April 11

Looking at Spelling

Teaching of spelling is something that I am always asked about. It seems to make teachers anxious and often schools don’t have a specific policy.Phonics provision lower down the school seems to be very rigorous, with activities and interactivity ‘built in’ –  but then often as they get older children are merely given lists to learn… 

Ben Haiku Display

Why is Spelling important?

  • Children get anxious about spelling; worrying about getting spelling right often causes children to stick to ‘safe’ and therefore quite dull words.
  • Spelling is a feature of the national assessment criteria; as early as level 1 the children are expected to make a phonetically plausible attempt at words with digraphs and double letters whilst at level 4 they need to demonstrate that they are able to spell correctly common grammatical function words – such as adverbs.
  • Prospective employers, teachers and assessors all place importance on correct spelling and with a change in emphasis for the SATs at Year 6 there is no reason to think this will change.

How to fit it all in?
There is no suggestion that spelling should always be a standalone lesson in the week. Whilst there is something to be said about the odd investigative lesson where children are given resources to make words, define new words and to play with the physical feel of words; often rules can be introduced and then reinforced as part of regular AfL or plenary sessions in other lessons.
Many rules lend themselves to being introduced alongside other learning objectives – e.g. the investigating of verb tenses alongside narrative writing or the contraction apostrophe when looking at speech and characters.
School Wide

  • I always recommend that there is an agreed upon school policy for handwriting and spelling.
  • Ensure topic words are introduced and shared in the classroom.
  • Encourage word banks to be displayed and working walls for literacy allow the children to share and then correct mistakes.

 

Multi-Sensory Approach to Spelling
For children who struggle with the spellings there are a number of multi-sensory approaches that can be taken:

  • Invest in magnetic letters/building block letters- grouping the letters together physically like this will allow children to recognise the latter patterns quickly. They can ‘build’ words and this in turn may help them to remember.
  • Encourage tracing (whether on paper or in the air) of the cursive version of the word. Apps such as Explain Everything are great for creating short videos of the word being written.

The International Dyslexia Association have produced a factsheet helping teachers understand how to help children who struggle with dyslexia type symptoms. Their advice is useful for many teachers and the whole factsheet can be found here

Spelling instruction that explores word structure,word origin, and word meaning is the most effective, even though students with dyslexia may still struggle with word recall. Emphasizing memorization by asking students to close their eyes and imagine the words, or asking them to write words multiple times until they “stick” are only useful after students are helped to understand why a word is spelled the way it is. Students who have learned the connections between speech sounds and written symbols, who perceive the recurring letter patterns in English syllables, and who know about meaningful word parts are better at remembering whole words.

Making Use of ICT

It seems only natural that many children enjoy playing games and investigating spelling patterns using a medium that they are very familiar with. As they get older, asking children to revisit words and patterns that they find tricky can be hard unless there is an extra motivational aspect. But the teacher can also put ICT to good use; making use of the whiteboard to create spelling activities that are truly interactive or including quick rehearsal of skills within the day.

  • Use the software on the interactive whiteboard to create games – e.g. compound words which can be pushed together jigsaw style.
  • Make spelling mistakes and model the use of colour when writing to emphasize spellings. Or the clever use of colour to create ‘hidden’ words which are then revealed.
  • There are lots of tips of ways to use your whiteboard over on the The Whiteboard Blog.  (A great resource Danny Nicholson ~ @dannynic)
  • Sorting out lots of words into rules, meaning, prefixes and so on can also be done on the whiteboard – a great talking partner activity.
  • Web based games Many free resources can be found with a search. Try the BBC Website – which cover many aspects from phonics through to Key Stage 2 objectives and beyond. The ever growing Woodlands-Junior in Kent has an award winning website with many resources. SpellZeBub is a free Guardian Educators resource, which plays a short movie to aid the learning of commonly misspelt words.
  • Search online for wordsearch / crossword creators – some of them allow you to create whiteboard compatible images – the one at teachers-direct.co.uk will allow you to do this. Software can be purchased commercially too; such as Clicker and 2Spell.

