Why is Guided Access important in Elementary Grades?

I was not a fan of guided access when I first heard about it.  I don't like net filters, and in general, I don't want to restrict users, I want to educate them.  Then I stopped working with high school students and started working in elementary.  I still don't believe in using restrictions and filters from keeping kids locked into an app, but I have found that strategic use of guided access can transform a lesson, keeping kids focused on the actual object of the lesson.

I came to guided access slowly.  It started by noticing the amount of time I was wasting in class helping kids get back into apps that they had accidentally swiped out of.  My first step was to turn off multitouch gestures and this helped, especially when they were working in pairs.  My youngest students touch the screen all the time, they can't stop themselves, when there are two of them on the device, this results in many commands the iPad reads as a five finger close of the app.  Once I turned off multitouch, I spent much less time helping kids get back into the app.  In this case, the students were not off task as much as they were cyberclutzes.

What's Wrong With Choice?

Choice is a double edge sword, in this case, I love Scratch Jr because it is a robust open studio platform for my pre-readers.  Unfortunately, it can be a challenging app to teach in because it is an open studio.  There are many interesting things to do, and this week a I learned how to use guided access to keep my kids focused on the lesson I planned.

Guided Access saved the learning in my lesson via @sampatue Click To Tweet

I have been trying to figure out how to create programming experiences that support literacy skill development.  If they can program without reading, maybe the act of learning to program can support reading skills.

Scratch Jr is an amazing iPad and Android based coding platform that requires no reading.  This week I created a coding challenge for the kindergarten students.  I gave them 4 characters to program.  The letters “L,O,V,E” had to be programmed to appear in the right order on the screen.  The first major win was that Scratch Jr has made program distribution a great deal easier. I wrote the program on my iPad and used email or airdrop to send it to my class iPads.  In the middle of the process I discovered that with my 4th generation and newer iPads, airdrop was so fast.  I hope they use the near-field transfer available on the android.

Taking the Guided Plunge

My first run at using Guided Access, I turned it on and defined my “off zones.” Simply by drawing above a button, I can make that part of the screen inactive.  I blocked out the home button and the two buttons that are used to add characters and backgrounds.  I know my students love to add characters and customize them, and if I am not careful they will depend on most of the time coloring instead of coding.

I launch GA in my office and then load all the iPads back into the cart and head to class.  Once I get to class the deployment is quick, but it goes take time to triple click to turn on and off and a passcode is required.  It is also important to note that the iPads don't fully sleep in guided access, so be watchful of the battery.

Once I had the kinders coding and I quickly noticed a problem, they were dragging the letters into place and not coding.  This makes sense, and is easier, mus, of course,e it undercuts what I was trying to get them to do.  So I went around and added a new dead zone over the whole stage.  Limited this way, the students did focus on coding.  I created a second challenge on the fly by rearranging the letters in a more difficult way for the students.

The next lesson will have 3 stages, a 3 letter word, a 4 letter word, and a 5 letter word.  In many ways I am building a game they have to program.  Along the way, we are practicing sequence, left to right reading, sounds, sight words, and spelling.

While I bristle at the thought of using filters to lock kids out of content, I am warming to the practice of limiting options in an open design app to create more of a leveled experience.  I want open studios for the kids to work in, but during skill building we need to focus.  Using guided access to create a leveled set of challenges is a great way to use the device to shape the app to serve the learning you are aiming for.

Please Share Your Story With Us

What are your thoughts?  How do you use Guided Access with your students?  Please leave us some comments below and let us know what you think.  Thank You – Sam

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.

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