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Lights! Camera! Student Action! Wihoo! Get ready to take a page from my Retro-Tech Handbook.
When I was teaching first grade, I found out that the Director of this particular school had scheduled a Polaroid in-service for all teachers. To be honest with you, it was the first time I truly looked forward to an in-service. Correction! I was always all for, ‘Rah-Rah-Sis Boom-Bah’! Otherwise known as morale boosters or team building workshops. But personally, I would rather have learned about something relevant to me; something that would engage students, get students moving, and make them think. And, boy! That’s exactly what I got.
Instant picture devices are entirely beneficial due to the fact that results are almost immediate. I can tell you this: when I took the new camera I had gained from the workshop back to my first-grade classroom, the ideas just magically fell into place. Lessons were coming alive! And the first time I used the instant camera in a lesson, my first graders were so into it that we almost missed lunch – because enthusiastic and authentic learning was taking place, with the help of a Polaroid camera.
In ELA, we were studying diphthongs and digraphs, and variations of morphemes, when the Polaroid camera entered the student lesson. I gave simple instructions to my first graders; grabbing quickly onto those instructions, taking off with them like a model rocket! Everything from brainstorming, working collaboratively, voting on choices, assigning tasks, and finally, who was going to do what in what order.
I had fifteen first grade students in this classroom. The lesson was led by students, organized by students, performed by students; it was an ideal student-centered lesson. My simple instructions were, “Choose ten letter sets out of our morphemes that we have been learning in class. Take pictures representing all ten on the back playground. Everyone, minus the picture taker, will be in the photo. SHOW me your diphthongs and digraphs!” And so they did. They actually took pictures of all diphthongs and digraphs we were learning. They just didn’t want to stop at ten. I saw pictures of frowns, shadows, tricks, singers, and much more morphemes! It is so exciting that I can remember it just as it happened. The playground air was electric with learning, more collaborating, and plenty of picture-taking!
The only drawback of instant picture devices is that the film is expensive.
Videos in the learning environment also work well. The first time I used a video recording in the classroom, I was actually taping myself and using it as an evaluation. It was a poetry lesson in a mixed classroom, grades 4 and 5 participated; they were engaged, I was happy to see. But, I couldn’t help thinking that the students could have really taken off with this specific activity. But, instead I ‘taught curriculum’. It should and could have been student-centered. I stifled their creativity with my ‘curriculum’. Use your recording device to self-evaluate and grow professionally.
I learned a great deal from watching that video lesson. Keep in mind, the video was from 20 years ago. I do wish I could share it with you. But, now in modern Education? So long ago, I was the example of what not to do – today. That is the progression of Education, and personally, my journey of learning how to teach the best way I can. Thankfully, I evolved. My lessons have always included project-based learning, which was emphasized throughout my entire elementary education courses at Oakland University. But, in this lesson? I was the ‘Teacher’ and they were the ‘Students’. You know what I mean? True and eager learning did not take place. I examined that tape over and over until I really saw my mistakes (I do not encourage this!). But as with any evaluating tool, a focus on the positive is necessary, not just for students, but for you.
I used this tool for learning, which is great for self-reflection, and learned more than I could if it was just in my memory. In your own recording, in your self-reflection, make sure to ask yourself questions such as: Did the students think critically? Was their work correctly documented through pictures, videos, writing with illustrations, journal notes, or audio? Was the lesson student-centered? Were the students engaged using a higher level of thought? Did you use strategic questioning? Did it include movement? Were you available for the students at critical times, like transitioning? Were there choices for the student? Did you give concise and clear instructions so that the students could see with clarity the expectations of them?
Imagine how to use video recording for your students. Creating shorts, students documenting actual learning as it progresses, handling the task of learning how to edit, you recording your students for parents to see – particularly for parent conferences, and more. Excellent for students! Helpful for you – bonus! What you need to decide on is the best method of video recording for your students. Today we have the capability of video recording even with our phones. Imagine your students handling the video recording device. Depending upon their development, grade, and age, choose the method that works best for your students. Or better yet, give them a choice. Take such things into consideration before making a purchase or using the school’s equipment. Incorporating recordings into your classroom will only bring you greater success with students. Think about purchasing a device so that you may always have it on hand.
The big drawback of integrating recordings into your classroom is that the devices are relatively expensive. If you think about it as an investment in your students for many years to come, it will be easier!
Audio recordings are also quite useful. I had a mini-cassette recorder in all of my classrooms, as well as a tape player that recorded with a microphone and regular cassette tapes. You may think cassette tapes are obsolete today. Yet, in the classroom, they are entirely practical and effective. Just think of all you could do with an audio-taping device! Read-alouds, audio theatre, reading conferences, echo reading, read-alongs, chants, singing, and so much more. I used the tape player as an option when a student had completed work and had some time; I would ask them to record a book for the classroom. Not only did it build my audio library – bonus! Many students enjoy audio books. And recording each audio book with inflection is a cool challenge. The students cannot get enough of it.
