Staying Informed

As a first grade teacher I have tried to stay informed in a variety of ways over the years. I am a member of the International Reading Association and receive their publications and e-mails, including a hard copy of “The Reading Teacher” magazine. I attend conferences and trainings when allowed (Michigan Reading Association, MACUL and others.) I am a member of the MEA, my school’s negotiation team and some media groups that inform me of political actions that have an impact on my profession. I have interacted with researcher Richard Allington. The Teacher’s College at Columbia University in NYC, where I have attended three summer institutes, has a wealth of research and information online. I also regularly read books that have enhanced my teaching in many ways and I have initiated several book clubs among my colleagues.

I read several posts and stories on the First Steps sites and found the post most relevant for me to be one entitled: “Reader Interest Trumps Passage Readability.”

As a first grade teacher, I have found the move to lockstep basal reading programs to be a negative thing for teaching and learning. There are so many factors involved in children being successful readers that are ignored and negated by these programs. One of them is interest and choice. This article speaks to the importance of interest. The article is not in response to basals, but to the practice of allowing children to only read books at “their level.” I do use levels in my classroom but balance it by allowing choice within the level. I also have times when children can choose books below or above their level by interest. This has always worked well. The basal program we have has all children reading the same selection all week, with the possibility of an additional extremely short poorly leveled book. This ignores both level and interest! We are in the third year of our basal program. As the district moves toward their goal of having “fidelity” (lockstep,) I am not sure that I will be allowed to offer choice. This is disturbing to me. My goal is to not only teach children to read but to teach them the love and value of reading.

Next Steps

This section had several topics that caught my interest: Digital Conversionn k-12, Interactive Shared Reading, Media use of young children and writing to name a few.

I chose writing as my focus for this section. Writing is another area that is being marginalized by the demand that teachers use only basal programs. It is also an area where first graders can learn and love what they learn if they are given space for choice and voice. I found this article on the What Works Clearninghouse site:  “Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers.” This is a practice guide has four main recommendations with effectiveness ratings. Each contains lots of information, videos and transcripts. The recommendation that had strong evidence in support of use is:  “Teach students to use the writing process for a variety of purposes.” I find that the writing process is the thread that runs through all writing projects and makes writers stronger and more confident. I have found the basal writing to be very fragmented and focused on isolated skills.

The skill that this guide rates as moderate is: “Teach students to become fluent with handwriting, spelling, sentence construction, typing, and word processing.” These are skills we work on with the exception of typing and word processing. We do little of this. I have 5 student iPads. We did some labeling and story telling with the iPads but they are not great tools for becoming fluent with typing.

The guide rates the following skills as minimal: “Provide daily time for students to write” and “Create an engaged community of writers.” My experience would rate these higher. I believe the old wisdom: You become good at the things you spend time doing. Or…practice makes…well, not perfect…but better and better! Lastly, for first graders, community is crucial for so much in the classroom. A writing community is a very powerful thing!

So- I found this quite interesting. I will be thinking about it this year as I try to follow my district’s demand to use a fragmented basal program to teach writing to 6 and 7 year olds at the time my administrator has scheduled me to do it (the last 19 minutes of each school day.)

RRS Account

Potterville Public Schools has no BYOD policy that I am aware of. They have posted on their website an Acceptable Use Policy: and Technology Use Policy: Neither of these documents talk clearly about BYOD.

I would love extra devices in my classroom as I only have 5 student iPads. There would definitely be some hurdles before this could happen at the first grade level. Teaching young children netiquette and safety, organizing what devices and applications children could use, troubleshooting and communicating a good system of when use is allowed are a few. My stated hurdles would be more classroom oriented at our building at this time. There are other acceptable use issues. I would imagine that the district could use some of the policy it has already in place for internet use however as I have been reading and investigating BYOD, I have found much simpler and clearer policy language and communications including videos. One school in PA:  I really like the down to earth presentation in the video although I’d make it more elementary friendly.

The article below was on the Mind/Shift blog that I subscribed to on my (new!) netvibes account. The first of the “essentials”  speaks about setting teaching and learning goals before worrying about the device itself. I really like this reminder. It is important to be clear about what the goal of your teaching is. Often, I have more than one goal with first graders. Identifying goals is such an important step. Other “essentials” in the article included building a commuity of support for the initiative, awareness of equity, evaluation of the initiative and giving up control and trusting students. I really like the last point too. I have experience this with and without use of technology in my classroom. It is always surprising and wonderful when you can set the stage and give children the freedom to learn.

My netvibes “elementary technology” page:

Netvibes elementary tech page




One thought on “Staying Informed

  1. It is interesting to read your thing as we no longer have the Staying Informed in 21 Things. We replaced it. Now I am wondering if we made a mistake. Your reflections were wonderful!.

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