Tell About This: A Communication App for the Play-Based Classroom

As the techology facilitator at a PYP school, I am constantly on the look out for engaging apps that enhance learning and don’t just replace what students could do with physical materials and tools. I spent a lot of time in the first few weeks learning about the play-based Reggio Emilia approach at our PYP school. To best support this model, I continue to work with the teachers and students in-class as much as possible to see first hand how tech and iPads can enhance learning for young students.

In the first week of school, while scrolling #ecechat on Twitter, I came across a tweet about an app called Tell About This . After quickly researching it, I knew this documentation tool would fit well with the play-based environment of our school’s curriculum and I couldn’t wait to share it with Early Years and Kindergarten teachers! We’d been searching for ways to integrate the iPads in a meaningful way that would be age-appropriate for 3-5 year olds while also supporting the Reggio Emilia exploratory approach to learning.

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As soon as I shared the app with the Early Years and Kindergarten teams, they were thrilled at the possibilities for digitizing and enhancing documentation. The ‘Customize’ option and student ‘Profiles’ organizes documentation and enables them to personalize the prompts and tailor to specific play-based experiences.

Furthermore, storing the photos in student profiles also simplifies the organization for teachers who are sharing iPads. Currently, each classroom in EY-KG has access to 2 iPads. Using the ’email’ option in the app or uploading the recordnings to Google Drive are two efficient ways teachers could quickly store and share the students recordings.

We decided to trial it in the classrooms first so students became familiar with how to use the app.

Trialing the app in the Kindergarten classroom

I started with the 5-year old students in Kindergarten. They had been busy creating and building objects in the art studio and I took the opportunity to snap some photos and create prompts from what they made that day. This was definitely an activity that needed one teacher supervising while I pulled students 1:1. The children were eager to talk about their creations and spoke easily to the iPad as if it were a classmate. They pointed out details from their creation and elaborated on why they chose certain materials. For the most part, students were extremely comfortable talking and explaining their thinking. I immediately saved the file to the camera roll and emailed it to the teacher so she could take a look. Later on, I uploaded all the saved files to Google Drive so the teacher could access them on any device.

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Using photos of student work and play-based examples in the classroom, the KG teacher and I created customized prompts for the children.

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Then the students recorded their voice over the customized prompts.

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The prompts are saved to their profile on a designated iPad and can be shared via email or

uploaded to the camera roll and then to Google Drive.

Tell About This in Early Years

After succeeding with the older students I met with Early Years team and we planned a time I could come in and set up student profiles and personalized prompts. Due to the developmental needs of this age group (3 and 4 year olds), it helped to have one teacher pulling students to trial the app while the other teacher facilitated play with the rest of the class. Even though there was just 1-2 years difference, the children reacted very differently to the app.

As soon as I started creating the profile (which has an option of snapping the child’s photo as part of the profile) the 3 and 4 year olds wanted to be the one to take their own picture. They crowded around and asked if they could type their name or press the ‘white button’ on the camera app.

After using a blocks construction as a prompt, the ‘builder’ (a 3.5 year old) sat himself in the blocks area with the iPad and prompt in front of him. He was quite confident telling me (and the iPad) about his construction, however he preferred to refer and point to the actual construction rather than refer to the screen. I noticed this happened when I worked with other 3-year-olds as well and it revealed a lot about their comfort level with the iPads and their preferred way to communicate (to the teacher rather than the device).

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One Early Years student (age 4) types her own name for the Tell About This app.

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This young student preferred to point and talk to the blocks (and me)

rather than focus solely on the picture on the iPad.

Summary of Ideas for Tell About This:

In Early Years 1, we used the app to have students reflect on their field trip to the pumpkin patch. Students chose their own photo and then (with guidance) shared what they saw in the picture and what happened on that day.

In Early Years 2, students chose something they created that day and talked about it using the Tell About This app. This varied from block constructions to artwork. The teachers have also considered possibly capturing scenarios where students were in conflict and using the app as a prompt to have them discuss what was happening.

In Kindergarten, both the teacher and I documented student creations in the Art Studio as they happened. Capturing their thoughts immediately after the finished or while they were working provided authentic thoughts and feelings about the work they were doing. Students were also very engaged and eager to share what they made, while it was happening.

Sharing published Tell About This

After working with one Early Years class the teacher shared the finished Tell Abouts with the students. They were all very excited to hear each other speaking! The teachers were also happy to have these prompts easily documented and stored for them to refer back to at Parent Teacher Conferences.

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In this photo, one student notices the jars of coloured water in the classroom and makes a connection between his classmate’s Tell About This recording, and the jars in the corner. The teacher and students engage in a discussion about the coloured water and what’s inside them.

Reflections and Going Further

Although we are still exploring how best to use Tell About This, it’s very clear that this app will be a valuable tool in the Early Years and Kindergarten. It was easy for teachers to figure out on their own and teachers are appreciative of its simple interface and the ease of creating prompts for their students. The most time-consuming component is creating the profiles of students, and this can quickly be remedied by snapping photos in advance and creating profiles at a time when students are not in the room. We did notice the recordings were clearer in sound if the children were removed slightly from the group and we will continue to try alternative ways of minimizing background noise (moving outside the classroom or using a microphone/headset). The prompts are easy to create on the spot which is invaluable in a play-based classroom with many activities happening at once and children moving from one to the next. As a PYP school, teachers feel this app supports the Viewing & Presenting strands of language arts as it allows children to reflect on their creations and discuss visual texts. Looking ahead, teachers are interested in using the tool primarily for documentation and building a portfolio of oral student reflections over the course of the year.

One thought on “Tell About This: A Communication App for the Play-Based Classroom

  1. Pingback: 4P27 Curation -How will I incorporate the 21st century literacies into my own practice? | Jessica Ho

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