Category: Remote Learning

Remote Learning A-Z: W is for Working Together

Remote Learning A-Z: W is for Working Together

Working together is even more important than it used to be. We have been on this Fall Remote Learning adventure for almost two months. With a teacher spouse and a distance learning son, I’ve seen it from all perspectives. I am continually impressed with the effort and perseverance of all Derek’s teachers. I am also appreciative of the kindness and support my husband is receiving from the families of his students.

Is the Honeymoon Ending?

My son’s teachers are trying so hard to provide engaging content. Even so, I’m seeing the fatigue of remote learning set in with my son. Every teacher I know is finding their groove, yet also feeling the strain of continually revamping even the simplest activities. Parents with kids of all ages are finding some of the initial Honeymoon feelings have worn off.

As a school and as a nation, we are all in this together. So let’s figure out ways to help each other make the best of it! below are tips for working together remotely.

Assume Positive Intent

This is a generally sound mindset in most any situation. I think we’re all a bit on edge today. Even so, it’s important to remember we don’t know all situations, and everyone is doing the very best job they can.

Take a look at the post from our intern, Emeline Tu. Among other things, she does an excellent job in reminding all of us to approach this situation with empathy.

Communicate

As a former school administrator, one lesson I learned was that even if you think you’ve communicated often and clearly, you haven’t. Never assume that because you posted an announcement once or said it over a video meeting that anyone heard it (or will remember it).

Set a Communication Schedule

One strategy for ensuring consistent and clear communication is to have a schedule. Set a routine, communicate that routing, and then keep to it. As a teacher I created many systems that ended up being more maintenance than useful. So take it from me, remember to keep it simple (see below). Don’t create an overly demanding or complicated routine you will regret having to keep up in a few weeks.

Involve Students

Consider involving students in writing or recording updates for parents. Here’s a sample newsletter on a Google Doc, with more explanation in our Collaboration post.

Speak Up

Now that we aren’t physically together, we lose out on the little social moments we used to have at drop off and pick up. It’s more important than ever for teachers to communicate succinctly, clearly, and often. And parents, don’t let things sit until they grow into a problem. For some addition ideas, read this Edutopia article: 12 Conversation Starters on What Parents Want You to Know. It is from 2013, but still great ideas for communication applicable to remote learning.

Keep it Simple

We are all overwhelmed with the amount of links, emails, and texts from multiple sources. Think about families with multiple children, from primary students who need more support with daily class activities, to secondary students who need to juggle the assignments and systems of multiple classrooms daily.

Two Streamlining Tips

Having a central place for all your links, announcements, and assignments helps your families wade through all the information. See our post on Links for ideas on how to keep your virtual information organized for students and parents.

Try this formula for each day: What We’re Learning, Ask Your Child, and How You Can Help. Post it in a continuous slide presentation so people can look back at it as needed.

Ask for Feedback

I’ve seen this in so many environments: the most persistent voices will often get the most attention. The unfortunate byproduct is we often don’t get the full picture of a situation: a few loud voices seem to represent the whole.

Teachers, frequent feedback from students and parents is one way to get off that hamster wheel. You will be surprised at all the things going well, as pick up a few tips for tweaks to make.

Our Exit Tickets are a quick and easy way to check in each day.

Ask for feedback from all your families regularly, and you will soon find it isn’t intimidating. Send out a simple Google Form survey monthly or weekly to take a pulse of your entire class. Approach your survey positively, keeping in mind the goal is working together more productively. Ask questions from the perspective of students’ needs and social-emotional health. Ask how you can improve, but don’t forget to ask what is going well, too!

Give Feedback

How many times have you looked up reviews on websites like Yelp and Amazon? How many times have you written a review yourself, either positive or negative? People in general tend to only give feedback when it’s astoundingly negative.

