Author Archives: alissahansen

About alissahansen

This is my third year in the Davenport Community School District, my second year as a freshmen academy English teacher and my sixth year in the teaching profession. Before entering the field of teaching, I earned my bachelor's degree in journalism and anthropology from The University of Iowa, where I was also an arts and entertainment reporter for The Daily Iowan. From this experience, I became editor and publisher of local (Johnson County) arts and culture magazine, Little Village. I later entered the Masters in the Art of Teaching program at the University of Iowa and graduated with my M.A.T. in English education with endorsements in reading and journalism. I worked for three years at Clear Creek Amana High School in Tiffin, Iowa as the yearbook adviser, and a reading and English teacher. Teaching is my love, and I cannot imagine doing anything else in the world, except for becoming a parent! My husband, Wade, and I had our first son, Rhys Michel, in 2012. He is growing fast and it is a pleasure to watch him bloom before our very eyes! We are both enjoying the joys of parenthood; it keeps us plenty busy, especially now that Rhys is a full-blown three-year-old who loves to dance, especially when it's Bruno Mars or Pharrell, swim, play with cars, and read books. He is a spunky guy who loves to be on the go! We had our second son, Ellis Lee, in 2014 and we are amazed at how fast he has grown already. He is 1 and is quickly settling into his funny personality. He loves watching his older brother and mimicking everything he does as well as watching "The Little Einsteins" and dancing to the theme song. I am also due at the end of April with our first girl.

I am a CHAMPION…most days!

By Alissa Hansen

As the end of the year is in sight, I am beginning to reflect on what has been a rewarding, albeit challenging, school year. We have officially completed our persuasive research unit and have now moved on to reading (The Pigman in English I and The Odyssey in Honors). I think this has restored some of that “joy factor” that Lemov discusses in chapter 12 too, so it has allowed us (both students and myself) to be reinvigorated once again. English I is also working on an independent reading project where students get to read a novel of their choosing and complete a creative project to share with the class. Honors is starting the Greek mythology unit by completing a mini-research project on a god/goddess in preparation for reading the epic poem. After working hard on an extensive research project in all classes, this is work that I notice seems to be “ punctuated regularly by moments of exultation and joy” (442). However, we are also inching our way closer to the end of the school year and it is getting nicer outside, so it is absolutely imperative to keep consistent with high academic and behavioral expectations. I know we all work hard to do this day in and day out, but here are a few things that I need to remind myself with as the year comes to a close.

Without Apology

With freshmen, this is an easy hole to fall down because they often like to lead the conversation down a path that tricks you into apologizing for content or work assigned. And sometimes I have caught myself falling into this trap. I need to daily emphasize the importance, urgency and scholarly work that needs to get accomplished more often. I need to remind students that what we are studying is “an important building block for things you do throughout your life as a student” and as a lifelong learner (123). I think it is easy at times to assume students don’t appreciate what we are teaching, especially when it requires work and time. I have one class in particular that is extremely negative and pretty consistent about complaining about everything that we do in class, reading or writing. Lemov says it beautifully when he states, “Our job is to find a way to make what we teach engaging and never to assume that students can’t appreciate what not instantly familiar or does not egregiously pander to them” (123). This is ALWAYS my goal, but it does get tough amidst negativity. Lemov gives some great alternatives to an apology–like reminding students that what we are doing will help them succeed, that the content is great because it is challenging, or that the scholarly work they are carrying out is what college students do and sometimes even struggle with and that’s what makes it cool.

Least Invasive Intervention

I do not have many behavioral issues in class for whatever reason, but I do find that I need to get freshmen on task and some students in particular, more often than not. I am a pretty blunt, straight-forward person, but I do know that the most effective way to manage a class is through interventions that are the least invasive. One area that I need to work on is the positive group correction (398). Using more “I need to see everyone writing” while redirecting individual students who need it at the same time. Sometimes I can find myself in a rut if I have three-five students who are off task and I will stop the entire class to address them. This wastes time, so remembering for those quick positive reminders that allow students to reflect and then getting back to teaching will be the best way to get the most accomplished, which also doesn’t allow for students to break down the lesson due to their behaviors.

