Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why do We Use iPads in the Kindergarten Classroom

I was recently asked if iPads have helped improve student scores in my classroom. My honest answer is, "I am not sure". I haven't isolated data in the area of iPads to see if scores have increased. My gut tells me that children have been able to learn basic skills such as letter and sound recognition at an increased rate, but that is not something I can back with data. I have not collected data specifically related to the iPad for a simple reason. I do not use iPads in the classroom for the purpose of increasing scores. We use iPads in the kindergarten classroom because they empower the learner and in areas of both academics and creativity.

In the area of basic math and reading skills, we use iPads for practicing skills. Not just skills and applications that the teacher dictates, but skill-practice that is managed by the learner.  This is not about planting a child in front of an application just to entertain, but to teach a child how to choose an application that meets their needs. Just as I assist the learner in choosing a book or game that fits their needs, I help them choose an application. I provide choices, both technology-based as well as concrete choices using paper, games, blocks, and other manipulatives.  Many who fear the use of screens in the classroom would worry that the children would only choose the iPad. This is not the case. The children jump back and for between various tools based on interest, their gross motor needs, skills being practiced, and social opportunities with their peers. The beauty of all of this, is that the learner is choosing what to practice and how based on their needs. Learner choice is a wonderful reason to utilize technology in the classroom.

Children in kindergarten are usually just beginning to move past basic phonemic awareness and delving into reading skills. Most are unable to write a legible or decodable word in the beginning of the school year, thus requiring the teacher to assist in dictation when sharing work with others (families, friends, displaying in the halls, etc). The beauty of the iPad is that a student can use their reading abilities and pair them with their speaking abilities (usually much more developed). The teacher does not need to place their hand in the student work, allowing a child to draw, write, and later speak to share their work. This can be accomplished while creating eBooks (I love using MyStory), recording with the camera, and blogging (Kidblog) on our iPads. After a short lesson, I can stand back and let the learner share with the world while only providing minimal assistance. This can become a vehicle for skill practice, creative exploration, reflection, and collaboration. There are so many avenues a classroom can take in the area of learner voice with the iPad, I couldn't fit it all in this blog post.

When I am asked why I use iPads in kindergarten, I reply that technology can empower the learners. I do not claim that the iPad will create a huge increase in scores, as the teacher is still one of the biggest factors to the success of the classroom. To have a tool that allows my learners to share, create, practice, collaborate, and reflect is appreciated by both the learner and the teacher when used appropriately.