Among all the new skills and tools I learned about at various sessions and workshops at the ISTE conference, I am most eager to begin the new school year by applying what I learned about differentiation in Google Classroom and by transforming my interactive student notebooks with the addition of a digital component.
I was excited to learn about Google Classroom’s features that support differentiation. While I already differentiate my Project Based Learning assignments with choice boards and learning menus, I was eager to find ways to make shorter assignments more student-centered. The differentiation features allow teachers to privately send different assignments, questions and announcements to individuals or groups of students. A presenter contrasted this with a traditional differentiation method which involved distributing different worksheets to students and making sure that each student received the correct sheet. This draws attention toward students who received different assignments. Differentiated assignments on Google Classroom allow each student to focus on his or her assignment and allow the teacher to privately provide the student with individualized feedback. While the differentiation tools allow teachers to assign work at multiple levels geared toward different learning styles, they also support group work in which each group receives different tasks. The ability to send different announcements to specific students helps teachers check in with students about missing work or extra practice. When assessing students using Google Classroom teachers can tailor assignments to individual students, offering open ended or multiple choice questions depending on individual student needs. Differentiation is not a new concept, but this session was a reminder that we always need to evaluate how new technology can be used to enhance student-centered learning.
In addition to tailoring my Google Classroom assignments to my students’ learning styles, I look forward to enhancing my interactive student notebooks. These paper notebooks combine teacher-provided resources, in the form of reading passages, articles, and maps, with student-generated practice work. Student work can include a cut and paste sorting activity, answering questions, drawing or labeling a diagram, adding information to a graphic organizer, or a photograph of a larger art project. A table of contents organizes each student’s notebook and provides them with a curriculum guide for the class.
The workshop I attended presented a way for teachers to provide their students a digital interactive notebook template to use in place of or in conjunction with a paper notebook. A digital notebook created in Google Slides combines teacher-provided information with student practice activities. It utilizes the same style of organization as a paper notebook including a table of contents. The presenter highlighted several advantages including the ability for a teacher to check in and comment on a student’s notebook work in Google Classroom. Once the teacher shares the template and makes a copy for each student, the teacher can check in on a student’s progress at any time. Rather than waiting to collect paper notebooks, teachers can easily review assignments and provide immediate feedback for students. This helps parents keep updated on the content of the class and their child’s progress. Rather than having students cut, paste and glue words or phrases onto paper, sorting tasks are completed on slides by moving text to the appropriate box. Answers to questions are typed directly onto slides and diagrams are labeled using text boxes.
Hesitant to abandon my paper notebook completely, I was happy to hear the presenter remind us to not move to purely digital tasks, but to blend tactile activities with evolving technology. Students should continue to cut, glue and create on paper, and document their finished projects by incorporating pictures into their digital notebooks. Creating a digital interactive notebook as a supplement to the paper one will encourage them to stay engaged with the class material while helping them apply the technology skills they have learned. They will be able to easily share their work with their peers and collaborate to produce group work. While all students receive the same notebook template, its digital form will allow students to personalize their work with the ability to edit fonts, colors, images and layout to meet their educational and creative needs. I am excited to see how blending paper interactive student notebooks with evolving technology enhances the learning experience for my students this year.
Brittany Ricklis is a Middle School Social Studies Teacher at Yavneh Academy.