Positive Feedback Goes a Long Way

Don’t fall into the Yelp trap with your classroom community! Parents, your two-sentence email of encouragement or thanks goes a long way in supporting your teacher’s efforts. And teachers, taking some time to appreciate each student goes exponentially further in building connections and inclusivity. See this post for more information.

Parents, when giving feedback, approach it positive, solutions-focused mindset. Also temper expectations: some things we wish are unrealistic in a remote environment with a large class load. Teachers may not respond immediately, since they are teaching online all day. Also remember, while your child’s teacher is your direct conduit to the school, they have far less control over the policies and laws governing wider district decisions.

Forge Connections

My good friend has a daughter in first grade. The other day she said to her mother, “It’s hard to make friends on Zoom.” Ugh!

This is not true only for our youngest learners. Working together (student to student) is also a challenge right now. Remote students are missing many daily, physical interactions that used to be the norm.

Build in Time to Connect

While content instruction is always front and center, think about little ways to build in connection time among students. When students feel more connected to you and to each other, their learning benefits.

Check out our post on Interviews for ideas to forge meaningful connections between school, home, and each other. Consider ways for students to ask questions of each other to get to know their classmates. In our Interviews, we include over fifty silly questions you can ask your class. Students can also ask the questions of each other. Try one today!

Take Advantage of Tech

Even though remote learning is a challenge, there are some perks inherent in technology that teachers can use to their advantage.

Some posts you may find helpful:

Now that many lessons are being recorded, take advantage and post those videos for review. Read more about using video here. All learners benefit from hearing something more than once, and parents welcome videos they can review for support. Another perk – you might escape the, “That’s not how my teacher said to do it!” lament. (Parents, don’t feel badly about this: I have advanced degrees in education and this happens to me frequently.)

Work Together, Stay Positive

The most powerful strategy for student success and well-being is a connected team that is working together. We hope these tips help you forge virtual connections with your school community!

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Remote Learning A-Z: V is for Video

Remote Learning A-Z: V is for Video

Instructional videos have been around for a long time, but they are rapidly becoming the norm in our remote classrooms. Because there are so many tutorials and articles out there on teaching with video, this post is focused instead on some ways to spice up your instructional videos, and offering up some ideas for getting students involved in the process.

Benefits of Video

Engagement: With visuals, music, and animation, videos can provide can be a more immersive experience for the audience.

Access: visuals, narration, and closed-captioning features expand access for all learners. The ability to watch or listen to something you missed is another added resource.

Time Savings: Make a video once, and you have it forever. (If you’re like me, you make it twenty times to get the camera angle right and hair in order.) But theoretically, make it video once and show it to all your sections or groups, then post it for later help and review.

Family Support: With many parents doing greater home support than before, your posted videos can be a huge tool for them as well.

Teaching Tips

FlipGrid and SeeSaw are incredibly popular right now for classroom videos. Also,click here for a helpful list of general tips for teaching with video.

Of course I can’t write a blog post without getting a little pedagogically preachy. Just remember, video is like every single teaching tool in your arsenal: when used thoughtfully and with intention, it’s powerful. When it’s used without a clear objective, it’s the opposite.

Know Your Goals

The most important thing, as always, is to know your lesson objective. Once you know, it will be much easier to determine if video is your solution. If it is, ask yourself what type of video would work best. Would a straightforward video work quickly and efficiently to get your point across? Or would a screencast, picture-in-picture lecture, whiteboard demo, or Tasty-style video be more engaging and also worth the time?

More and more, we’re asking students to film videos and upload or post them, but the same questions apply. When designing your task, ask: What type of response helps me know the student has achieved the objective? If it is a video response, what type would provide the most student and be the most rigorous at the same time?

Ideas for Instruction with Video

Each of the ideas below are ways to make your own video lessons more engaging for students. But don’t forget how powerful they can be when students are in the driver’s seat too!

Screencasts

A screencast is a digital video recording of your screen. It usually includes audio narration.

