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Tuesday / September 19

Kindergarten Teachers Collaborate to Innovate with Technology

This post was originally published on TonyaSinger.com.

At George I. Sanchez Community School, a Title I school in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Title I Kindergarten students are actively using technology to collaborate, create, and communicate in ways that deepen content learning.

In Andrea Quintana’s classroom, Kindergarten students are retelling stories on felt boards, taking digital photos, importing the photos into iMovie, and recording their voices to create, peer evaluate, and revise story retellings. During the 70-minute lesson, Andrea reflected, every kindergartner was actively engaged.

When was the last time you witnessed an entire classroom of Kindergarteners actively engaged for 70 minutes on a reading comprehension task? When was the last time you heard Kindergarten ELLs engaged in collaborative conversations about their process, using phrases like the following?

“You need to drag that here.”

“This segue was way too short.”

It gets better. Across all five kindergarten classrooms, with a diverse teaching staff ranging from new to experienced teachers, from tech-savvy to tech-novice, students were equally engaged in using technology to deepen content and literacy learning.

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Inquiry to Address a Student Need

It didn’t start this way. At the beginning of the year, teachers across the grade level noticed a challenge: incoming Kindergarteners had an average attention span of  two minutes when using technology as a learning tool.  They gave up quickly, appealed for help, and lacked the vocabulary to understand and talk about technology or explain their learning to peers.

The five Kindergarten teachers, all new to working together in this new school, decided to take a risk and collaborate using observation inquiry (OI) (Singer, 2015) to address this challenge. The catalyst for this work was a Teach to Lead pilot project you can read about here.

“When we started this, we had no idea what we were getting into,” Andrea Quintana reflected. “We were novice to pretty experienced with technology and just wanted to ensure we were all on the same page. I can’t even put into words how deep the growth has been.”

Risk-Taking to Innovate

At first, some team members were timid about being observed by peers.  Others felt uncertain about how to use technology in the classroom. Yet, with the trust-building OI protocols and process, they created a learning culture of shared risk-taking and courageous inquiry to impact student learning. Within five months, including seven team observations of live lessons, they measured a 1500% gain in student engagement–from 2 minutes of active engagement per task to 30 minutes. And this was only the beginning.

Once 99% of students were successful with their original goal to elevate student focus and language use, the team shifted their emphasis to a higher goal: depth of student learning using technology as a tool.

As part of this vision, the team decided to try a new approach to help all kids learn different tools for collaborating and communicating content and literacy learning. Each teacher chose one focus for a 70-minute workshop, and their Kindergarteners rotated through the classrooms over the course of five days to engage in the following:

  1. Making a iMovie story retelling using felt boards, digital photography, and voice recording.
  2. Using Chatterpix to create ABC books.
  3. Using Keynote to present data from a recent research project on Polar Animals.
  4. Using My Story to illustrate and narrate their individual stories.
  5. Creating 3D images for alphabet animals using an ABC Flashcards model and iPad Photo Booth.

After only a week of rotations, Andrea and her colleagues were all blown away by the results. Kids weren’t just learning different technology applications, they were using them with agency, creativity, and collaborative problem solving to deepen core literacy and content learning.

As a next step, the team will help their kids apply their growing tech fluency to project-based learning. Instead of teaching an application, or even assigning an app-specific project, they will give students the content challenge and let them determine the best tools to use.

The Power of Collaboration

“I couldn’t have done this by myself,” Andrea Quintana, the team facilitator, reflects. “As a 20-year veteran, the only way I’m able to incorporate this in my classroom is because I have a team willing to take that risk also. I have that team pushing me. I’ve pushed the boundaries of my teaching.”

Team participant Andrea Aragon-Nava shared, “As a veteran teacher, it can be difficult to be vulnerable or admit you ‘don’t know.’ Having the opportunity to observe my colleagues in action and have those meaningful discussions afterwards, allowed for my teaching to strengthen and more importantly help me not be afraid to ask for help or suggestion for improvement. I now feel empowered as an educator and get excited to try new things!”

Synergy Beyond the Team

Now the team is helping Pre-K and first-grade teachers engage in observation inquiry to experience similar impact. The principal, after witnessing the deep reflective learning as the team debriefed a recent lesson together, made a 180-degree shift in professional learning plans for the coming year. Recognizing the power of job-embedded professional learning, he reassigned funds that otherwise would have been spent on workshops to pay for subs and modest stipends to create time for teams to engage in observation inquiry. He asked the Kindergarten team to help expand the OI process in the school in the coming year so that all teams, from Pre-K through the eighth grade, can courageously learn together to improve their impact.

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Written by

Tonya Ward Singer is an author, keynote speaker and consultant with a deep commitment to ensuring all students in culturally, racially and linguistically diverse schools access high-quality education. She specializes in high-impact literacy, ELL achievement, 21st century learning, and leading effective job-embedded professional learning at scale.

Tonya’s bestselling book Opening Doors to Equity: A Practical Guide to Observation-Based Professional Learning helps educators lead observation inquiry, a professional learning design inspired by Japanese lesson study and tailored to the unique context of teaching for equity and innovation in U.S. schools.

Tonya has taught at multiple levels as a classroom teacher, reading specialist and ELL specialist in the U.S. and abroad. She designs curricula and leads professional learning to help educators elevate student literacy, language and life-long learning for 21st century success.

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