Primary Preoccupation

A grade one teacher inviting the world into her classroom

Primary Preoccupation - A grade one teacher inviting the world into  her classroom

Little Things Are Really Big

One of the things I love about teaching young students is the palpable excitement both my students and I feel at the smallest thing. A child recognizes the word “the” for the first time. Someone is able to subitize (recognize at a glance) that there are five dots on the die without counting. Or the child who was afraid to walk to the office shows the new student how to get there. These are small moments and small steps, but they have big meaning in the child’s overall development as a learner.

Recently, I’ve been seeing lots of small moments that show my students’ really understand how and why we use the Internet to connect our classroom online.

Connecting with My Teacher

Tweets From My StudentsIt started when I told the students I would be away for a week while I was speaking in Malaysia. “But we’ll miss you”, they complained.

“I’ll miss you, too,” I replied.

“We could Skype with you!” several of them cried. After a short discussion about the time zone difference, their faces fell.

“We could talk to you on Twitter!” someone exclaimed. We all agreed this was the best way and used tweets for asynchronous communication while I was away. We were connected! A small thing, but an important step in learning about online communication.

Connecting with Other Classrooms

Turning Pheasant EggsFast forward a few weeks, and we had pheasant eggs sitting in an incubator in our classroom. I’ve done this for many years, but some years, the baby chicks just do not cooperate the way they are supposed to. This was one of those years. Although we had had nothing hatch, the students discovered that another school nearby had twelve fluffy little babies. One of my boy’s immediate reactions was, “let’s Skype them! I want to see the chicks.”

I had to explain that not everyone uses the tools we do in our classroom. I love that they assume everyone does. Another small step.

Sharing the News

Tweeting My TeacherThe next week, I was at another conference when this tweet popped up on my computer. At last we had chicks!

We had not discussed using Twitter this particular time, but this student felt it was important that I know and remembered how she could connect with me. She even remembered to check her tweet with the substitute teacher before she tweeted.

Keeping Myself Safe

Dressing Last week, our school was having a school spirit day around a western theme. One of my students came to school dressed in a cowboy hat with a hockey jersey. To me this seemed like the quintessential Canadian way to do a western theme. I asked him if I could tweet a picture of him. “Well, OK. But don’t use my name,” he replied. A small comment, but I knew he understood the big picture we have been talking and learning about all year.

It’s About Learning

Yesterday, we were reading comments together sent by a first grade classroom that had just begun to blog. The students are always quick to point out errors in spelling that a commenter has made. I actually encourage this if the commenter is an adult because it shows them that everyone makes mistakes and it helps them to realize that they do know how to spell correctly.

In this case, though, since the commenters were so young, I started to remind the students of this fact, when one of my grade two students piped up, “It’s OK if they’re making mistakes. It shows they’re learning.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. That teachable moment led to our looking back at the first posts of some of the students to show how far they had all come.

All small moments, but oh so big.

Ten Years of Blogging, Ten Years of Connecting

Ten years ago this month, my six-year-old students and I first dipped our toes into the water of blogging. At the time, I really had no idea what would come of this new venture, no idea of the conversations we would have, no idea of the connections we would be able to make with people beyond the doors of our classroom and no idea of the often serendipitous learning that would take place.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 6.14.19 AMOur blog was the first way we shared our classroom online and it inevitably led to many other ways of sharing. It is actually hard to remember what my classroom was like before the advent of our blog. Sharing and learning with others through our blog, Skype, Twitter and other tools has become so much a part of what we do that the “before” is kind of foggy (although that may be just my aging brain). I do, however, remember how exciting it was the first time my class received a comment and what fun it was to look at the pictures on the blog of our new kindergarten friends in New Zealand (Where did they find that shark?) and to wonder about their life that was so different than ours. (How can they see the ocean? Does their volcano have lava? What’s Marmite?) This excitement has continued with each and every connection we have made.

