VoiceThread in a 1st-grade Classroom
Introducing Two Founding Fathers
Jennifer Orr: We've taken a couple of weeks, we've spent a couple of days just reading books about Benjamin Franklin. Some of the books were definitely at a level above their real reading ability, but they had some fabulous images in them, which I knew would trigger some thoughts, and then a lot of them were trade books that we've purchased to have at their level. And we created our data retrieval chart about him, looking for the dates in his life, the way he contributed to our lives today, and then just the things that they find fascinating. They're supposed to know, according to the state, his contributions. I add the facts because, really, there's always things we find fascinating that don't fit under the title of contributions.
Jennifer Orr: Let's see what we learned about—
Students: Benjamin Franklin.
Jennifer Orr: Alright, Paolos, where are you?
Jennifer Orr: Paolos, when was he born?
Student: He was born in 1706.
Jennifer Orr: And he died on April 17, in 1790. But what did we learn about him? Let's see, we learned that he made bifocals. What are bifocals?
Student: The top one makes you see far and the bottom one makes you see close.
Jennifer Orr: Right, special glasses to help people so they can see far away and up close. He proved that lightning is electricity. Did he discover electricity?
Jennifer Orr: But he figured something special out about electricity and lightning. And then he used that to make lightning rods. Do you remember why lightning rods were so important? What do you remember, Dalal?
Student: Because some houses got on fire.
Jennifer Orr: What would set them on fire?
Jennifer Orr: The lightning.
So this way the lightning rod captured that lightning and took it safely to the ground so that their houses and their buildings didn't burn.
He made a special arm so he could reach books on way up high shelves. He helped us get independence so that we could be our own country. We're going to see a really fun picture about that in a little bit. And he helped make our government. Once we were our own country we needed a government. Somebody had to help us figure out how we were going to run our country.
And then we thought it was kind of cool that he was on the $100 bill. That he used a kite to help him swim faster. Do you remember that picture when he was a kid and he was holding onto the kite and the wind would pull him through the water? And that he made wooden flippers and paddles for swimming. He must have liked to swim. And that he wore different clothes from us, he looked different from us. Alright, and then who did we talk about next?
Students: George Washington.
Jennifer Orr: He was born after Benjamin Franklin, he came a little bit later, although they were friends, they knew each other, and he died a little bit later. And look what we called him.
Jennifer Orr: So we started together looking at that and then looking at the images on the VoiceThread. Some of those images they'd seen before and some they hadn't seen before.
Jennifer Orr: We need to get that organized, because right now, we have George and then we have Ben and then we have George again and then we have Ben again. We need to get it sorted so that when we watch it, it makes sense. Remember how we said my story this morning didn't make sense because it didn't go in the right order?
Jennifer Orr: Yeah, we need this one to go in the right order, too. Who should we put first, Benjamin Franklin or George Washington?
Students: George Washington.
Jennifer Orr: Why are you all telling me we should put George first? What're you thinking?
Student: Because he's the first dollar bill.
Jennifer Orr: Oh, because he's on the $1 bill? Hm. Jewel, why were you thinking we should put him first?
Student: Because he's the first president.
Jennifer Orr: Because he was the first president. What do you think?
Student: Because he's the first father of our country.
Jennifer Orr: We call him the father of our country. Are there any reasons why we should put Benjamin Franklin first? What do you think?
Student: He's in the $100 bill.
Jennifer Orr: That makes him pretty special, because he's on the $100 bill.
Student: He created lots of stuff.
Jennifer Orr: He sure did. We barely even started writing about all the things he did, didn't we?
Jennifer Orr: What else?
Student: He was born before George Washington.
Jennifer Orr: So he was born first, so we could put him first.
So if you think that we should put George Washington first, raise your hand. And if you think we should put Ben Franklin first, raise your hand. Hm, interesting. Alright, we have a little bit of an edge for George, so we're going to stick with George first.
Recording Their Thoughts
Jennifer Orr: Here we've got George as our first picture. But look what we can do here, are you ready to see this? We can move the pictures around. So if I grab this picture I can move it. Let's see if we can find another picture of George to put second.
It's not moving as easily as you'd hoped, huh? Oh, there you got it second, nicely done.
We've got George and George with his family and then we've got Ben. So where's another? That's Benjamin Franklin writing, and that's Benjamin writing the Declaration of Independence, and that's at the library. We need his battles. Okay, can you move it to be next? Alright, thanks. Now, here's my next question for you. Now we have this picture of George as president, this picture of George with his family, and this picture of George’s battles. Do we want them in that order, or do we want to change that? Angie, what’re you thinking?
