Personalized and Independent Digital Tools for the Kindergarten Classroom

Technology in Kindergarten

Kindergarten is a time of tremendous transition and growth. It is many children’s first formal educational experience and the Kindergarten year sets the foundation and tone for a student’s educational experience.  Students this age are creative and are striving for independence. The are learning to take initiative and collaborate with their peers both socially and academically. Because we are working to embrace and cultivate creativity and social interactions at this age, it is crucial that we are intentional with our goals for the use of technology is the Kindergarten classroom.  When technology is implemented thoughtfully “it is one more outlet for them to display their creativity and learning.” (NAEYC.org, 2012)

Independent Centers

A component of many early elementary classrooms is center time.  During this portion of the day students rotate through a variety of stations with each station or rotation focused on a different activity. Often during this time, the teacher is pulling small groups of students aside for individualized and focused instruction. There might also be some support staff or parent volunteers in the class working with small groups or assisting with the students working independently at centers.   

To be honest, this time in my classrooms has often been a struggle. When it flows well and all students are engaged and independent it is such a magical time in the day. But, more often than not, the students rotating through the centers have issues with engagement or need assistance regardless of how much teaching, modeling, and practice has been done ahead of time.  This is where I think technology can be used effectively and with intention in primary classrooms. This is also a time when students can be given choice in their work and activities can be easily differentiated.

Personalized Learning

Every classroom has learners at different academic levels with varied strengths and challenges, and different previous educational experiences, but in some ways a kindergarten classroom has the greatest learner diversity.  All students enter kindergarten with different previous educational experiences and at the kindergarten age (5 and 6) students will different birth dates can be 20% older or younger than their peers, which is a large range developmentally.  With all of our classrooms, but especially classrooms with large discrepancy among and between learners, differentiated learning must be part of the curriculum planning. Taking this a step further is involving students in their learning plan, often coined “personalized learning”.

The North America Council for Online Learning published an article in June 2018 titled, “A National Landscape Scan of Personalized Learning in K-12 Education in the United States”.  In the introduction, authors Gross, Tuckman, and Patrick define personalized learning as “an approach to a school’s pedagogical strategy for optimizing supports for each student, drawing on research about learning, motivation and engagement. Schools that personalize learning call on students to be active co-constructors, making choices in how they learn, co-creating their learning experiences and pathways through learning, progressing through content as they demonstrate competence, and engaging in their communities outside the school. This stands in contrast to prior expectations that all students should progress along a set curriculum at roughly the same pace, and significantly advances more recent differentiation work by placing student agency at the center of the process (2018).”

Choosing Digital Tools

Because digital apps, websites, and programs are constantly changing and being updated, adults that are selecting digital tools for students must frequently evaluate the programs being used and be on the look at for new or updated tools that might fit with curriculum and goals.  One of my favorite places to look for reviews of digital tools is Common Sense Media. There “top picks” lists are reliably packed with great resources and helpful reviews. Check out these “Best Apps” for kids, there seems to be a category for every learner: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-lists.

In her article on the Edutopia website, Tara Jeffs (2014) provides this list of key elements for technology use in Kindergarten classrooms:

“Whether you are using apps, computer software or interactive websites, look at the elements of motivation for learning. The following characteristics are crucial for obtaining and sustaining interest and extended play for young children:

  • Developmentally appropriate content: not so easy that it is mastered quickly, and not so hard that it becomes frustrating or feels impossible.
  • Fresh content: the app updates as the user plays (i.e. is multi-leveled or has stages).
  • Wait time: not too long and not too short between levels or games.
  • Humorous activities: having fun and laughing are part of the digital experience — the sillier the better for some of our early learners.
  • Incentives: provides a reason to play and explore (i.e., stickers, levels or collections).
  • Goals: children and parents should agree that there is a reason or goal in mind to motivate further play.
  • Socialization: offers parental/adult involvement or playmate opportunities.”

 

Sources:

 

Common Sense Media website. (Retrieved on 2018, July 22) from: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-lists

 

iNACOL. Org website (2018). (Retrieved on 2018, July 22) from: https://www.inacol.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/iNACOL_ANationalLandscapeScanOfPersonalizedLearning.pdf

 

ISTE.org. (2017) ISTE Standards for Coaches. (Retrieved on 2018, June 21) from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches

 

Jeffs, T (2014). Edutopia.org Website (Retrieved on June  20, 2018) from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/preschoolers-in-the-digital-sandbox-tara-jeffs

 

NAEYC.org website (2012). Retrieved on 2018, July 23) from: https://www.naeyc.org/resources/topics/technology-and-media/preschoolers-and-kindergartners

 

3 thoughts on “Personalized and Independent Digital Tools for the Kindergarten Classroom

  1. Hi Susan, Beautifully written blog! I think center time poses a potential management issue for all ages! I have two questions about how early childhood and elementary teachers do things. The first is academic and about differentiation: How do you integrate an app with the content you are teaching? Do most apps have pre-existing content? The second is about management. Is your school using “social and emotional learning” (SEL) principles and how do those play out in terms of how you keep students on task during center time? Thanks!

  2. Thank you for the post, Susan! Since I don’t have children, I’m not at all familiar with the apps available for young children. Common Sense Media is such a great resource. The curated lists you shared seem like they would be very helpful for parents and teachers navigating the plethora of apps and websites available for students/children.

    Like Stephanie, I share your experience with learning centers sometimes not going as smoothly as possible. Coming from the 8th grade classroom, the only way I could make them work was to constantly walk the room to check in, offer guidance (and correction), and ensure all members of a group were on task. Without an aide, I’m not sure how any teacher could make it work to dedicate station time to one group alone. I’d be curious to know if incorporating technology into stations like you suggest might remedy the trouble with students working independently but not being engaged or focused.

  3. Susan,
    What a wonderful post. Last year I started integrating technology during my literacy centers. I agree with what you said about engagement and needing assistance when they are in independent centers. I have found that technology has really helped my students with staying engaged (I wish I had more computers as it is their favorite activity). Although I have only used district programs during technology time I love that you included Common Sense Media, I have heard that they have a great list of appropriate apps/games for primary students so I will have to check at out so I can implement new sites for my students. Keep up the great work!

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