Moments like that, of forging a relationship with children we would never meet in person, changed not only my students’ perspective, but my own as well. Both students and teacher were no longer insular, looking only inward. Instead, we were looking out of our classroom to see who was there, exploring new ideas and points of view. It was the first step in building my own learning network and in building a network for my students. New tools for connecting have come and gone in our classroom, but the blog has remained as a tool to share and to connect.

In the years since those first posts, there have inevitably been changes.

  1. Tools have changed. While Classblogmeister was a wonderful host for us to use, the versatility of Edublogs has given us much more opportunity for student independence and control.
  2. The power of the tools has changed. Blogging and adding media is just so much easier. When I first started blogging, it was many months before I found out how to add an image to a post. It was a complicated procedure that involved attaching the camera to a computer, uploading the image to Flickr and then getting the html code from that site and pasting it into a post. If I wanted the students to have an image in their posts, I had to log in separately as each child and put that html code in for them. Mobile devices and the ease of transferring images have changed all that.
  3. There are other classrooms to connect with. When we first began blogging, I could not find any other primary classes with blogs. There just weren’t any. Now, there are oodles of classrooms that are blogging and looking to learn from others.
  4. Parent mindset has changed. I used to hold parent information nights to have the students teach their parents how to comment. That is no longer necessary. The world has become digital. The parents of my students are almost all on Facebook and other social media sites and understand what it is to be connected.
  5. Why we blog has changed. Originally, I simply wanted a place for my students to write and a place for me to share with the parents what was happening in my classroom. That is still relevant, but I’m now also conscious that
  • Connecting will be part of my students’ world as they grow
  • Even at their young age they need to know how to act appropriately online.
  • My students already know how to have fun online. I want them to learn how to have fun learning

What has NOT changed is that the students have an opportunity to have a real audience for their work, they are learning how to be cautious and caring digital citizens and their parents, siblings and grandparents can watch and be part of their learning. The eyes of the students still shine as we read a comment written just to them by someone who is special in their lives or by someone they have never met. A comment from a stranger still sends us to a map to find out where those people live. And the students are still captivated by the idea that they have a voice in this big word we call the Internet.

Over my teaching career, there have been things that I have tried and relegated to the “well that’s no longer relevant” pile. Blogging is definitely not one of those things.

Here’s to the next ten years.

Get Your Game On–Do the Snow Clothes Challenge!

Those of you who live and teach in northern climes know what winter is all about. It’s not about the beauty of the fluffy white stuff or the bone-chilling temperatures or even the short sunlight hours each day. In a primary classroom, it is really all about the snow clothes. Assuming that the temperature is warm enough to actually go outside (in my school division the children go outside unless the temperature—including wind chill—is below -28C), the whole putting on/taking off all those snow clothes takes up a LOT of time. For some students, it is a ten-minute process. And when you consider that it has to be done first thing in the morning, before and after two recesses, at lunch time and again at the end of the day…well, you can see a lot of time needs to go into this every day.

A couple of years ago, in the midst of a cold streak and the endless tying of scarves, hunting for mittens and putting ski pants back inside right, I asked my students how fast they thought they could put on their snow clothes if it was a race. They made predictions and I decided to make a video to show them how fast they had been. For fun, we put a “how fast can you do it” at the end of the video and put it on our blog.

The very next day, we had our first response. Bill Genereaux from Kansas surprised us with a video of himself putting on his snow clothes. My students were enraptured, although suspicious that his clothes were not “real” snow clothes. Other classes of young children followed. More classes took up the challenge, including a university class who, as my students pointed out, did not have to wear ski pants and a group of teachers at a PD day. Each video was a highlight for my students as they watched their time bested, complained about how the other class had had an easier time for some reason (very competitive bunch that year) and compared the other classrooms to our own. Last year we again had lots of fun with this challenge.

This year I have a grade one/two split that includes 13 of my students from last year. Despite having already “done that”, my students unanimously voted to do it again.

