I feel a pang of annoyance. Parent follow-up every day? I wonder if I should feel insulted by a lack of trust. And doesn’t that parent know I have 25 other students to monitor? And what if all of their parents requested the same level of communication?
Sadly, such was my attitude when I first started teaching whenever a parent asked for more frequent communication on their child.
Fortunately, over time, I started to recognize just how important it is for parents to have a better window into their children’s learning–not just because of the fact that they have entrusted them to my care for 7 hours a day, but also because I came to grasp just how really terrible grades are at conveying meaningful learning.
Student-led conferences helped me take one of the first leaps forward in creating that window. The student ownership, the authentic conversations, and the overall sense of meaning facilitated unprecedented parent/student/teacher communication. (the link above will take you to that process, along with a lot of pdf resources)!
Student blogging came next in furthering the communication cause. I knew I wanted my students to be able to showcase their learning journeys in ways their parents could more easily access. The students loved commenting on one another’s blog posts, but the real joy came as parents started leaving responses, too–words of encouragement, support, and love.
Here are just a few of my what ifs for now. I would love to hear your feedback, especially if it’s something you’ve tried/dreamed about as well!
What if teachers and students regularly coauthored learning reports (do you think something like this would work–I was thinking that notes could be added in each relevant category as learning developments worth noting arise, not as a chart to be completely filled each week)?
What if teachers openly discussed our anecdotal notes with each student and asked for their feedback?
What if parents were able to write and respond to notes with what they are seeing at home with regards to specific learning goals?
What if students were able to write and respond to notes with what they are experiencing with regards to specific learning goals?
What if we completely eliminated surprise “grades” and moments like those illustrated in the meme below?
When it comes to lassoing the thousand demands on our attention, we all have different strategies. A daily Post-it note on your desk, a detailed planner–maybe even alerts on your phone. But one to rule them all might just be the new Google Inbox. If you have a Gmail account, and if you are a teacher, you’ll want to upgrade the desktop version and replace the app on mobile devices with Inbox today. Here’s why:
You can snooze emails for later. I don’t know about you, but when I receive 11 high-priority emails simultaneously, but only have time to address 3, it translates to instant background worry that the other 8 will slip through the cracks. This is one of many reasons I love the snooze feature. If you know you’ll have time to email Johnny’s dad back later that evening, or maybe tomorrow morning, you can easily dismiss it until that time. Not sure when you’ll have time to revisit an idea introduced in an email (like an annual conference or newsletter on an interesting gadget), but know you don’t want to forget it forever? Just snooze until “Someday.”
You can create Reminders. Watch your email inbox become a neat, one-stop for all school-related to-do’s. When you hover over the bottom right circle, you can either compose an email or add a reminder for yourself that gets added into your inbox. You can also schedule these to display at specific dates/times or preset times (ie, “This weekend”). No more leaving to fate (or sticky notes) your intention to follow-up with Susie on her book choice next Monday, or to share that new resource with your grade level team. The mobile app is just as adept at this.
It will conveniently group your emails. Instead of every. single. email. cluttering up your screen in a long list, you can utilize Inbox’s bundling feature. For instance, instead of rows and rows of emails from Scholastic, Youtube, and DonorsChoose interspersed among more pressing emails, you can set them to show up in one Updates bundle line that expands when you click on it. Other bundles include Purchases, Finance, Promos, Trips, and Saved–and you can even make your own.
You can clean out your box quickly. The Done button is another favorite feature. Instead of clicking on an email and then trying to decide if I want to archive it, trash it, or send it to a group, I can just click one beautiful checkmark that appears next to the email when I hover on it. This feature becomes even more beautiful when it comes to bundles–I can click to expand all those Updates emails, quickly glance down the list to check whether anything needs my attention, and then click Done to sweep the entire bundle from my box.
The pinning feature adds even more flexibility. If a more important email shows up in a bundle that you’d otherwise like to sweep out, you can just pin it and it will move to your main inbox. You can also toggle the view so you see only pinned vs. unpinned items at a time.
And there are hints of more time-saving features to be added all the time. As much as we all dislike change, Inbox is definitely a winner. Make time this summer to tinker with it for a more organized and efficient next school year!
