Sunday, September 23, 2012

Using iPads in a Primary Classroom

Last year I wrote a grant for one iPad in our elementary school library, and was able to generate additional donations of 3 more iPads from parents. It was fascinating to see how elementary students used these iPads. I was able to share them with students (grades 2-5) during recess, watching what they were drawn to on their own time. I loved the excitement and collaboration that I witnessed. I worked with a kindergarten teacher as she hosted a "Tech Friday" - introducing her students to iPads, MP3 players with audiobooks, and LeapFrog games. We ran small groups through each station for about 10 - 15 minutes.

I was fascinated to read Kathy Cassidy's action research reflections about her experience with a 1-to-1 iPad program in a 1st grade classroom. Cassidy is part of the Powerful Learning Practices Network - an fantastic action research professional development group. Much of what she writes about confirms what I witnessed in our school on a smaller scale.

from Kathy Cassidy, Flickr stream
Cassidy reports that students were instantly engaged in learning with the iPads. While these young students are excited about any new project they undertake with their teacher, I love how she writes, "Having said that, the opportunity to use a technology that is as intuitive to them as playing in the sand has captivated my students." She goes on to report how students collaborated with each other, helping each other learn how to use an app, showing off their work to one another, asking for help if they were stuck. Even though they often worked with headphones, students were interactive with peers as well as with the technology.

In my library, I found that students were especially drawn to math games. They loved the interactive nature, quick responses and fun game qualities of these apps. Cassidy reports that she noticed her students liked using apps that gave immediate feedback, whether it's spelling or math they are immediately rewarded for correct answers or prompted to try again until they get the right answer.

Cassidy's students have also explored creating projects and documenting their learning through the iPads. They've used screencasting tools to draw as they talk - something very intuitive and natural for young six year olds. And they've loved taking pictures with the iPads.

Cassidy concludes noting that:
"Truthfully, management of these devices has proven to be more of a hassle than I had anticipated, but it is clear to me that these devices ARE making a difference. When I see the students’ engagement, their learning, their sharing and their pursuit of their passions, I can’t help but be convinced that these devices have the potential to transform my classroom."
I'm looking forward to following more of Cassidy's action research and reflections on her classroom blog: Ms. Cassidy's Classroom. Even on the first day of school, she had her students from last year (now big 2nd graders) introducing this year's class to using the iPads. Talk about empowering young learners!

Cassidy, K. (2012) iPads in Primary: Does 1-to-1 Make a Difference?, Powerful Learning Practice Network. July 2, 2012. Retrieved from

Sunday, September 16, 2012

New Learning Commons - trying to keep positive

As I read The New Learning Commons: Where Learners Win! by Loertscher, Koechlin and Zwaan (2008), I kept finding myself having to fight my negative side - the curmudgeon who's always frustrated with our situation here in California. This resource is full of great ideas, but I struggle to see how we can make them a reality in my cash-strapped California elementary school.

I see my mission as an elementary school librarian first and foremost to get kids excited about reading. Our biggest mission is to turn kids onto reading, help kids see how reading empowers them, enriches their lives. Our school is fantastic at focusing teaching time toward authentic, clear reading instruction using the reading-workshop model. Kids read fiction and nonfiction, choosing books both at their level and above/below their level when the mood strikes them. 

I know our district values the elementary school libraries - we are lucky to have open, operating libraries in each elementary school. And yet, we do not have the funds to hire teacher librarians at any of the elementary schools, and we do not have the budget to purchase materials to adequately support our students. I struggle each day to get new books to hook our kids on reading - they want new books, popular books. Over half of our student body receives free and reduced lunch, so they depend on the school library to feed their reading appetite. Our school is one of the smallest in the district, so we receive the smallest materials allotment in the district. It just isn't enough to purchase books for readers from kindergarten through above 5th grade reading/interest levels, let alone enough to purchase the nonfiction for all of their information needs.

So when Loertscher et al. write that the learning commons is staffed by "multiple professionals, support personnel and volunteers, vs. a single adult consultant" (Loertscher et al., 2008, p. 65), it really jars with  my experience of reality in a California public elementary school. Later, Loertscher and his colleagues acknowledge the realities of the learning commons staffing problems. The lack of staffing and materials in our school libraries is a serious problem. As they write,
"The result has been little impact for dollars expended with the conclusion being that neither the library or computer labs earn their keep. It is as if the school was to buy a school bus without wheels and then wonder why kids are not getting to school" (p. 73).
But I must be frank - Loertscher and his colleagues do not provide adequate suggestions of how to work within this existing system, how to create meaningful incremental change.

