So when I was asked to support a group of Grade 6 readers, I thought it would be a great opportunity to see how the Google tools could help.
My objectives for this little project were:
- to move them on from being proficient mechanical readers to readers who were engaging meta-cognitively with what they were reading by focusing on comprehension skills and higher order thinking skills as we read
- to develop ways for them to become more engaged in and responsible for their own learning, initially in their embedded daily reading time, but, eventually in other areas of their learning too.
- I also wanted capitalise on their learning time by breaking down the barriers of traditional teacher-student contact time and providing ways for both them and me to continue our learning even when not together
All the students had their own devices and were familiar with using them and Google docs. After choosing a reading book (I was using a leveled reader from Reading A-Z.com) which focused on specific reading skills (making predictions, retelling, making inferences), I created graphic organizers which I shared immediately with the students. I also created a planning document that was shared with their teachers so they could keep updated on the group's learning (see previous post).
That's where the Google docs came in. In their own time - the students had an additional 20 minutes a day of independent reading time and they were expected to engage in reading at home on a daily basis - they worked on the skill(s) that had been introduced in the guided reading sessions, recording their thinking on the graphic organisers. They then shared these back with me and I was able to comment on their thought processes, guide their understanding and prompt them to go deeper.
- Were they becoming better readers in terms of comprehension and higher order thinking skills? I can say my teaching was focused on that, but without further data (reading assessment, student interviews) I can't say if that learning was happening or not yet.
- Did they become more engaged in and responsible for their learning? Admittedly, this is based purely off my own observations and I would love to extend this to get other teachers to observe and give feedback, but I would say that the students were definitely engaged in the guided reading sessions - they knew what skills we were focusing on and why, and judging from their work shared with me, in their independent reading time too. The majority demonstrated responsibility in completing the work in their own time and sharing it with me and even in incorporating feedback into what they did next. With regards to this extending into other areas of their learning, I don't currently have the evidence to say, but I would be so interested in seeing this go further.
- Were traditional barriers of student teacher contact time broken down? And did this capitalise on their learning time? Again, it is too early to comment fully on these, but for me, I certainly felt those barriers were broken down: I could communicate one-on-one with students at any time and any place, which massively increased the potential for giving feedback, and even having live dialogue. The feedback could also be ongoing and relevant to what they were doing as they were doing it. I was able to get feedback on their learning before going in to our next session which meant I could adapt my instruction appropriately according to their needs. And for me, I found the process faster and more enjoyable than I do when I have a pile of books and I have to write by hand - I type quicker and when there are similar comments to be made I can copy and paste. Similarly, I could send student reminders for deadlines by email and I could send personalised messages celebrating their progress/ successes. The students I worked with were communicating with me in their own time and were able to ask questions of clarify learning at the time they needed to (or felt comfortable to 0 in the privacy of an email).
Now, the school I was in was using a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy, which meant that all students in the classroom had a device, and this was central to the way in which I designed this reading project. But in actual fact, most of the classroom time was modelling and discussing which could be done with no device at all - a simple print out or a projector. So the potential for this even in classrooms where not every child has a device is still huge - as long as students have access to a computer and the internet elsewhere (at home, or elsewhere in the school) and dedicated time to do so.
And of course, this can be done with many areas of learning. I recently read a blog in the author described how she was using Google docs for digital writing conferences.
I'm so excited by this as an educator, especially as an educator with a passion for Literacy. Next step for me: Google for Education Exams and Certifications.