Firm Calm Finesse

At this point, I have caught onto the behaviors that are the most problematic and from which students, as well as have come to know triggers for students and have made contacts home, with the counselor, and in some cases, with the principal. I think I have done a pretty good job of catching behaviors early (403). However, one thing that Lemov says that stands out to me is “if you’re mad, you’ve waited to long” (403). I have definitely found myself approaching a situation angrily and this has a tendency to affect the entire day and stir up emotions. So, some tactics that I need to refocus my attention and energy on are: valuing purpose over power (“I need you participating like a scholar” instead of “When I ask you to work, you need to work” or “I am watching you get nothing done”), saying thank you and please more often, and using universal language (team sport, “We need you with us”) (404).

The Art of Consequence

  • Knowing when to give a consequence or give a correction is another important item that I need to keep better track of. Sometimes I get so frustrated by a student’s consistent off-task or disruptive behavior that I will call them out in class. I know this is not the most effective method, but when I have done every possible  method to get them productive, it can be very aggravating. Depersonalizing is a goal that I am doing more often (conferences in the hall work wonders or after school or class). I have even thought about having a student write a reflection on their behavior if it is something habitual. Lemov states “emotions distract students from  reflecting on the behavior that resulted in the consequence” and this is something very important to remember if you want students to work hard for you (408).

When trying to determine whether it is a consequence or a correction that is needed, I plan to follow this:

  • If a student is “persistently” off task= consequence, unless the being off task is due to misunderstanding;
  • If a student’s behavior doesn’t disrupt others= correction, if it does= consequence;
  • If a student is testing your patience and your expectations consistently= consequence, as tolerance of this behavior will strip you of your authority;
  • Giving a correction first and then a consequence poses as a good solution as well.
  • Correcting first allows the student to reflect and remediate behavior and the consequence reminds them sharply not to do it again. As Lemov states, giving a consequence first could cause the student to react emotionally and therefore shutdown or even more resistant (411).

That’s all folks…

 

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Brace Yourself before you Pace Yourself

By Alissa Hansen

As teachers, we have pacing guides that call attention to where we should be at timewise in our courses each term. These are helpful as they give teachers a sense of being right on track and help to make sure that we end up where we need to, have acquired the skills, and have mastered the standards that are necessary at the end of the course. However, pacing for a 43 minute period with freshmen can be rather challenging. Lemov discusses pacing using the five “muscle groups” (203). Freshmen need consistency and they need to know what is required of them at all times. In fact, they will most likely ask you this question many times throughout the class period.

Knowledge Assimilation is what we do when we start a new unit. We take notes, discuss the new content all before we move into the Guided Practice component. This is the big test to see if students understand the new material that was presented, which usually takes place in the form of question and answer. Then students move on to the Independent Practice. This is when “autonomous execution of a skill” takes place (205). I usually have students complete these muscle groups often and on a daily basis. Then there is the reflection; the very important metacognition aspect of learning that needs to take place. I have to admit that I do not do this as often as I should. With my current freshmen we have finished the research paper (5 weeks!) as well as the persuasive speech, and I must have been eager to move on because I left out this critical component. I am now thinking that I want/need  to at least go back and have students reflect on what they thought was the hardest for them while completing the research paper and what they had to do to problem solve. I think this would be very worthwhile for them, especially after getting their grades and feedback on this major project. The last aspect is Discussion. Discussion is another aspect of the learning environment that I am the biggest fan of, but sometimes with 43 minute periods, this is one that doesn’t get to happen with my English I students as often as it should. In my Honors course, we do discuss daily, and at varying levels. I do think I need to incorporate more Socrative seminar, turn and talk, and debates into my English I classroom because they are capable and could benefit from hearing each other more often. I will add this to my forever growing to do list.
As great as these changing activity types are, I know I really have to watch myself as to not include too many activities in one period because that is one way to lose students!! I found this out the hard way last year after coming from teaching upperclassmen on the block for years to teaching freshmen on skinnies! It was a tough transition, but what I have found out is that 1-2 significant activities during a 43 minute class period is plenty for the mind of a 14-15 year old brain…and mine too!!! Lemov mention on page 209 that changing formats is a great strategy, especially when more time is needed in one area, or if the energy is down (which, let’s face it, can happen in any classroom).

