Sunday, January 22, 2017

10 Tools For Student Voice

My story of using tools for student voice begins with listening to my students. I try to provide them with as much input as to how they will be educated as possible, and it's no different when it comes to using one technology choice over another.


This focus on what the students say, of course, is at the heart of student voice. They can't control everything that happens in school, but, given the right opportunity, their education can become something far more meaningful than a prescribed set of standards to master.

Here's what my students have taught me about technology.

1. Twitter

When instruction calls for social media, student identity is wide open to the world. Twitter is as authentic as it gets for microblogging student responses, and it's also the riskiest.

The first time I tried to use Twitter for an assignment, I didn't predict that a student may not want to do it. I thought it would work as well as Enrique Lagaspi's history class I saw on YouTube the day before.

The girl told me that I couldn't make her, and she was right. To my defense, I was still in the "Tigger stage" of being excited about the novelty of using digital technology in the classroom. I hadn't thought much about the consequences or issues we would face. I was as naive and excited as it gets.

I was just lucky that a student felt confident enough to speak up to the issue in class. She literally stopped me in my tracks. I didn't hide any of my surprise or confusion. It was like the wind was taken from my #edtech sail and every student knew it. So I turned it into a teachable moment, for me, especially.

The next day, I made "Twitta" on Google Forms.

2. Google Forms

Switching to Forms solved the social risk issue that I had not previously considered. This was the first time I used forms to collect responses from students. It was messy at first, but it was obvious that the power of student contributions is inherently engaging.

These days, Forms is much nicer to look at since you can view responses within the form as opposed to always going to the response sheet. It saves transition time during instructional activities, for sure.

5 Steps to Google Forms in Lieu of Twitter

3. Today's Meet

Since forms didn't give us the look that I was looking for, I searched for edtech tools like Twitter and found Today's Meet. The simplicity was huge, and it worked on mobile browsers, which was what most students were using in my 2014 classroom.

Here are some activities you can try with Today's Meet.

4. Padlet 

Padlet is different than Today's Meet because it allows users to make posts with more options. Without getting into all of the options, I particularly like the ability of students to glance back and forth at all of the posts like a virtual chalkboard or message board. Keep in mind that it's all about student contributions and therefore supporting development of student voice.

Perhaps you use the chalk talk strategy. Use Padlet to collect student responses, and keep the results for future contributions and revisiting for reflection. When the learning content is captured and accessible, we can maximize how deep the learning can go. If you aren't going to the revisit the work, skip the digital technology.

5. Remind

Virtual office hours is a turn off for some teachers, but not me. I wouldn't be a teacher if I didn't want my students to continue learning beyond the brick and mortar. It's the ultimate goal, isn't it?

Remind allows my students to text me via the Remind app at anytime, within reason. It's the fastest way for me to respond, and it's their preferred mode of communication. In this way, the choice of using the app and texting is a reflection of the power of student voice. It works for them, so that's what we use.

6. Poll Everywhere

Some users are are not happy with the response limit. I'm not bothered by it because my class sizes are reasonable for the tool. We use the word cloud to focus vocabulary instruction and the ranking tool to evaluate thesis statements, to name a couple of examples.



Like most people, I am not satisfied when we cannot get to all of the student responses. It makes individuals feel like it was all for nothing, which can be toxic to student voice. The ways my students use Poll Everywhere allows every response to count while focusing our time on the most critical issues among the student responses.

The video below shows how to import Poll Everywhere into Google Slides.



7. Google Drive

Share a link to a Drive folder with editing permissions. I add other folders inside depending what I want my students to share. For example, my students add images to a unit images summary folder. I give them the enduring understandings, and they add content from the Web that they think is relevant.

This exercise is quick and replaces a lot of my slide presentations. I don't abandon the slide presentation altogether because it's a great way to model to the students the kinds of images that I expect them to contribute. Plus, if I want to show certain images in a sequence, I rename the images to take advantage of the alpha-numeric ordering of files in the folder.

In this case, choice is voice.