iPad Apps

This great app is perfect for pretty much all primary aged children.
Squeebles Spelling Test: This great app is perfect for pretty much all primary aged children.
  • Skill Builder Spelling – a small, but functional free app that allows you to create individual lists for multiple users. Useful app for spelling set lists with phonic support
  • Word Bingo – sight words; very useful for KS1 – incredibly popular with teachers and pupils alike, although it is limited in scope.
  • Squeebles Spelling Test – a great looking app that allows you to create lists of words and then link them to children’s accounts. Around 4 pupils can have an account on each iPad, so it’s better for schools that have class based or pupil-based devices. However it is very polished, and allows you to record the words as well.
  • ABC Pocket Phonics – a useful app for the first rehearsal of phonics and early words. The lite version allows you to take a look first.
  • Montessori Letter and Sounds – a really nice app for early spellers, or indeed those that still haven’t got the foundation.
  • Simplex Spelling – perfect for older children who haven’t got the understanding of the link between words and sounds. Again, the free version means that you will be able to test it out first.

A quick search for Android apps here. 

Most important though is that children begin to work out for themselves what will help them – there are a few activities to get you started here:

Download (PPT, 82KB)

 

Feel free to comment if you have any great ideas for getting children to think more carefully about spelling!

Further Reading:

A Scottish Education Board look at Active Spelling – A great project aimed at involving parents. 

Spelling City (online paid for resource) 

The Spelling List from the National Strategy – remember this has been replaced (or will be!) by the New National Curriculum. Still great for ideas though…

Download (PDF, 794KB)

 

 

 

March 20

Skype – One Big Adventure

 

I wanted to find a way that I could really start to connect our pupils with the world around them. Schools in London have a wealth of geographical experience in their classrooms and I thought a great way to harness that would be Skype… 

Our skype adventure began with me browsing the Skype in the Classroom site...

This really great site linked me immediately to lots of people all over the world.. I had some pretty big dreams, you know – the explorer going up Mount Everest, the Astronauts and so on. However, I began small….

I set up the school Skype account, and then tested it on locally. The school has iPads, and I used those. I made sure not to leave the app logged in on the pupil iPads however. In fact, I got the Digital Leaders to remove the app from some of the iPads.

Then we set up a Skype date – a school in Qatar, and a teacher who contacted me initially over twitter.

(Big thanks to Mr Allen – @peandme)

We decided to set a theme – and as World Book Day was looming we went for a Book theme. Our Year 4 class was primed to talk about their book, and the teacher in Abu Dhabi, UAE prepped their children for their talk.

Once connected the debate was quickly lead by the children. Their excitement could felt in the room! We had to rehearse some questions and the children could, some of the time, stick to a script! However, with a class of 30, it was tough for them to do. It was nice to let them lead the questions though – and this was helped by having the skype display on the interactive whiteboard through AirServer.

This led then to the Digital Leaders writing up the experience for the parents and teachers to see.  See our school website here.

Year4SkypeMarch

So what worked?

  • Well the chat certainly did, and both schools were impressed…
  • The children and teacher are now sufficiently motivated to read the book they were reading and report back at the next chat.
  • The one session has been enough to make other staff ‘think big’ – and I am busy setting up other skype meetings!

Warnings: (or what I would do differently!)

  • We have had some ‘dodgy’ connections with one of our other classrooms… Have a back up plan!
  • I have been inundated with schools – don’t bite off more than you can chew! I was amazed at how many schools want to give this a go.
  • Think about the time difference – sounds silly, but it has a real impact on what is possible.
  • For the main skype session I prefer a fixed webcam and microphone rather than an iPad – the connection feels so much more solid!

 Future ideas? 

  • The motivation for writing, speak and listening are obvious… the children are able to see a purpose to what they are doing.
  • Speaking and Listening – sharing ideas and crossing a language barrier!
  • Topic based work? Specific and shared learning intentions? Sharing teachers?

Resources

Skype in the Classroom – a good place to start!

Ways to use Skype – Teach Hub

Interesting article from Time magazine – What Teachers Are Using Skype For

An Author in Every Classroom – Messner, Kate (2010) School Library Journal  – abstract – This article discusses how Skype and other video-conferencing software have become a staple for teachers, librarians, and authors who want to get kids excited about reading. The past year has brought a huge increase in the number of schools and libraries using Skype to connect classrooms and bring in experts to talk with kids. And with cuts in school funding limiting traditional author visits, meetups via Skype have grown even more popular. All of the authors interviewed in this article agree on one point: it’s important for teachers and librarians to prepare students for a Skype visit in advance. Reading at least one of the author’s books, either together or as a read-aloud, is a must, and kids who prepare questions in advance are generally more comfortable speaking on the day of the visit.

