, allowed my students to easily come back to information, books or videos we explored at school, and read, share and comment on each other's ideas through the use of online reading and writing tools like blogs, wikis, etc.
Being able to read and think about the work that we do in the classroom only benefits students by deepening their learning.
I take time to introduce students to reading the same picture books we enjoy in the classroom online. Sites like Tumblebooks, AOL Kids, Toon Book Reader, Speakaboos and You Tube, National Geographic Kids , Pebble Go and Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears have supported the primary fiction and non-fiction reading we are exploring in the classroom. I love Tumble books because books like Duck Rabbit, Scaredy Squirrel, Diary of a Spider and Biscuit are all books kids can access and listen to on the site. AOL Kids features great books that I use for shared reading in the classroom. It has rhyming and song books that young kids need to hear again and again, it also has the entire Arthur series if you have Arthur fans in your room. Toon Book Reader features the graphic novel series for young readers and allows students to read the book on their own or have it read to them. Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears allowed us to read (ebook) and think about how real scientists live in Antarctica this week as we begin to think like scientists. I love this site because it offers stories for students about authentic issues in multiple forms and multiple levels ( texts though 5th grade and I would even use above). They have text only articles, text and picture print out books and e-books each with suggested grade level formats. So, I can introduce a text using the e-book, then later print out the same book for kids to add to their book bins. With three desktop computers in my classroom, children rotate turns during the independent portion of workshop allowing time for them to enjoy exploring and reading these sites. If I can lead them to smart places to read online, my hope is that they come back to explore these at home ( tools for how to help kids link to learning at school will come in later post) maybe alongside or more than the television character sites or online games.

2. I want my students to know authors. In the classroom, I have a number of strategies for helping my kids get to know authors. I place pictures of picture book authors on the baskets that line our bookshelves, I read the inside flap of a book sharing as much as I can about the person behind the story and I treat authors as movie stars when I talk about their ideas, craft and the messages they send in their writing. Then we create charts where we study what authors teach us in their books so students have a visual to help them remember what they can try in their own writing. I also think it is important to search for digital pieces that help us get to know authors. Book trailers, book introductions and readings and animated video featuring characters are all ways we can find more digitally about authors we love. A video of an author , I think can offer a more intimate and relatable way to show kids the person behind a book. As teachers we have to search for and introduce kids digitally to their favorites. Like, Bob Shea a picture book author that my kids love has a number of digital pieces that help us know him, why he writes and offers kids more to enjoy based his work with the Dinosaur vs. Bedtime series. After showing my students this video, I asked them to think about what they learned about Bob Shea.
Listening to him share why and who he writes for, seeing him in his living room and hearing his book, only helped my kids understand audience, purpose and the authenticity of a writer. This is a video I share in writer's workshop to help kids begin to identify their own audience and purpose for writing . Another digital mentor that kids not only enjoy but show them how authors create many stories from one idea are the dinosaur animated clips at Dinosaur vs. Disney. After showing these clips, I invite kids to think about the stories they have been writing and imagine more. When using the "making a movie in your mind" strategy to think back and more about a topic, kids can imagine more with a single idea. Alyssa for example wrote about the time she lost her tooth, then created 2 more books around this topic: putting it under her pillow and finding out what the tooth fairy brought the next day.

So much of the work I have been exploring using digital mentors has been embedded in my workshop. Whether a clip that introduces kids to thinking about a point I am making in mini lesson, or a place where kids can go to read deeper independently, kids are being introduced to places where they can think deeper. In my next post, I will continue to think about how digital mentors have made their way into our classroom supporting students sense of wonder, research, publishing and sharing.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your thinking today. It reminded me so much of what you shared at NCTE. For me what resonates when I hear your thinking is how important it is to "embed" the tech into sound instruction to ensure that learning is powerful and authentic for the kids.

mary b. said...

Thank you, Katie, for some "new-to-me" sites mentioned in your post today. Speakaboos & Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears occupied my afternoon. I will go to school tomorrow with new resources to share with my first graders as we continue to look for meaningful ways to incorporate technology into our busy days! I get so much from your reflections.

Sorry about the Steelers loss tonight too. ;-)

Kevin Hodgson said...

You are so right -- we need to have pedagogical underpinnings to all that we do with technology. This is crucial, since it is easy to drawn in by the cool factor. What is the learning factor?
Thanks for sharing

Jen said...

I can't wait to share these sites with teachers and try them out with kids myself! I so agree with the previous posts that it's easy to get caught up in the "cool" factor. You and I had also talked at NCTE about how our district is piloting ipads for primary students and some of the recommended apps just aren't worth the time. I think the same thing happens outside the technological realm too. We can get so caught up in the "cute" factor of an activity, but is it really worth our students' time? It's a good reminder to stay focused on what's really important for instruction and learning.