Instead of just posting all of the challengers on our classroom blog, this year I have set up a Padlet so that classrooms or individuals can post their video for everyone to see. Also, in addition to our #snowclotheschallenge hashtag, we also have the French equivalent — #DéfiVêtementsHiver thanks to the enthusiastic Brigitte Léonard.

My initial goal in creating this was really to speed up the dressing process, but serendipitously, the result has been lots of fun and unanticipated learning.

Take up our challenge! Join us. We’d love to have individuals, groups or classrooms try to beat our time. It makes the tedium of snow clothes just a bit less onerous.

Blogging in a Primary Classroom–With Only One iPad!

Many primary teachers who only have access to one iPad in their classroom assume that there is very little they can do to make that iPad useful for an entire class.  A few weeks ago, I blogged about the way I would do the “listen to reading” option of the Daily Five in a one iPad classroom. Today, I want to share some options for blogging with only one iPad.

Blogging with one iPad is possible with several apps, including the Edublogs and Kidblog apps, which allow multiple users. With Edublogs, all of the users can be logged in on one app. Kidblog also allows this with students just typing in their password each time. These options are definitely doable, but a couple of newer apps make the process even easier, especially for young children.

The Easy App Company has created Easy Blogger Jr. and Easy Blog Jr. The former works with Blogger blogs and the latter works with Edublogs.

Because Easy Blogger Jr. works with Blogger, the blog itself is free. You just have to pay for the app. And because setting up a blog seems daunting to some people, the creators of the app will even set up a blog FOR you. Once you have the blog set up, you just need to add your students’ names and pictures to the app so that they can begin to post.

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I made a practice blog to try this out and discovered that if I gave each student the “label” of their own first name, their name would appear along the side of the blog. While all the student’s posts appear in order of posting on the main blog, clicking on a student’s name on the right brings you to all of the posts that that child has written.


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The best part of the app is that even young students can use this app independently. They just touch their own picture…


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…and then confirm who they are. Notice that every page has an icon which, when tapped, will read the words aloud to the child.


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Students have a choice about what they will post.


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If a student chooses a photo, he can even record his or her voice talking about the photo, making the photo into a screencast or video. Just think of the possibilities this holds for young pre-writers to share the things they create!


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If you use (or would like to use) Edublogs, the Easy Blog Jr app works just the same, but works with the Edublogs platform instead.

Your students will all be blogging using only one iPad. Such a great way for young children to share their learning with the world!

Full disclosure: The creators of Easy Blog Jr and Easy Blogger Jr gave me a copy of the apps to try.

Three Options for Independent Reading on the iPad

Primary teachers (and in fact all teachers) are always on the look out for quality reading options for their students.  This is true for digital format books as well as more traditional book forms. When my six and seven-year old students read independently on their iPads, I want to offer them good options as well. Fortunately, I have found three worthwhile options for my six and seven year olds.

Epic! Books

After seeing a post by Joyce Valenza about Epic Books, I knew that I had to see if it was really as good as it looked. Was it? Actually, it’s even better.

Epic! is an app  that has thousands of books for all age levels, but I can tell you first hand that it has hundreds of excellent books for primary teachers. If you register online as an educator before you sign into the app, your account is free and you are able to view all of their books.

There are several categories of books, including some excellent non-fiction books under topics such as sports and living things. There is even a large selection of  “Read to Me” books that are read aloud in video format.

I knew that I wanted Epic! for my students as well, but could see no plan for classrooms on their website, so I emailed to ask about their policy.  Suren Markosian replied for the company that teachers are free to log into multiple student iPads with their teacher account as long as the iPads belong to the school and they stay at the school.

My students and I tried out the app with twenty of us logged in at once to see if there would be any issues, but there were none, even when we all read the same book at the same time. (It was definitely my idea to try that. I wanted to see what would happen, but the students were much more interested in reading the books that interested them.)

This app has tremendous potential for classrooms and I highly recommend it.