8. Verso

If there's one tool that's the more powerful and age-appropriate for activating student voice, it's definitely Verso App. The special feature is anonymity. Students can argue their points with classmates while their identity is only know to the teacher.

When it comes to activating student voice, the ability for learners to speak without the judgement flying at them is crucial to developing one's efficacy and approach to conflicting views.

For more on Verso App, here's a list of 15 activities with video accompaniment.

9. Blogger

Reflection and sharing is key to developing one's own voice. Blogging serves several purposes. Here's a few off the top of my head.

(1) It's a space to be honest and vulnerable. People may comment harshly about your work, and that only means that individuals can practice responding appropriately. A lot growth can happen when emotions run high and cooler heads prevail in the final decision.

(2) Blogs are good for floating parts of projects that you're working on. It's better to get feedback during the project than at the end. Maybe you are working on posters for a public service announcement, and feedback on the images would be helpful. Share it with people and ask for their honest opinion.

(3) Writing and conversing makes us more fluent writers, readers, thinkers, and learners. More than anything, I want my students to learn how to learn. Authentic writing opportunities are a great way to learn. It's why I do it.

10. Flipgrid

Flipgrid is a tool that organizes student video responses in a discussion format. It has a lot of potential for developing routines that transfer to responsible digital citizenship habits and allows students to exercise spoken language.


Even though video is so easy to produce, I'm not convinced that everyone realizes how powerful it can be for learning. When I make a video for a YouTube upload, for example, I watch and rerecord before posting my best. This process is where the learning happens. I set goals that get me to producing one take that's smooth and casual without too many tries.

The repeated evaluation while creating the video is an opportunity to grow as a public speaker, not just for video production. Since the video does not hide the imperfections, I've experienced a lot of public speaking growth. I'm more aware of what I say and how I fill (or don't fill) the space when I'm searching for the right words. "Like" and "um" can get out of hand.

Although I have only used Flipgrid a few times, I plan to use it more this semester. It's tough, however, because I'm asking for my students to be vulnerable, whether they like it or not. My plan is to talk about this with them openly and set some expectations about how we interact. Since I now feel more ready to support them when they are vulnerable, I think it will be more successful than my previous attempt a couple of years ago. Teacher efficacy is everything when it comes to using any strategy.

Thanks for reading. I hope that you are considering the power of student voice to engage your students. If you have any ideas that work or things you wish to share, please write a comment. Your contribution will help other readers, as well. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

15 Google Classroom Features You Will Love

Google Classroom can help you do hundreds of things. I want to show you a short list of what has made my job a little easier after using it for two and and a half years. 


Lots of updates have been made since the launch in 2014. Some features are more helpful than others, and I get excited about the little things that save time and reduce stress for teachers and students. From the start, Google Classroom has been a instructional facilitator. Here's what I'm talking about.

Getting Started

1. Easy Set Up

Some teachers told me they didn't like Classroom because it was hard to set up. Maybe the concept of Classroom was not well understood by those teachers. Perhaps they weren't primed to explore and learn through discovery, which is so important when it comes to understanding the potential of ... well ... everything. 

The on-screen directions walk you through set up and provide a tour of key features. For an open mind, this is a piece of cake. Hover over almost any button on pretty much every Google application, and a text box will appear in a couple of seconds to tell you what it does.

2. Upload Header Image
This may seem like a minor detail, but your students benefit from a special image when they have four or five other classes using Classroom. The routine of checking Classroom becomes associated with the header image.

I like to make sure that the image is closely linked to the content on a conceptual level. As a history teacher, this means maps, documents, architecture, and other symbols that spark connections to the course themes.

3. About Page

Add resources to the About page that students may need to access throughout the course. I include the syllabus, writing resources, exam prep, and technology expectations.


Making Posts 

4. Drive Integration

This is the basis of making Classroom in the first place, or at least I think so. As a teacher who used Google Drive long before Classroom was available, I can say that the struggle was real.