I took the most significant suggestion from the teacher librarian forced to split her time between two schools. Each site had a full time support person staffing the library, but she now had to divide her time between two sites, supporting learners and teachers at each location. As she wrestled with this difficult situation, she "asked herself, 'What is it that I do that makes the most impact on teaching and learning?' She decided that it was not the day to day operation of the facility, but the planning, co-teaching, and assessment of learning activities" (p. 74).  This question hits the nail on the head for me.

As I evaluate how I contribute to the teaching and learning in my school, I want to continually ask myself, "Of the things I do on a daily and weekly basis, what makes the most impact on students' learning?" How do I focus my day, juggle my priorities so that I can make the most impact on teaching and learning? That's the key. Then, how do I show this impact to administrators who control budgets, scheduling and space allotment?

Loertscher, D., Koechlin, C., and Zwaan, S. (2008). The New Learning Commons: Where Learners Win! Salt Lake City, UT: Hi Willow Research and Publishing.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Print books vs. e-books - a look at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center research

I'm fascinated by the developing research from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center on the way children interact with digital reading. The Cooney Center has been a leader in the field examining digital literacy, and so I was very excited that they've started to investigate the impact of enhanced e-books on children's reading experiences.

The released the results of their first QuickStudy in May, 2012 and got a lot of press covering their findings. Below I've summarized their study:

Chiong, C., Ree, J., Takeuchi, L. and Erickson, I. Comparing parent-child co-reading on print, basic and enhanced e-book platforms. The Joan Ganz Cooney Center. Spring 2012.

This report summarizes the findings of a QuickStudy examining the nature of parent-child and child-book interactions reading print, basic e-books and enhanced ebooks with young children (ages 3-6). The study specifically sought to understand how parent-child co-reading, overall engagement and children’s comprehension were affected by digital formats, specifically examining the difference between basic and enhanced e-books. Basic e-books are simple digitized versions of print books, while enhanced e-books include highly interactive, multimedia features, such as those on iPad book apps. The study employed a within- and between-subject design, asking 32 parent-child pairs to read an e-book and a print book together. The designers chose two books that were available in both print and digital formats, and randomly varied the order of reading, to offset possible order effects. The study found that the enhanced e-book on the iPad drew fewer content related actions from parents and children than the print version of the same story, while the basic e-books led to very similar content-related actions. The enhanced e-books led to much higher levels of non-content related actions, such as behavior or device-focused talk, from both parents and children. In addition, children recalled fewer narrative details after reading the enhanced e-books than after reading the print books. Researchers conclude that the parents and children focused their attention more on the non-content related issues when reading enhanced e-books. On the other hand, researchers did find that children were more engaged reading the enhanced e-books, physically interacting with the books more. The researchers recommend several next steps, including running this study with a larger and more representative sample, examining what types of e-book features affect engagement and comprehension, and how different populations use these different e-books.

My concerns are that it is difficult for me, as a practitioner in the field, to know exactly what type of enhanced e-book they used in the study. I have found in my work with book apps that there is an enormous variety in levels of interactive experiences. Their study has raised a number of questions for me:

My biggest question is whether older readers, who have more self-control, will be able to navigate the intersection between content and interactive material. Will a 7 year old be able to derive more content comprehension from the interactive dialog bubbles in Nosy Crow's Cinderella than a 4 year old? I would posit that an older child would be able to handle the multiple functions better.

I am curious how children's comprehension with book apps is affected by multiple readings. As the Cooney Center noted, children's engagement with book apps is much higher than with the similar print books. I find that children are drawn to book apps for repeated viewings. I would posit that a young child would focus at first on the interactive experiences - especially if they are new to that child - and more on the narrative content with repeated readings.

Finally, I wonder about the coding the study used. For example, the study noted that children and parents talking about book features was markedly increased with enhanced book apps. The researchers coded this as non-content related. And yet, this type of conversation is actually very important to understanding the broader reading process, for both child and parent. Were these conversations productive, exploring what features were in the book? Or were they distracting conversations?

I am certainly looking forward to more studies like this one. I do hope that the Cooney Center extends its analysis to include older children. I firmly believe that children ages 6-9 find enormous pleasure and fulfillment in reading enhanced e-books.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Google Apps for Education

I'm interested in thinking about how we can use Google Apps for Education in the elementary setting. It's an interesting dilemma, working in a public school with limited funding, limited infrastructure and even more limited time. Teachers are pressed to cover substantial curriculum and are measured by student achievement. It is hard to carve out of the day time for students to explore options for creating their own computer projects.

