Last year, I taught at a charter school and developed an experimental curriculum in what we termed the “Revolution Lab.” This was a space where students would work independently on laptop computers with the aim of differentiated instruction via technology integration for language arts and math. I taught Writing II, a writing composition class that spiraled in skills from Writing I, a mechanics and syntactic driven class. I taught two sections of this class, each with 50 students. Among the litany of challenges was how to facilitate the technology integration. I was a first year teacher with no technical expertise in the art of teaching or using technology to teach, but I did study and research writing workshops throughout college. I was (and am) a Lucy Calkins(ite), and I believe her writing and reading workshop models are what allow children to feel empowered as writers while honing the craft. I wanted the ethos of a workshop model to drive the way we implemented technology.
Throughout our summer PD, the school leader, tech “guru”/science teacher, and I researched a number of possible platforms we could use for the class. Ideally, I needed a platform that would allow students to access a document, complete it, and submit it back to me. I also needed a platform where I could provide resources and extra information for them to access while working independently.
In the summer of 2013, the best option was a Google Site where students would download documents, save them to their computer, and email them back to me when they were completed. While our goal was to hone in on technology skills like email and basic word processing, it was also a logistical nightmare.
What we really needed was a platform where students could access a template of a document, edit it, and save it in a cloud that could be accessed on any computer. At the time, there was no reasonably priced and user friendly platform to do this at a middle school.
In the spirit of a solution-oriented mindset, I used Google Apps and refined over the course of the year. When I was preparing to have Writing Conferences with a group of students, they would fill out the conference workbook via a Google Form that I created that branched and sent students to different pages based on their responses. This was highly effective in helping students prepare for their conferences by identifying an area of strength and weakness in writing prior to meeting with me. However, the technology was fallible. There was no way to save work as students completed different pages of the workbook. If a student accidentally hit the back button on the Internet instead of the the “Conferencing Workbook,” their work was instantly deleted. This created innumerable teachable moments for my students, but it was frustrating for all parties.
We did the best we could with the technology available. Google Sites was an innovative choice in the classroom at the time.
Then came the advent of Google Classroom, and the world of the technology-integrated classroom changed.
Google Classroom is Google’s version of a virtual classroom. It does the work of Drive, Edmodo, Google Forms, and Google Sites in one platform.
This year, I first used Google Classroom for a speech project my students worked on where they identified a charity they were interested and crafted a persuasive speech + paper identifying why their charity’s social issue was the most pressing in the world and why the charity most effectively solved the problem. This type of project is incredibly engaging for students because it is themed, competitive, technology-integrated, and interactive. However, for a teacher, there are logistical challenges which add a layer of complexity that is not present in a more traditional lesson structure.
In past project this year, students have written papers on Google Drive, followed careful directions to “Share” their document with me through Drive, and hopefully bring a printed copy the day it is due.
Google Classroom revolutionizes this arcane process of haphazard technology integration.
1. Easy and Immediate Student Access
Much like Edmodo, students easily access Google Classroom by entering a class code that the teacher can generate in a few clicks.
Students access Classroom through Google Apps, which is especially easy at my school because all students have a school email presented through a Gmail platform. A teacher can either provide a code for students to join the Google Classroom or the teacher can import a list of students. I did the former with my class this year through a guided overview of the Google Classroom in our Lab and students had no trouble following along.
2. Ease of Document Template Creation/Sharing
I can upload a template of a document through Google Drive. Then, I create an assignment on Google Classroom and upload the template and select the option to “make a copy for every student.” This automatically creates a copy of the document for every student in the class and names each document following the formula “Document Name- Student First Name Student Last Name.” As soon as students open the assignment and subsequently the document, their copy is saved automatically in their Drive.
Before Google Classroom, I used Edmodo for students to submit assignments and reading logs for our book projects. I like Edmodo as a platform, but when students needed to edit posts, there was no easy way to do this, and student work was often lost in the process of creation because Edmodo does not autosave work as students are typing on the discussion boards.
Documents are auto-saved in the Drive. The fact that students also get a copy of a template has made it easier for students to successfully fill in MLA headers, use margins correctly, and understand where to place certain elements in a document because I can place all necessary formatting in the document they receive.
When they are done with assignment, they simply click the “Turn In” button at the upper right hand corner of the document, and this turns the assignment in, letting me know the student is ready to be have his/her work graded.
3. Clarity of Assignment Guidelines/Due Dates
When a student opens the Google Classroom, he/she will see a feed of all assignments and announcements from the teacher. Announcements allow the teacher to share extra resources, information, or tips about upcoming assignments and projects. Assignments are clearly marked with a Due Date, and if the students has not turn in an assignment that is past due, the assignment is marked in red as “Late,” which is a pretty clear indicator for the student.
4. Ease of Tracking Student Completion
When the teacher opens an assignment on Google Classroom, the due date is visible (and easy to change), the attached document for students is included at the bottom of the assignment, the teacher can write in a quick assignment description for students, but most importantly, the teacher can see how many students have turned in an assignment. You can also click through on the “Done” or “Not Done” numbers and see the names of students who have turned or not turned in assignments. The student names also have hyperlinks to the assignment.
Once all assignments are turned in, the teacher has the choice to download the files, view them in a Folder in Drive, or click through from the Classroom page to view and grade the assignment. There is a feature to grade work on Classroom.
I have not used this feature, but it looks like this is the next opportunity for continued technology integration. If there is a feature added with auto populates scores entered from Classroom to a grade book, this would be the next mode of helping to create efficiencies for teachers.
5. Ease of Communicating w/ Students + Sharing Resources
When students access the classroom, they immediately see a feed of all assignments, announcements, and the permanent sidebar information about the class.
In addition to adding assignments, teachers may add announcements with information, hyperlinks, or even additional files. I often use this feature when students are preparing for a test to add additional resources for study.