TEACHER USE: When the visual (slideshow, document, etc.) is center stage, you may need to highlight or call attention to text on the page, and you only need narration. Screencasts are great for modeling and think-alouds.

STUDENT USE: Have students create their own screencasts to demonstrate their understanding of a topic. Record a tutorial on a topic to teach others or demonstrate your approach to a problem. (Bonus: save these teaching videos to use for other classes or next year!)

Programs like Screencastify are user-friendly and make this process much easier. Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything will literally give you everything you need to know about screencasts in the classroom.

Picture in Picture

Don’t we all want to feel like a meteorologist sometimes? You can do that with picture-in-picture!

TEACHER USE: When students need to see your face but also need the support of student visuals.

STUDENT USE: Have students demonstrate learning by creating a newscast or sports-announcer type broadcast over a video.

Clipchamp is just one of the programs out there to help make this process easier.

White Board Videos

I just love those cool whiteboard videos with the elaborate illustrations and writing. They’re so aesthetically pleasing, and addicting to watch.

TEACHER USE: When you want to to convey complex information such as explain timelines, historical events, or highlight cause and effect.

STUDENT USE: There is so much knowledge transfer when learners have to teach. Have student create whiteboard videos for retelling a story or creating a virtual mind map of a concept or event.

Programs like Doodly and Powtoon make these videos far less intimidating and easy to create. Powtoon even has this video to help you!

Ideas for Student Tasks

Make Movies

That’s what we used to use videos for, back in the day. While students may not be able to get together in a room and act in a play like before, they can still write screenplays and do a virtual table read, create a newscast from a time period and edit their snippets together, make a commercial, or perform a solo.

As with student writing, it’s always more powerful when you have a real audience. Show students a few Ted Talks and analyze what makes them compelling. Then have students to make their own Ted Talk on a topic or a claim: for other students, for other teachers, or to convince a group of people.

Stop Motion Animation

I made a bunch of Harry Potter peg people (I promise – it’s a thing) for my sister. My youngest niece took the people and recreated all the Harry Potter movies using a stop motion animation app on her iPad. In the classroom, you don’t even need clay – you can do these videos with paper and pen only.

I love this tool for the classroom because the process requires meticulous attention to detail, sort of like drawing that ball bouncing on the corners of a notebook page. It also encourages design thinking, problem solving, and attention to precision.

Stop Motion Studio is a great app for making these videos.

Tasty Videos

Don’t deny it, when you see the video of the cake being decorated on Facebook, you’re mesmerized. I recently discovered it isn’t that difficult to make amateur tasty videos. Usually these videos have no narration, and tell their stories using only fast-moving images and a little text. When you have students show what they know in this format, it requires them to synthesize information and retell using symbols and key ideas. Very UDL!

Animoto is a great classroom tool, and has a tutorial for making tasty-style videos.

Screen Recording

I know, I know. It makes absolutely NO sense to me why anyone would want to watch someone play a video game rather than play it themselves. It also makes no sense why you want to watch someone taking something out of an Amazon box. But kids these days…

You don’t need to understand it either, but why not capitalize on that inherent love for walkthroughs and unboxings and use it in the classroom? Have students create videos to teach a concept or show how they know, TikTok or YouTube style.

While gamers use some fancy screen reording software for this (believe me, I live it every day), you can get by in a classroom with something like Screencast-O-Matic.

Hope these tips are useful! Let us know what your kids create!

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Remote Learning A-Z: U is for UDL

Remote Learning A-Z: U is for UDL

What Is It?

The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework was created by research organization CAST. UDL helps educators approach their teaching to meet the needs of all learners. The idea is that while the classroom environment may be the same, the learning experience of each student within the classroom should not be.

There are three fundamental guidelines in UDL, and the key idea behind each of the three big umbrellas is designing for multiple means.

Multiple Means Of:

  • Engagement: capitalizing on student interests and motivations
  • Representation: presenting and providing content to promote higher-level thinking
  • Action & Expression: allowing students to demonstrate and apply learning actively

Why Do It?

