Non-Fiction Unit, with iPads

Last year I taught a fourth-grade reading class.  One of the units we worked on was Non-Fiction.  I have to say, this might have been the most painful unit I taught last year.  For years our school has used a basal reader and last year we switched to a reading workshop model of teaching reading –  and that was a HUGE change!  I think one of the greatest areas of weakness in a basal reader has got to be the non-fiction section.  Actually, in our basal readers, I don’t remember a section on non-fiction!  That means the only area that the students received instruction about non-fiction would have been in science and SS class!

Because we were basically starting from scratch and our students did not have a large knowledge base on the subject matter we started very slowly!  Our first few days were spent on trying to help the students understand that when we read non-fiction we have to take a “Sit up and learn” mentality, rather than a “Sit back and relax” mentality.  I read a lot on how to teach non-fiction from Lucy Caulkins and her Units of Study.  I took this anchor chart directly from her materials.  I used this anchor chart over a couple of days because it is a lot for students to transition to non-fiction reading.  I wanted them to be excited about learning new content!  We bought a variety of non-fiction books so that students could choose a book to read that was interesting to them and was on grade level.  The students could choose to read one book or all of the books during the genre study. 

Anchor Charts P13After we spent a few days on revving ourselves up for reading non-fiction I started teaching about text features.  I wanted the students to understand the setup of a non-fiction book.  I used this anchor chart to teach text features.  I apologize for the poor picture!

photo (3)After we talked about text features we had the students go on a text feature scavenger hunt!  I gave the students the list of text features and they used the iPad app Strip Designer to search through the non-fiction books and find examples of the text features.  The students took a picture of the text feature and put it in comic strip.  Then, they labeled each text feature they found.  I think when I do this activity this year with my third-grade students I will have them also tell me how to use the text feature.

Below is an example of one of the pages from a students work.  This activity allowed me to see if the students understand the different types of text features in a variety of different books.  The camera on the iPad makes assignments like this so easy!

Ben's Text Features 


iPad Carts, Year 2

Last year we introduced iPad carts into our offered technology for the classroom.  We had a mass push to give all of our teachers iPads, allow our students to bring their own technology to school, and put iPads in the hands of our students.  We choose iPads very specifically.  We thought about many different technologies, however, at the time the iPad was head and shoulders above the rest.  The main reason we chose iPads, especially in the lower school, was because of the iTunes store.  We felt it was extremely important that the apps we use and the devices we put in front of the students have an extra level of security on them.  The security I am referring to is the fact that the apps have been rated and approved by Apple before being put in the iTunes store.  For android devices, anyone can post an app to the store – we wanted the assurance that if a student went to the app store and downloaded an educational game, that the game would really be educational and not something we didn’t want our students to see.  As students move into middle and high school I could see an argument for android devices – especially in programming classes.  For our school the iPad was the best choice – although if our students bring their own device, they may bring whatever device they have.

We started last year with three iPad carts.  I used the Apple Configurator to setup the devices, along with the Volume Purchasing Plan for apps.  I have had many frustrating moments with the Apple Configurator and I managed to erase student work many times last year with the configurator.  I know their are other ways to monitor and deploy iPad carts, but right now this seems to be the best option for us.  The configurators latest version, appears to be much more user friendly and I have reimaged and deployed four iPad carts this year with ease.  I am hoping that Apple has decided to put a little more effort into the configurator and the software will continue to improve.

A few notes about the configurator – DO NOT unplug a device while it is updating with the configurator – even if it appears to be in a loop – this will erase the device (I know from experience!).  The configurator also automatically loads the last setting for the device you are updating when you plug in the device again.  Be sure that after you have updated your device, BEFORE you unplug the configurator that you put the settings where you want them to be next time you plug in the device.  For example, if you are loading an image that restores a previous iPad, make sure that you change the setting to “Don’t restore Backup” and apply those settings, before you unplug the cart.  This way, next time you plug that cart in the configurator won’t erase everything the students have put on the iPads.  I only know this because I have had to explain to little second-graders that I erased their Puppet Pals creations.  Nothing can make a person feel worse than explaining to a 7 year-old that you made a mistake and cost them their work :-(.

