First impressions of Google Classroom

classroom news 2014
2014 Classroom Search Results

I was really excited a few weeks ago when I first heard that my school had signed up for Google Apps for Education. I’d been waiting since the first half of 2014 to get my hands on Google Classroom. Back then, my social media outlets were abuzz with news of all that classroom was and is, and I ate it up. The snip on the left shows what I saw every time I turned on my PC or looked at my device. At the time, I was running classes with Google+ communities and Drive, so I was a bit bitter watching the GAFE train roll right on by; it was torture – until a few weeks ago. To learn more about Classroom, I joined a Google+ community and spent a few hours reading posts and watching videos. After that, I was ready.

In this post, I’ll share the things I like most about Classroom and some examples of how I started using it in my classes.

Coming from Drive, where managing assignments is a challenge, Classroom is a breath of fresh air. Setting up the class is simple. It begins with naming and editing the ‘about’ page of the class. On the about page, I’ve added a Youtube playlist, a doc of links to the class topic (deforestation), and a link to the class blog. All the resources are here and it is visually pleasing.

about page

After setting up the ‘about’ page, I went straight to the good stuff – assignments. What separates classroom from anything I’ve used in the past is the way that it manages student work. Before creating an assignment in Classroom, I write the directions in a Doc. Once the Doc is done, I can create the assignment in Classroom. In this example, I give students brief instructions and leave the rest of the page blank. When I create the assignment, I add the Doc.

screenshot_2016-01-21-13-42-02.jpg

 

The assignment shows up in the class stream where students can click on it and begin working. In the stream, the assignment serves as a jump off point for a few different things. Once the student submits the assignment, they can return here to see the grade or get back into the document should they need to edit and resubmit.

 

first assignment

 

As an EFL teacher, feedback on student writing has always been a challenge. For a good summary of the challenge and suggestions, click here. Classroom provides the teacher more feedback options for student writing. Over the last few days, I tried synchronous corrective feedback (SCF). SCF is immediate corrective feedback that happens online as students are writing. In some ways, it’s similar to oral recasts. This is a gamechanger, in my opinion. Here is an example.

 

editing example

 

Within Drive, the teacher can give comments on student writing. What Classroom adds to this is the ability to return the assignment to the student. The submission history below shows exactly what the student did. In this example, the student revised and resubmitted several times, getting more feedback from the teacher each time. This could happen over the course of one class period, or several days. This type of feedback is called asynchronous corrective feedback (ACF).

 
submission history

 

Another great thing about Classroom is the way that it organizes student work. Classroom creates a folder for every assignment a teacher creates and a doc for every student that completes the assignment (click ‘make a copy for each student’). Gone are the headaches that came with the moving, sharing, and saving in Drive.

 

assignment example

 

While I think there is still a lot to improve, Google Classroom does a lot to simplify the way teachers and students interact. As an ESL teacher, the ease of interaction with students outside of class makes this an extremely valuable tool.

For more information on computer-mediated corrective feedback, have a look at the following article.

Shintani, N. (2015). The effects of computer-mediated synchronous and asynchronous direct corrective feedback on writing: A case study. Computer Assisted Language Learning, Online first.

 

 

Online Literature Circles: Week 2

In my most recent post, I outlined the steps necessary to set up online literature circles using Edublogs. Since then, the literature circles have begun, and we’ve just finished the fourth week. In this post, I’ll share some samples to show what is actually happening in the circles, and discuss the challenges and issues that have come since they started.

As you read, keep in mind that the students are already maintaining their own personal Edublog and are familiar with all of the procedures and tools necessary to post on the class blog. As a precaution, I made a short tutorial (click here for video) and gave a short reading assignment (chapter one of The Giver) to practice posting and commenting. I didn’t spend the entire weekend reorganizing student posts, so I have to say they were successful.

Each student receives a schedule, like the one here, which tells them what they are responsible for each week. It includes their role and a checklist that describes the three things that need to happen every week.

litcircschedule

Throughout the week, students read the text and develop the post for their specific role. Posts are due at the end of the week, and the summarizer in each group has up until the day of class to complete their assignment. This gives them a few days to read through all of their group’s post and summarize.

Instructions

Literature Circle Instructions

Role Descriptions

The links here are to the documents that are embedded in the class blog. These documents describe the overall assignment and the specifics of each role.