Outcomes of UDL

UDL done well benefits everyone. In a UDL classroom:

  • All students are clear on the learning outcomes
  • Multiple options for learning are available to all (through intentional planning)
  • Students have access to supports and resources throughout their learning (not only at the beginning, or at test time)
  • Students build their own knowledge, internalize it, and are able apply learning and see its applications to the real world

You can read more at CAST, and with a post from Understood. Below are tips for applying those principles in the design of your remote classroom.

Engagement

Capitalize on Student Interests and Motivation

We know when students are connected to the content, they are more engaged learners. In UDL, engagement involves capturing student interests, clearly defining learning outcomes, fostering collaboration, and self-assessment. See our posts Teaching Responsively and How are You Doing? for more on connecting with students.

Remote Engagement Tools for Synchronous Instruction

There are absolutely times when you need to be face-to-face with your students. There are times when direct instruction is needed. Even so, be cautious your online instruction isn’t always active teacher lecture and passive student learning. Try some of these tools to spice up your direct instruction and keep engagement high:

  • Games: Games just make everything more fun! Reading a nonfiction text becomes more engaging when it’s a scavenger hunt. Learning multiplication facts is more fun as a card game. And a little healthy competition with the teacher is always a engaging! See our post on Games for more ideas.
  • Interactive Slide Presentations: Student visuals are key, and it isn’t just because you can’t always count on your sparkly personality to hold the room. Visuals provide students with something to connect with as they are learning. Ask questions, play games, involve students in the teaching. See our posts on Presentations and Student Visuals for more tips.
  • Access: This would make me cringe too. But when you do present in real time, think about recording your lessons. This allows kids to go back and watch anything confusing. Did you know Google has a closed-captioning feature? Turn this on help support the processing of new information.
Remote Engagement Tools for Asynchronous Instruction

One benefit of asynchronous learning is that it allows students to move at their own pace. This frees you up to support and challenge individual students throughout. Many parent and educators are reticent about this form of instruction because it feels like without a teacher, how can students be learning?

Intentional Planning

But the beauty of asynchronous learning is that the teacher is very much still there. They just aren’t using precious time to stare at kids working independently. The teacher has designed lessons allowing students to show what they know, is giving individual guidance, AND collecting assessment data to plan and refine future teaching.

  • Screencastify: This is an incredibly easy to use tool to create narrated demonstrations and videos to accompany your slide presentations. It works with Google Chrome and the free version is solid. (More on that in the V is for Video post coming soon!)
  • KWL Charts: One of our favorite standbys, the KWL Chart, can easily be done in remotely. See our KWL post for ideas and tips.
  • Google Slides: We’ve sung the praises and versatility of slides in many of our posts, but one tip we haven’t mentioned is the ability to add videos (yours or someone else’s). You can even share these slides in present mode to students, building in pauses to solicit responses or give a task along the way.
  • Hyperdocs: These online tools have the principles of UDL built in. With Hyperdocs, students move at their own pace. They also explore material designed specifically to move them through the learning process. See our post on Explorations for more tips.
  • EdPuzzle: This is a nifty tool for using video for self-paced learning that also allows teachers to track views, narrate, and add questions. (Again, you’ll have to wait for V for more!)
  • Wonderopolis: This amazing program builds on students’ natural curiosity and is an excellent lesson starter to get students asking questions and seeking answers.

Representation

Provide Content to Promote Higher-level Thinking

Now students are thoroughly hooked, but we still have to teach them something! Research tells us this involves a combination of varied content, opportunities for inquiry, and student choice to construct knowledge. (See our post on Rigor for more information.) The UDL framework emphasizes rich content and rigorous tasks that encourage choice, critical thinking and comprehension, as well as ensuring access for all.

