03 Nov

How I Use Whole-Class Reading

Context first: this is a mixed age Y5/Y6 class.

I tried whole class reading instead of a guided reading carousel last year after a bit of a dip in the KS2 reading last year. And it worked, our children were more confident with the SATS questions, and they talk with great pride about the books they read. For some of the children this is the first time they’ve read whole books. 

Why whole class?

An analysis of test results – as well as the use of standardised tests across the school revealed some common themes.

  • phrasing of some of the questions – e.g. the ’find and copy one word’ or ‘find and copy a phrase which shows..’
  • struggling to scan – running out of time
  • Vocabulary (an oldie, but common theme)
With this in mind, and with a very wide range of needs within the class, I couldn’t help thinking that the carousel style of guided reading was not giving the children enough exposure to ‘good’ reading, we weren’t discussing author choice enough, or answering questions with enough depth. I started by looking at many of the people who have tried this method before me.

The Text

The first hurdle was the choice of text – as it was a whole new concept for the class I thought long and hard as I wanted something that was challenging and interesting. I wanted them to feel like we were trying something new, and potentially very challenging. We went for Treasure Island – and then built around this our literacy planning and activites. This ensured it was a key part of the classroom environment. Other texts that have worked well have been Journey to the River Sea, The Railway Children and we are currently leading Secrets of the Sun King.

The Sessions

Our School has forty minutes of reading every day. Four out of five I lead the sessions. For the other session they can read what they like.
My sessions work like this… at least 20/30 mins of reading mainly led by me although as I get to know the children better I will choose them to read paragraphs at a time. Questioning varies between vocabulary or author choice of punctuation through to ‘what would you do…?’ type questions. I focus questions on specific areas so it’s not a scattergun approach. First half term it has all been vocabulary and punctuation. You really have to work on questioning; making it non-threatening, discussion style.
Then ten, twenty minutes on a task. Usually a written task, or a few questions.

The Tasks

Vocabulary work – I give them a word they follow a practised routine with it. Synonym, antonym, dictionary definition, contextual definition, type of word and ‘context’.
A couple of written questions – linked to my oral questioning. I also give them a point value so they get used to searching for evidence if needed.
Quick creative piece e.g. a diary entry, a scene we’ve not witnessed. Drawing a scene that has been described. Aim here is story understanding – anything more and I will link these to the literacy lessons.

Some Practical Points

  • I still ‘just’ read the book to them, so sometimes they are just listening and enjoying!
  • It is really important that they get their copy of the book to take home if they wish, to reread and refer to as we answer tasks, or work on linked work. Even to read on if they want.
  • Share copies of books with local schools. Create a shared document keeping a list of the class books you buy so you can share them.
  • Be inclusive – all children can be included in this. If struggling to read, encourage them to follow and listen. Rulers help.
14 Aug

Reading with technology – an update!

This post is an update to the most popular post on this site – Guided Reading on the iPad. This post has been read thousands of times, and lots of the apps and ideas there are still relevant, but times are changing and I thought it would be interesting to revisit at why using a tablet like device can be beneficial for reading. I won’t go through the activities and ideas in detail, instead I’ll look at what else has been happening with technology and reading in the classroom.

Not just the iPad

Much of the two year old post was based on my work which was specific to iPads. My experiences have now been across chrome, android and kindle devices. Much of what I wrote about in my initial post still rings true and there is now a huge increase in apps available for all platforms, and indeed all devices can be seen in the classroom.

Group work:

if you are organised into groups, tablet devices work very well. Many of the apps detailed in the previous post are now available for android, including the fab Explain Everything (which as I write this is also coming to Chrome) and there are some really great apps out there for testing word skills, spelling, sentence structure etc. Obviously it depends what your focus is, but I know that with the increased focus on spelling and grammar many great apps are appearing that would work great as a paired activity.

 

Some of the new iPad apps i've bee using

 

  • Alan Peat’s apps include grammar references, word play games and references for the national curriculum. iPad and android. Works very well on small screens.
  • Puppet Pals on the iPad has had a complete overall with Puppet Pals 2 – and is jam packed with even more features.
  • Book Creator is now also available on Android, and remains a brilliant way to get children to create something quickly, or work as a group to repsond to something
  • Google apps have a wide variety of word processing, comic creating, animating etc. The collaborative nature of these, as well as the way in which teachers can be involved make them ideal for responding to text work (interviewing, imagining endings and so on).
  • Web sites such as Oxford Owls who have online books, with partners and tasks such as reviewing orquestioning each other children can get alot from these services.
Individual work

Putting aside the individual scope for production and creation eBooks with features such as dictionaries, links to other books and read along (or aloud) features are now mich more common. Kindles have worked very well in my experience alongside the traditional classroom library, can be seen as a reward (though not always!) and borrowed by children who may benefit. Alternatively a class reader on the kindle, then used with targeted readers has also worked very well. Motivation, easier to read text (often resulting in a feeling that they are reading more) and cheaper books. Kindles are also much cheaper than some tablets, and don’t have so much distraction (though they are online now) – turning parental controls on however is a very simple process. Other than that publishers are coming round to putting books out electronically, and they can be a huge space saver in the classroom.