Student: I think we should put the battle first.
Jennifer Orr: Why?
Student: Because he battled first before he was president.
Jennifer Orr: Okay. Come up and move the battles. Can you drag it over? Alright, thanks. We've got the kite, we've got the library, we've got him writing, then we've got the Declaration of Independence. What do you think we should do with those? Dalal, what are you thinking?
Student: Declaration of Independence first.
Jennifer Orr: Why?
Student: Because I think he did it first.
Jennifer Orr: Okay. We're not real sure about the order of his things as much, are we?
Jennifer Orr: Do you think that was a really important thing he did?
Jennifer Orr: Come move it.
So it’s kind of a neat thing to put after George. You can move it right up there, [?].There we go, nicely done.
Jennifer Orr: And I wanted to spend the time sorting those images both to kind of make sure that they understood the difference between George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. We’ve found in the past that sometimes if we zip through people too quickly, they begin to blur in their understanding. So hopefully the sorting of them helps them keep straight who did what and what they were involved in.
Jennifer Orr: Alright, in just a minute, I’m going to send a few of you off to record your thoughts. And you can record on whichever picture you want. If you want to do a picture of George Washington or a picture of Benjamin Franklin, you’re going to go and record. Remember when you do—let’s look at it for a second—remember how we comment and don't forget—what’s the one I’m going to tell you not to forget? To pick your picture, to own your comments. If you don't change it, it'll be my picture that shows up and it'll be like I left that really smart comment.
Now, use the arrows and pick which picture you want to leave a comment on. Which one do you want to talk about? Benjamin Franklin at the library, or with the kite?
Student: I want to go with Benjamin writing.
Jennifer Orr: Okay, so you’re going to click on ‘record’ when you’re ready. Do you know what you’re going to say?
Student: George is in the photo when he was in the president.
Jennifer Orr: Okay, click on ‘record’ again.
Student: This is George Washington.
Recording: This is George Washington.
Student: Like it.
Student: Benjamin Franklin was doing the Independence with other guys because England was treating us very badly and we did not want to be part of their country any more so that’s why we wrote their Independence.
Student: George Washington was the best president of all. Actually, he married Martin—Martha.
Recording: George Washington was the best president of all. Actually, he married Martin—Martha.
Jennifer Orr: Adding the technology piece kept their interest, and I’m hoping that it will keep their interest as they go on, so that they keep thinking about this, instead of it just being, well, we spent a week on George Washington and then we're done. We spent a week on Abraham Lincoln, and then we’re done. I'm hoping that the VoiceThread will let them keep thinking about these things as we have to move on to other things.
The Challenges of Preliteracy
Jennifer Orr: They've worked with VoiceThread before, so I knew it was something that they would feel comfortable with, but would also make it a little bit exciting to bring their thinking together. The first couple of VoiceThreads we did were very basic things about strategies, games that they had learned to play or what they were doing at recess. I would take pictures of things and just put them in there so that they could practice the process of recording them or typing comments. I try not to throw both the technology and the content at them together for the first time.
I love VoiceThread in the classroom. And I was really excited to find it when I went from 5th grade down to 1st, because our 5th graders were blogging, we had Wikis tracking our learning throughout the year, there were so many things they were doing that I thought, we can’t do this in 1st grade because they can’t read and write yet. I mean, they can read and write some but not to a level that was really going to capture their thinking. And so, VoiceThread offered us that opportunity. It was a place for them to have a blog, to communicate with each other, to build their comments into conversations. It gave us a place to record our learning. So it opened up the things that I wanted them to be able to do, even though many of them are preliterate.
I hope that them sitting down with VoiceThread and scrolling through the different images to choose what they wanted to comment on gave them a chance to synthesize about the two men, or at the very least, about the one that they really were focused on, as they tried to pick which image they wanted. I thought it was interesting to see that some of them knew immediately which image they wanted, so they clearly already kind of had a picture in their head of this person and what they were fascinated by.
Student: This is a portrait of George Washington.
Jennifer Orr: They’re very comfortable just saying, “This is George Washington,” and I need to get them to think—I think they're still more excited about just sitting down and recording their comment than they are about thinking deeply about it. And so I need to push at least the ones who are still doing that to really be thinking about that more.
Part of it is, they’re 1st graders and so the text becomes a challenge to them, but a lot of it is I think that looking at things in the distant past really requires that they see the realities of it. It's hard for them to picture it. It’s hard for them to picture what life was like when I was a child. So if they can see the clothing they wore, the tools they used, the way they got around, their daily life through portraits and things it really helps them have a better understanding of it.