Remote Representation:
  • Student Choice: Student Menus and Choice Boards have been around for a long time. We like to use the Google Gameboard (pictured above) for a visually appealing option.
  • Real World Connections: Many websites have been stepping up to provide students with a ways to connect with the real world. The Smithsonian provides amazing virtual tours, and apps like Google Expeditions even incorporate VR into the mix. Here’s a roundup of 25 Ideas from We Are Teachers.
  • Newsela: If you don’t know about Newsela, stop reading and go there now! (Just kidding, go there after!) Newsela has tons of student-friendly, current event articles and ability to vary by grade/Lexile level within an article. It’s amazing!
  • Listenwise: Similar idea as Newela, but Listenwise adds the component of auditory comprehension. They offer podcasts and narration, as well as listening assessments.
  • Infographics: There so much learning in teaching students to read infographics. There’s even more learning in students creating them! (Think about how much synthesis, data, and visual representation goes into making one.) Programs like Canva, Easelly, and Venngage can help.

Action & Expression

Demonstrate and Apply Learning Actively

Even in a remote classroom, we can still provide students with ways to apply learning and show what they know. In UDL, we want students to communicate their learning, apply it, and reflect on it strategically.

  • Multimedia Presentations: Presentations are a natural tool for demonstrating learning in this environment. Be careful: without explicit parameters, the learning can be lost. See our post for how to support both the presenter and the audience for maximum learning.
  • Kahoot! I love the quiz program Kahoot! for all ages. It’s engaging, easy to use, and students can respond using any device.
  • Video Response: While I do suspect we’re going to see a little video fatigue soon, in this environment video is another way to everyone to connect. Programs like Flipgrid and SeeSaw are really useful for this.
  • Peardeck: This program works with Google Slides and also allows for videos, narration, and creation of formative assessment.
  • Socrative: Secondary teachers love this program for quick assessments and feedback.

In a remote world, teacher time is an even greater commodity that it used to be. In the end, designing UDL lessons can free you up to support the needs of your individual students. Time well spent!

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Remote Learning A-Z: T is for Teaching Responsively

Remote Learning A-Z: T is for Teaching Responsively

Culturally responsive teaching was not the norm when I was in school.

Back in the dark ages, I was one of a handful of Asian students in my entire elementary school. When Chinese New Year came around, my teachers would get my classmate Monica and me involved in a project related to the holiday.

This project was inevitable coloring the Chinese characters for Happy New Year, or making paper lanterns. We would also teach the class how to say Gung Hay Fat Choy, even though that phrase is Cantonese and I spoke Mandarin at home. (Poor Monica had even less investment in these projects; she’s Japanese and her family didn’t celebrate Lunar New Year!) Eventually, Monica and I learned that these projects were our cultural contributions to our classroom. Yet we did it, because we didn’t want to disappoint our teachers.

Yay! We’ve Evolved!

Thankfully, teaching has evolved considerably since I was in school. In addition, the research and resources available around anti-bias education, culturally responsive teaching, and inclusion in schools is abundant and readily available.

Reflecting today, all my elementary school teachers were kind, well-meaning, hard working educators. I believe they truly wanted to include my culture and background into the classroom. They just weren’t entirely able to do it as sensitively and responsively as I now would have hoped, and I didn’t have the language to ask for it.

Luckily, today I do have that language, and I want to share it with you.

It Starts with YOUR Mindset

A responsive classroom in any environment (virtual or traditional) starts with teacher mindset. Culturally responsive educators embrace and value student backgrounds, interests, and experiences. They see what students bring to the table as assets and not deficits.

Responsive teachers understand the importance of including student lives and perspectives in teaching–not only in certain months or around certain holidays–but every single day. They recognize that this attention to students fosters inclusion, respect, and empowerment.

YOU Make a Difference

First and foremost, I hope you never lose sight of just how much power and influence you have on a young mind, even if at times it may seem like none of your little minds are paying attention. (Believe me, my son is fourteen. I know how it feels.)

