Monday, March 24, 2014

Using Google Apps with Young Writers:  Please DON'T Curb their Enthusiasm!

Last week I had the pleasure of introducing Google Apps to an eager class of 3rd graders. After getting past the minutia of practicing the log in process, we were ready and raring to go.  The students were excited to discover what we could do with this new tool and were thrilled to find out that we could all share the same document. As we typed on a shared file at the same time, we learned a new vocabulary word: "collaboration."

While describing what it means to collaborate and share documents, one of the students exclaimed, "You mean we can all be writing at the same time on the same screen?? And we can see each others' letters and words?!" Another student shouted out, "You mean, if I have a friend who's an expert about the same thing as me, we can both write together but on our own computers?!"  You could practically SEE the lightbulbs going on in their heads as they presented us with question after question. While their teacher and I knew we had to settle them down in order to focus on the project at hand, the last thing we wanted to was to curb their enthusiasm.

After a brief discussion, we decided on a project; we would write a digital book about "Our Class" using a Google Presentation. I quickly created a new presentation, chose a theme and shared the project with the class. Each student then navigated to the area of their Google Drive marked "Shared with Me," opened the presentation and then added a single slide to the project. They then proceeded to write a short paragraph about themselves. The room was buzzing with excitement as the students wrote and edited their mini autobiographies. They were chuckling aloud as they bounced from slide to slide, reading each others' brief stories.

Was the class chatty and a bit loud? Yes. Were the students unruly? NO. They were engaged, on task and excited about writing. Yes, EXCITED ABOUT WRITING. Why is writing with Google Apps any different than using pencil and paper? Here are my thoughts:

1)  There's a larger audience who will appreciate your work. Kids have so much to say but what's the point of talking when no one is really listening? In the same vein, what's the point of writing if only the teacher is going to read your work? Writing is much more exciting when you know several people will take them time to appreciate what you have to say. Students have more reason to take pride in their writing when they know their thoughts will be seen by many.  They'll want to make sure that the content is organized,  their spelling is correct and that they're using proper grammar.

2)  Collaborative work often lends itself to greater creativity. When students can share thoughts and words, their writing becomes more interesting and more elaborate. They have the opportunity to build on each others' thoughts and expand upon their experiences. This adds excitement, detail and meaning to the process.

3)  Partner collaboration allows for differentiation.When pairing students for partnered writing, teachers have the opportunity to partner students with similar writing abilities. This can help to avoid embarrassment or awkwardness that often happens when students realize that they're writing isn't up to par with their partner's abilities.

4)  Peer editing using rubrics improves personal writing skills. When students have the ability to review and comment on their peers' work according to a rubric, it often results in improvement of their own writing in the long run. Repeated use of rubrics for peer review helps students to keep writing guidelines in mind while they compose their own writing. There are times when students will scrutinize each others' writing even more critically than the teacher. (Make sure all criticism is constructive!)

5) Proofreading is always easier with a partner.  Another set of eyes can be invaluable. No need to elaborate here.

We should all know by now that collaborative writing using technology is an anchor standard within the Common Core.  Incorporating Google Apps into the collaborative writing process with youngsters not only meets the standard, it's also a great way to generate enthusiasm for writing at an early age. As I close, allow me to share one more thought. I later found out that many of the students who participated in this class went home that evening, logged into their Google Drive and continued to tweak their writing on their own.  They were thrilled to see many of their classmates online doing the same thing at the same time and continued to collaborate as they wrote. Now, how's that for enthusiasm?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Will These Snow Days Ever End?? Your LMS to the Rescue!

Teachers all over the east coast are struggling with school cancellations, early dismissals and delayed openings. Many of us are feeling that we may be going to school till July while others are concerned that Saturday make-up days may be in our near future. Precious instructional time is at a premium and the winter is far from over. How can we pack so much instruction into shortened days and weeks?

Answer:  YOUR LMS.  We have had so many snow days this winter that even the KIDS are bored sitting home. Wouldn't it be great if we could keep their minds stimulated even a little bit while they sit home and watch the snow fall?  If your school is using a learning management system such as Edmodo, Schoology, Gaggle, Moodle or one of the many others available these days, you can encourage your students to stay "plugged into learning" even during snow days. Using an LMS can help you stay connected with students by creating a blended learning environment between school and home. How connected?  Well, many LMS's provide a shared library area where you can post links to online resources that students could go to at any time. Wouldn't it be better to spend some of that downtime playing online learning games instead of the usual XBox or PS3 games? This is just one example of how you can keep your students thinking . Here are a few others: (some of which help to reinforce the Common Core standards.)

  • Post a link to an activity or instructional video via one of your many online curriculum tools or use Khan Academy,  NextVista, or YouTube to support learning about a particular topic. 
  • After watching a video, have students write a reflection essay or complete a homework assignment related to that topic. Homework can be done as a paperless assignment to be completed online. Students can also reply/discuss/comment on the video through an online discussion.  
  • Have students CREATE an instructional video, explaining how to: solve a certain type of math problem, describe a concept in science, explain a certain event in history or prewrite a personal narrative by describing a personal experience. 
  • Ask students to create a documentary about their day off. Have them describe "The Perfect Snow Day" or make an instructional video about snowboarding, sledding or building the perfect snowman. Have them video their activities and narrate the story. Have students post up their video to share with the class. 
  • Allow students to choose a short story from the many free ebook sites and retell the story to their classmates. Or, have students react to a book chapter they are reading as a class or give an opinion about an event they are studying in history.
  • Create a KWL page in a shared document and have your students list 2-3 items they've learned about a particular topic or topics. This can then become the class study guide.
  • Assign students to small writing groups. Give each group a story starter and have them write a collaborative story, taking turns to add their own sentences. Once finished, the students can publish their stories to a class blog.

These are just a few ideas to keep your students thinking and working while they're away from school. Minds left idle during those long snow days can make it difficult for kids to get back on track when they return to school. Why not give them something fun to share and discuss upon their return?