I cannot begin to tell you just how excited I was that my son was going to be using Google Google Classroom this year. Google Classroom is my jam. It’s my thing. As an ed tech coach and professional development trainer, I spend half of my day training teachers on how to use Google Classroom to better engage their students and simplify the way we do things in the classroom.
With that said, I promise that this is not another “How to Use Google Classroom" post or a Google Classroom 101 lesson. In fact, this post isn’t coming from a training perspective. It’s not even coming from an ed tech coach.
This post is coming from a mom.
I see the frustration almost daily: My son sifting through the Stream searching for things. My son looking for a file he started in his Drive that he forgot to name. (As of the most recent count, there were 27 files named “Untitled document” in his Google Drive. Twenty. Seven.) My son searching through his Stream for a study guide only to remember that the study guide was actually a paper copy. Oh, and that paper copy is at the bottom of his locker.
I am not making excuses for my kid--I know he needs to get organized and be responsible. I’m working on that. (Really, I am.) But, I also know that there are a few Google Classroom “best practices” that could help him along the way. And if they could help my son, I’m sure that they could help the other sons and daughters who sit in your classroom every day.
Mom Tip 1: Use the Topics Feature: The topics features will allow you to group all of your posts by a common topic. Are you posting an assignment related to astronomy? Assign the “astronomy” topic label to bundle it with all of the other posts on astronomy. This way, when your students have to review all of the materials on astronomy for an upcoming test, they need only click the topic label on the left hand side to access ALL of the materials they will need to help them prepare. Sifting through the stream and trying to guess which assignments are relevant not only wastes time, but can leave your students feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. Trust me. I know.
Mom Tip 2: Even if You Give Hard Copies, Add Digital Ones to the Stream. My son is a disorganized kid. Sometimes he misplaces things. And I am sure he is not the only one.
Mom Tip 3: Don’t Be Afraid of Guardian Summaries: Guardian summaries will not give parents full access to your Google Classroom. Nor will it give them access to your actual Stream. Instead, the summaries just provide a quick overview of recent posts and upcoming work. It can be a really great way to keep parents in the loop without oversharing. Still not convinced? Check out my quick infographic HERE.
Mom Tip 4: Add Due Dates to Your Assignments: As adults, we live and die by our calendars. Heck, if it’s not on my calendar, it’s just not happening. Why not get our kids into the habit of using a calendar to keep organized and remember important due dates? By adding due dates to assignments, you will automatically create a post on your student’s Google Calendar. It’s kind of like having a personalized agenda with all of the due dates and deadlines for school all in one place.
Mom Tip 5: Number the Assignments: Numbering assignments will not only impact the Stream, but will make such a difference in the students’ Drives. Right now, when I open any of my son’s Classroom folders, they are a hot mess. (Did I mention that my son is disorganized on his own?) Numbering assignments would put all of the work teachers distribute in numerical order right in the Classroom folder. (Check out @alicekeeler's post for the BEST information on numbering.) As teachers, we encourage the use of tables of contents in students’ physical notebooks. I’ve seen my own son number the pages of his paper worksheets and handouts. Think about the difference it would make if the digital handouts were numbered as well.
(Who also just happens to be an EdTech Coach)
Music teachers make it look easy.
A few weeks back, I conducted a coaching visit in an eighth grade orchestra classroom. The class was made up of students of different ability levels, different musical backgrounds, and get this...completely different instruments. But yet, at the end of the lesson, they all played together to perform the same piece of music.
Before starting my journey as a staff development coach, I taught middle school language arts for sixteen years. During this time, I encountered students from all walks of life and all walks of reading readiness. But, yet, they were all required to master the same skills and the same standards by year’s end. I can remember many a day where all of my efforts seemed fruitless. It was getting easier to place blame and harder to find the right balance between rigor and instruction that met the individual needs of my wide range of students.
Visiting this music classroom really made me think. How can an orchestra teacher ensure that all students, with such a broad range of abilities and needs, are ready for the same concert? How can she be confident that her miniature musicians are ready to play the same piece, at the same time, in front of the same audience? This is where the definition of differentiation truly comes alive. By considering the students’ ability levels and adjusting instruction to fit the needs of the different instruments, a middle school concert shines as a symphony of differentiated instruction.
And get this: in the music classroom, there is no period-long lecture. There is no “sage on the stage” playing for a passive audience. I watched as the music teacher literally took a step back and just let her students play. Of course, there were moments where she jumped in to give them corrective feedback and helped individual musicians refine their style, but that’s just it. The feedback was individualized. And relevant. And meaningful to each and every student. And yet, when class was over, all of the students were able to play the same piece. Yes, there were modifications. Yes, there were a few sour notes. Some students sparkled as soloists while others contributed to the overall rhythm of the piece. But they were all playing. Together. And they were successful.
All of our students come to our classrooms with different needs and different abilities. Maybe it is time that we embrace the music classroom metaphor and think about our students as individual musicians who all need to come together to contribute to the same piece of music. How can we adjust our instruction to help them showcase their true abilities? How can we be sure that our lessons meet the needs of the different instruments that our students bring to the table?
Just ask a music teacher. They make it look easy.
Jennifer Fischer is a former middle school English teacher, full-time instructional coach, and part-time edtech nerd, who strives to help next JENeration educators transform learning for all students.