I tried Moodle and Edmodo before switching to Classroom upon its release. The number one reason for this decision was Drive integration. Moodle was time consuming and Edmodo couldn't handle the volume of materials that an advanced high school class needed. Classroom solved a lot of problems in terms of file sharing, permissions, and other workflow issues.

5. Schedule Posts

I have routines, but I have to work really hard to maintain them. The work comes easy to me at different times and places, so the ability to write out a weekly plan days in advance is great. 

Most importantly, a post to the stream doesn't have to be posted right away. When posts made too long before students need the information, they freak out because they fail to read the dates on the agenda and start doing the following week's homework. True story.

Scheduling posts makes things run like clockwork, literally. I can do my part when the creativity is flowing and productivity is high, and students are not confused over posts that don't pertain to where we are in the lesson cycle. 


6. Reuse Existing Posts

This may sound simple, but time and energy are everything to a classroom teacher. The ability to reuse posts is helpful whether it's from one year to the next or to prepare for multiple classes with similar needs. 


7. Stream Post Link

You can't count on teenagers checking email regularly. They text, so we use Remind to communicate about timely matters. Sharing a link to a stream post in a Remind message is the best guarantee that one of my students will not worry and wonder about to which post I am referring.

Let's be really honest. People communicate differently than they did ten years ago. Most of these kids have been texting longer than they've had email addresses. If I can relieve some stress by adding a link to a text message, I'm am happy to take the extra 15 seconds. They're worth it!


8. Move to Top

The story usually starts with a student saying, "I couldn't find it." Shortly after, several other students chime in to confirm the concern. By moving a post to the top, it allows teachers to position an agenda post, for example, to keep the class on track.

Sure, kids need to learn to search and find, but teachers also need to reduce stress that comes with technology, especially when students are accessing the information outside of school.


Staying Organized

9. Organize By Topic

The stream can become a mess of posts over the course of a few months. Topic allows users to sort the posts by relevance. For example, I write a weekly agenda, so one of my topics is "00 Weekly Agenda."

The "00" ensures that the topic is at the top of the list of topics, which is because the order of topics is alpha numeric. Notice that my unit topics include 01, 02, etc. These topics are for student work like assignments and questions. Lastly, I make exam review posts so students can filter the reviews for end of course exams.


10. Last Edit Date 

The post date is automatically added to the top of each stream post. The last edit date is added separately to show students if there were any changes. This is nice because teachers can tell students to look for the agenda posted on a certain date. For students who are absent, the last edit date helps because it gives them more information when they ask questions about the accuracy of the stream posts.

11. Calendar Integration

We all have so many appointments and deadlines, regardless of the careers we have chosen. Users benefit from the automatic integration of Classroom and Calendar, which is accessible through Classroom. Calendar events are based on the items with a due date.

Instructional Support

12. Post Questions

Learning starts with questions, so it's no surprise that Google would include a tool that posts to the stream and updates the gradebook. Last year, my classes routinely responded using the question tool. The question posts take seconds to make and are just as easy to grade.

One of the concerns I often hear is that some individuals dislike grading on the computer. Specific concerns range from not wanting to learn the technology to the health risks of screen time. Many concerns stem from the discomfort of change. Many people still like paper because it's what they know, and there's nothing wrong with that. 


13. Classroom Extension


I lost count of how many times I found a website while searching for an answer to a student's question and was able to share it right away because we had the extension. The Classroom extension is as simple as that. It's great for quick transitions.  


Push to Students



Ask a Question



14. Invite Co-Teachers

When Classroom was first released, I was working closely with another AP World History teacher. We wanted to share a Classroom and use different sections for our specific classes. This would have been great for sharing resources without bugging each other about what we're doing. We would still bug each other, but the conversations would have been more productive.

Last year, I taught a class of 14 students with learning differences. I worked with a co-teacher, and we were able to communicate efficiently because of the option to add Co-Teachers.

15. Import Classroom Roster to Other Tools

It's hard for me to try new tools because of the time it takes to get rosters organized and teach students how to access the sites or apps. For many tools, those days are over. The video below shows how quick it is to add a roster from Classroom to a new class in EDpuzzle, a video-based assessment tool.