Sunday, February 26, 2017

Reflecting on Google Classroom: Evolving with the Updates

Google Classroom was released in August 2014. In that time, its evolution has provided a platform that not only helps instructors deliver content to students but also create a community in which students can become active participants in learning. Syncing Google Products in one location makes managing workflow easier and also provides teachers with many modes of instruction. Recent upgrades to this platform involve student and teacher notification options, syncing with a variety of other educational platforms, and choices of how, to whom, and at what time teachers push out assignments. The consistent improvement to this free platform has incredible potential to not only improve a teacher's productivity but also create unique and meaningful learning experiences for students.

As my district prepares to officially be one-to-one next year with Chromebooks, I could not be more excited about a few recent upgrades to Classroom and what that could mean for students and teachers alike. What is so neat about the quick evolution of Classroom is that it continues to respond to teacher's needs and makes delivering content to students a more efficient, effective, and accessible process for people with all technology skill levels.

1. Notification controls.

Teachers and students can specify whether they receive notification controls. As educators, we receive an incredible amount of emails each day. For some, Google Classroom notifications can be overwhelming. For me, I find it helpful in managing my workflow and keeping track of students who submit late work. With student absences, these notifications remind me to return to a past assignment and grade makeup / late work. Students can also receive notifications or turn them off as needed. These notifications tell students they have an assignment due and inform them that they have feedback. For several of my students, they express that they like knowing when they have a new assignment or announcement in Classroom. Again, in a fast-paced world, this feature helps keep them organized, but if students find it overwhelming, they can turn it off, too.

2. Topic Feature:

For a long time, the stream of assignments felt overwhelming to me. The topic feature allows teachers to narrow the stream down just a little bit adding topics. I enjoy organizing ideas by topics (or units). Adding topic tags can help students locate key information more efficiently and simplify their list of assignments as needed.

3. Individual Assignments:

For a long time, I struggled with creating group assignments or individualizing lessons using Google Classroom. Being able to select students and assign individual assignments has revolutionized group work and collaboration. Now, I can assign a group document or project to a few students and have them share that document with their peers. Instead of students making a copy and changing share settings with me, I can push specific assignments out to particular students. I can also target students and provide different assignments to students based on individual skill levels. This ability to differentiate learning is straightforward and allows me to meet different students learning needs. It is also easy to track these assignments once they are pushed out because the assignments in the stream list who has received a given assignment. I no longer have to keep track of who has what assignment because the record is kept for me. I love this feature and have seen students respond particularly well to group work using this feature. 

 4. Schedule Assignments:

Scheduling assignments is helpful for a variety of reason. To avoid pushing out too many assignments at one time, I can schedule assignment to appear at a later date in the order in which I want students to complete them. Also, I can schedule a quiz to appear at the onset of class, instead of the morning of the assignment. To avoid students looking ahead at assessments, the scheduling feature allows me to be prepared for class while controlling when students have access to work. Scheduling assignments allows me to stay ahead and organized while ensuring that the timing of assignments is effective for my students. For people who like to plan ahead, this feature is fantastic.

5. Questions

A few weeks ago, a colleague came into my room and wanted to know an easy what to have online discussions with students. Using Blogger, TodaysMeet, Padlet, and other webtools can provide ways in which to have class discussions, but one of the fastest and easiest ways to have a discussion with students is using the questions feature in Google Classroom. Students can post, read, reply, and engage with their peers as quickly as a teacher can post the question. This feature is one that I find helpful when I have a few extra minutes in class. Students like participating in online discussions and the questions are easy to find. Having these discussions through classroom allow students to review these conversations at a later date as well. While I love other webtools for online discussion, using the questions feature allows class learning to stay in one easy to find location for both students and the instructor. 

6. About Tab

The About Tab in Google Classroom has countless possibilities. I like to link my Classroom Agendas folder to Classroom in the About Tab. I have also seen people link a class calendar here, too. Key assignments and links can be placed here to help students access critical information. I am still researching different ways in which to use the About Tab. Like with many features recently added, there are so many possibilities! I am excited to evolve my Google Classroom pages with the product itself to ensure that I am meeting the needs of my students. 

Resources for more about Google Classroom: 

There are a multitude of resources available to help teachers with Google Classroom. It is a bit overwhelming, but people are willing to share ideas. As it continues to evolve, I am even more excited about what this user-friendly product can do to help both teachers and students manage Google products, collaborate, create, and learn. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

It's Not About The Points: Ending a Speech Season

And just like that, another 200 days of my life have passed by in a flash. The competitive speech season is a grind. Beginning in late summer and ending in the (typically) frigid months of February is tough. The hours required to produce a successful team or at least a mildly competitive are much greater than anyone outside of the speech community would ever expect. While students might practice in groups, they must perform individually. With 65 students at eight minutes a script and each student being at least double entered, it does not take long to realize that in any given practice week - that is A LOT of practice time. That total comes to 17 hours and 20 minutes a week. That sum does not take into consideration time to review notes, stop-starting performances, the inevitable prolongation and procrastination of my students, the laughter, and most important the moments that matter most - the life moments.

