Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Why Worksheets? Make learning meaningful using technology

There is a lot of talk about what is appropriate practice for early childhood classrooms- with the hot seat focus on Kindergarten.  There are more and more expectations placed on schools to have children reading, writing and fluently adding and subtracting before first grade. All skills at used to be TAUGHT in first grade. The emphasis has affected kindergarten curriculum- there are more and more worksheets and skill practice than ever before- and yes, it's happening in preschool too. I've even seen worksheets in toddler classrooms!

Right or wrong- can you tell which side I'm on?!, worksheets are often part of purchased curriculum. Some schools require them. And yet, they are not necessary or even beneficial to learning. There are many ways to practice skills in more engaging, memorable, developmentally appropriate ways while meeting learning goals, such as those found in CCSS, the Common Core State Standards.

I had the privilege of working in two kindergarten classrooms and observed the same concept being taught in both rooms. The students were learning positional words, such as in between, above, under. 

CCSS KGA1. Describe objects in the environment using names of shapes, and describe the relative positions of these objects using terms such as above, below, beside, in front of, behind, and next to.
The teachers talked to the students about the vocabulary, and demonstrated with objects. The lesson had an accompanying worksheet page- the students were supposed to listen to the teacher give directions to draw a line from an object to a location. A pencil to the 'top of the table' or a book 'under the chair'. 

Using the worksheets practice the concepts sounds easy enough right? Except first you have to pass out the books, pencils, erasers, get the kids to tables, all on the same page (do they know what page number 86 is. Some kinders don't know page number 8!) once they're on the right page they have to listen to the directions, and draw lines.  This involves fine motor skills, visual planning, and listening skills. If they make a mistake they might tear a page erasing, or they may need to go to the bathroom and miss directions.   It's not possible to watch each child as they complete a worksheet  to monitor and assess learning. Time is taken by helping children struggling, with pencil grip, monitoring behavior and so on. Whenever possible I try to find a real world way to practice skills or a hands on activity instead of using a worksheet. The teacher evaluating student understanding of the concepts by looking at the worksheets doesn't know if the child made a mistake because they didn't know the positional wording, weren't listening, out of the room, copied another student or... 

Instead of using the worksheet I suggested to one of the teachers that we have the students use the iPad to work on the skill and helped by giving a mini-lesson on using the iPad to create an e-book using positional words.  

CCSS WK6. With guidance and support from adults, explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.

Using StoryKit (a simple free iPhone app that allows drawing/writing, typing, adding photos and audio recording) the students used a classroom toy and took a picture of it in relation to other objects. Then they typed the positional words and dictated using the audio recorder the position of the objects in a complete sentence. 

CCSS WK2. Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.
We showed the students to put their names and photo on the first page. We discussed the role of author and illustrator/photographer. 

CCSS KRI 6. Name the author and illustrator of a text and define the role of each in presenting the ideas or information in a text.

Mrs. Ford demonstrated how to type the positional words. We wanted the focus to be on the concepts not writing, so other than copying the positional words, they didn't need to write anything else. 

A simple picture (the blue box) showed the kids the expectations (1. Take a picture, 2.  Add positional words 3.. Record the position of the toy in a sentence). We asked them to try to demonstrate each concept, taking turns making a page. 
Copying the words
Taking pictures

CCSS SLK5. Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions as desired to provide additional detail.

Sharing the books they created 

CCSS SLK6 6. Speak audibly and express thoughts, feelings, and ideas clearly.

The students worked in pairs since we only had 6 iPads and took turns demonstrating the positional words. They then shared the resulting 'books' with their other classmates, reinforcing the concepts and practicing their public speaking skills. The books can also be read and reviewed later in the year.  The project turned out very well. It was the first time the students had used the iPad to create an informative text and it was very successful!

Other apps you can use to demonstrate learning:
Explain Everything
I like Stories

For the apps that don't allow you to share the end result easily I usually just video record the presentation (see a video made during this activity at my Facebook page facebook/adigitalkindergarten) and upload to Youtube.  I like Stories and StoryKit don't have ways to share the books, but the video works well.  

1 comment:

  1. Hi! I am a college student at SUNY Geneseo who is currently taking a class in Reading and Writing Responses. In this class, we are learning mostly about ways that we can use IPads and the different apps available in order to promote literacy in Early Childhood classrooms. Reading about your lesson with this class has me inspired that the things that I am learning are significantly better simply relying on worksheets! Do you feel that worksheets should be used at all in K-2 classrooms or do you think that, if given the chance, you would simply require IPads for your lessons? In addition, what inspired you to create this lesson? Did you simply look for a way with the least challenges to teach these students how to express position words or are you also trying to teach the students how to survive in this technology centered society that we live in? Lastly, what advice would you give me, as a prospective educator, to better incorporate different modes into my lessons? I look forward to hearing from you and please continue to do the amazing work!


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