Unite for Literacy

My next choice is not actually an app, but a website that I’ve mentioned on this blog before.  Unite for Literacy features over one hundred beginning level books for emergent readers. Each page of each book gives the option of hearing the text on that page read aloud if students become stuck on a word.

I use the Add to Home Screen option on the iPad to create a direct link to Unite for Literacy on each student iPad. Then, I add that icon to the Read to Self folder. Another option for my budding readers.


I wrote a blog post a while ago explaining how I use the Kindle app with the multiple iPads in my classroom. The short version of that post is that I have several Amazon accounts—one account for each five iPads. I watch for good books to go free on One Hundred Free Books and then buy copies for each account. Not all books that go free are of good quality, so I generally read the books first on my own account to check their suitability.

Three great options to allow my primary students to have lots of choice for their digital reading.

Connected Teachers, Connected Students

As you may already be aware, this month is Connected Educator Month. A plethora of webinars, discussions, Twitter chats and events have been planned (scroll down to see upcoming events) to help educators to recognize the power of connecting, to help them to build their Personal Learning Network (PLN) and to give teachers opportunities to learn together.

This event is a tremendous chance for educators to take control of their own learning. I hope that you’ll take advantage of some of the opportunities it provides.

But what about our students? Do they, too, deserve to have a learning network that is outside of their classroom? To have opportunities to connect and learn from people who live in other locations? To see the power of having a Student Learning Network (SLN*)?

I think they do. This month, as part of Connected Educator month, I’m going to be leading a virtual book club centering around my book, Connected From the Start: Global Learning in the Primary Grades.  Some of our book club will be asynchronous such as online discussions and activities to get you started on your connecting journey. We’ll also get together for a webinar twice this month for virtual face-to-face time.

Have you wanted to start connecting your classroom but never quite got started? Now is the time to do it. We’ll all be in the virtual room learning together. You’ll have support for the questions you have and others who are learning alongside you.

How to get started? Buy a copy of my eBook and then hop over to the Connected Educator Ning and register to get started. I’ve joined lots of Nings in the past and have always found them to be a great tool. They are available when the timing works for me. Once you have joined, have a look around, but be sure to click on my book in the list on the left hand side and then click on Join at the top of the page.  Once you’re there, introduce yourself in the discussion area and get started learning!

Although I teach primary grades, teachers in any elementary grade can take the principles we talk about and apply them to their own classroom.

I can’t wait to see you there!

(*Kudos to @kristenziemke for coining the term “SLN”)

The Changing Face of Early Literacy – Digital is Different

 I’ve spent a lot of time lately reflecting on the way I teach literacy in my classroom and about the ways that the digital text I often use to teach now is inherently different from the text I used to teach reading ten years ago. In an earlier post, I talked about some of the ways that I think using digital text in shared reading, such as when reading projected blog comments or tweets, is actually superior to the traditional text we have long used.

Even if you are not convinced that digital text can work better than traditional text, it is difficult to argue that digital text is not here to stay or that it is not becoming increasingly important. It is and will be a significant part of our students’ lives both now and in the future. If this will be true, it only makes sense to begin to teach children strategies for reading this new form of text.

How Is Digital Different?

There are a multitude of ways that digital text is different than traditional text, but the following are what I see as the most important differences for beginning readers.

1. Digital text is hyperlinked. This is the obvious one. Digital text is often linked to other digital text that can help to explain or enrich what is being read. We can demonstrate this for young students using sites such as Wonderopolis that does this well in their wonder of the day entries.

2. Digital text can contain recordings including a voice reading the text. Many apps and more and more websites are adding this feature. It is a tremendous asset for emergent readers who need a bit of extra support. For example, Unite for Literacy is a website I like with 100 plus free books for early readers. Every page has the option of the text being read by the student or read to the student.

