Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Google Docs makes a difference with a difficult class

How to begin to manage a difficult group of students.

This semester I have a 'less engaged" class of Year 10 students. Doing class work is the last thing on their mind. They would much rather listen to music or try and get each other in trouble.
My Year 10 Science class when I first met them - and yes, we do have blue uniforms!
(Source: Wikimedia )
I knew I had a battle on my hands but I did have a secret weapon - Google Docs!

Why Google Docs? Because one of the things that this class likes to do is pretend to do work and yet end up doing very little. They will blame problems with computers, being absent and not understanding the work.  They are pretty good at coming up with excuses.

Google Docs (along with Doctopus) allowed me to create documents for each student using a template and that I own.
As you can see, I am the owner of this file. Nobody can accidentally delete it - including students that I share it with.

This is important because I have control over the file and they cannot be deleted 'accidentally' by students.  This also means that I can add comments and know that, although they can be removed, I can 'resurrect' them when I need to.

How does this help?  Recently the class was working on a lengthy practical report. I had given them class time to do it and a number of them were using the class time well. Others were not.

So what I did was that I went onto their document and wrote a comment on the last thing that they wrote.  The comment was simply the  date.  This was so that I could see how much work they had done.

I also used the comment to indicate if the student was absent.  This would allow me to give them extra time if they needed it.

They don't like it!

Well the effect was electric.  Firstly the students who were not doing a lot of work, started writing comments in reply and then 'resolving' the comment - thinking that they were removing the reminder. Unfortunately for them, they did not realise that you can re-open comments and see what was written previously (just click on the "Comments" button the right and click on the tick to re-open).

After adding the date on the last bit of their work, this student was a little concerned. He later attempted to remove the comment.
Clearly they knew they were being monitored and they were concerned.

More work

One student who, in one lesson did around 50 words, did more than 800 words in the next lesson!  He has nearly finished!  The quality is not great BUT now that I have seen the near-finished product, I can say that to him and show him ways to improve.

Not much work done in this lesson!  After I put my two comments on the right, he increased his output by 400% in the next lesson!

When we have used Word in the past, a number of students: lose their work, cannot print it, mysteriously send it via email (it never appears) or blame technology in general.  No more.

We have not quite finished the reports but if some of them do not finish in time, I will contact parents and be able to show them how much work they have (or haven't) done for the report.

The number of excuses that students can give for not doing work is slowing being reduced...

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Using Google Presentation and Forms for Peer Collaboration and Assessment

Students in my Psychology class recently had to present one stage of Erikson's Psychosocial Stages of Development to the rest of their class.  The content is not important for this post but I did successfully use Google Presentations with the groups in the class and they were able to successfully collaborate in the construction of the presentation and even used the 'chat' feature to ask each other questions and clarify key ideas.

Since they had to share the file with me, getting access to the presentation on the day was easy and, even if other students were absent, the rest of the group could still do their presentation.  The "John did the Powerpoint, and he's away today so we can't do our presentation" excuse was no longer applicable.

I also asked students to be involved in assessing their peers using Google Forms.  It included a couple of compulsory questions like their name and the stage they were assessing.  I like to include names so that I don't get silly comments and votes.

The next part was pretty crucial.  Students then had to grade the presentation in four areas: Clarity, Confidence, Engagement and Understanding using a 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) rating scale.

This was pretty simple scheme and seemed to work well. I toyed with the idea of getting them to make comments but on reflection it would have taken too long - especially by the eighth presentation.

Finally, I could go to the 'responses' page for this form and use the 'average' formula (see results in red below) to get an overview of what students thought about their peers.  Hence the need to use the 1-5 rating scale.  Mostly the student rating was similar to my own (blue rating below) which was interesting.

This all depends on getting one-to-one access to computers but I would regard it as a very successful series of lessons which promoted collaboration and peer assessment to a high level.