I'm most interested in starting by seeing how I can support teachers creating Google forms to quickly survey students. It would be fascinating to be able to survey all of our 3rd, 4th and 5th graders to see which genre of literature they prefer. We could extend this to asking students to select their favorite place and time of day to read. Part of this would be helping students see the value of data, introducing them to the idea that they can collect their own data. It would also generate a sense of our reading community - seeing the variety in all that we read.

I believe in leading by example. As an elementary librarian working within a fixed schedule where the teachers join the students during library time, I actually have the opportunity to survey all of the students on campus. 

However, I need to keep in mind the ultimate advice my master teacher told me long ago: Keep It Simple. Young children cannot type quickly. Watching students navigate Google forms a little bit, it is crucial to keep the questions simple, clear and multiple choice or yes/no. Our 4th/5th graders might be able to move into short answer questions with a little experience, but still they receive no formal typing instruction until middle school.

Here is an interesting tutorial I found for creating Google forms.

One of the points that Nevin, Melton and Loertscher (2011) suggest is to start from a spreadsheet before you create the form. This sets the framework for the data you'll collect. I'm not sure if it's easier for teachers to think of the spreadsheet first, or the questionnaire first.

Nevin, R., Melton, M., and Loertscher, D.V. (2011). Google Apps for Education: Building Knowledge In a Save and Free Environment. Salt Lake City, UT: Hi Willow Research and Publishing.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Common Core State Standards - video introduction series

The message is out in California: get ready for the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). They're coming our way. At our staff development meeting this August, our literacy coach (the amazing Jamie Carlson) shared with us a video series from EngageNY introducing the CCSS and it was a very helpful.

New York Education Commissioner John King, David Coleman (one of the authors and vocal proponents of the CCSS) and Kate Gerson (a Senior Fellow with the Regents Research Fund) explain the key aspects of the Common Core standards in depth. Here's the introduction to the Language Arts series:

THE COMMON CORE IN LITERACY: Overview from EngageNY on Vimeo.

I am particularly interested in how our school library programs can support teachers as they engage in shifting their curriculum to meet these new standards and our administrators as they think about steering the whole school in these shifts. Here's a summary of the six main shifts that Coleman outlines:

  1. Reading more informational texts, of increasing complexity K-5
  2. Building subject-specific knowledge through reading and writing 6-12
  3. Staircase of complexity - increasing the level of text difficulty grade-to-grade
  4. Focus on text-based answers - carefully reading the text and drawing on it to support answers
  5. Writing from sources - increasing informational and persuasive writing
  6. Academic vocabulary - not necessarily domain-specific terms, but academic words like subsequent or hypothesis

Coleman sums them up as "reading like a detective, writing like an investigative reporter." I found his description of the balance and transitions between narrative and informational writing very interesting. He did not dismiss the importance of narrative writing for young children - it's crucial that they write about their own experiences. This teaches them to be able to write clearly, develop a strong voice, and understand sequencing of events. But we need to create opportunities for our elementary students to write more informational texts that are persuasive and based on their investigations.

Our library plays a key role in supporting teachers as they help create curriculum to address these new shifts. We are in a position to recommend and find compelling, accessible nonfiction text. One of my biggest concerns is how we help our students move from "browsing" nonfiction to reading longer, more complex narrative or descriptive nonfiction. How can we support our teachers as they explicitly focus on the text features of nonfiction? But more than that, how can we support students wanting to find engaging nonfiction.

I strongly believe that we need to encourage students to choose their own nonfiction to read. We will get more "buy in" if they are able to choose nonfiction on topics they've already developed an interest in. By reading in a comfort area, I hope that students will be able to develop more stamina for reading longer, more complex nonfiction.

Research and reflections - charting my journey

Up until now, I have not created a place to track my professional growth and learning. I have incorporated some into my main blog Great Kid Books, but that is mainly a way to help parents find books for their children. Here at Research and Reflections, I will pull together much of my own growth and learning as I develop my skills as a school librarian.

Some posts will be brief links to articles and websites I've found interesting. Other posts will be longer reflections on scholarly articles. And still others will be reactions to issues I'm encountering in my practice.

I will develop a tagging system so that I can track my posts by interest and type of reflection. I really enjoy Blogger's abilities to search and categories posts. Welcome and browse around a bit, as I continue on my professional journey.