Famous Last Words; “It should be super quick and easy”

I can’t believe how far my students have come in terms of their technological abilities.   We started the year with many students having difficulty learning to log into their accounts, navigating the Google platform, and typing quickly and easily.  The first weeks took what felt like the entire writing block to log in and type out a few sentences.  We have reached the point where login information is memorized and within a minute students are in our Google Classroom and working on various writing assignments, practicing math, and accessing multimedia resources.  Everything has been going smoothly, so of course, I started to get cocky…

My third graders are currently working on a biography project where they are researching, writing about, and then presenting information about a figure from the American Revolution.  The classroom teacher, ESL teacher and I found a great graphic organizer that students used to take notes on their famous American, and we wanted them to be able to type into it.  Of course it was a PDF, making that difficult, so I had what seemed like a genius idea… “Let’s create a google form, have the kids fill it out with their information, and then I can mail merge the data into text boxes on a Word document, and it will look like they typed into the organizer.” Then came the always famous last words “It should be super quick and easy”.

The students started typing, and then writing time was unexpectedly cut short for a special rehearsal.  The entire class logged off, as they always do, except with a Google Form, your work needs to be completed and submitted in one sitting.  ALL OF THEIR WORK WAS GONE!

That afternoon we learned a very important lesson about using technology: It doesn’t always do what you want it to do, and sometimes you have to start again.

To be honest, the class didn’t even seem to be upset that they had to start entering their information into the Google Form again.  They were also faster typing the second time around, hopefully because they had retained the information they were typing with additional reading and practice of it.  Everyone was very careful to hit submit, and they were very excited to watch me mail merge their information and watch it auto-populate into their graphic organizer.  Once the information was typed in again, it really was quick and easy!

 

Data! Data!

Here’s What I Found:

At the onset of this experiment, I suspected that the answer to my “is using technology more engaging” question would be affirmative.  But the data suggests that it is a vibrant, enthusiastic, resounding “wahoooooo!” from my students.  I have shown them myriad tools in the Google suite with which we have accomplished all sorts of feats.  They have puzzled through creating Google drawings without many directions, they have created and taken surveys, they have inserted images, they have conquered the Google classroom.  But most of all, they have written.  Much like I am doing now, they have composed on the keyboard happily tapping away at their desks.  I see them actively working.  I see them able to switch from screen to trade book, searching for quotes, and back to screen.  But the most exciting to see is the data here collected from our Google Form:

 

Will They Surprise Me?

The next piece of data to collect, though, will be the pièce de résistance (I wonder whether my students might use the read/write tools to look that little french number up! — because THEY CAN!).  The “end of year” assessment piece in which I will ask them to hand write and then type two pieces of writing.  I will be asking students to do this in a week or so, as they are pretty fried from standardized testing.  

Next Year Will be a Breeze!

On that testing note, after this experience of closely observing students working (and working diligently!) using the Chromebooks, I am no longer anxious about what they can accomplish online next year when they are asked to compose on a keyboard rather than with a #2 pencil.

They See Themselves as Writers!

The Basics

This year I have been focusing on using technology to help my 3rd grade inclusion students access grade level content and to be able to create their own work in a way that is both accessible and meaningful for them.  We started small, letting students use Google docs to type their writing in order to help with typing skills and the readability of their work.  This allowed them to make the font larger, apply high contrast backgrounds, and most importantly, edit their work quickly and neatly.   Using a Google Doc also allowed me and other teachers to go into their writing and give them real time feedback.  I noticed that it was particularly helpful for me to highlight the exact parts of their writing that needed edits.  

 

Extra Tools in Google Docs

Once the students understood the basics of how to use Google Docs and how to share their work, I was able to teach a few of my students who are working to master phonics skills, to use the speech to text feature.  This seemingly simple tool was freeing for so many of the students who have amazing ideas for their writing, but get caught up in the logistics of spelling words.  Students would often spend the entire writing block working on one paragraph or a few sentences because spelling the words was labor intensive for them.  Once they had taken the time to write the word, they had forgotten their idea and the rest of the sentence.  Students use the speech to text feature, edit their work, and then print their document to turn in with the rest of the class’s handwritten assignments.  The students were completely engaged with their writing, and were amazed to see themselves filling an entire page with their words.

