As a Tech Coach, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with many dedicated teachers who are willing to push themselves out of their comfort zones and try something new because they believe it will benefit their students. I love hearing a teacher tell their students, “We are learning together today” because it demonstrates to the students that learning is a journey that doesn’t end after a certain grade or at a certain age. Knowing that their teacher is also learning something new immediately increases the engagement level of the students and helps them see learning as a life-long journey. I was lucky enough to have a situation like this unfold out of a casual lunchroom conversation with a teacher while I was at Duffin’s Bay P.S. recently.
“We are learning together today”
Michael Wilson is the English teacher for two Grade 7 / 8 classes at Duffin’s Bay P.S. in Ajax. He sat with me in the staffroom one day during lunch, described an idea he’d had and asked for my advice on how to implement it. He wanted the reading that his students did, both in class and at home, to be more engaging and collaborative. He also wanted to be able to assess what his students were reading as well as find a way for them to demonstrate their thinking, their questioning and their opinions about the books they were reading. I suggested that he have the students each make their own websites with Google Sites where they can create a sub-page for each book they read. On that page, they can provide a summary of the book, their thoughts and opinions about it and a “Comments” section where their peers could post their questions/comments about the book.
Mr. Wilson was very excited about the concept but was unfamiliar with Google Sites. So, we quickly made a plan for the three days that I was at Duffin’s Bay where each week I would teach both his classes the necessary technology skills that they would need to create and maintain their “Reading Catalogue” sites and then between my visits, Mr. Wilson would provide guidance on how he wanted them to use the technology for the purpose he had envisioned.
He created the following learning goal and success criteria to guide them as they built their websites:
I really enjoyed working with both of the groups of intermediate students as they excitedly learned how to create their own websites. The challenge for me was Mr. Wilson’s desire to have the students’ websites act as a catalyst for collaboration and discussion. Since there is no native option to embed a comments section or discussion forum into Google Sites, I had to find a workaround. I really wanted to find an option that would not require the students to install any additional applications and would be easy enough for Mr. Wilson to continue supporting after I had left the school. That led me to use a combination of Google Forms for the input of comments, and Google Sheets for displaying the comments. Both of these programs are easily embedded into a Google Site and produced the desired outcome. In order to assist the students with the process of using these combined apps, I created a Google Doc with instructions and images.
That document can be found here:
The example site that I used to model the process with the students can be found here:
When I returned to Duffin’s Bay about a month later, I was delighted to have students come running over to tell me about their websites and how many books they have added to it. I spoke to Mr. Wilson and he reiterated the success of the assignment and how engaged the students were with their reading and the discussions they were having in their online forums.
This activity allows students to express their own thoughts and opinions in a creative way. For Mr. Wilson, it has successfully engaged his students and promoted the love of reading. It has also provided an effective way for him to assess what his students are reading and how well they are comprehending the texts they choose. He uses descriptive feedback to provide ongoing assessment and suggestions for improvement.
His template for feedback can be found here:
A few of Mr. WIlson’s students agreed to let me post their websites as examples:
The sites have encouraged the students to not just read, but also to think about what they read and use that thinking to spark discussion. The students are more engaged because they are allowed to demonstrate their creativity and share their opinions in a forum that is more authentic to how they view, share, and discuss their experiences. The success of the activity would not have been possible without Mr. Wilson’s willingness to learn something new right along with his students and now, because he was, he and his two classes have all gained new skills that they can easily transfer to other classes and assignments. I hope that the students continue to add to their sites and engage in increasingly meaningful discussions and I look forward to working with them and their teacher again soon.