February 17

eBooks in the Classroom

Binary Books

It’s a common question. Is there a place for book apps alongside traditionally printed books? How should teachers make use of this new media?

Why should we use interactive books?

Always begin with this question, why are you considering buying eBooks? Do you have devices in school already that will make use of them? Have you considered purchasing costs? Are you buying copies of treasured books or working with new authors?

I think these questions are important because they will have an impact on the kinds of books you buy. How many iPads/devices do you have? Are you looking for textbooks for a 1:1 project? When will the books be accessed?

iBooks is easy to search and most books are dowloadable as samples first!
iBooks is easy to search and most books are dowloadable as samples.

Options are plentiful:
Web based services allow books to be accessed on screen, often compatible with many operating systems, but not always downloadable.
Britannica e-books is one such service.
Scholastic also run services where books can be accessed online, often through themes or authors focus.
More and more books now will come with digital copies, which are perfect for displaying on whiteboards.
Kindle runs as an app on iPads, online and within Kindle readers – great for regular access, though not as whizzy looking as ios apps. (This is changing as Kindle readers become full colour!) Kindle can be cheaper and as the app is android as well, very accessible to parents as well as teachers.

If you are looking for textbooks, use the iBookstore but also take a look at the DK range of apps. All very high quality.

I often get asked about book apps for iPads. My advice is to choose books that link well within unit teaching and make most of their interactivity. It is also a good idea to let the children choose themselves occasionally! Perhaps a project for school council or digital leaders? Here is a quick run through of some of the best book apps I’ve seen. Make use of creative apps for activites, see my guided reading apps for ideas.

Great for inference and problem solving!
Often find the children running through books or furiously swiping the screen? Try Bartleby’s Book of Buttons This book is one of the best I have seen. Each page poses a problem, with the solution hidden within the page. For example he may have a ticket with the time to leave on it, and the reader has to change the clock to that time before they can turn the page. Great illustrations and loads of options make this one you really should try. Perfect for inference and encouraging those higher level 3 readers to pay attention to the text!

Bartleby's Book of Buttons poses a problem, and solution within each page.
Bartleby’s Book of Buttons poses a problem, and solution within each page.

Great for character and dialogue.
Two things in book apps will really support young readers with character and dialogue. Firstly the quality of the voice acting, and secondly the ability to record the narrative themselves. Using book apps as a chance for drama, speaking and listening and creating characters is the perfect enhancement. For this, I found it tricky, many publishers are now warming to the idea of a record your own narrative feature. An example would be Ocean Media Houses’ Dr Seuss series. Some are put off because of the voice acting, (though what else would Dr Suess stories sound like?!) However the chance to record your own narrative changes that. Suddenly the possibilities are endless! A very special mention should also go to the Nosy Crow series. Their gorgeous looking apps are not only brilliantly narrated but tapping the characters in the story reveal more of their thoughts. Very useful for when you want to encourage discussion about dialogue, or encouraging children to sequence stories.

Sir Charlie Stinky Socks, brilliantly narrated and excellent for whole class storytelling.
Sir Charlie Stinky Socks, brilliantly narrated and excellent for whole class storytelling.

Other stories which are great for dialogue include Sir Charlie Stinky Socks and Cosmo. These also include some great activities, such as sequencing stories which can be useful.

Reading for Pleasure.
The other great thing about eBooks, is that it can motivate some children to read where they otherwise may not do. Ofsted recently saw a guided reading session where a group was using iPads and commented that the children were incredibly engaged, especially the boys. Purchasing some key texts, whether from iBooks, or as an app, could really support reading in the classroom. Try some of the comic apps as well, Comics4Kids offers some great comics, which are very child friendly. Some iBooks, such as David Walliams’ Gangster Granny offer video from the author, and reading aloud of the text. Try searching for ‘enhanced’ books in the store.
Special mentions should also go to Atomic Antelope’s adaption of Carroll’s Alice, which comes in an abridged and full version and has amazing visuals.

Atomic Antelope's adaptation of Alice will be a hit with Yr 5/6 readers.
Atomic Antelope’s adaptation of Alice will be a hit with Yr 5/6 readers.

Meanwhile, for younger readers there are many options, Collins Big Cats have a range of apps which allow the reader to completely rebuild and then share their own story!