During practice, a speech coach does more than teach students to deliver clear and succinct messages, more than refining gestures, and more than developing nuanced emotions that convey a clear tone. Speech coaches act as parents, counselors, life coaches, mentors, and even friends. They feed (literally the amount of Wheat Thins and Cheerios I have shared is too much to count), comfort, and console. After 200 days of playing these various roles, I am emotional and physically exhausted. My creative spark has been temporarily extinguished, and I am desperate need of refueling.

This past weekend at the IHSA State Tournament I cried more than I ever have a speech related function (Except when I was two months pregnant with an awful case of a 24-hour stomach flu at Sectionals in Rochelle. Yes, that IS as terrible as it sounds).  My tears were a reaction to the culmination of a season filled with so many memories. Feelings of gratitude, joy, and relief began to rush over me. I altered between laughing and crying for quite some time. What I learned from this past weekend is to embrace the advice I preach to my students - to remember that we are not defined by a single moment. Instead, we are defined by our habits; we are defined by what we do when no one is looking and the kindness we show others. No matter what final round posters or tab sheets report, these students have crafted powerful messages, and the confidence, poise, and grace they have developed will remain with them for years to come.

How does a coach end a season filled with personal growth, medals, laughter, and memories that will last ?

1. Celebrate students.

I am always in awe of young people who elect to participate in speech. Public speaking is often avoided by students and adults alike. The workload for this activity is highly demanding, and the rewards are few, but these students resiliently strive to improve their delivery skills and messages for seven grueling months. Tournaments are long, and the subjectivity of the activity can be disheartening. These students show their mental strength, integrity, and poise. As such, they should be commended and celebrated. After high school speech is done, these students will take their skills and lessons learned and use them to impact all those they meet in the future.

2. Celebrate the work.

One performance is not the work of a single individual. Several adult coaches, peers, and the student himself or herself put in countless hours to refine a message. No matter the points earned or the final outcome of any tournament, the work and effort put into making a presentation is an important instructional process. When a student understands and values hard work, their efforts will transfer into other avenues in life. They will continue to strive to achieve high goals, which will result in exciting endeavors beyond formalized school. Again, the purpose of speech is not the medals won; the purpose is about the process.

3. Reflect.

Team dynamics must be finessed. Creating cohesion, unity, and maintaining moral is a sensitive task. Keeping team traditions alive take a great deal of planning. Reflecting on the team's growth is important to fuel the start of the next year and to determine what the focus must be based on the returning members and the mood the coaches hope to instill in the next generation of the team. To begin this year's reflection, I picked up the book Win at Losing: How Our Biggest Setbacks Can Lead to Our Greatest Gains by Sam Weinman. Competitive speech is marked with failure and criticism. Teaching students to "fail big" and embrace rejection as a valuable learning tool is what keeps students waking up at 5 AM on a Saturday and subjecting themselves to ridicule and partaking in an activity that most people fear worse than death. I hope to continue to understand how to improve camaraderie and build a strong team.

4. Rest.

To be an effective teacher, mother, wife, friend and coach - I forego my health. After months of forgetting to take a lunch to grade a few papers thus freeing my time to watch more film or waking up at 4:30 to finish lesson plans, I need to sleep... or better yet, hibernate. The time to recover and rest is essential to fuel an effective coach of any sport or activity at the end of a long season. A recent NEA article entitled "Not Getting Enough Sleep? Tired Teachers Aren't Usually the Best Teachers," has reminded me that to best serve my students and my family, I need to catch up on sleep!

5. Begin planning for next season. 

Scripting is an arduous process. Finding, cutting, and pairing students with pieces take a great deal of time. Identifying meaningful stories and messages that will engage audiences and add value to the lives of those who hear it is no simple feat. Recognizing students' strengths, taking into account students' interests and experiences, and building the right stories involves reading countless scripts, thumbing through memoirs and nonfiction texts, and watching every talk on TED's website.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Fast-Paced Feedback: Using Technology to Provide Student Feedback

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In a fast-paced world, providing direct and immediate feedback to students is critical. As students submit papers, projects, videos, and other products digitally, the ability to give unique and meaningful feedback becomes easier with technology. Feedback allows students to learn from mistakes, grow as thinkers, and recognize their strengths/weaknesses as learners. When feedback is specific and returned quickly, it becomes more relevant and beneficial to students. Providing commentary also allows teachers to evaluate student progress and develop a rapport with students. While I do not always enjoy the grading grind, I believe it allows me to know my students as learners. To make the grading process more efficient and effective, I have embraced technology to help manage my workflow while making my critiques more meaningful to students. As my district officially goes 1:1 next year, I have started evaluating what types of tools are easy for instructors to utilize and how these tools can reduce the time in between submission by students and return by teachers.