Breaking it down is Breaking me down

By Alissa Hansen

I try to stay optimistic, but I have to admit that sometimes this is hard, especially while working with 150+ high school freshmen on the research paper. Day after day, I do mini-lesson and we babystep our way(I repeatedly break down each step along the way) through the writing and research process, but I still have so many students fall off the wagon along the way and thus we have what I like to call: The Great Divide. This is when a portion of the class is moving through the steps swiftly and accurately and are eager to move onto the next step, while another portion is lagging behind. They lag because they need extra help, they think it’s too difficult, or they just do not see the purpose. This is a painful thing to witness, but one that occurs year after year with this project. The paper itself is five paragraphs and we are on week five already and there are students who have yet to complete notecards, which is the most important aspect! Again, my goal is to stay upbeat and to positively frame when duty calls, to give precise praise, and to try to keep that joy factor alive during a unit many find challenging. However, this process is taking a toll and I am finding it hard to praise or positively frame much at all with the students who seemed to have given up. I do not want to be a bitter, frustrated teacher unwilling to help, but I am struggling with having to consistently repeat directions or redirect off-task students. I know it’s hard to sustain a strong work ethic for a 45 minute period at times, but at least putting in some effort would be nice from some. Today I found myself saying to a class: “I am going to stop nagging you to get back to work and let you find out the hard way.” This seemed to do the trick for a few.

This is where I am at… I will say that the light at the end of the tunnel each week has been gearing students up for the persuasive speech, which follows the research paper. We take a day each week where students give a 30 second speech on the day’s theme. We started with an informative speech on animals then they had to argue the better of two options to hone their persuasive skills (ex. iPhone versus Samsung). Some students are asking to do this on a daily basis, so it has really added some of that joy back into this research process and see that some are truly seeing the purpose and enjoying it along the way. But it can be grueling at times.

What I find tough is while I am breaking steps down for students (and these are the ones now that are behind…way behind for a few), is that I often give too much away so they do not “solve” anything or much themselves because out of frustration, I solve it for them so they can move along and not fall further behind. How can I combat this? I think if I ask a question, it only seems to further confuse them. Now I do not usually have a template that I use for this, Lemov’s template on page 271 is what I aim for when I run into these types of situations. With the research paper students tend to struggle with taking appropriate notes and this becomes clear when looking at their rough drafts and seeing that the facts that they have included do not seem to appropriately support the claim they intend it to. So, what do you do? I have been spending much of the day walking students individually through in-text citations again as well as explaining this process by including examples and providing the context, and I am hoping that it sinks in. I always ask, “did that make sense?” and I usually get the nod, but that is not always the case when I look at the final product. This whole process is what is breaking me down…perhaps I am over-complicating things here, but I am not sure how much more can be broken down, elaborated on, explained in detail, or perhaps it is just that I am giving them too much and it’s enabling them. Either way, as much as setting expectations and building trust is important in the classroom, so is figuring out the best way to help ALL students. And this is one I need to work on.

In the words of Gloria Gaynor, “I will survive”.

 

A New Year= A Revised Teaching Philosophy

By Alissa Hansen

It’s 2016 and a new year implies some changes that need to happen. My number one goal is to be transparent about all of the changes that I would like to make in order to make this second semester successful.

As Mrs. Choate had said in her previous post, teaching freshmen is rather a delicate matter. They come at learning with the mentality of a middle schooler, yet they are eager to gain knowledge and be treated like upperclassmen. They want freedom and independence, yet they need rules and structure. They need to be encouraged, but redirected when off task. They need to be “tricked” into learning, in other words in order for them to be motivated, they need to see that joy that Lemov talks about and they also need to see how the content is relevant to their own lives in for them to take a vested interest in what is being taught. I’ve taught upperclassmen for a number of years and last year was the first year that I have taught freshmen exclusively. They are an oxymoron at times; they want to be treated one way but act the opposite. Their emotions are a rollercoaster and most of them do not have a problem wearing their emotions on their sleeves. It’s quite the classroom to observe. I have to say that although these past two years have been challenging, they have also been the most rewarding as I have the opportunity to witness just how much students can grow, academically and socially, over the course of the year. This first semester has had its ups and downs in terms of students’ lack of motivation and negativity, so my goal is to make some changes in hopes that this second semester will end with a bang!

