A Grade 1 teacher combines technology and a classic storybook to improve his students’ reading and writing comprehension.
By Stefan Dubowski
Photo: Matthew Liteplo
Teach Grade 1 students how to accurately recall and convey facts from a story.
Illustrate solid narrative techniques using audiobooks and YouTube videos, and create an electronic scrapbook with the help of a tablet and a storytelling app.
The building blocks for basic reading and writing comprehension are often distilled down to five little words (Who, What, Where, When and Why), but when you cater to a group of Grade 1s, the foundations of analytical thought can’t possibly compete with Lego or Minecraft — until now. Vince Racanelli, OCT, has a trick to get his all-boys Humberwood Downs Junior Middle Academy class in Toronto excited about the Five Ws — and it involves a wildly popular storybook and a touch of technology.
“When I was focusing on the ‘Where,’” says Racanelli, “Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are came to mind.” Not only does it have one of the Ws in its title but it also has a wolf-costumed protagonist, Max, who instantly captivates readers.
This success story begins with the boys listening to the 1963 classic in a variety of formats — Racanelli reads the book aloud, he plays the audio version and he shows YouTube videos of others reading the text to reinforce different narrative approaches. He then divides his class into pairs and has them take turns reading from the book while others use the tablet to record their audio. The boys also use the device to take photos of their classmates’ facial expressions while they read. This allows students to see the range of emotions associated with storytelling.
Later, during art class, students dream up 3-D depictions of the storybook monsters and then, during drama, they re-enact the “wild rumpus” dance that the Wild Things do. Racanelli documents every monstrous moment on video.
Now, it’s time for all of these pieces to come together. Racanelli transfers the voice recordings, photos and videos into an app called Little Story Creator, and makes an electronic scrapbook to share with parents and colleagues.
With a class of 19 and only two iPads, the boys must work in groups. Some might consider this a limitation but Racanelli turns it into a teachable moment — his students understand that patience is necessary and they learn the art of collaboration. It’s all about respecting each other’s strengths and weaknesses. He monitors how everyone interacts and instructs them to use positive language.
Racanelli uses multiple storytelling methods (audiobooks, videos and in-class readings) to drive his lessons home. He encourages students to develop a deeper understanding of the key narrative elements (beginning-middle-end, setting, etc.) and to look closer at how the characters feel and change along the way. He also creates additional opportunities to enrich the boys’ comprehension of a specific story by integrating the material into other subjects.
Use technology to update parents on their children’s in-class activities. “I email a monthly newsletter with photographs of students working along with suggestions for further at-home learning,” says Vince Racanelli, OCT. “Parents love to stay informed.”
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