One teacher can change the course of a person’s life. If you don’t believe me, this Ted Talk from my good friend and hero, Dr. Victor Rios, will convince you. Dr. Rios dedicated his career to prevent society from labeling students as “at-risk,” and instead to see all young people as “at-promise.” Why? Because one special teacher did it for him.

Ms. Russ listened to my story, welcomed it into the classroom and said, “Victor, this is your power. This is your potential. Your family, your culture, your community have taught you a hard-work ethic and you will use it to empower yourself in the academic world so you can come back and empower your community.” 

Dr. Victor Rios
Help for Kids the Education System Ignores

I’ve included a transcript excerpt below, but you truly have to listen. It is a must-watch for any educator. Trust me, it is well worth 12 minutes of your life.

From: Help for Kids the Education System Ignores

The reason I’m here today is because a teacher that cared reached out and managed to tap into my soul. This teacher, Ms. Russ … she was the kind of teacher that was always in your business. 

She was the kind of teacher that was like, “Victor, I’m here for you whenever you’re ready.” 

I wasn’t ready. But she understood one basic principle about young people like me. We’re like oysters. We’re only going to open up when we’re ready, and if you’re not there when we’re ready, we’re going to clam back up. Ms. Russ was there for me. She was culturally relevant, she respected my community, my people, my family. 

I told her a story about my Uncle Ruben. He would take me to work with him because I was broke, and he knew I needed some money. He collected glass bottles for a living. Four in the morning on a school day, we’d throw the glass bottles in the back of his van, and the bottles would break. And my hands and arms would start to bleed and my tennis shoes and pants would get all bloody. I was terrified and in pain, and I would stop working. 

My uncle, he would look me in the eyes and he would say to me, “Mijo, estamos buscando vida.”

 “We’re searching for a better life, we’re trying to make something out of nothing.” 

Ms. Russ listened to my story, welcomed it into the classroom and said, “Victor, this is your power. This is your potential. Your family, your culture, your community have taught you a hard-work ethic and you will use it to empower yourself in the academic world so you can come back and empower your community.” 

(reprinted with permission from the author)


In Your Classroom

There is so much research on diversity, inclusion, and culturally relevant teaching available. So much, it cannot be contained in a single post. But I did want to get you thinking, so I’ve culled and summarized some of the important points.

Food for Thought

This list isn’t meant to be a checklist, because that implies at some point you can be finished with an item and cross it off your list. Instead, these are reminders for your planning at all times. When you ask yourself these questions, consider your classroom environment, your daily routines and structures, and even your individual lessons and tasks.

How am I creating a structure in my classroom that…

  • Builds relationships: Get to know your students, and let them get to know you. (See our How are You Doing? post for more resources). Conduct interest surveys and interviews. Use the information you learn to incorporate student interests and lives.
  • Makes problems relevant & provides context: Consider and explain how your lessons apply directly to student interests and experiences. Encourage discussion, analysis of bias, and sharing of multiple perspectives (see our post on Rigor for more examples.)
  • Allows for more than one way to achieve: Remember, there is never one singular right way to teach or learn something. Allow students to demonstrate understanding and mastery in multiple ways. Try projects that incorporate art, multimedia, games, physical expression. You may just discover hidden talents you wouldn’t have through traditional assessment methods!
  • Is student-centered: We say student-centered a lot these days, but in a true student-centered classroom tasks are designed to allow maximum choice and access to content. Provide students with many opportunities to explore and express their values. Also, when finding and creating content (text, videos, articles, even story problems), let your students see themselves reflected in that content.
  • Teaches and fosters true collaboration: In true collaboration activities, tasks cannot be completed without the work of every member. (See more in our Collaboration post). Avoid those activities that let one or two students do all the work while the rest of the team is on the sidelines. Instead, offer tasks that encourage students to grapple with multiple perspectives and seek consensus for their team projects, rather than .
  • Involves families and community voices: Think about your most and least engaged families. Consider the barriers that your least engaged families may face in connecting fully with the school system. What ways you can chip away at those barriers? Bring in guest speakers that represent your students and your community.

