My Perpetual State of “Not Quite There Yet”

While reading my blog posts can be scintillating, entertaining, and informative (so I have been told by at least one person!), today we have a special treat — one courtesy of Casey Hackett, who is the Department Head of English and French at G.L. Roberts C.V.I., one of my “assigned” schools. Casey is our Guest Blogger today!

Casey is leading the way at G.L. Roberts, finding meaningful and effective ways to leverage digital with her classes. Casey has spent 15 years at “G.L.” in a variety of roles including teaching English, Math, Student Success, Credit Recovery, and Grade 9 reading support. 

In this guest post, Casey reiterates ideas from my blog post Technology: the Elixir of Life?, where I talk about the fact that one of the exciting aspects of being a leader in technology is that, because IT (pun intended) is always evolving, YOU are also always evolving.

My Perpetual State of Not Quite There Yet

I returned from maternity leave in September of 2017 to learn that classrooms had been Googled, or Google now had classrooms, or, well, I wasn’t really sure what was happening, but it seemed to be a big deal.

Fast forward to one year later, all of my students have Chromebooks, and I would be lying if I said I haven’t become obsessed with digital tools for teaching and learning. But, let me take a step back for a moment so you know where I’m coming from. Soft skills, particularly interpersonal communication, problem solving and collaboration, are a primary focus in my classroom. Every day my students pick up a book and read. Every day my students sit with their peers to communicate and collaborate face to face. At home, there was not a single toy under our Christmas tree for my tiny humans that required a power source; we don’t own a tablet or computer; I just learned how to PVR last week; and I rode out the flip phone well into 2011 – I think it is safe to say that I am not obsessed with technology. I am, however, fascinated with how it has made me think differently about the experiences I provide for the students in my classroom.

Let me tell you about these fascinations.

Private Comments

Did Google even know the potential for this Classroom feature? This is probably the one thing I am most excited about – using the private comments feature. I use this for a couple of different purposes:

  • Having conversations where students respond to feedback
  • Posting links for individual students to further their learning
  • Having students demonstrate learning (not quite there yet)

At the onset of a learning goal, I’ve gotten into the habit of asking students to add or create independent Docs (or other apps) on assignment posts upfront and turn them in – blank. At this time, I return the assignment and open up a conversation in the private comments: “Thanks for turning in. I look forward to seeing your progress.” (I only have to type this once when I return to everyone). This now makes the demonstration of learning visible throughout the duration of that assignment. Part of what I’m working on with my students is training them to respond to feedback in the private comments.

Did I mention that this makes my job easier? I didn’t even have to go into the version history to know what the student modified.

Gone are the days of composing feedback on assignments only for them to watch them fly into the recycling bin. If I post a quick feedback comment, I not only expect them to use the feedback, I expect them to comment and tell me how they used it. Metacognition and reflection are so hard to fit into busy lesson plans, and students need practice doing this – lots of it! I also use the loom extension to create short feedback videos for students and post a link in the private comments: “I noticed you’re trying to [x], check out this video link, it might help. Please respond and let me know what you change.” I’ve found this to be a complement to in-person conferencing, and it has opened up new possibilities to connect with students who generally remain silent in class, or to check in on students without an audience present.

Collaborative Sheets and Slides

When it comes to pedagogy, running a teacher-centered classroom is gradually joining the ranks of standing in line at the bank or making mixed tapes. The transition is not an easy one, but innovative technology use can help. How do I know that all of my students are learning? How do I encourage them to all to participate in what we are doing? How do I help them to learn from each other? I frequently use a collaborative spreadsheet or slide deck; it is efficient and it gets everyone involved. I format and assign where everyone has edit access.

Depending on the task, students or groups might be assigned a cell or group of cells. Whatever response or ideas they are asked to provide, everyone works in the same Sheet. Everyone can see it; we “take things up” as we go in the form of conversation and learn from each other during the process instead of wasting instructional time after the fact. I can see who is contributing and who is not; this allows me to address these students in a quick face-to-face conference.

Here is a simple collaborative Sheet. This one was done by students working in groups; each group was examining the opening and closing of a personal essay. What used to be a whole class lesson took 20-25 minutes.

The most important change this has created for me is the culture of sharing in my classroom. When ideas are put on a piece of paper you own, it can be difficult to be vulnerable and hand that paper to someone else’s judging eyes. When students all own a spreadsheet, I’ve found it easier to promote a culture where students value the ideas of others, understand that sometimes there is no right answer, know that it’s okay to be wrong, and realize that they are not alone in their struggles; a culture where learning is driven by the questions and ideas of the students sitting in the room.

Similarly, collaborative Slides as a workspace is something I look forward to exploring more in the future. I had students write a short paper on one Google Slides deck. From the outside, I saw individuals plugging away at writing. Afterwards, we discussed their thinking. What were they really doing? They were reading their peers’ writing when they were lost for words. They were imitating their peers’ writing craft moves. They were giving each other feedback – both orally and through the comments in Slides. They were a community of learners. This was all during the writing process. There are lots of elements I would change for next time to encourage more of these practices in the future and allow more students to become comfortable with sharing their ideas, but I think this has huge potential. Not to mention the fact that I could see everyone’s writing in the same place to give my own feedback.

Google Forms for Conferencing and Tracking Skill Development

I now have a plethora of Google Forms bookmarked on my toolbar for different purposes: learning skills, reading group observations, independent reading conferencing and inquiry process conferencing. As I move my teaching practice toward a greater percentage of individual conference and group instruction in my courses, I have found Forms and Sheets invaluable in keeping track of all the information I gather from students. Paper organization is not my strong suit. You can ask anyone who has ever shared a classroom with me; this semester, they are probably wondering if I actually show up for work.

When I first started gathering information through Forms, I wondered how I would keep track of all those Sheets that the info got exported to – until I discovered that you can export everything from one class to the same Sheet on separate tabs (what?!?). In fact, we’ve actually started compiling information across classes in some cases when we run cross-class reading groups:

These are two examples of tracking forms that I have used.

Reading Group Assessment Form

Research Inquiry Skills Tracking

While most of my Forms were for learning skills or anecdotal observations this semester, I am hoping to move towards using them to collect assessment data that can be used to inform student marks – I’m just not quite there yet.

This was a lot of learning. Where did all these ideas come from, and, more importantly, where did I find all the time to seek them out? One of the best moves I made at the start of this year was to start following people on Twitter who are experts in the areas in which I am trying to grow. I did not have a Twitter account until this past September, and I don’t use it in my personal life. However, I’ve found extreme value in using it in my professional life as an efficient way to pick up new ideas, and I encourage others to do the same (even the ones who are “not on Twitter”). Follow the DDSB educational technology coaches. Follow Alice Keeler (who I give much credit to for a lot of the ideas I’ve implemented this semester). Follow people who are experts in your subject of teaching – I guarantee they are using technology in innovative ways, too. Feel free to follow me  @MrsHackett305 – I’ve started to share some of my own ideas as I learn.

I think that, when it comes to the overwhelming amount of “newness” that is happening in education, particularly with technology, it is imperative that we accept that we are perpetually in a state of not quite there yet – and that this is an okay place to be. This is a mindset that I’ve tried to model in my department. It also helps me to be mindful that my not quite there yet might look very different from someone else’s not quite there yet. However, yet implies the idea that we are continually striving to find new ways of teaching that meet the needs of the students in our classrooms.

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