 

Moving Toward Google Classroom

In the weeks since we started using the Google platform to help students access content in the area of writing we have continued to learn as both teachers and students.  We have created a Google Classroom where we are posting writing assignments.  This has meant that we can go in and look at students work without them having to share the doc with us, which saves time.  It also keeps all of the writing organized.  We have also been able to move from using the comments in the doc as encouragement, to really putting in some substantial edits and individual goals for students.  My favorite was hearing about how excited the students were to see that I had “popped into their writing” and was able to give them feedback  from home on a day I was not in their classroom.

From here I hope to shift more of their work into Google Classrooms.  I will most likely start by uploading their guided reading books so they can use the Google Read and Write tool to troubleshoot words and definitions, practice their fluency, as well as annotate what they are reading.

It’s hard to tell who is more excited about using this in our classroom, me or them!

 

Talking before writing: An interview with Goldilocks

Revised Question

How can I use technology to make grade level writing tasks accessible to English language learners and students on IEPs?

 

Our first project in grade 3

Jen Ostayan (SPED inclusion teacher)  and I ( ESL inclusion teacher) set out to help our students write narratives that changed the point of view of the narrator.  We started with the traditional tale of Goldilocks.

What makes the task hard for our students?

Students would have to tell the story from the point of view of Goldilocks.  This meant students would have to use “I” any time they referred, and the correct verb form to go with it.  They would also have to be creative in order to think about what Goldilocks might have been thinking and feeling, and then add that into their writing.

What would we have kids to in order to use speaking to practice before writing?

Students did interviews of Goldilocks.  We paired high and lower students with the high student doing the interview, and the low student playing the role of Goldilocks.  Interviewers asked questions like, “What were you thinking when you saw the house?”  and “Why did you taste the porridge?” The higher student would have the challenge of asking probing questions, the lower student would have the chance to practice what they were about to write using “I” and the proper verb.

What technology would help us and how would we use it?

Our school has Chromebook carts for grades 1-5, but the kindergarten teachers share an ipad cart.  After evaluating the technology, we decided to borrow the ipads from kindergarten because it would be the least cumbersome technology.  We used  the  ___ app.

What did we notice kids were doing while recording their interviews?

Students with quiet voices realized they had to speak up to be recorded.

Students normally hesitant to speak in front of the whole class were very engaged and spoke a lot.

Many groups, even though we didn’t tell them to, rehearsed before recording, or re-recorded to “get it write”.

They made suggestions to each other.  “Why don’t you ask me___” or “Try that again but add _____”    Some of those suggestions included adding difficult vocabulary words.

What happened when it came to write?

Students were highly motivated to write.

Students were able to use “I” without too much effort to tell the story.

One SPED student that we had been previously been unable to engage in writing was so dramatic in her recorded story telling that we put her on speech to text software and she loved the assignment.  It was a real break through for her feeling like she could be a “writer”.

What did we do next?

We had students draw pictures to go with their recordings and they shared the work with their families at open house.

Are Students Ready for Virtual Classrooms… or NOT?

Is My Experiment Working??

What if the answer, to my research question is ‘no?’  What if no, students might not be able to increase writing output based on their engagement with the technology used to create their writing? Now what! In my classroom, fifth graders bounce between Chromebooks and post-its for their reading and writing.  They use pencils and keyboards.  I think, this year, I have a class who needs both.  The history of my question began last year when Chromebooks came into my classroom.  

Last Year… A Very Different Crop of Students

I was the teacher of a student whose mother is one of our technology teachers.  She knew me well, and gently suggested that I explore the Google Classroom.  Last  year, I experimented with and loved the Google Classroom and all of its wondrous structures and capabilities; I also had the perfect classroom environment in which to test out this platform.  I have a classroom with students who have more varying needs this year and simply writing via the Google Classroom is not enough.  In the past, comments made virtually were motivating and engaging to students, whereas this year, these comments go unnoticed and rarely lead to greater understandings or learnings.

But This Year… 

 I have found, this year, that a more careful balance between pre-teaching in reality, practicing in reality and then moving to the digital…  I think it becomes a careful balance between teaching the technology and assessing whether kids are ready for it at this level or not.