3. Digital text changes over time. A book that was published in 2003 looks the same today as it did the day I purchased it, but if I look back at the history of a website for early years literacy that has been around for awhile, I can see that the webpage has had several different versions in that time.  Young children are fascinated to see the changes in a webpage over time. To show them this, just put a url into the search box in the Wayback Machine and share the way a website has evolved.

4. Digital pages are usually more complex. This is possibly the most important factor of all when an early years teacher chooses to use digital text. When students look at traditional text, they see words and an image such as this example from the book Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Bill Martin Jr.  All of the text is meant to be (16)

Beginning non-fiction text is similar in that all of the text on the page is meant to be read. (This example is from The Tree by Jenny Feely.)

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When I ask my students to read an unpublished comment or a tweet aloud together, I am asking them to read something much more complicated.

The actual comments that I want the students to read are underlined below, but  as you can see, these messages are surrounded by email addresses (blanked out), names, times and dates of comments, links to the original post and lots of other information that competes for their attention.

If we move the mouse over the comment, other links appear that give us options, including approving, deleting and responding to the comment. The same is true of our tweets. This increases the complexity of the text even more. Clearly there is a lot of filtering that needs to be done by the students to get to the important text.

What Does This Mean For My Teaching?

If digital text is different than traditional text, and clearly it is, then I need to also teach it differently. I need to teach students how to use digital text to its full advantage.  To use links, recordings and video to provide a richer reading experience. To understand that digital text is not static, but that it changes over time. And to find the significant text on a page of competing images and text.

Digital text is here to stay. We need to start thinking about how to teach it right, even when students are beginning readers. To assume that traditional reading strategies will suffice for digital writing ignores the complexity and possibilities of this new form of text. Does this mean new reading strategies? Yes. Does it mean changing the way we teach? Yes. But beyond that, I’m still searching. I don’t have all the answers. Just a lot of questions as I muddle through this with my students.

What about you. How do you teach digital text?

Listening To Reading in a One iPad Classroom

When I speak about using iPads in a primary school classroom, I am often asked about how it would work if I only had one iPad as is the case in many classrooms. This post is the first of what I hope will be several with suggestions as to how to make that work effectively.

Sharing the iPad

Although my classroom is one to one with iPads, I have many high quality book apps on my own iPad that I did not choose to put on the thirty iPads I have in the Volume Purchase Plan account for the student iPads. Sharing these apps with my students puts me in a similar situation to a one iPad classroom.

Sometimes, I use Apple TV to project my iPad so that all of the students can see it at once on a large screen. The other option is to use a Belkin Rockstar to make it possible for up to five students to plug in their headphones or earbuds to the same iPad. (Note: I have found it is VERY important to establish ahead of time whose turn it is to be the person to turn the pages or do the touching on the iPad. You have been warned.)

Listening to Reading

This can work for Internet sites as well as apps. One of my new favourite sites is Unite for Literacy, a webpage with over one hundred eBooks for beginning readers. Each page has the option of having the text read aloud and it works on iPads as well as computers. This would also be an appropriate option for a small group of early readers.

When I use my iPad for my students to listen, I put the iPad onto our DEWEY document camera stand. The iPad could also be on the floor (which is what I used to do), but the students prefer to have the it raised since we have that option.

One iPad, five students listening to high quality reading.

Hello, New Students! Welcome to Our Class

Everyone Loves to get Letters!

For many years, I have sent a letter to my soon to be students near the end of the summer. I do this to ease any anxiety some of them may have, to help them feel part of the class before they arrive and because…well…it’s a letter. Children do not receive letters very often, so print written just to them is significant. It’s a literacy thing.

I’ve shared my letter before, but this year’s letter is a bit different. I decided that if connecting and learning with others around the world is an important part of our classroom learning, then I should let the students (and their parents, who will undoubtedly be the ones reading the letter aloud to the children) know about that right from the start.

I wish I had been able to find a border that truly reflected the tools we are using in my classroom, but a traditional border had to suffice. As I thought about this letter, I decided that I wanted my classroom door, which announces what we are all about, to reflect our connections as well.