Routines

In terms of routines, I have them (I have a website with an agenda for students each day. I write clear objectives on the board. Students know where to go for missing or make-up work and where to pick up hard copies of work they missed due to an absence. I greet students as they enter my room each day). So, I feel pretty good about the routines I have established for my classroom and students know what to do when they enter my room; however, there are times that everything doesn’t align as wonderfully as I would like it to. Sometimes while I am greeting students at the door, inside the classroom, students are not beginning their Do No (which is clearly on the board) and not following rules so some of the routines do need to be tweaked. I like the idea of the threshold that Lemov discusses. It can be very difficult to try and reach out on a personal level with 150 students each day, but this semester I am really going to strive for doing this in a genuine way. My goal this semester is to make a personal connection with FIVE students each day. And when I say personal, I mean want to reach out to students and work with them one-on-one, despite the demands of the entire class. My plan to is to focus on one class each day and five students each day.

I really like the idea of STAR/SLANT too, but working this into a schedule with freshmen could be tricky. Students could view this as childish, so I think I have to be pretty sneaky about incorporating this into the curriculum. This will work out pretty well given that we are approaching the research paper and persuasive speech. I am going to have students start doing impromptu speeches more often and this would be a great tactic for them to learn how to be active listeners/respectful audience members and hopefully this will translate into how they approach being students in the classroom and really listening during lessons/instruction. Freshmen seem to have a really difficult time with this, so perhaps making it a game with incentives will prove to be beneficial.

So, with routines, although I feel like I have some pretty good ones in place, I still plan to include some of Lemov’s ideas for routines and be very transparent with students about the process.

Character & Trust

This is the chapter that really had some resonance with me because although I think I have a pretty good rapport with students, there are still many areas in this category that I need to work on. I NEED to live in the now, assume the best, allow for anonymity, to narrate the positive and reinforce actions and not traits. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, and when I reprimand students for things they can no longer change, I know it defeats the whole purpose. And how can anything be learned through criticism, unless it’s constructive? So, instead of stating “ Student’s name, put your phone away” or “Student’s name, you need to stop talking” I can focus on what they can do to be successful like, “I need you focused for this lesson”. I can also fall into the trap of making students out to be deliberate about their off-task behavior, and although sometimes it can be, I am sure there is a reason and instead of focusing on the negative like “you’re being rude!”, I can be a little more delicate to make sure my words are not judgemental of the person, but instead the behavior. For example I could say, “That behavior is not acceptable.” I try to be as positive as possible, but even that can be difficult when students get frustrated and give up or are off-task and unproductive. I really need to do more focusing on what is going well and stop getting sucked into what is not because it brings me down. And even when things aren’t going well, I need to try to pull out an aspect that can be viewed as positive. For example, “I am glad that you are putting in the effort here. It looks like you started this part off well” or if a student is not being productive I could say, “ Student’s name, I really want to see your best work here as I have seen it before. We have a lot to do today.” I can also make sure to address students in a way that helps them become risk tolerant so they understand that they are fully in control of their learning and that their actions determine the results, not “how smart or not smart that they perceive themselves as being”.

I have a lot of work to do, but I do think there is plenty of time to do it and it’s a great time to begin this reinvigoration of teaching as it’s a new year!

 

 

Technology & Focus

By Alissa Hansen

Let’s Focus: wait,…was that a squirrel? (If you have wee ones, chances are that you have seen the movie Up, and if you have seen this movie, I am sure you can visualize this reference. For those of you who have not, to make a long story short: the talking dog, Doug, has absolutely no attention span and just the thought of hearing a squirrel is enough to take the dog’s attention away from the task at hand. Sound familiar… in the classroom?)