Resources for Culturally Responsive Practices

To learn more, here are a few places to get you started:

We hope this is helpful! If you have a website or resource recommendation, please leave us a comment so we can add it to our list!

Remote Learning A-Z: S is for Student Visuals

Remote Learning A-Z: S is for Student Visuals

Many teachers have been using Google Slides for years as a visual support for their teaching, and continue to use this resource remotely. In this post, we’ll give you a few ideas to supercharge your student visuals.

We <3 Visuals

Our Student Visuals support your teaching of each lesson with graphics, screenshots, and more to reinforce the lesson objective and demonstrate key skills interactively. The beauty of these slides is that they can be used beyond your daily lesson. Post them for student reinforcement and review, screenshot slides for your LMS, share them with parents and colleagues.

If you are using Google Slides in your lessons, here are a few general tips to make them more engaging for students. (Our favorite is the potential in animation, which is an often untapped resource!)

Drag and Drop to Demo

This screenshot is from our Grade 2 Beginning of the Year Review. It demonstrates the concept of iterative units by using pennies and paper clips to measure a pencil.

In this slide, the pencil is a locked background image in the master, and the pennies and paper clips can me moved to measure. Students can follow along at home with their own materials as you demonstrate.

For more help with this feature, check out our post P is for Practice Slides.

Utilize Images

Our Grade 5 Beginning of the Year Review has a superhero theme. In this slide, students are introduced to the city of Sunnyside. For the lessons on multiplication models with arrays and area, this city of windows helps students connect to the lesson objective.

Examples

Below are a few more examples of images in our Student Visuals. In each case, these visuals support your lesson objective by helping you tell stories, encourage inquiry, and link learning to the real world.

Use Tables and Text Boxes

Our Grade 5 Unit on Expressions and Equations focuses heavily on ratio tables and input/output charts. Why not put a table right into your slide presentation to complete with students as you demonstrate?

Many of our games have accompanying recording sheets. As you will see below, you can add them right into the slide with a table!

Play Games

This a version of the popular game Race to 100, which appears in many of our units. In this slide, the hundreds chart is a locked image, but nothing else is. That way, you can pull a monster card and move your monster marker across the board. There is also a table to use as a virtual recording sheet!

For more tips for using Google Slides games, see our post G is for Games.

We <3 Animation

There are so many possibilities for engagement with the animation feature! Here are just a few:

Fade In and Out

A common warm up in primary classrooms to build number sense is to show a set of ten frame tiles for a few seconds and then cover them up. (Shhh…I used to do this with an overhead projector!)

Adding the fade in and out animation to your slides saves you from needing to get out your ten frames and your doc cam!

Appear, Disappear, Reappear!

Google animations let you select any image and make it appear and disappear. In this slide from our Grade 4 Beginning of the Year Review, animations support algebraic thinking. Here’s an example visual on balancing equations: the weights disappear, then move from one side of the equal sign to the other.

Fly All Around!

Google animations also allow images to zoom, spin, and fly in from all sides of the screen. This is especially fun with monsters and spaceships! The screenshot here is from our Grade 1 Beginning of the Year Review to demonstrate addition and subtraction story problems.

An Animation Example

I’ve saved the best for last to reward you for reading this far. This animation is my favorite, from our newest and cutest unit, Grade 1 Place Value. This unit is monster themed, and focuses on students understanding the concept of trading ones for tens.

Here are some screenshots of the animation. (NOTE: a lot of the the fun with this story is that the monsters fly in from all directions and spin around, which can’t be seen in the images below.)


Meet Ten! He lives in Tenland.

Sometimes Ten likes to visit the
planet next door, Onesland.

The monsters in Onesland all have a
different number of eyes.

