When I first started learning about “blended learning,” it sounded like something only teachers of older students could use. So much of the premise is letting students work independently and at their own pace, and I knew this sounded like the dream way to run a classroom because of the possibilities with differentiation.
However, I was struggling with figuring out how I could get kindergartners rotating independently and collaborating on differentiated tasks. I do have an aide, but there still wasn’t going to be enough adults to go around! I was thinking there was no way I’d be able to truly use blended learning in my kindergarten class.
Then, I was shown the Seesaw app. “It’s a digital portfolio where students take charge and are able to explain their learning,” I was told. Intrigued, I downloaded it and began to play around. After watching tutorial videos, learning how to upload work, and seeing how simple it would be for my kids to use, I was sold. This was how I was going to be able to make blended learning work! Now, I’m a full-on Seesaw enthusiast and want to share my love for this tool with you.
What is Seesaw? A Digital Portfolio that Students Run
Seesaw is a digital tool that is easy for kids to use and can be found as an app or a website. It’s a way for families to get a glimpse into their child’s day. It’s a way for teachers to track progress and give feedback without having to collect papers or do daily individual conferring (powerful, but not practical).
You can customize your Seesaw homepage with colors and icons. Mine is turquoise with an apple icon, my teammate’s is blue with an owl. This makes it very easy for our kids to see which class is logged on if you share devices (if you’re 1:1, you don’t have to worry about this). If it’s the wrong class, they have been shown how to log out, then scan our class QR code to log themselves back in. Seesaw provides this QR code which I have in a page protector hanging up in our room for easy access.
Students can upload their work in multiple ways: taking a picture, taking a video, uploading from the camera roll, typing, or creating a drawing. There are options for students to record themselves talking about their work, which gives teachers more insight into their understanding and process. I especially love the annotating feature which allows students to both record their voice and make annotations directly on the picture or video that they uploaded.
All of the work that students add to their journal (what Seesaw calls each student’s portfolio) is saved chronologically, but teachers can also create folders within Seesaw to keep everything organized. It’s so simple to go back and check for progress in a content area because you just need to click on the corresponding folder and scroll!
The comment feature is a favorite of mine. I am able to leave feedback on each of my student’s work samples. Teachers can leave written comments or voice comments that their students will be able to check the next time they log on to Seesaw. Parents can also “like” and leave comments on their child’s work, and students can do the same. Teachers have the option to turn those commenting features on or off.
How I Use Seesaw in Kindergarten
I love the flexibility that Seesaw gives me for collecting work samples, so I try to use in in every content area. This helps with not only giving me a lot of data for each student, but it also keeps my students accountable when they are working independently because they know I expect to see a post on Seesaw about the work they’ve done.
I use Seesaw for counting collections and small group instruction. During counting collections (their hands-on rotation), students count their collection, check their count by using a strategy, then write the total. Then, they use an iPad to take a picture of their count and record themselves explaining the process. I have coached them through this process for about a month, and now they are independently recording themselves without my prompting. This is the script we’ve practiced:
“Today I counted ______ (the type of object in their collection). I counted one-by-one. I checked my count by ______ (the strategy they used: drawing circles, grouping by tens and ones, etc.). I had ______ in all.”
Most of my students can do this without adult support, but some still need prompting. There are a few students who we sit with when they count their collections because we want to record with them. In those instances, I add anecdotes during the recording to remind myself of any mistakes they made and so that parents can hear how I supported them. This helps so much when I am going back to listen and to check for common errors.
I sometimes use Seesaw to post my small group lesson. I use the drawing feature because it allows me to record my voice while also recording the drawing I do to model skills for my students. I like to use this during my lessons on decomposing numbers, addition, and subtraction. When I record my lesson (sometimes the recordings are up to 10 min. long), I post them out to the journals of the students in that small group so that their parents can watch and see how to support their learning at home.
Like in math, I sometimes post my small group lessons to Seesaw. I primarily do this during my lessons on substituting sounds or word families. I also post pictures of students working on sight words with Wikki Stix or Playdoh. I find that parents really enjoy these posts because they can see and hear how we are supporting their children and can use some of the same strategies and tools at home.
Most of the time, Seesaw is used during word study to record what students do during their centers (their hands-on, collaboration rotation). I give students multiple activities in their center basket, and the expectation is that before their rotation is over they will complete an activity, take a picture, and record themselves explaining how they completed it. This gives me insight into what they are working on during an independent (meaning no teacher support, but they are working with their peers) activity. This also holds students accountable because they know I will be checking to see if they completed at least one activity during their center time.
I use two apps in conjunction with one another, Seesaw and ChatterPix. ChatterPix is an app that allows students to take a picture of something and then make it talk! I use it primarily for my students to record themselves telling the main idea of a story. They take a picture of the main character, draw a “mouth” from which their voice will come out, and then record themselves telling the main idea of the story. When they play back the video, it looks like the character is talking but they hear their own voice! It really makes engaging with books more exciting and fun.
My students save their ChatterPix recording to the camera roll (this option is built in to the app), then open Seesaw. They upload their video to Seesaw using the camera roll feature, and then it is in their journal for us to watch. This takes some coaching at first to get all of the steps down, but it is fairly intuitive and students pick it up quickly. I allow one small group of students per day to record the main idea of one of the books in their book box during independent reading time. This keeps the noise level still fairly quiet while the other children are reading.
I’ve found that listening to a kindergartner tell their stories is much more effective and impactful than having them turn it on and trying to figure it out on your own. That’s why I use Seesaw to allow students to record themselves reading their stories. This allows us adults to hear the story as the student intended, not our own interpretation. As I’m scoring the story on a rubric afterward, I am able to go back and listen to the student tell it which helps me score tremendously. Parents love it, too, because sometimes their child brings home a story that he or she can’t quite understand. Being able to go on Seesaw and listen helps them hear how their child is becoming a writer.
In the beginning, students need support from an adult to record themselves reading their stories. It can be done during independent writing time by pulling one student at a time. The teacher can hold the iPad and record the video while the student is talking and turning pages. Eventually, writing partners can take on this role and record each other. I only do one small group of students per day when recording stories, and I typically do it during the final revision process.
So, is Seesaw worth trying? The answer is a resounding YES.
It takes time to get your students comfortable using Seesaw. You do have to model and coach them for the first couple of months. Trust me, though, all of the effort is worth it. You will have copious amounts of data on each of your students by the end of the year. Report cards become so easy to complete because of all of the Seesaw posts you have at your disposal. No more taking stacks of papers home to grade, all you need is your phone! I open up Seesaw either on my iPad or iPhone and check it at school in the afternoons or on my couch at home. Grading made SO EASY.
You’ll get to know your students better than you ever have before. Parents are more “in the know” with their child’s progress than they’ve ever been. And your students get to literally watch themselves grow and change as their year goes on. Try Seesaw, you won’t be disappointed!