Searching for non-fiction and topic books will yield some gems, such as this Bobo and Light.
Searching for non-fiction and topic books will yield some gems, such as this Bobo and Light.

Finally, another great thing about eBooks is that they can make use of the whiteboard in the classroom. See the link here for linking iPads to the whiteboard. Books that the children have copies of in the class library that can also be displayed for more focussed literacy work. The Heart and a Bottle deserves a special mention here as it is an amazing story and the app is delightful, with brilliant voice acting. However do search the iBookstore for your favourite authors, many of them are adapting their stories for the big screen!!

I will continue to add great book apps as I find them. Do please add any gems you’ve found in the comments sections!

February 10

iPad and Guided Reading

Many teachers have been using iPads to develop reading in the classroom. This post looks at how they can be integrated into guided reading, however the apps we recommend are versatile enough to be used across many teaching reading contexts.

For grouped reading: Ideally the teacher and the iPads would be in different groups –  iPads are brilliant for encouraging independent reading, and activities which allow the children to explore books, character, plot and so on by themselves. Producing at the end of the 20min / 30min session something which can be saved either to a webdav or dropbox or which can be shared to the rest of the class.

It is important that texts chosen and activities selected are appropriate to the level of the children, and usually when reading something new the teacher should introduce an unfamiliar text to the children first. For this reason the iPads and activities are often used on a two week rotation.

So, what are the apps that work really well in these sessions?
A summary of the apps teachers have found popular during guided reading.

Guided Reading Apps

Exploring Text

Allow the pupils chance to explore some of the texts on the iPad, perhaps even comparing the differences, and forming opinions about ebooks vs books. However I would always be wary about merely replacing texts; there is so much more to do!

Great books are coming into iBooks all the time, so keep searching, especially when planning units. There are also lots of great story book apps in the app store, and I would give a very special recommendation to The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore – but there are some others on the picture above.

Non-fiction reading. There are some excellent book apps out there that link beautifully to science, and other topics. (Such as Bobo & Light) – If you want to check understanding you can always leave them some questions, but many of these apps have excellent activities built in. The Britannica Book Apps are also brilliant for this, lots of activities and well pitched for Y4 up. A quick search on either iBooks or the app store will quickly turn up some excellent non-fiction books.
image

Want a group to sequence, retell or adapt a story that they have been reading?

How about letting them re work it into a comic strip? Strip Designer is perfect for it’s ease of use and myriad of features but there are others, such as  Comic Life.
The children could use a basic four box comic strip to retell the story, adding text or speech where appropriate. They can retell their favourite part of the story, or explore a larger question connected to a text.
Save to dropbox, or as a PDF on WebDav




Billionaire Boy - What friend would you buy?
Billionaire Boy – What friend would you buy?

Retelling a story can also be achieved through animation and voice acting with Puppet Pals HD – an excellent and extremely popular app for all ages (I have used it very successfully with Year 2 during Guided Reading).  Put simply – retelling a story can be achieved by children creating their own ‘puppet show’.

Other apps are available for animation work, such as Sock Puppets – which has proven popular with our teachers.

Vocabulary and Sentence level work
There are other activities which the iPad is well suited to. Focused work on vocabulary and grammar can be managed easily, even if the children don’t have 1:1 access to an iPad.

For Key Stage 1 there are many phonics and spelling apps – experiment with these to find ones which fit with your schemes (and the english you want!)
Montessori Letters and Sounds – Phonics apps seem to be everywhere, but I really enjoy working with the Montessori apps as the sounds seem the most accurate. Though Pocket Phonics works very well too. The children enjoy the quiz and games, and even the older children are content to rehearse the letter sounds. I think this has more to do with the novelty of the iPad, but it works!
Lakeshore apps have a range of phonics games such as Tic Tac Toe – which allow the children to play in pairs. These apps are free for a limited time so do check them out, they are a great way to fill in gaps with the older children.
Sentence Builder is extremely useful, children struggling with tense or verb/noun agreement can rehearse these skills using picture clues.

Sentence Builder
Sentence Builder

Spelling Apps – it can be very tricky (and dull!) to ask children to rehearse spellings without supervision, apps can do this very well. Squeebles Spelling is excellent, providing you can create lists (although children could do this themselves). It also allows 4 pupils on one iPad, you can save the profiles so that they can earn points and collect ‘Squeebles’. Simplex Spelling has levels which the children work through – giving praise along the way. There also many apps from the same developer aimed at different phonic requirements, use the ‘related’ button in the app store…
Try the iPad groups with just 5 minutes on an app such as this, prior to reading or to other work.