An authentic and global audience of peers and professionals–what could be more exciting when it comes to students pursuing meaningful collaboration? Yet in the name of safety, many schools still choose to keep student blogs private, viewable only to students and their families. And while safety is an essential priority, these schools must understand the importance of digital citizenship, and its role in enhancing students’ online safety.
Meanwhile, for those teaching under such restrictions, the good news is that there are a growing number of alternatives available to still foster global connections. Here are four we’re sure your students will love!
Meet the digital version of pen pals. This is a great compromise with an administration that is wary of public blogging–ask for permission to connect with just 3 other classes so they can learn about their peers in other places. Your class will become part of a Quad of four classes. You each take week-long turns as the focus class, meaning the other 3 classes visit and comment on your students’ blogs. The year I did this with my fifth graders, our quad included fifth grade classes from the U.S., the U.K., and China, and our students couldn’t get enough of seeing comments on their work from their quad friends across the globe.
The Wonderment is a new creativity-sharing platform that makes me want to be a kid again. It allows students to share and connect with kids around the world using their WonderBots. Students can share their work, participate in creative challenges, and participate in discussions with other kids–all while filling up a WonderMeter that opens up the Wonderment to new locations in the world. “When we create things together, good things happen.”
Twitter allows teachers to easily share snippets of student learning throughout the day in just 140 characters. A group just brainstormed phenomenal questions for a project? Just snap a photo and share on your classroom Twitter account with hashtags that will help their ideas reach beyond just the walls of your classroom (ie, #comments4kids, grade level chat like #5thchat, etc.). Invite parents to follow your class account to give them a window into your classroom, too! To see it this in action, check out Mrs. Cassidy’s first grade class account. (For more inspiration, check out “Unlocking Twitter’s Classroom Potential“).
Can your class guess the location of another over Skype? Not only does MysterySkype give your students an opportunity to connect with kids around the world, but it allows them to cultivate communication, problem solving, collaboration, and organization. Before you launch a session, be sure to check out how other teachers have set it up, like fifth grade teacher, Paul Solarz.
Have you ever played with Google’s “I’m Feeling Lucky” button? Well, you should–and so should your students who are looking for inspiration or a challenge (especially if they feel they are always “done”).
B+, 4, O, 73%–these marks and the like are terrible storytellers. After all, how can one impassive mark describe a student’s chronicle of small triumphs, daily perseverance, and long-term growth? On the other hand, is it even possible to record and convey complex learning journeys in a way that isn’t cumbersome?
If any of this sounds familiar, explore Google Drive as a possible solution to strike the balance! Increase your accuracy, efficiency, and transparency by checking out some examples and tips below.
Your clipboard and pen still have a place in certain formative assessment note-taking. But for more in-depth situations, a Google Form with prefilled lists to choose from can help you generate much more comprehensive–and accessible–notes. In a recent #5thchat, @Mr_Ullman shared his forms for writing and reading conferences. We especially love his use of drop-down menus to easily select student names, writing cycle stages, and comprehension strategies, and more.
Other Accuracy Possibilities:
Use the Scale feature (ie 1 to 5) to record students’ confidence in their book selections.
Use the Checkboxes feature on which outcome(s) students are currently working toward.
Use the Grid feature for assessing progress in a class-generated science rubric.
Most schools require benchmarks assessments, typically at the beginning, middle, and end of the year. Ready-made benchmark programs often come with assessment sheets, but why not create your own multifunctional and tailored document? For example, I decided to consolidate reading, writing, math, and behavior benchmarks all into one Google Document. I also made student-friendly alterations so we could use the same sheets during our student-led parent teacher conferences (see extra resources & how-to here); I also added grade-level-specific rubrics, tables, and data.
Other Efficiency Possibilities:
Take items directly from your school’s report card (such as behavior descriptors), and turn them into a Google Form. Then, convert your quarter-long formative notes into summatives as you observe patterns and/or calculate averages in the responses spreadsheet.
Using tables to record data across the year saves you more than just time and paper–it also allows students and parents to better track and discuss growth themselves.
Share a form with students as a quick exit ticket after a lesson or unit.
