How best to use new technologies to support our primary students is an issue we are wrestling with in our district. As teachers and schools experiment, some thoughtful and innovative practices are developing. One that is worth highlighting comes out of Irwin Park Elementary School. They have taken home reading and moved it into the digital age. What I really like about the initiative is that it doesn’t simply replicate what has been done in the paper-based world on computers, but allows collaboration in a way not possible without the technology.
The program comes from the primary classes of Maria Yioldassis and Leslie Dawes and has been supported by the school and by our District Principal of Technology and Innovation, Gary Kern.
This project exposes students to digital text and introduces them to reading online in a school context. It also allows students to collaborate and share their experiences with other students.
The teachers have students read digital texts they find on two popular sites, Starfall and Tumblebooks. Both sites provide text at various reading levels and accompanying visuals. Once students finish reading the books, they make brief comments on what they read, a process that can first be done in class, and then be repeated at home (see screen shots below).
Some of the findings from this initiative include students having become self-confident in navigating through their e-books, choosing an appropriate book, reading the book, and then sharing what they have read through the website. This process has been replicated at home and also during choice time within the classroom.
Teachers have also reported an increase in student confidence with online material; an increased awareness of what others are reading, and an overall sharing and appreciation of books read.
This very simple idea is spreading in West Vancouver. This fall, professional development days focussed on digital literacy; a number of teachers throughout the district have become comfortable with creating similar class spaces for their home reading programs. Many who are very interested in using this technology in their classes see this as a wonderful entry point – it is not an add-on as home reading is already going on. In addition, it allows parents to participate; it gives students greater ownership of their own learning, and it models the collaborative skills we want to build in students throughout their schooling.
What we are finding is the entry point for most teachers with a digital presence is as a one-way communication: informing parents and students of upcoming calendar items, class news and homework. What is exciting about this Home Reading program, something we are calling a “next practice,” is how it engages students and families with the technology.
There is still a lot to explore, particularly with our youngest learners and how best to use technology to support their learning, but projects like this one are very exciting.