There has been a huge increase in story telling apps. Many I discussed already elsewhere on this site – I always enjoy reviewing these as some of them are absolutely gorgeous. There have been some great new ones as well. Mr Glue is an iPad app which supports the retelling and creation of books. Me Books is a fabulously creative book app on both android and iPad. Story telling apps should all now include recording, breat voice acting, recording of your own, and some level of control over how the narrative paces. It’s worth asking the developer for a free trial before you commit the school!

Mr Glue Stories - easy and fun

 

I hope this update proves useful for those of you using digital technologies in the classroom. Please let me know what you’ve found useful in the classroom!


Resources:

What is guided reading? A guide from Scholastic!

Top Tips for using Kindles in the Classroom

 

27 May

Are we teaching the skills for ‘screen reading’?

Does reading on a screen require different skills to reading on paper?

20130201-170356.jpg

I have been thinking about this as part of our rethink of the curriculum, mainly because of recent news articles which suggested that iPads and other tech in the classroom might interfere with the concentration span of pupils (no conclusive evidence) – and a chat I heard on Radio 4 concerning how memory could be improved by the physical nature of handwriting your notes.

This led me to wonder if the skills we use when reading from a screen are different to reading from a book.

Of course, a discussion around Digital Literacy is not new – and teaching children to sift through information, search safely, reflect on what they read and identify what is useful is something that should be built into both e-safety lessons and research/literacy lessons.

But are we missing something by not teaching children that reading on a screen takes different skills?

Readathon.org – the site for the annual ‘Readathon’ cites their own research:

With reading via the internet (72%) now more likely to be listed than newspapers (70%), teachers recognise the positive attributes of digital media. Almost two thirds of respondents approved of digital reading devices and 72% are expecting digital books to become more important in the future.

Other companies now also offer an ‘online’ element to their reading schemes and resources – 2Simple’s Purple Mash now offers a ‘Serial Mash’  which aims to deliver books in chapter size chunks to get children reading.  The advantages of these types of online reading materials seem obvious; easy to access; easy to share; possible cheaper; and children seem to enjoy accessing them.

Questions remain however about their usefulness as teaching tools, and the way in which children use them…

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.

What skills do I think we need to teach children to be able to read from a screen successfully? 

The art of sitting comfortably at a desk..sounds obvious right? But actually, we spend lots of time getting children to sit ‘properly’ – encourage them to be comfortable reading in book corners – at a computer desk? Not so straightforward.. Can they sit comfortably? Have you checked the screen distance?

Avoiding distraction... tricky this one. On tablets and laptops it is probably easy to ensure that they turn off any wifi connection (put it in do not disturb mode etc.) – but have we discussed with our pupils why you might want to do this?

Bookmarking – apps and schemes and online books all have quirky ways of saving where you are up to or ‘bookmarking’ a place.  Needed of course because they may not have traditional ‘pages’ which could be discouraging for children just beginning to read and to count progress in pages.

Saving for offline reading… Have you ever modelled to the class how you might save an article you find to read later? Or used a service such as Evernote to save and then share what you want to read? Important skills for those who regularly access information online. Even following hyperlinks can break concentration – are we modelling a ‘read then click’ habit?

Recognise symptoms of eye strain… interestingly time will tell if this will be a huge problem for us all, or if our eyes can adapt – but there is no doubt that we need to have a discussion about what eye strain feels like and how we can minimize it.. Is the screen too bright? Are you blinking enough? Is the room well lit? There are some great tips here for minimising eye strain. 

Making use of the technology.. can they enlarge text when they need to? Are they able to use functions such as ‘high contrast’ to support them if they need it? Have they used built in dictionaries to support their reading? Again, as we model using a thesaurus in writing, should we also model how to zoom in on text?

 

I would love to know if this has been discussed at your school… Have you modelled new skills to support children reading on a screen?

Further reading:

Bryan Goodwin – Research Says/ The Reading Skills Digital Brains Need 

How does electronic reading affect comprehension?

20 Mar

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.

10 Feb

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!!)

09 Feb

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.