Sharing assessment data with students can be accompanied with uncertainty–how much should we share? How do we keep them from becoming preoccupied with numbers? Will they feel defined by scores? However, I’ve come to realize that as long as we discuss data in the context of process over product, it can become yet another way to empower students with ownership over their learning. In addition, the share features in Google Drive are ideal for fostering communication among students, parents, and teachers. We are advocates for harnessing technology for more in-depth and authentic collaboration among all involved in student learning!
Other Transparency Possibilities:
Duplicate Google Documents like the benchmark data sheet so each student (and their parents) can access their own online version.
Share forms you use for formative assessments with parents to give them a clear picture of what’s happening in class.
Invite parents to leave comments for you or for their student!
How else have you used Google Documents and Forms for more accurate, efficient, and transparent assessments? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!
With the relentless waves of worksheets, professional development packets, and IEP paperwork, it can seem impossible to stay ahead of the whirlwind of disorder. Here are 10 of our tried-and-true tips to make organization a reality!
#1: Get Rid of Your Desk
For one thing, we all know what inexplicable paper-magnets desks are. For another, they often serve as barriers between you and students, especially if you are tempted to grade during the day. If you have a horseshoe table you use with students, position that in the corner instead. Otherwise, keep your pens, scissors, and other such necessities in a plastic 3-drawer cart, or in pencil organizers on your mobile tech cart. Added bonus: you’ll open up the space in your classroom!
#2: Get Rid of Worksheets (as much as possible)
Moving away from worksheets has the mutual benefit of creating less clutter for you and less busy work for your students. Instead, consider displays of student understanding in the form of project-based learning and other alternatives that place the priority more on learning.
#3: Get Rid of Your Filing Cabinet
While this is a bigger project to tackle, the payoff is enormous. Think of all the time you’ve wasted digging through disheveled files to find that one resource, making copies, and then rediscovering its folder to put it away. Contrast that with performing a simple search of your computer files for the resource, and then printing it! Go ahead and start scanning items in your filing cabinet, and be sure to keep them organized in digital folders on your computer. This would be a great task for parent volunteers or the school copy aide if you have one!
#4: Get Rid of Student Portfolio Binders or Files
If you keep bulky binders of student work in your classroom, consider teaching students how to keep their work digitally on individual blogs! Some benefits of keeping portfolios digitally include: increased practicality for students to keep and access their work in the long-term, more varied options for work sample types (including voice recordings, videos, etc.), and preparation for students to utilize 21st century tools and skills. Check out our post for student blogging ideas to get started!
#5: Get Rid of CD’s & More
Make a search for the obsolete in your classroom. CD’s that can be ripped, posters that can be scanned–pare down any items that could be replaced with your smartphone or tablet.
#6: Go Mobile for Student Paperwork
Once you’ve gotten rid of your filing cabinet, there will doubtless still be a few items you need to keep on file, including confidential student paperwork and forms. Keep these instead in a space-effective accordion file folder or a small filing box. You may find the ability to move these papers around with you to be a more convenient option, as well!
#7: Adopt Apps that Will Work for You
Get rid of that giant desk calendar (which will be necessary if you did #1 anyway)! Experiment with various apps to find out what will best meet your needs. Evernote is one option for keeping notes and schedules organized, and Confer is perfect for keeping anecdotal notes from guided reading to math!
#8: Adopt Google Drive
Instead of opening multiple programs to access your files, move everything over to Google Drive! Only uploaded or synced files count against your 15 GB of free storage, too, which means anything you create in Drive is free storage! Additionally, you will be poised to more easily collaborate as you share resources with your colleagues. Tip to remember: Download the desktop version of Google Drive so you can still access your resources during offline occurrences!
#9: Enlist Student Help
Especially if you keep some kind of classroom economy or class jobs, make sure you add student jobs that will help keep up classroom organization! Some that I’ve loved have included organization experts, who dust and otherwise straighten up, and sanitation specialists, who wield Clorox wipes on every possible surface!
#10: Make a Display Wall
This can be as simple as pinning up a few strands of yarn and attaching some clothes pins, or perhaps hanging up a few clipboards. Not only is it a great way to display reminders, flyers, student drawings, and personal inspiration, but it’s perfect to keep it all off work-surfaces. If you are interested in using your wall space in an even craftier way, the ideas are pretty much endless on Pinterest!
What about you? Do you have other strategies to share that have helped you stay organized? Please share in the comments!