When I think back to this adorable film and this particular scene, I can’t help but to see the similarities between a lack of attention span and students. Students are used to getting information swiftly with all of the gadgets that are at their fingertips, so as teachers we need to hit the ground running every class period. Wow, now talk about a rather grandiose task?! It takes me about three seconds to Google just about anything about anything and about five seconds to map directions (my goodness, does anyone know how to use, and I mean really use, a map anymore?). Now do not get me wrong, I am a huge advocate of utilizing technology for learning because it truly DOES benefit our students. However, I am struggling with a phenomenon that is becoming more and more pervasive as students get more used to using technology in the classroom, and as more schools move 1:1–and that is student focus. Despite the time-saving ease that technology has brought to the classroom, it is not without challenges and those challenges have been making me question my own teaching practices/strategies and how I use technology in my English classes. I have been using Chromebooks in my English classroom in the following ways over the course of the past seven school-year months:

  • Peer-editing and the writing process using Google Drive and Google Classroom
  • Charts for vocabulary (I usually have students research terms, define the term in their own words, then locate an image that represents the term), reading comprehension questions, journal responses, etc. are all done via Google Classroom
  • Review games/study using Kahoot and Quizlet
  • A Google a Day to practice research skills, Google Drive has some great tools too! Try opening a document, Click on Tools and Research. When you pull information or an image from this research tool, it automatically cites for you. There are a number of Add-ons you can get too. Students like the simplicity of EasyBib Bibliography Creator, but it does take away that important skill of putting together pertinent information into a works cited formatted in MLA or APA.
  • Daily grammar practice using NoRedInk and Grammar Crush
  • Reading nonfiction using Newsela– you can even have students change the lexile to better meet their needs as readers
  • Online discussions via Padlet– this is a great tool to conduct fishbowl discussions where both the inner and outer circles can collaborate and discuss the content. I have used Edmodo as well, but like Padet for the ease a bit more.
  • Students use my Google class site on a daily basis to access the daily agenda, helpful links for class, the class calendar, etc.
  • I use text message reminders with Remind.com to remind students of upcoming due dates.
  • I use the SmartBoard often to get students up and moving by coming up to the board and playing a review game or editing a paper. They enjoy it and it gives students a change to get out of their seats with their eyes on something other than the Chromebook screen.
  • I use quite a few other tech-resources to help motivate students to learn and to better meet the needs of students, and I am never afraid to try something new. And when I do, I am more than happy to share it with you all. In fact, that is what this blog is all about.

Needless to say, my students use Chromebooks 98 percent the class period; however, I have noticed a decline in focus with students and they tend to give up more easily when a task is difficult. I have found myself saying, “CLOSE your Chromebooks!” multiple times in order to get students refocused and to move on to the next item on our agenda. For some students, they are so enthralled with their screen, they need me to repeat this a few times before it really sinks in and sometimes proximity is a step that also needs to occur in order for them to refocus their attention. And all of these steps, just to get students on the same page. What I am noticing with the more frequent use of the Chromebooks is that students will either:

1) get done with work early and then start playing a game,

2) rush through the work in order to play the game, or

3) try their hardest not to do the work, so they have more time to play a game instead.

Not all of my students are like this, but I have a number who are and it makes me question what I am doing wrong, what I need to incorporate to help students, and what I need to do as a teacher to utilize technology but do so in a way that benefits students and enhances learning. So, my goal is NOT to use technology just for the sake of using technology…my goal is always to benefit students and enhance learning altogether, but lately I have been questioning if this is possible and I am trying so hard to be optimistic.

