Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Jumping In

Working with the Daily 5 has really got my paradigm shifted about how I teach communication arts. Having done away with worksheets, I have a lot more time to actually read with my kids and do some real world reading and writing. This is where the technology is starting to come in.

Since I came back to the classroom 4 years ago from being a technology teacher, my goal has been to use more technology as an instructional tool, as a tool for my kids, and as a communication tool. My first step beyond showing some BrainPop videos was to set up my classroom website. It is a tool where parents can find homework assignments and important information about what's going on in our class. My kids' also had their own pages linked to our class page, but during my first year I really didn't get a whole lot posted to those pages.

During my second year back I was able to manage keeping up with the parent information piece, and I was also able to post more of the kids' work on their website. These posts included typed pieces, podcasts and filmed readers' theaters, but it was kind of a pain. I use iWeb to create my classroom website, and since my computer is the host I have to do all the uploading of the kids' projects. Another big project my teammate and I attempted were movie projects using a combination of PhotoBooth, PowerPoint and the kids' written scripts. After writing and creating travel commercials for the planets, we posted the movies to our websites and linked up a Google spreadsheet so visitors could vote for their favorites. The kids were so excited to see who the winning team was, and I was thrilled with the fact that we had almost 100 votes for my class. Even with the extra time it took to do all the uploading and the loss of some pieces with the transfer from one computer to another, the parents loved being able to see the different projects. The website was becoming an important part of my communication, and the kids were beginning to see that there was a purpose to their work.

My third year continued along the same lines as the second year. I was still posting projects, but the projects were becoming more involved. I received 6 Flip cameras as part of a grant so the students were creating more videos. We completed a huge collaborative project for our Colonial America unit. Students had to complete a written project and a technology project that would answer at least one of the key questions for our unit of study. I was extremely pleased with how well the kids did, and I learned some valuable lessons (it started as an ABC project for the group and ended up on a much smaller scale due to time constraints) for this year. The kids used both the docs and presentation apps in Google, made movies, worked with Blabberize, and recorded podcasts for their tech projects. I was extremely pleased with how this and my other tech projects went last year, and I was looking forward to seeing what my next step would be.

The next step has ended up being the class Wiki, and I'm finally getting back to the opening of this discussion: a connection to the Daily 5 and jumping into real world reading and writing with both feet and no swimmies. The premise is that students learn to read and write by reading and writing, not by completing worksheets. Over the past week, my students have stopped bringing pencils to their reading groups. Some of them didn't even meet with their entire reading group; instead they met in smaller research and discussion groups. They spent time posting predictions and responses to our stories on the class Wiki, and then they had the opportunity to respond to their friends and ask questions. Have you ever had the opportunity to look around at a group of 22 5th graders and hear them say, "Hey, you have to check out Susie's post. It's really good!" Granted, some of the kids are still simply posting, "I like your response," or, "Those were good ideas!" But they are reading, they are writing, and they are thinking! And that is so exciting to me.

I'm thankful that I've had the opportunity, through PLP, to start learning how to use more tools and how to use more tools with my students. I know there will be some bumps in the road and it won't be easy, but I'm really excited to see how integrating technology will improve my students' reading and writing skills.

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