In today’s world, the topic of using technology in the classroom can be intimidating. In this monthly column, join one teacher on a quest to discover the best way to meet the needs of her digital-age learners…moving beyond the technology tools to focusing on supporting each student’s learning.
In October’s column, “How Do We Know What They Know?,” I shared some ways that we can assess our students to determine exactly what they know and design our instruction to meet those needs. But, now that we have that data, where do we go next?
Often, when you are looking at a class of twenty five students that means you have twenty five different areas of need. If you are teaching an English Language Arts class, that is often compounded by the fact that each student has a different level of mastery in the standards of grammar and mechanics, reading, and writing. If you broke those broad areas down even further, the sheer volume of data that we would have for one class becomes mind-boggling. Does contemplating this cause anyone else to become overcome with overwhelm?
The world of a teacher involves so much more than just the face-to-face time we have with our learners. Our attention and energy are pulled in so many directions, threatening to cause us to derail in our true mission: meeting the needs of each and every learner, each and every day. At times, it’s tempting to return to whole-group instruction simply because it is easier to manage the time. No matter how well we plan and schedule, the reality is that we live in a world with students, students who are always changing. How do we balance time and provide students with meaningful, personalized feedback to direct their growth?
The great advantage of living in the digital age is that there are tools that can help us meet our needs. The real trick is finding the ones that can easily be embedded to support not only our teaching practice, but also the individualized instruction our learners need to continue down the path of their learning journey.
One fabulous feedback option is through their individual blogs. Those of you who are familiar with my classroom know that blogging is an integral part of the learning process for my students. They use their blogs to reflect on their learning, connect with their global peers, publish their writing, set personal goals, and share their voices with the world. My learners are voracious writers because their writing is meaningful and purposeful. They have an authentic audience who will respond and push them to think deeper. And as amazing as all of this student-directed learning is, on KidBlog, the home of all of this fabulous-ness, my favorite feature is the private commenting.
With KidBlog, you can set the safety standards of who can view blogs or make comments and when they live online. For my students, I have the setting where every post and comment must be read and approved by me. With it set in this way. I read everything that my students are writing. Once a post is approved, the blog administrator (classroom teacher) has the ability to submit comments to students that can only be viewed by the blog’s author.
Private comments are the perfect opportunity to ask probing questions, redirect a line of thinking, conduct some reteaching, or provide a new link for further study. Many times, my comments request that the students make changes in a comment on their original post. Because blog posts and comments are published chronologically, it shows a student’s growth while also documenting the feedback and dialogue. Often my students will look back on a previous line of learning on one of their different blog posts as a reminder of their growth and how to push themselves further down the learning path.
A Different Route
While providing feedback on blog posts is a fantastic way to personalize instruction, most times those conversations are asynchronous. The dialogue may take place throughout the course of several days. However, there are times when synchronous conversation is needed. My students are involved in much collaborative writing. In those cases, since more than one student is working on a piece of writing, timely, synchronous feedback becomes more crucial to keep each individual headed in the right direction.
Enter Google Drive. I’m sure many of you are familiar with the benefits of Drive and probably use it yourself. However, the ability to have multiple students working on one document or presentation from different devices or locations takes collaboration to a whole different level. I can have one student curled up on the floor with pillows and his iPad while another one is sitting at a classroom desktop computer and another student is sitting at their desk using their smartphone all working on the same document at the same time.
I teach in a district where every student (and teacher) already has an assigned Google account. However, there are several tutorials online about how to assign students accounts using only one teacher Gmail account. All notifications will be sent to the teacher’s account, not the students’.
Once the students are logged on, one student from the group will need to invite the other students and the teacher to share and edit that document. Then students can begin working on their part of the document. What is fantastic about this option is that anyone invited can also make comments, which appear on the side of the document or presentation. That means that as the teacher, you can confer with many different students while they are writing from your computer (I usually have multiple tabs open and work on several pieces at the same time). Each collaborator is assigned a different color so that you can see the changes being made while they are making them.
You can reteach, redirect, and cause them to probe deeper. Your learners can respond to your comments; now you are having a synchronous conversation about their writing as they are writing. They can ask one another (or you) questions about the choices that are being made before they get to the end of writing their first draft. Once they have worked with the ideas from one comment, a student can mark it resolved.
The first time my students experience the synchronous conversation while they are writing, they are ecstatic. One student told me that this was the coolest thing she had ever done in school. I asked her to explain and she replied, “Well, with Drive, I’m able to see my writing from different people’s perspective. The comments make me think harder while I’m writing so I get a better piece when I’m done. I like that.”
Today’s digital age students live in a world of “right now.” They crave that instant feedback. Through Drive, I am able to give them guidance while not hovering over their shoulder. The feedback is timely and relevant for each student. Furthermore, the dialogue and learning are documented throughout each writing project providing a clear view of a student’s growth.
Full Speed Ahead
I realize that the options for providing student feedback are numerous. My intent was to provide you a map demonstrating how digital tools can support your drive to providing your learners meaningful, individualized, and timely feedback.
I am always on a hunt for new ideas. If you have a tool that you love using to provide feedback for your learners, please share it with all of us in a comment. With all of these ideas, before we know it, we’ll all be on the road headed to timely, personalized feedback for our students.
Julie D. Ramsay is a Nationally Board Certified educator and the author of “CAN WE SKIP LUNCH AND KEEP WRITING?”: COLLABORATING IN CLASS & ONLINE, GRADES 3-8 (Stenhouse, 2011). She teaches ELA to sixth graders at Rock Quarry Middle School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. She also travels the country to speak, present, and facilitate workshops in applying technology to support authentic learning. Read her blog at juliedramsay.blogspot.com.
© 2013 Julie D. Ramsay. Please do not reproduce in any form, electronic or otherwise.