Once students start playing a game, can they stop abruptly, and truly refocus their attention on the content being covered in class? And if so, do they retain any content from class if gaming is at the forefront of their minds? Should I loosen up a bit if students play games for a bit? I am not one for “free time”, it’s just not the type of teacher I am. My thought is that there is always something to do, learn, read, revise, discuss, and learn. (Actually, just over holiday break, I picked up a Nerf basketball hoop for the back of my classroom. This is my holiday gift to students. My thought is that if we complete all of the tasks at hand, why not reward students by shooting some hoops the last three minutes of class. I hope it works! Plus, there is a lot of research out there that states that movement helps with true learning.) I have been thinking that gaming is something these students are used to, it’s like obsessive texting; however, I am learning that as quickly as students lose information as it is, some technology is making it even easier for content to slip out of the window. YIKES! How does one incorporate technology effectively in this day and age with new gadgets popping up daily and oh so many resources? Students are so used to getting information quickly and without much effort, so, we as teachers need to up the ante…but how? No, I am asking; I don’t have an answer and I want, let me rephrase that, I need some help. I have been thinking on this often, so I am just going to keep on moving and “shake it off”, in the words of Taylor Swift.

Part of me thinks that technology has made the work load too easy for students. They just don’t have to work as hard to gather information. Search term in, answer outputted, DONE! That took 3 seconds, so has it sunk in? Probably not, so we’ll repeat it over and over. Without proper application of all of these incredible technological resources out there for our students, can we be sure that they are truly learning and gaining from these tools? How can we ensure this with the technology that we use in our classrooms? Well, I feel like I am leaving this blog entry with more questions than I started with…

I love using technology, and thankfully I work in a building and district that welcome technology all the same, but the goal here is to augment the learning in our classrooms, making it purposeful, relevant, and exciting for students and use technology as a tool to make it so. Technology should never be a hindrance or an obstacle. And on that note, here are some ideas that I am going to be trying out to keep the ball rolling and to help me as I continue to investigate this issue of focus:

  • The Flipped Classroom model with my Honors students-I am going to try this out with background information relating to The Odyssey since it has a tendency to be pretty complicated.
  • Trading Cards of Odyssey Characters using http://bighugelabs.com/deck.php
  • Students are going to be writing a paper where they combine their already written personal narrative on an obstacle he/she encountered and combining what was learned from that experience with the obstacles that Odysseus faced in The Odyssey. I am going to have students use Magisto to create a movie where students combine these things from their papers, along with images and quotations that relate.
  • I would like to start using EduCanon to watch inspiring TED talks and discuss the content meaningfully. This is a wonderful resource where you can upload movie clips from almost anywhere. You can add your discussion or comprehension questions right into the movie itself to create natural stopping points!!
  • I would like to set up a class Twitter as well to use occasionally as a way to formatively assess students (using it as an entrance/exit card). Let’s face it, I know I struggle with getting my 14 and 15-year-old students to get through a short story and write a paper, so why not create a powerful assignment with something that they are already good at? They can write a statement in 140 characters or less, but can they write an analysis or summary in the same way? Now that would take some thought and it would be an assignment that they couldn’t necessarily look up online.

Google Drive, Sites, and Classroom, oh my!

By Alissa Hansen

On using Google Drive, Classroom, and Sites

I agree with Angela; Google has made a daunting task a little less daunting. Grading has become easier, feedback is more readily available (and cannot be crumpled up and thrown away…well, at least not in the same way), and students have a hard time making the excuse, “ I lost my homework.” Thank you Google! I too suffered from going through about 150 student folders (using gclass folders) in search of assignments, and if students didn’t have the assignment properly labeled, I was in for a wild ride that lasted much too long…ugh! And let’s face it, work was still not put into the correct folder, despite constant reminding. But, enough with all that, Google offers some great tools that are impacting the way we teach, and the way students learn.

Here is how I use the many tools of Google:

Google Drive-

  • Google Forms is an amazing tool that I use often for both formative and summative assessments. Anytime that I need data, and quick, I can utilize Forms. You can create multiple choice and/or matching Forms and Flubaroo (a FREE add on) can grade them for you! You can also email students their grades directly from the Form. Forms nicely package the data in the summary of responses, which is an incredible tool to use to go over test results with students. Here they can see the percentages of answers that were incorrect and correct, and from the entire class so we all know exactly what content has been covered well, and what needs to be retaught. It’s a great tool to use to inform instruction as well as metacognition for students.
  • Google Calendar is a nice way to help students plan ahead, and since students do not have planners, this is something that I know my students look at often. I have the calendar embedded on my Google Site. You can attach assignments to each calendar event, but if you use Classroom or Drive and students have access to the documents already, there isn’t any real need to do so.
  • Kaizena is a handy free add on that allows you to leave voice comments on documents. I have yet to try it out on an assignment, but plan on leaving voice comments through Kaizena for the personal narrative assignment my English I students are working on right now. I cannot wait! I did a trial run this summer, but I am curious if students would be more willing to listen to me talk them through their work rather than read my comments. Hmmmm, it is less work for them to listen. I may try this out and then do a Google Form survey to get student feedback on how they prefer feedback.
  • I still like to use my Google Drive Edit Folder every once in a while, but have completely stopped using the Assignment and View Folder as it’s all in Classroom. Just recently, I was speaking with another teacher about a skill we saw needed some drastic improvement: writing topic sentences. She decided to have her students go over each topic sentence together; I thought this was a great idea. I decided to make a document in the Edit Folder, set up a table, and have students write their topic sentence anonymously by using a hashtag, and we went through every student’s topic sentence and discuss what worked well, what needed improvement, and made suggestions. It went very well and was a great workshop not only on topic sentence writing, but collaboration. I will say the paragraphs turned in after this activity were the best I have seen thus far.

Google Classroom-

  • I was luck term 4 of last year and was able to get Chromebooks during the early roll out for my English classes. It was a game changer in every sense of the word. I started off by using the gclass folder system so students would have their own Assignment Folder, a View and Edit folder. It actually worked very well and the upperclassmen that I had took to the system very quickly. This year, however, I have freshmen, which is a whole other beast. I started out the year making 150 gclass folders for my students. YES! 150!!! And let’s just say, it goes/went/is still going… downhill from there. The View folder is a great concept because students know to go to this folder to view documents, but if you want them to work on that document, then they have to go to File → Make a Copy→ and then rename that copy and move it into their assignment folder. In other words, too many steps for young minds and too many avenues for work to get lost in translation. YUCK!!! Needless to say, like Angela, once Classroom came into view in September, I was eager to get it started. Now, however, I am still running into the same problem because students have not fully transitioned over to Classroom from Drive, and I still have to remind them to go to Classroom. Regardless, it functions so seamlessly. You can set up the assignment for students (make sure that you give all of the students a copy if you want them to work on it), the program names the document and attaches their name to it as you did so you do not have to search for documents that are titled 100 different ways, and it organizes the work for you: Done and Not Done. It’s easy and you can grade, leave feedback (I recommend suggestion mode for internal comments, and commenting for overall comments), and send messages to students. It makes the grading process very interactive and students have no choice but to look at your comment, even if they choose not to go into the document to see the blood, sweat, and tears left by their teacher. It’s just a really good tool that keeps assignments very organized for students and the teacher. Students KNOW when they did not turn something in and are reminded of it often. In fact, every time they log into Classroom if an assignment is late, it shows up red with an exclamation point. Students can submit work when they are completed and when they submit work, they cannot go back to edit it until the teacher returns the form or they unsubmit. This also lends itself to revision, a very important part of the writing process.

Google Sites-

  • I know many teachers who have given up their sites because of Google Classroom, but I am pretty attached to my site and put a lot of time into it daily. I have pages for every class, a class calendar, syllabi, and a daily agenda and announcements page. I use my website every day. I pull up the calendar at the start of every week so students know what is coming and to remind them to look ahead themselves, and I move to the agenda page where I have the objectives and essential questions listed for each day and our agenda. I walk through what we will do before we jump into the day’s content. I also practice the art of hyperlinking here, since this is a mainstay of online writing. My site is also host to student work, where I highlight some of the finest specimens from each unit.

So, I think so far so good with the transition. As with anything new, there are always bumps in the road but I am really loving the organization of Google Classroom. Students seem to like the tool as well, in fact, when we were still using Google Drive Folders in early September students asked: Why aren’t we using Google Classroom? I had to think about that one and this is when I decided that a change was in order…especially after going through all of those pesky Assignment Folders a billion times searching aimlessly for assignments that were not titled properly. Those days are over! Thanks again Google for being this teacher’s shoulder to cry on.