Here is this year’s letter to welcome my new students

Dear Kaedence,

I’m so glad I get to be your teacher this year. I can’t wait to meet you!

I’ve been busy in our classroom getting things ready for us to learn together. We are going to have an exciting year.  You will get your own iPad to use in our classroom and we’ll find out how to use it to share your learning with your parents and other people who can help you to learn.

We will get to learn with other classrooms from all over the world and find out how the children in those classrooms are the same as us and how they are different than we are.

The best thing about grade one, though, is that you will learn to read! We’ll read LOTS of books.

I wonder what special things are interesting to you? What do you like to do in your free time?  What do you like to read books about? What would you like to learn more about? I hope you will ask your mom or dad to email me with the answer to those questions. 

On the first day of school, I will meet you in our classroom (Room 69) at 8:50.  Look for the door with some maps on it.

I’ll see you soon.

Your Grade 1 Teacher,

Mrs. Cassidy

Now, I’ve shared my letter. What do you include in yours?

Changing Face of Early Literacy – Why Digital?

Brown Bear, Brown Bear“Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? I see a red bird looking at me,” chanted all of the children in my classroom as they participated in a shared reading time in my classroom. Shared reading, in which all of the children regardless of their reading level read aloud from shared text, has long been considered to be an important part of a balanced early literacy program.

In the good old days, not so long ago, all of the shared reading in my classroom was from books (including ‘big’ books whenever possible) and from poems and chants that I had purchased or carefully printed on chart paper so that the entire class could see.  While I still use these resources when appropriate, much of our shared reading is now digital. We read a variety of digital texts, but most frequently we read tweets written by classes or others we follow on our class Twitter account or we read comments written on our classroom blog or on the blogs of one of the students. We also read blog posts written by classes or students far away.

What Does This Look Like in the Classroom?

Shared Reading of Twitter

During our shared reading, I project either our class Twitter account or our blog comments onto a board and together, we read these tweets or comments aloud.  At the beginning of the school year my students are still pre-readers, so I point to the words as we read, but I turn this job over to my students as soon as it is possible. After reading each tweet, we talk about what we just read. What did we find out? How is that similar to or different from what we have done/studied/know? Do we want to reply to this tweet or comment? What do we want to say?  Since my students are slow typists, at the beginning of the year, this task usually falls to me as they tell me what to say, how to spell words (we stretch out the sounds together) and remind me that we should always re-read a tweet before we press “Tweet”. At this point, the shared reading has turned into a shared writing lesson.

When we read a comment together, we follow a similar pattern. Is this a good comment, something we want posted on our blog? If yes, we click “Approve” and then discuss whether the comment needs to have a response.  If it does, we follow a similar procedure to the one just mentioned.

Why Read Digital?

Why have I made the switch from only traditional text to including digital in my classroom?

1. Much of the reading the students will do outside of my classroom and as they grow up will be digital.  It seems appropriate to begin to acknowledge this right from the start of their reading education.

2.  High interest Students are excited to read text that has been written by other children and classrooms. They like to “get to know” other classrooms by reading what they are up to on Twitter or reading a comment by someone they have never met. They wonder aloud about these people and if appropriate, we respond. We often get responses in return. Never in all of my teaching have I had that kind of authentic engagement with any of my chart paper poems.

3. Personalization Much of the digital text we read is written directly to my class or to one of the students in my class. It is hard to argue against the efficacy of personalization in any kind in learning.

4. The students are able to respond to the text. As I mentioned above, the digital text we read allows for an immediate means to respond. While written response to traditional text is certainly possible, the ability to ask questions and to have them quickly answered by the text’s author (whoever that author might be) is certainly not.

Can you see why I love using Twitter and our blog comments as part of my literacy program? I’m not quite ready to throw out all my charts with poems, songs and chants just yet. They still have value. But it is hard to beat the benefits offered by digital text when doing shared reading.


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