Example #1: Discussion Director

dd

This example shows the five questions that a discussion director asked their group. It also highlights one of the mistakes many discussion directors made in the first few weeks. While it looks like there are five questions here that cover the main points of the reading, the student failed to follow the specific instructions that come with being discussion director. Each question is supposed to serve a different purpose. For example, question one should be a closed question that makes sure everyone noticed an important plot detail. Question three should be a a question to the author, Lois Lowry. This question is supposed to spark discussion about something that would help readers better understand the text. In this example, the student is on the right track, but the way the question is formed is incorrect as the author would know who the old are.

In the future, I know I have to spend more time going through each type of question and provide more examples. Now that we’re in week five, most discussion directors are getting it right, but the confusion could have been prevented with clearer instructions. The response below shows that the questions did get the student to pull things together and draw some conclusions, but the product will be much better when the right questions are asked.

ddcomment

Example #2: Word Wizard

wordwizard

This is a good word wizard example. Each word comes with a sentence to contextualize it, a page number, the student’s own definition, and the dictionary definition. Many students comment on Word Wizard posts and say that they also didn’t know the selected words.

Example #3: Visualizer

visualizer

Visualizer posts with Fotobabble are going really well. Students are using the sentence frames provided in the instructions and are getting creative with their drawings. Students that don’t feel comfortable drawing can use another image or group of objects to depict a piece of the text. Last week, a student used his younger brother’s Lego figures to set up a scene from the reading instead of drawing a picture; it was well done and the class enjoyed it.

Example #4: Connector

connector

So far, the connector seems to be the most popular role as it receives the most comments. Students are doing a good job of making real world connections; however, in the future, text-to-text connections need to be a requirement. They are by far the least common connection that I’ve seen so far. Here are some comments to the above post.

connectorcomment

Example #5: Reflector

reflectorThis example shows the reflector commenting on big ideas as they work their way though the text. Page numbers need to be included so that the group members can follow the reflector’s thoughts as they read specific parts of the text.

Example #6: Summarizer

summarizer

The last student from each group to post each week is the summarizer. The summarizer’s job is not to summarize the reading, but to summarize the discussion that happened online. In this example, the students discusses the group’s response to the discussion director’s questions and the vocabulary selections. I would like to see more substance in the post and less listing. Students will often list all of the director’s questions and the vocab in a effort to lengthen the post, which is unnecessary. There is enough material in the posts and comments to write a good summary that highlights the most interesting material.

Though there are many small things that need tweaking before the next time this happens, the literature circles are making the reading that happens at home active and promoting a deeper understanding of the material through discussions and peer feedback. In our school, where many of the students need language support and lack the confidence to speak during classroom activities, the online literature circles are providing opportunities to request clarification, check comprehension, and to demonstrate understanding prior to class. This results in more participation and interaction and ultimately, more language development.

Online Literature Circles – Beginning Stages

Last year in our 8th grade Language Arts class, we used literature circles to read The Giver by Lois Lowry. We are using the book again this year, and to increase the amount of student talk that happens in the classroom, I am moving a lot of the discussion online. Since I have a large number of non-native speakers in the class, the online discussion serves as a primer for the discussion that will happen in class. If each student does their homework, they will be able to contribute to the group discussions in class. If you are unfamiliar with literature circles, here is a crash course.

To set this all up, I am using Edublogs (Pro). I put a lot of thought into finding the easiest way to get everything organized online in a way that is easy for students to navigate. This is what I’ve come up with. If you know a better way, please share ASAP!

First, I thought about what I needed to make available online.

  • Literature Circle Instructions
  • Role Instructions
  • Reading/Discussion Schedules
  • Groups
  • A place for students to post

I started by creating a page named ‘Literature Circle’. This is the main page for all of the work we’ll do in the unit.

lic1

I used a page and not a post so the content is always there, in the same place. Here, I will put up the general literature circle instructions.

Next, I created two more pages called resources and groups. These pages have the parent page Literature Circle. On the resources page, I will put up the role instructions; the groups page will have group lists and reading/posting schedules.

lc2

Now for the part that took the most thought. I’ve decided on categories as the way student posts will be organized. I chose this because selecting a category when you post is simple. Also, I can create the categories myself.

lc3

First, I created nine categories (Groups 1-9). Then, I added those categories to the menu below the groups page.

Now, here’s what I imagine happening when the assignments begin. Each group has one member that will start the discussion (summarizer). When the summarizer posts, they’ll have to click the category for their particular group. Once they do this, their group members will be able to find the post easily by clicking on their group from the drop-down menu. From there, the rest of the group can comment and add their own posts the same way.