Book Creation
Whilst many of the apps and activities mentioned above can be adapted for all levels, Book Creation is one that is truly all year groups. Ordinary Book Creating where the children have blank paper or template to complete can be incredibly rewarding and this experience can be repeated on the iPad with the excellent app Book Creator.  Do check this out if you get the chance. This app could be a blog post all by itself. (And it may be!!)

February 9

Guided Reading

Guided Reading is one way that many schools teach reading skills in Key Stage 2. (Year 3 onwards).

Guided reading follows some basic principles; put the children in similar levelled groups to complete reading tasks. The groups follow a timetable, and each day one group is with the teacher, whilst the other groups complete tasks related to the reading. No longer than 30 minutes.

When working with teachers, I often get asked how best to organise Guided Reading. I’ve put some ideas together below, I hope it’s useful.

Download (PDF, 103KB)

Some simple dos and don’ts:
Do make the best of the group which has an adult, plenty of questioning, language and modelling how to work out ‘tricky’ words.

Do plan exciting follow-up tasks. Exploring character and dialogue, looking at why the author chose specific vocabulary and so on.

Don’t ask the children to do lots of written work if it won’t get marked, it just gives the wrong impression.

Do use SAT style questions and booklets to get the children familiar with the work.

Do use text extracts from novels that the children have read with you, it’s great for confidence and can allow the children to work independently.

Got an iPad?
Guided reading is an excellent opportunity to use iPads, a group can quickly and easily produce some great looking work in a session. Some ideas:
Access books and great looking texts – Bobo Explores Light is an excellent, interactive look at light. If poetry app is also highly recommended!

Bobo Explores Light

Make use of specific apps to reinforce skills needed, Sentence Builder is great for tense and verb agreement. There are plenty of phonics apps on the market as well for any children who need the reinforcement. Strip Designer will allow you create story boards or retell a story.

February 6

Using the iPad with the writing process

The iPad can be a brilliant motivational tool for children in the classroom. The ease-of-use, coupled with the speed that you can get results means that it can be the perfect tool for integrating into your literacy planning. And, as many schools don’t have 1:1 tablet computers it can also mean that the collaborative and group aspect of the technology can be harnessed.

Popplet

I’ve been working with teachers who are developing the writing process in an attempt to motivate their boy writers. We have been looking at the writing process and working out where the enthusiasm lags, or where skills need developing. This part of the process is important, reflecting on why the children are stalling, or on what the challenges might be really helps the planning process.

Finally we looked at what apps the schools have, what apps the teachers are confident with and, most importantly, what apps would support the different ‘stumbling blocks’ the children face.

The writing process with the apps we identified.
The writing process with the apps we identified.

A first look at the planning and the use of the iPads in the classroom is encouraging. As an example, the children found using Popplet very easy to share ideas, vocabulary and to create branching plans. It could be used for a quick ten minute burst, rather than being the point of the lesson. Explain Everything can also be used to develop ideas, or rehearse their writing, photographing and then reading their work into explain everything proved the perfect way to start a discussion about punctuation! It created lots of classroom talk and allowed for plenty of short writing opportunities. Teachers were able to use the iPads during ordinary classroom planning, allowing for some really quick and professional looking work created. Enthusiasm and engagement really were the key, with the children beginning to ask if they could create their work in a certain way, or if they were able to use an app to demonstrate their learning and their work.

Some of the apps required greater lesson time, but it paid off with their writing. For example, ‘PuppetPals HD’ would be planned in a standalone lesson, developing dialogue, or looking at character. But giving the children access to the iPad for the writing session meant that they were then able to refer back to their planning, or back to their dialogue show and then use the vocabulary in their writing.

Peer asses work in Explain Everything.
Peer asses work in Explain Everything.

It’s interesting to see the iPads being used as part of a ‘workflow’ – there is no doubt that the iPads are designed as a 1:1 device.

Many schools don’t have the capacity for 1:1 but have nevertheless invested and it’s encouraging to see them being used in such a productive manner. This short trial with writing has shown the capacity for teachers and pupils to use the technology.