Teaching Programming to our PreReaders: How can Coding Teach Students to Read?

Teaching Reading through Coding

In many ways, my whole career changed when I asked the question, “If I can teach coding to pre-readers, can coding help them learn to reading?” This episode of Beyond the hour of code talks through my learning process and highlights some of the most useful pieces.

I have included below the framework and template for one of my ScratchJr coding activities. I find that I only have to build a few of these activities and the kids quickly develop the skills to set up the characters and backgrounds on their own screens.

Check it out and let me know how you can adapt the idea to fit your goals and your learners.

A Reading Programming Activity with Templates

Ever since I discovered that my pre-reading students could code using leveled apps like Kodable and The Foos, as well as open studio apps like Scratch Jr, I have worked to figure out how this fun and engaging challenge could be linked to literacy instruction.

At my previous school, we did very little direct reading instruction in kindergarten, but we work on developing letter and number sense. There are sight words that are studied. As I worked with my kindergarten teachers I asked them what words we could support the kids in spelling and they brought me to the word wall.

Preparing Students for Programming

For this lesson, I chose “you, have, and peace.” I thought these words made a logical progression of challenges. Then I set to crafting a digital learning experience. I used to do craft paper learning experiences with blackline masters, a photocopier and white out. To create a digital learning experience I build half of a program inside of Scratch Jr. I set up 3 different stages and each stage was a “level” holding one of the 3 words.

I had to make some adjustments to how the app functioned to set some boundaries on this learning experience. I used guided access on the Ipads to turn o the touch on the main stage. This meant my students had to use code to move the letters because they could not click and drag them.

The students have worked in Scratch Jr before, so I only had to show them the activity once and set them to work. Since I had guided access enabled, every Ipad was already on and in the app when I walked in the door.

Once the students got to work there were a couple of standard challenge points. as the “y” moves, it gets reversed. The students had to figure out how to solve that. As the students got into it the room got quieter and there was a level of focus. The challenge was real and in reflection, I can see the kids were learning and struggling because there was a wide range of abilities and success levels. Check out the Youtube video to see the program in action. Click on THIS LINK TO EVERNOTE to download the Scratch Jr file onto your own device.

Creating a Custom Workflow

I use a couple of tools to make this lesson a success, one was guided access. By shutting down parts of the screen I was able to make this open studio app behave like a more restricted leveled app. This allowed me to create a 3 level digital learning experience that engaged and challenged the students. The second built-in tool I used was airdrop. I bet you could use Android's near field to do the same thing, I wrote the experience on one iPad and used airdrop to send it to the 16 iPads in the cart and set them each up. The prep on this was a little intense as it takes time to move the files and activates guided access. The outcome was so good I am working on a more advanced version for our first-grade team.

Links to Mentioned Apps

Let Us Know What You Think!

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About the author, Sam

Sam is Makerspace coordinator at Echo Horizon School, the nicest little school on Los Angeles' West Side. In the classroom since '02 Sam has taught grades PreK-12. Every lesson is a writing lesson.