Last September both kindergarten classes introduced iPads into our rooms. Throughout the year we found that many iPad apps were well suited for supporting our language arts program. As our students’ reading and writing skills progressed from September to June, we used iPads to reinforce and extend various learning objectives along the way. Below is an overview of how our kindergarten class integrated iPads into our language arts program in the fall, winter, and spring.
Early in the year we focus on strengthening letter-sound correspondence, as well as developing handwriting skills. We initially taught these skills through a series of teacher-led group lessons (without iPads) as well as practice with handwriting books. We then reinforced these skills with iPad apps that we carefully tested out and selected. The iWriteWords app reinforced letter-sound correspondence, gave children valuable practice in letter formation (without worrying about pencil grip), and ensured that each child progressed to the next letter only after forming the target letter correctly. As the children were ready to apply their letter-sound knowledge to word-building, we began a unit on making words from the letters in our names, using letter tiles. We then used the Spell Blocks app for extra practice with word building, particularly targeting those students who were struggling with our letter-tile activity.
In the fall we also develop comprehension and storytelling skills through wordless books. For the first several weeks, the children looked through wordless books and practiced telling the story to a partner. Then they were ready to write their own wordless books! The children did all their work with paper, colored pencils, and crayons, and we put their published books on the shelf. We decided that publishing the books on the iPad would add significant value. We used a story-building app (like Book Creator) to photograph each illustration, and then matched each picture with a recording of the child’s voice as he/she told the story on each page. The time it took to take the photos and record the narration was well worth it because the voice that accompanied each picture added another dimension to the work, and students often sought out the iPad books at choice time.
New apps are constantly being developed for the iPad, and our team of teachers frequently tests them out to see which ones meet our criteria. In the winter we discovered a fantastic app, Letter School, which met our students’ need for continuing reinforcement in letter formation and letter-sound correspondence. Also, by switching to a new app we were able to keep children interested and motivated. Students were drawn to Letter School’s engaging approach and they often requested to work with it. We noticed that their handwriting skills were improving significantly with all this additional practice. We also discovered the Montessori Crosswords app for additional practice with word building.
Different apps are useful at different times of the year, depending on children’s development and readiness. In the middle of the year our students are developing reading strategies for independent work with books at their level, and the Bob Books apps gave children beneficial additional practice in applying reading strategies to figure out words in a text. We gave our lowest-level readers ample opportunity to work with these apps.
Also, in January we visited a local recycling center and toured the facility. The students then worked in groups with a teacher to make an iPad book about our trip, using Book Creator. They selected photos from our trip for the book, and added words as well as voice narration. We shared our book on the Smart Board with the other kindergarten class.
In the springtime we focus on developing students’ writing skills and understanding of story structure. Each student wrote a personal narrative on paper. While the iPads can add valuable new dimensions to storytelling, kindergarten students still need plenty of opportunities to write their stories down on paper. After we published our personal narratives, we used the iPads to extend their increasingly sophisticated storytelling skills. Students worked in small groups to tell a story of their choosing, using Book Creator. They added pictures by taking photographs with the iPad, and they incorporated text as well. Other students worked in small groups to tell a story with the amazing iStop Motion app. Using blocks, toy animals and people, or math materials, students progressively changed the structure or the scene to tell a story. They created the stop-motion effect by using the iPad to photograph the scene each time it changed slightly. The students extended their facility with storytelling by using the unique features of the apps as well as working collaboratively.
As we look ahead to the new school year, we will include many of the apps that served us so well last year, and we are excited to test out new apps and build on our experience from the pilot year.