When deciding what extension or webtool to use, it is important to consider:
  1. The product. Is this a Google Doc, video, presentation, etc.? What students create can vastly change the type of feedback that students receive and the approach to grading. 
  2. The weight of the assignment. If this assignment is formative or on the smaller side, feedback might be more generalized, and thus a simpler tool might be more effective. If this is a summative assignment or a final project, a teacher may consider more time-consuming approaches to feedback and even multiple tools depending again on the format of the project. 
  3. The student. Each student has a different preference and style of learning. For students who are auditory listeners, a screencast might be a much better means to deliver feedback. For visual learners, being able to link to assignments, diagrams, presentations, and videos might be more helpful. Again, the nature of the assignment and the product itself must be considered in this situation. 

Extensions and Webtools:

Permanent Clipboard is an amazing extension that allows teachers to predetermine frequently used comments into a bank that can be inserted into a comment in a Google Doc, Presentation, or any other application that allows you to add comments. This extension has cut my grading time in half. I have created a list of common grammar mistakes and inserted hyperlinks into the comments to provide students with more specific feedback and resources that they can use to answer their grammar and formatting questions. I have also hyperlinked lessons and videos from my class that contains specific lessons from our class specific. Linking these resources encourages students to revisit lessons as needed and at their own pace. To make feedback more direct, I will add comments specific to paper prompts or projects that I use for a particular assignment that I will later delete from my Permanent Clipboard because they are only relevant to a given assignment. Again, this tool has made it possible to provide specific feedback and additional resources while significantly reducing my grading time. Here's my list of general comments that I have shared with colleagues to help them begin creating their tailored list of comments for students. 

Kami links to a Google account and allows individuals to annotate PDFs. This tool has been helpful when annotating readings with students. Kami permits users to add text, highlight in multiple colors, insert comments, and even insert shapes. The extension has made significant improvements since the start of 2017, too. What I find most helpful about the upgrades is that a user can insert clickable links that viewers of the annotations can access. Again, using links provides teachers with the option to link resources on the web, classroom documents, and even videos which can greatly improve students' understanding of specific topics or learning objectives. Once annotations or grading has been completed, the document can be saved, shared, or downloaded. Being able to share annotated documents with students allows teachers to give feedback to a variety of written documents, pictures, graphs, slideshows, and other products produced by students. 

Kaizena has changed drastically since I started using it. Originally is was much more of an annotating tool and now has evolved into a complex tool that lets teachers have more direct conversations with students. Teachers can create groups to share feedback on group projects, presentations, or other collaborative assignments. This tool makes it easy to voice record comments and even create video recordings of feedback. I have used this mostly with paragraph responses and short writing with my lower-level students, who will watch a three-minute video but won't read written comments. Kaizena now even allows teachers to create lessons and broadcast them to students. While I have not used this feature, I see potential with grammar lessons and revisiting writing skills that students find difficult. This product is awesome and again links with Google Accounts and even Microsoft Accounts. It is certainly worth using and has a great deal of potential. 

Screecastify or Screencast-O-Matic

Screencasting is a wonderful approach to providing feedback to auditory and visual learners. Screencasting allows teachers to walk students through the evaluation process. I have used screencasting when evaluating portfolios, websites, and other visuals (such as inforgraphics or presentations). What is also nice about screencasting is that it is relatively fast. The entire process is only a minute or so longer than the actual act of grading. Students truly enjoy listening to the videos and often want to respond by speaking to me directly, emailing me comments, or adding comments onto the YouTube video that is sent to the students. Also, students often express how helpful they find this type of feedback. 


Diigo is another tool that allows users to annotate a webpage. What makes this tool different from other annotating tools is that it allows users to archive the webpage at a designated time. Being able to save a particular page at the moment is essential during the drafting process. Using Diigo in this manner is helpful when providing formative feedback to students during the drafting stage. Diigo annotations are also easily shared with an individual or a group, which can be advantageous in a variety of settings. 

Vialogues is an interesting product. It permits users to annotate YouTube videos, create channels to be shared privately, publicly, and among groups. Teachers and students can also have a dialogue on a particular YouTube video, thus allowing feedback to become more of a conservation than a one-way delivery of information. I have not used this a ton with students in my class but have used this with my Speech Team students. It would certainly be helpful for video projects and even for annotating video recorded classroom projects. Vialogues opens the door for unique and meaningful feedback on videos and presentations. Using this tool is an excellent way to engage students using a multi-media approach.

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Technology is always changing, but as it evolves, various webtools and extensions provide countless ways to deliver specific and timely feedback to students. As technology becomes a more integral part of learning, it is so critical to always be learning and seeking new ways to enhance the evaluation process can only improve the student experience and increase student achievement. 

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