Image 8 20 13 at 7 21 AM

This year we added a 4th iPad cart and I haven’t had any of the trouble with the configurator I did last year.  During last year I stopped updating the iPads because I was worried I was going to erase more work! Over the summer the I restored all the iPads to a “backed up” image, to erase them and begin fresh.  I added Tony Vincents backgrounds to our iPads, so that as soon as the students open the iPad, they know the iPad slot number and the cart.  I used sketch, to add the iPad cart letter (our carts are labeled A-D) so the first iPad on the cart A, has 1A as the background.  Inside the cart, I also number each iPad slot with sharpie and each cord that connects the iPad to the cart.  This helps the students put the iPad back in the correct slot.


One of the best posts I read on the Apple Configurator is, Oh Apple Configurator, I will Not Be Defeated!  If you have used the Apple Configurator you understand that the title of that post is extremely fitting!  In my next post I will post examples of all of the FABULOUS work our students have created with the iPads.

Reading Workshop Discovery

Wow! It has been a long time since I last posted, but blogging gets away from me during the school year when the focus is so immediate and pressing in the classroom! Over the past year my role in the school has changed and grown to include Curriculum and Technology. Now, I am responsible for coordinating the curriculum and the technology in the lower school. The model really makes sense, because we know that we want students using technology inside the curriculum, enhancing the curriculum, rather than in insolation. My job is to help teachers become aligned with curriculum and to show them how to embed technology meaningfully into their curriculum.

Last year and continuing on through this year our focus as a school is reading. We are also working through a new math program, which I will post about separately. Our reading model has changed drastically over the past few years. We have completely done away with a basal reader and worksheets. We have moved on to Reading Workshop. We run a slightly modified version of reading workshop, one that fits our school and our goals and I think it has worked fabulously! My dream is for all students to love reading as much as I do. I think that as time has gone by we have somehow forgotten that to teach students to read, maybe we should let them read as much as we can! Our new reading program does just that – the kids are reading all the time!!!!

In K-2, we focus on guided reading with our students. We still use a workshop model, where we teach a mini-lesson, read a read aloud to model the mini-lesson focus, and then the students go to guided reading where we reinforce the skill again. The students in k-2 also work in literacy centers while guided reading groups are pulled. We utilize our reading specialists and our teaching assistants in these classroom to try and pull all of our guided reading groups each day! That way our students are growing as readers and getting the support that they need each day. We have also implemented independent reading time each day. During independent reading our students are reading a just right book and the teachers are conferring with the students. The students must have 20 minutes of independent reading each day, with the teacher conferring. We have set a goal that a teacher should confer with their entire class at least once every three weeks – struggling readers should be conferred with more often.

In 3rd-5th we have implemented a core/choice novel model. We feed into a traditional middle school, so we alternate the core and choice novels. The students will read one novel that the entire class reads, and the discussion is teacher directed. Then, they will alternate to a choice novel, where the teacher teaches a mini-lesson, models the skill with a read aloud, and then the students work with the choice novel they are reading. The students are LOVING the choice novel units. We usually give the students a choice of 5-8 novels to read and they are able to read as many of those choices as they can. We have had numerous occasions where the students read all of the choice novels available in the three week time frame we give for the novel. The kids love being able to choose a just right book and being able to read what they want to read.

Right now as we kick off the schools the teachers are busy with running records. We require 3 running records a year for our students – one at the beginning of school, one in January, and another at the end of the year. We have seen tremendous growth in our students through the transfer to this teaching model. It breaks my heart to see students all reading the same book in class and doing worksheets, when there is a better way to teach reading. For anyone interested in learning more about this model of teaching I recommend reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller and Growing Readers by Kathy Collins. Also, if you search the web you will find a lot of information on running reading workshop.

Over the next couple of weeks I will post example lessons from K-2 and 3-5 of how we are using this model at my school.