 

Vietnam Tech Conference 2015

Here you can find copies of our presentation and all assignments/handouts that were shared during the presentation.

Presentation

tech conference a

Additional Materials

Instructions for blog post and url tweet

Help a Writer Out peer editing

Chain story prompts

Blog instructions

Blog post instructions 2

Twitter template

tweet corrections

We can also be reached at:

william.rago@ais.edu.vn

allison.peterson@ais.edu.vn

Guide to Edublogs Menus

Hi guys, in this post I’ll describe how to set up the menu in your blog just the way you like it. It probably looks something like this:
basic menuThis is boring! It doesn’t give visitors to your blog an opportunity to easily explore all the great content you’ve published.

It will take a few steps get everything organized. Here they are:

  1. Add new categories: Categories are a way to organize your posts. Each time you post, you will select the most appropriate category, or create a new category.
  2. Create a menu: We will get rid of the default menu and create our own.
  3. Add categories to the menu

The categories are a bit hard to find in your dashboard. Drag the mouse over ‘posts’. This will present you with a series of options (all posts, add new, categories, and tags). Click on ‘categories’. From here you can create your categories.

categories

Add new categories for whatever you like. For most of you, you might just want to add subject specific categories like Art and Language Arts. It all depends on what you’re going to publish on your blog.

The next step is putting the categories on the actual menu that shows up at the top of your blog. First, click on ‘appearance’, then ‘menus’.

appearance1

To start, your menu editor will look like this. The first thing you want to do is remove the ‘sample page’. Click the drop-down arrow in the ‘sample page’ box, then click ‘remove’.

basicmenuNext, we’re going to add the categories you just created to the menu. On the left side, you will see pages, links, and categories. Click on ‘categories’. addcat

It’s important that you click ‘view all’. Now, check the boxes next to the new categories you’ve created and then click ‘add to menu’.

Now that we’ve added your categories to the menu, all that’s left is to organize the menu structure. If you look at the structure of our class blog below, you can see how I’ve divided up menu items and sub-items. Home, Who We Are, Gallery, Our Work, and Forums are the main menu items. These are what you see at the top of all pages within the blog. The other items here appear when the mouse is dragged over the item above it in the hierarchy. For example, if I want to see pictures from art class, I must drag my mouse over ‘Gallery’ first, then ‘Photos’, then ‘Art Class’ will appear for me to click on.

menu structure

For right now, you do not have to create a menu like this. All you need to do is remove the sample page and replace it with language arts. Here is an example of a simple menu structure and the actual menu:

simplemenusimple exampleHere you can see that dragging the mouse over ‘Language Arts’ brings up the ‘poems’ sub-item.

Once you have the menu set up the way you like it. Click ‘create menu’. Also, click the two check boxes and save it all one more time.

This is the first step in customizing your blog menu. Please ask any questions you have in class, through email, or tweet them to me @tesolwar.

Tips for using Edublogs forums

Edublogs provides a massive amount of support through its support blog, TheEdublogger. Recently, I used it as a resource when setting up my class blog. While it provided all of the information I needed, a lot of it was scattered around the site, which resulted in me searching for things within and outside the site. In this post, I will explain some of the difficulties I had, and how I worked around them to set up forums on my blog.

A few notes before I start – I used the forums plugin, which is available with Edublogs Pro only. I found that it’s much easier to work with than the forums described here.

forumsplugin

First, make sure you’ve actived the plugin, then you should see a forums label on your dashboard.

What I found most challenging while setting up forums for my class was the hierarchical structure of the forum. What I originally wanted was a menu item ‘forums’ that would drop down and show individual forums, which could house topics and replies. I also wanted a list of forums to come up just by clicking the ‘forums’ menu items as shown here.

forumslist

Initially, I tried creating a page called ‘forums’ that I could post my forums inside, but it left me with an empty page. What I learned through trial and error was that the forums plugin already has a ‘home’ for forums (in the above picture) and there is no need to create a ‘page’ that stores the forums. The forum home is located at http://yourdomain.edublogs/forums

In my case, it’s here: http://thegreateights.edublogs.org/forums. This is exactly what I unsuccessfully tried to create as a page. I found that adding a link to the blog’s main menu was much easier.

