In the school I work, the teachers have embraced Google Classroom. We see lots and lots of benefits: student engagement, integrated technology, paperless environment and a huge cut in the photocopying budget, and many others. But my job is to provoke critical thinking (my teachers love it when I do that) and so today I am reflecting upon all the positives I see but also ask some questions that may guide us as we move forward with integrated technology.
Here is a somewhat related example. A number of years ago the smartboard was the tool to have. And, smartboards can be very cool, interactive learning tools. But, some of the research that arose from looking at classrooms with smartboards was that teachers were moving away from small group instruction and collaboration and back to “sage on the stage” type learning because the smartboard lent itself to that style of teaching.
Here’s what I see happening in our classrooms that I love about google classroom:
- Organization-yours and theirs. In the classrooms that are moving towards “paperless” kids don’t lose their notes and can access their work from any device. Teachers are able to see who has done what, in real time, and keep track of complete and incomplete work.
- There is no doubt that our students are tech-savvy. They enjoy using the chromebooks to find assignments, interact with the internet, complete online dissections, access texts and materials. It makes sense to them to use the technology.
- Timely and immediate feedback. We are learning the value of being able to peek in on a student as they are working, or in the evenings and find out where they are. We can conference the next day, plan a minilesson or even chat back to the student online.
- Differentiated Instruction. Within the google classroom teachers can upload a number of resources that may meet a variety of student needs. Those students who need the read and write feature can do so seamlessly.
- Shy students may feel more comfortable. Students who may not enjoy speaking in groups often feel more comfortable participating in an online discussion. They may feel more comfortable submitting work to you for feedback online.
Here are some cautions that might be causes for concern… or not:
- Would there be a temptation to return to the worksheet or booklet type of teaching because it is so easy to upload the instructions and the task?
- Might we move away from the real time collaboration because our students are so engaged on line? Is there a need for both? Do we get different results from different kinds of collaboration?
- Are we creating too much work for ourselves in trying to give timely feedback to every student, every day? How do we organize it so that we are checking in but it is manageable?
- Does google classroom lend itself to more individual work? How do we create that balance between collaboration and individual work?
- While it is great to provide online feedback, is there still a need for face-to-face feedback and/or small group instruction? How do we decide when to do each?
If I invited you to our senior elementary school you would see students using technology in a seamless manner in every class. We experiment with iPads, chrome books and personal devices. Technology is not an “event” but a part of how we do school. Google classroom is successful in our school and we continue to find new ways every day for it to enhance student learning. But embracing new ideas is about reflecting critically as well—as we go forward on this journey, are there other cautions? Are my cautions needless worrying by a 20th century educator? How will we refine our use of Google Classroom to provide the best educational experience for our 21st century learners?
This week I participated in a webinar hosted by a principal from Toronto, Emma Nichols (http://goo.gl/VtF6ET). A number of times throughout the webinar she mentioned that their guiding principle was “100% of the kids, 100% of the time”. Her school is a diverse, inner-city school in Riverside. I like her motto: it is inspirational. It is also over-whelming. I began to wonder if that could also be my motto and what would that mean if you really tried to reach 100% of the kids, 100% of the time.
The rationale behind the motto is valid. If you don’t have this mindset then, by default your motto has to be something like 75% of the kids, 100% of the time or 100% of the kids, 75 % of the time, or 75% of the kids, 75 % of the time. Would you really want to be the parent of the child who fell into the 25%? Would you want to be that kid? When you start to think about it like that, of course it is true. But is it doable? How would a school go about living the motto of 100% of the kids, 100% of the time.
Upon reflection I think it is a lot about mindset- if we approach each day, each task, each period, each kid believing that we can reach 100% of the kids, 100% of the time, then we might have a better chance of achieving that goal than if we begin the day believing that we can’t. But as with all great educational ideals, what might it look like in our practice?
- Understanding and believing in differentiation. Do we always differentiate or do we sometimes say “I’ll just see if they can do this before I change it”. When designing a learning opportunity do we look at it through the eyes of each of our students? Does your school’s special education model help or hinder in the support of 100%of the kids? Is anyone getting left behind? Do you believe in multiple entry points into learning? Differentiation is not just giving the kid a B because of an IEP–it is reaching 100% of the kids, 100% of the time.
- Relationships. Sometimes it is hard to like 100% of the kids, 100% of the time. I usually can sense when someone doesn’t like me. I bet kids can, too. I think that sometimes my frustration may be interpreted by kids that I don’t think they can be successful. We know that kids who are successful at school feel that there are adults who care about them. Wednesday wasn’t my best day for that. I keep working on trying different approaches for different kids. Figuring out how to be firm and consistent and kind and caring to 100% of the kids, 100% of the time!
- Engagement. When you look out on the sea of faces are they rapt? Attentive? Are kids eager to get going on the activities you set out? Do they feel confident to begin or are willing to give it a go? School is not a birthday party. You do not need to “entertain” your students. However, if you look out, day upon day onto a sea of sleepy faces, I’m not sure your students are engaged. Do you like workshops or meetings where you are not engaged? Do you learn in those situations? Best guess if your students are not engaged is that either you are talking too much or the task is not challenging. Just because you might remember that school was boring doesn’t mean that it has to be. And sometimes, I think that we fall into the trap of thinking that it is the kids who have to do the engaging. But, if they are not engaged that is pretty clear feedback for you about your lesson. I know that if I am leading a meeting and no one is paying attention that it is not an engaging topic for my staff.
- Small group instruction. Kids are complex and learning stuff is hard. The easiest way to meet the needs of 100% of the kids is to teach them in smaller homogeneous groups within a flexible model. You will never reach all of your students through whole group instruction alone. As you begin to value small group instruction more, you will begin to be purposeful in how you plan for them, intentionally, instead of accidentally, reaching 100% of the kids.
It is a lofty goal: 100% of the kids, 100% of the time. But most goals worth striving for are lofty. I know that I will keep it in mind when I am thinking about our more challenging students and reflect upon whether I believe it for that kid, too.