Original article was published in the November issue of the NJEA Review.
According to Merriam-Webster to think outside the box is “to explore ideas that are creative and unusual and that are not limited or controlled by rules or tradition”. For some, using a new digital platform like Google Classroom fits that bill. For others it goes beyond that. Approaching teaching with a different mindset and a new perspective is what “out of the box thinking” means. It is with this in mind that I share with you more creative, unconventional uses for Google Classroom.
Highlight Student Exemplars
Pushing out assignments and content is the most common use for Classroom however, it is an excellent platform to highlight student work. For example, if you assign a project with a rubric you can post an exemplar along with it for students to have an idea of what they are striving for. Sometimes a visual representation of what a rubric is talking about is helpful for students. Sharing student work via the Stream and allowing their peers to provide feedback is also a valuable use for Classroom.
Showcase and Celebrate Students
Similarly, the Google Classroom Stream is a great place to celebrate students. It is very common in elementary schools to have a Student of the Week or Month. Teachers can post pictures of the honorary student in the Stream, samples of their work, etc. like a digital bulletin board. If the teacher changes the setting within Classroom on the Students tab to allow students to post and comment, then classmates can post kind words about the Student of the Week/Month. (Remember to teach about responsible digital citizenship before you allow your students the privilege of posting/commenting.) The student can also celebrate themselves by posting pictures and other things that represent themselves. The new Classroom feature of labeling posts with “topics” is very useful here. Label the posts at Student of the Month and kids can easily search for them among all the other posts in the Stream.
Provide Students Choice
We have different types of learners in our classrooms. Doesn’t it make sense to provide some options when creating assignments to best align with that diversity? Google Classroom does not have an option to group students within a Classroom. But you can provide choices in your assignments. In the example below the learning outcome is the same for all students. However, they are provided with choices as to the way in which they go about meeting that outcome.
Students Can Edit
The ability to “make a copy for each student” is a favorite feature for teachers. On the flip side, many stear clear of the “students can edit file” option when assigning tasks. I have heard many educators say it can get very messy when all of your students have access to the same Doc or Slide at the same time. My take on this is that there is a time and a place for everything. Here are some suggestions as to how to utilize the “students can edit” feature in Google Classroom.
First, it can be used for collaborative note taking. Designate one or two students in your class to be the “notetakers”. Their job is to take notes during the lecture, while watching the video, during a class discussion, etc. so the other students can focus on the teacher or the interactions taking place during the lesson. (I suggest rotating this role.) EVERY student will have access to the notes and can add to them after the lesson or later that evening when reviewing the day’s lesson. If you use a lot of visuals while teaching, drawing diagrams on the board, etc. you can have a student in charge of taking pictures and uploading them to the Doc or Slides in addition to the linear notes the other students are taking. You can also take it one step further and have someone record the lesson. This is a great idea for World Language and Music classes in particular. That student can insert a link to the audio or video for students to review at a later date or if they were absent from class.
Another way to use the “students can edit” feature is for brainstorming ideas. In Science, students can share ideas for experiments when the annual Science Fair rolls around. In an ELA class, classmates can use one Doc to brainstorm ideas for writing by suggesting possible characters, setting, plots, etc. There is always a student in your class that gets stuck and has those moments that they cannot think of anything to get started. We’ve all been there!
Finally, my favorite use is to have kids collaborate on one Google Slide deck. I recently saw this idea put to use while Sara Bowers (@SaraEBowers) and I were training a staff of instructional coaches in West Virginia. Sara used a blank set of Google Slides as a tool for the staff to introduce themselves to the group. This is the first time I saw Google Slides used in this way and we all had a blast making our “Rapid Fire” intro and then introducing ourselves to the group with only 10 seconds Ignite style! After seeing this fun use of a collaborative Slide deck I started thinking about other ways it could be used in the classroom. Assign each student a slide (I suggest giving them a number ahead of time), set a timer and have at it! I would make sure to remind students to focus on the content first and make it pretty if they have time. I equate this to the writing process. Editing comes at the end of the writing process so it should when working on a Google Slide. This is an excellent way for kids to show what they know about anything you are teaching. It forces your students to think critically about what information really needs to make the cut in order to truly demonstrate their understanding. This is also a nice way to work smarter and not harder by only having one set of Slides to review instead of 25.
After Hours Help
We all think we do a fantastic job of teaching our lessons but we also know that there are always students who have questions despite our best efforts. Sometimes those questions come when we are not around. So here are a few ideas to help your students get their questions answered. First, let your students comment in the Stream. This way they can ask their questions and other students can answer them. You are not the keeper of all the knowledge in your classroom. There are students who are very capable of helping each other out. I call them my TnT’s in my classroom (Teachers in Training). They are my “go to” helpers when I am working with a small group or conferencing with a student. This can work virtually as well. Explain to your students that they can help each other. You will monitor the Stream but they will be the ones to answer any questions that arise. It’s a great way to empower your students and make your classroom more student focused.
If you still want to make yourself available after school hours you can make yourself easily accessible in two ways. First, with your Google for Edu account you also have access to a Google Voice number. Set up your account and post your number and hours you will be available in the About section of your Classroom. The beauty of Google Voice is that it will transcribe a voicemail to an email or text message for easy accessibility. You can listen to the question and post the answer to the Stream in Classroom. Chances are that if one student had the question so did others and posting in the Stream makes the information accessible to all. Make sure you explain this to students in advance so they are not expecting you to pick up the phone or call them back (unless of course you want to). Tell them that once they leave the message you will respond within a certain timeframe in the Classroom Stream.
Finally, if you would prefer to hold “office hours” similar to what one would experience in a higher ed setting, you could create a permanent link to a Google Hangout and post the link in the About section of your Classroom. This would allow a student to simply click on the link during your prescribed “office hours” to reach you virtually. This is an excellent alternative for students who rely on a bus to get to and from school and cannot arrange for early arrival or to be picked up at a later time.
So there you have it. Lots of creative ways to use Google Classroom this school year. I hope you have enjoyed this series.
How did you use Google Classroom with your students this year?
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