GUEST BLOG: Small Steps to Big Learning... Using the INFOhio Early Learning Portal with Early Learners — Emily Rozmus, INFOhio
By: Guest Blogger
What does using technology with early learners look like?
When I first started working with this age as a school librarian, it looked like more than 20 kindergarteners sitting in front of computers with their hands on their heads. Despite my relative inexperience with the age group, I quickly figured out that if there were keyboards in front of them, early learners would push the keys. There would be no direction or completion of any task without that temptation taken away. I first tried having them sit on their hands, but that produced a lot of rocking from side to side and even some inappropriate noises. Finally, “Put your hands on your heads!” seemed to work. They sat immobile in front of their computers, hands on heads, almost statue-like. Better yet, they were listening! We practiced that about five times. That took us to the end of day one of using computers in the library. Check!
As the weeks went on, I was successful in not only getting the 5-year-olds to log in but also in helping them learn to use a mouse and double click. Each lesson took the whole 45 minutes, but we finally were able to successfully log in, use the mouse and click with enough skill to get to a website. This was about six or seven years ago, and there were very few support resources to help a cash-strapped school librarian with early learners and technology. Instead, I used what I had: years of teaching experience, lots of strategies, flexibility and patience. It turned out that those were just what I needed to get my early learners logged in and learning.
Today, all Ohio early learning educators, even the cash-strapped ones like I was, have access to help! The INFOhio Early Learning Portal is a resource for educators and parents of learners ages 3-5. It contains more than 50 free or affordable websites and apps. INFOhio carefully chose and evaluated each one. The resources are aligned to the Ohio Early Learning Standards, and a helpful chart is available for each domain that provides a corresponding resource for the standards within that domain. Often, a specific component of the resource, like a BookFlix e-book, is given to support the learning outcome, making intervention and personalized learning easier for busy teachers.
It can be intimidating to integrate technology into a curriculum, especially if teachers don’t feel they have enough experience, devices or time to make it work with early learners. But, as I learned when I started, the best way to begin is to use what already is established and available. Many early learning curriculums and programs use centers, which is a great way to integrate technology. One or more centers could be set up with a computer or tablet with the INFOhio Early Learning Portal resource ready for students. This eliminates frustrations that may arise if children must access the resource on their own and provides more time for the student to work on the standard. Many preschools still are working on supplying students with enough computers or tablets for individual use. Centers allow students to work with the app or website in groups, not only learning content but also skills, such as taking turns, providing verbal support and positive peer interaction.
Another way to integrate technology into an already established program is during circle time or other teacher-student direct instruction. A great way to provide interactive and engaging lessons is to use a tablet with a small group or a projector with a larger group. Games and videos in the resources on the INFOhio Early Learning Portal are a great way to get learners moving and thinking. There are many great e-books available as well, which allow students to hear the story while watching the words appear on the screen as they are highlighted. This lesson plan for preschool featuring Early World of Learning is a great way to use an e-book as a read-aloud story. Starting off small by substituting technology for another tool or process is great way to gradually introduce the resource into the curriculum.
With first-hand, daily knowledge gained from working with an individual learner comes the irreplaceable skill of matching learner needs with level and strategy. Using technology individually with students is one of the most powerful ways to provide a foundation of learning. One-on-one interaction with feedback and praise cannot replace any automated program that does the same. Working with a student one-on-one is a great way to amp up the technology in the curriculum and use it to modify and redesign learning. For example, using apps such as Draw and Tell, Bedtime Math or Little Bird Tales can put a new spin on student creations, sharing with parents and assessing learning.
Using technology with early learners can be a daunting task, but starting with substitution and using what you already have can help eliminate many barriers — especially time or lack of devices. Choose one resource, or even one student, and integrate the INFOhio Early Learning Portal into your lesson. As you gain confidence, and the learners ask for more, you will find small steps will lead you and your students to bigger learning, not only in content but in skills and development.
The INFOhio Early Learning Portal was developed in partnership with the Office of Gov. John Kasich, Ohio Department of Education and Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and is maintained by INFOhio, which is optimized by the Management Council.
Emily Rozmus is an INFOhio instructional team specialist. She has worked in education for 24 years, first as a secondary English teacher and then as a district librarian. Emily has developed district growth plans, integrated technology, created instruction for information literacy, fostered teacher development and worked on teams to implement curriculum. At INFOhio, she focuses on helping educators use INFOhio resources to improve early learning. She also works to share research and best practices for helping students be better readers of INFOhio's digital text.