The only drawback of audio recordings in any learning environment is that the tapes as I have described here, are not durable – as some of us remember from sticking our fingers in the cassette holes to fix in our younger days! Use a method for audio recording in your learning environment that will be best for your students.
Digital cameras are quite handy in all learning environments. You are able to see the picture in the camera or on a computer screen almost immediately. Editing photos should be in the children’s hands while clear directions are given. [NOTE: When I say things like this last sentence? I ALWAYS mean that you can adjust for any K -12 learning environment, with tweaks here and there]. You want children as young as a kindergartener to experience each lesson as well. You may need to hold the camera, you may need to have students dictate their thoughts to you as you write them, and you may need to edit and even improvise the activity yourself on the spot. And of course, being able to improvise a lesson entirely on the spot comes with time.
Digital cameras are fun not only because students can use a flash drive and take them home, but they can edit their photos in any way they want. For example, creating a slide show, using visual effects, editing itself – like cropping and rotating, adding text, and more.
The biggest drawback for me? If you have to print the photos, you use a lot of ink. And if you have to take them to an autoprocessing store, it is an entire pain because all teachers already have enough on their to do lists!
You may think some of the things I have listed here as obsolete, but it does not have to be that way. Sure, we want to prove our digital citizenship; use your computers and tablets for many lessons. Yet, every learning environment, K-12, can find a use for ‘retro tech’ implementation. The information I have provided here is meant to help you utilize supplemental activities into your learning environment. Particularly in today’s advanced computer world. What I have listed here are meant as options in that learning environment. This post is meant to help you develop as a teacher and help your students to enjoy retro tech. Encourage young individuals to problem-solve their way through a lesson, and to be so engaged that authentic learning may take place. Project-based learning.
I want to bring attention to recording in any learning environment. Make sure parents and the powers that be are okay with it, possibly including parents signing any necessary waivers. Recording in any of the ways that I have mentioned is truly authentic learning. Get your students moving. And particularly, make them think their way through education.
[NOTE: If ever YOU need clarity on how to adjust one of my ideas to meet your grade level expectations, please ask me!]
Spelling plays an important role to students in the capacity of English Language Arts. On one level, it makes writing easier for a student. When children feel confident and successful in their reading and writing abilities, they feel empowered. As educators and parents, we want to help foster a love for English Language Arts, in order to empower our children.
Spelling knowledge can beneficially effect the quality of students’ reading experiences and the quality of their writing experiences as well. There are two reasons for this. First, spelling knowledge facilitates perceptions of specific words. As spelling becomes more automatic, perception of spelling patterns develop more generally across a growing sight word vocabulary, which ensures reading comprehension. Second, spelling knowledge reinforces word analysis strategies because it reflects structural information and vocabulary information about words.
We know that spelling involves more than just rote memorization. Although memory is certainly critical, it must be used efficiently. We must be sensitive to where our students are along their development of word-knowledge, and their conceptualization of word structure. Otherwise we may wind up presenting them with spelling tasks at which they will surely fail, because they will rely strictly upon memorization. This is somewhat similar to an attempt to memorize ten to fifteen new phone numbers each week and to remember them all school year long. A phenomenal task!
Students’ understanding of spelling structure appears to follow a developmental sequence of stages. As their word knowledge becomes more advanced, children reorganize the ways in which they conceptualize and exercise the spelling of words. Once children are writing exclusively with recognizable letters, they are more into the semi-phonemic and letter-name stages. These stages are characterized by the representation of some but not all sounds within syllables: for example, a student may write “BD” for “bird”. Few, if any, vowels are written. As children are exposed to more words in print and are read to, the concept of word develops and their spelling becomes primarily alphabetic. They begin to attend to most sounds and represent them with the corresponding letter: for example, “FETHR” for “feather”. Children will begin to spell some words correctly as they build upon their sight word vocabulary.
The next phase is within-word pattern stage, which involves an understanding of the patterns to which letters and sounds correspond within single syllable words. Sight words provide the foundation for this understanding. Children begin to learn and sort out vowel patterns. They may, for example, write “MAEK” for “make”. As students read and examine within-word vowel and consonant relationships, and as they exercise various spelling patterns, they gradually come to sort them out and use them correctly.
Once students understand most of the basic within-word single syllable patterns, they are conceptually ready for words of more than one syllable. They are ready for the syllable juncture stage. Children will examine what happens when syllables come together, for example, “sit” becomes “sitting”. In this phase, children begin to master the conventions that govern the joining of syllables.
The final stage, derivational patterns stage, occurs when spelling and vocabulary are intertwined through the spelling-meaning connection, in that students recognize that words related in meaning share similar spellings.
As educators and parents we want to help foster a creative spark in our children’s writing. Spelling is an important part of the developmental picture of English Language Arts. We need not hinder that creative spark by insisting upon dictionary spelling, but appreciate the learning process our children are going through as a whole. We need to walk them through a specific spelling pattern and then engage them in active exploration of the pattern. This way students will be much more likely to apply the knowledge they acquire in their spelling lessons to their everyday writing.