To get the forum in the blog’s main menu, you first need to add a link to the forum home. Since it’s a link, it has to be done manually. To do this, click ‘appearance’, and then ‘menus’. You’ll see options to add pages, links, and forums to the menu. First you want to add the forum link.

addlnk

You can see that I pasted the forum link into the url field and titled the link ‘Forums’. Now, when I add this to the menu structure, it will show up as ‘Forums’.

menu structure

When you drag the forum into the menu, make sure it is the placed all the way to the left and is not a sub-item of another menu item. You can see what I mean in the picture. NOTE: You will not see any sub-items in the menu structure as you see in the pic below).

Now the menu on the actual site looks like this:

menu

Since ‘gallery’, ‘our work’, and ‘forums’ have sub-items, a drop-down menu opens when the mouse is dragged over them.

Creating the actual forum that students will use is much easier than all of this. All you have to do is click on forum from your dashboard and create a new forum. In my class, we wanted students to add their own creative writing examples as replies to specific topics. To do this, I created one ‘creative writing’ forum, and then added four topics to that forum.

First, create the forum.

createforum

All I did here was give the forum a name. After this I added the topics.

edit topic

Don’t forget to add all topics to the correct forum. You can do this by clicking the drop-down menu at the top right of the page in the topic attributes section. I did this to create four topics.

Below is what the final products look like. The first picture shows what you see when you look at the topics from the dashboard; the second shows the view from the blog. topic list

tpics on page

The day before spending a class in the computer lab, we had students begin to write short stories based on prompts that gave them opportunities to practice writing the four topics in the forum. While in the lab, they were able to revise, develop, and add their stories as replies to the appropriate topic. The final product looks like this:

sensdetailes

In my next post, I’ll go over the steps we took to have all of our students join the class blog, and create their own. This is my first time using forums in edublogs and would love some feedback, positive or negative.

Storified Twitter Chain Stories

“In the depths of New York City, on top of the Empire State Building, a creature rested.” This is the first line of @ manyvoices, a Twitter story written collaboratively by 140 elementary and middle school students across 6 countries. The story began with Mr. George Mayo, a teacher in Washington D.C., and was eventually edited and published. You can find a free pdf here.

We are using a similar model in our 8th grade language arts class to begin our unit on creative writing. the major difference between @manyvoices and our assignment is that Mayo created one twitter account for all contributors to share while we are using hashtags to collect and present the story using Storify. The hashtag and Storify make it easy to publish the finished stories, but we lose 11-12 characters.

Here are the instructions we gave to students:

twitchain

 

Once all of the students tweet, it’s easy to search for, and individually drag them into the story.

storify main editing page

The above screenshot shows Storify’s main editing page. The menu on the right-hand side allows you to search for many different types of content. For our story, I clicked on the twitter icon, then typed in the the hashtag for the class I was working on.

imageedit_3_7777033612

Here you can see that my search grabbed all tweets containing the hashtag I had specified. Since the hashtags for each class are unique, the search doesn’t grab anything unrelated. From here, you can drag the posts into the main story. I think it’s easier to drag them individually since they show up with the most recent first, which is actually the final tweet of the story.

The next step is publishing the story. After clicking the publish button at the top of the page, you can change the way the story is displayed.

storify1

Clicking the template button brings up this menu. Here you can choose the way your story will be displayed. We chose the slideshow because it worked best with the way we wanted to read the finished story in class.

Here is what it looks like:

storify slideshow

Since most of the students hadn’t read their entire story, or the stories from other classes, reading them together was truly a fun experience, as you can see here:

laughing

Our next step is to do another story with the entire 8th grade. From there, we may ask other classes to join, as Mr. Mayo did. Another thing I really like about this is that we can use the tweets to focus on language. Eventually, we’ll use them to create editing exercises that we can do as a whole class or in small groups.

 

 

 

 

Informational Text teaching resources

Links for teaching informational texts:

  1. Intro to Informational Texts 
  2. Best ever literacy tips for teaching informational text structure
  3. Strategies for Teaching with Informational Texts
  4. The Ultimate Teacher’s Guide – again, long but full of good info and ideas
  5. The power of non-fiction +video

 

Snowball write-fight poll

Hello everyone – I’d like your input on some student work. Students were given a sentence prompt and had a few minutes to finish it with something creative. For example:

The asteroid was hurtling down straight towards Earth.

Choose (5) that stand out to you as being creative and well-written. The winners will get their work published on the class blog (http://ais8ela.wordpress.com)

If you are unable to choose more than one, choose your favorite.