Bad pun. I should know better. I couldn’t resist. 😉
Today, we kicked off our first grade robotics lesson with what was supposed to be a quick review exercise of last week’s lesson. It ended up taking almost twelve of our PRECIOUS minutes, instead of the five I had planned for. (Losing seven minutes is huge when you only see the kids for fifty minutes a week and they typically run five minutes late because of lunch.)
The problem was not the kids and their abilities, but the Smartboard technology. The technology couldn’t keep up with them!
This was the original plan. Students would take turns at the StarBoard selecting words from a word bank and sliding the correct words into blank spots in a passage with gaps. If the class liked the selection, they would give a thumbs up. The student at the board would then choose the next student to come up to the board. It was a typical cloze passage exercise modified for an Interactive White Board (IWB). It should have been a fast, fun activity for the kids that would give us teachers the opportunity to assess what the kids had retained from last week.
During planning, I was a little concerned that I had overestimated the reading and vocabulary skills of our first graders.
I used a number of two and three syllable words, and I referred to technical vocabulary such as motor, axle, computer program and commands. My co-teacher mentioned that he thought I was a little crazy to expect them to succeed at this activity.
Boy, were we both surprised. What I had overestimated was the technology’s ability to keep up with this amazing group of young readers!
The kids had no problem with the cloze exercise or the vocabulary. They had the reading skills and they had retained the information from the previous week’s lesson. They were decoding, comprehending and using deduction when they weren’t positive about a word. Unfortunately, the StarBoard software was slow and unresponsive and the exercise ended up taking longer than it should have. Students were frustrated when their words wouldn’t slide into place and too much time was spent trying to manipulate the text on screen. I love IWB technology, but today I wanted to chuck ours out the window.
Luckily we get to teach the lesson to a second group tomorrow.
We reflected after the lesson and decided the cloze exercise activity was a good review and that we didn’t want to cut it, but we needed to find a more efficient way to incorporate it into the lesson and we ideally would like to assess the students on a more individual basis.
Since I want to model a paper-free work environment when possible, I set out to find a program for creating cloze passages that students could complete online using the laptops.
It turned out to be more difficult than you might think. While there are many sites that offer teachers the ability to create printable cloze passage worksheets, few offer a solution for an e-learning environment.
I found a program called Cloze Pro that looks great, but there’s no cash to spend on software. I read a post from Bill Boyd about a free software he uses called Cloze Test Generator. It was super simple and free, but it didn’t have a drop-down menu option or a click and drag option and since the goal was to speed the activity up, I didn’t love the idea of having a room full of first graders struggling to enter text into text boxes.
Finally, after a fairly thorough search I stumbled across J-Cloze from Hot Potato. It’s freeware and fairly easy to figure out. Download it, open it, and use the help function if you need it. It’s not as easy to use as the programs I mentioned before, but JCLoze allows more user control and if you are comfortable with freeware applications, it won’t be a problem.
Tomorrow, students will be working in pairs at the laptops to complete the same cloze passage review exercise we tried at the IWB today. I’m looking forward to seeing how it works out. I’ll report later with details regarding whether the activity was a success or not! Maybe I’ll even do a little before-after. 🙂
Wish me luck!