This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Teaching Librarian: The Magazine of the Ontario School Library Association Volume 23, Issue 3, pages 24-26
One of the most exciting aspects of using instructional technology in the classroom is the variety of methods to facilitate the collaborative learning process; it is also the one which many educators, like myself, grapple with the most. Hearing about the successes of educators using Web 2.0 tools to enhance the educational experience of their students is inspiring, and has always motivated me to incorporate them into my classroom. But what to use? Google Apps for Education (GAFE) have been huge game changers for some educators; completely redefining how they interact with their students, but I am often unwilling to simply introduce new technology in the class simply for the sake of using tech. In order to see if I could use GAFE in my classroom effectively and purposefully I took a summer course offered by my union federation. Considering my school board has also recently setup Google Education accounts for all teachers and students with unlimited storage space, it seemed to be a good time to investigate taking the Google plunge.
A web application with a great deal of promise is the Google Classroom app. I am a long time Edmodo user, however, and thought it was unlikely that I would be convinced to abandon it. I saw the inherent usefulness of Google Drive (see you later USB sticks!), but I was not prepared to use Google Classroom as my default classroom management app. Through the summer course, I learned that Google Classroom is a much better solution than Edmodo for organizing my classroom. For one, it’s safer to use a server setup by my school board rather than sending student information to an external Edmodo server. Another relevant point is that Google Classroom integrates seamlessly with Google Drive, making it much easier to store and attach files, and Google Contacts, which streamlines the class creation process, while still doing everything that Edmodo can do. Making the switch to Google Classroom also gives me a platform to modify and improve peer editing in my classroom, and provides the opportunity to completely redefine the activity.
Using Google Contacts you can create Contact Groups which streamline the class creation process in Google Classroom.
Whenever I consider introducing a new technology into the classroom I always consider the SAMR model for tech integration. If I cannot design a method using new technology that completely changes and improves a pre-existing, non-tech based activity, then I see little point of taking the time to learn and implement the technology. When I decided three years ago to start moving towards a “flipped classroom” model, for example, initially all I was doing was playing pre-recorded lessons on the LCD instead of delivering them live. Eventually, however, I was creating and using my own educational videos in the classroom, which lead to generating a bank of videos that I can share with students online to reinforce concepts learned at school, as well as keep absent students current on material covered. My favorite success story moment using the flipped video model was the day I was showing a video to the class, and realized that a student who was absent that day was accessing the video from home at the same time.
You can share a class code, or use a Contact Group to send an invite to students to join your Google Classroom group.
Upon first using Google Classroom the main task I found it replaced was writing daily learning goals, assignment dates, and homework on the chalkboard, and having students write these details down in their agendas. However, right from the outset, it was clear that using Google Classroom was going to make classroom communication more streamlined. Classroom also works seamlessly with other Google applications, like Google Contacts, which means you don’t have to rely solely on classroom codes to get your class setup. You can send mass invites in Google Classroom, which is perfect for a high rotary teacher like myself. Not content to simply bask in the glow of quick and efficient classroom communication, I also wanted to make full use of the Classroom platform as a collaborative learning environment.
This is my first year as a classroom Language teacher, and I was looking for a way to encourage peer editing in my classroom, as well as create a framework for a collaborative writing space. I decided that I was going to use Google Classroom, not just to assign homework, but to create a space where students are encouraged to share their thoughts about books that they are reading, to see examples of effective reading criticism, and to offer and receive feedback on the process of writing about what they are reading. I decided to set up a new Google Classroom for my class each month, designated as a monthly Book Club. Since it is so easy to use a Contact Group to quickly set up a new class, it made sense to keep my class’s daily communication separate from the Book Club page. We want to keep things from getting too cluttered afterall.
I always ensure that everyone in my grade 8 class has at least one student choice book in their possession. Regular trips to the library, with our very helpful Teacher Librarian, ensure students always have high-interest reading material. The instructions for the first Book Club assignment were simple and achievable: Write a review of your chosen book giving at least three reasons why the book you have chosen is worth reading, and why other people would enjoy it. The assignment was given out at the beginning of the month, and students were given access to the Google Classroom and instructed to post their review anytime before the due date at the end of the month.
When students first log on to the Book Club Classroom they find the assignment announcement, which re-iterates the instructions given in class.
The first post is a sample review, written by myself about the book I was reading at the time. As a classroom activity, students are encouraged to log on, read the sample book review, and to identify three things that make it an example of a good book review. Their ticket out the door is to share their reasoning with the class. Since all that is required to access Google Classroom is any device that is Wi-fi enabled, students used their own personal iPods, or school provided iPads to complete the exit ticket. The purpose of this introductory activity is twofold: It encourages students to investigate and label elements of good critical writing by an experienced writer, and students are given the opportunity to co-create criteria by which their own writing is evaluated. Once students have submitted their book reviews to the Book Club Classroom, we then have students pair up with a peer, and read each other’s book review. Students identify three strengths about their peer’s review, and bring up at least one area for improvement.
Google Classroom already has an efficient workspace for students to perform this sort of peer assessment. Each student, by default, has the ability to create new posts that can be viewed by the whole class, and each student also has the ability to leave public comments on those posts. To make the process even more interactive, I elected to use Padlet in conjunction with Google Classroom in the peer editing process. I created a blank Padlet page asking for feedback on my sample book review, and then posted the link to the page in the comments section of my sample review.
Students share their ideas with the class by leaving a comment on the Padlet page. There is not a significant benefit of collecting feedback in this way, but it does allow you to display the comments in a “tiled” format which may be more visually appealing and easier to browse than a stream of sequential comments under a Classroom post. Padlet pages have the added benefit of being easily sharable with outside users by simply providing the page URL, and Padlet also allows you to export and print the page as a PDF, should you need a hard copy of the comments left by students.
I was very pleased with the results of this peer editing activity, which was made possible by Google Classroom. There was noticeable improvement in several of my students’ critical writing, particularly in their ability to show support for their statements, and to choose more vivid verbs and adjectives. To further improve on this activity, my next step is to use the Google Classroom platform to augment and redefine peer editing. Since Google Classroom is web based, and considering that all students in my school board are already setup with Google accounts, it would be relatively easy to extend the Book Club activity to include other Grade 8 students in my school, at other middle schools, and even include students in elementary or secondary schools. The downside is that Google Educational accounts are locked to only communicate with other accounts in the same school board, preventing a truly global classroom peer editing activity. That being said, I would love to hear from other educators that use GAFE to redefine their classroom activities, and would love to hear from teachers in the Peel District School Board who want to collaborate with my Grade 8s to improve their students’ writing.