Something very cool
happens to them when they get together.

Whenever there are more than
ten eyes together…

They disappear!

And they change into Tens!

With some ones left over.

Yay!

Hope these tips are helpful as you create your own student visuals. If they are, please like or leave a comment below!

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Remote Learning A-Z: R is for Rigor

Remote Learning A-Z: R is for Rigor

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I know, I know. It’s hard to think about rigor when you can’t even get your WiFi to work reliably or your students to learn how to mute themselves. But in my trolling of social media, I find this term being used more frequently, usually in complaints about remote teaching and learning. The idea of rigor is not new, but like many terms it’s become a victim of misuse.

What It Is

Simply put, rigor not what you assign, it’s what students do. In your classroom (virtual or otherwise), that means students:

  • construct meaning for themselves
  • engage in activities that encourage multiple solutions, problem solving, inquiry, and deep thinking
  • integrate new skills into learned processes
  • apply their learning to new situations and contexts

Why it Still Matters

Rigor results in resilient students that can problem solve, adopt multiple perspectives, be creative, and think critically. So I’d argue that in whatever education environment we are in, rigor always matters.

What Rigor Isn’t

Sometimes the easiest way to understand something is to think about what it isn’t. One of my favorite educational sources, TeachThought, put out a post many years ago called 7 Myths About Rigor in the Classroom that sums up all our misconceptions about rigor beautifully. The full article is definitely worth a read, but I’ve outlined the bullet points and added my own two cents.

In short, rigor is not:

  • Tons of homework: There’s been a lot of backlash on homework in the past years, and with good reason. But homework isn’t inherently good or bad, it’s about what you’re assigning and the purpose behind the assignment. Homework for homework’s sake is not rigorous. And twenty pages of homework without purpose is most definitely not.
  • Doing more: Rigor isn’t about piling on. It isn’t about pulling out all the bells and whistles; a rigorous assignment can often be a single, thought-provoking question or task. More assignments, activities, and tasks doesn’t equate rigor.
  • Just for some students: All students benefit from rigorous activities, even though what constitutes rigor can differ from student to student. Don’t reserve your rigor for only the high achievers.
  • Learning without support or scaffolding: All of us, even as adults, need support from experts when learning new material. Students are no different. When you provide a complex text to read or problem to solve, provide scaffolds to help tackle them too.
  • More stuff: In the history of education, there has never been a single book, program, curriculum, or website that was the magical answer to everything. It isn’t about adding more stuff, it’s about looking at what you have and seeing how it can be tweaked to make it more rigorous.
  • Standards alone: Standards tell us what to teach, not how. While standards are more rigorous these days, you can still teach them without any rigor behind the instruction.
  • One more thing: In teaching, almost everything seems like one more thing. But rigor, done right, is taking what you’re already doing and asking it in a different way.

Supporting Rigor in Any Classroom

While it’s challenging enough to plan for virtual learning, here things to keep in mind to get the most out of your lessons.

Always Consider Application

“When will I ever use this in my life?” moaned every one of us at one point or another in school. It’s a valid question, and one that deserves an answer. Take time to answer that question yourself each time you launch a unit, and find opportunities to share that information with students.

Employ Design Thinking

In STEM, and project based learning you hear a lot about design thinking. Essentially, this is the process of coming up with an idea, testing that idea, failing miserably, reviewing why, and trying again with a modified design.

Design thinking teaches students how to persevere, take risks, and problem solve. It should also not be limited to science and engineering classes. When you are planning your lessons, ask yourself how you can build in opportunities to test, fail, and try again. Hint: this is best achieved with open-ended tasks and questions rather than closed ones (see below).

Design Up the Ladder

When I say “up the ladder,” I really mean any framework: Bloom’s Taxonomy, Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, the SAMR model, The Rigor Relevance Framework. In essence, all of these models are fundamentally saying the same thing: create more tasks that move students from rote memorization to analysis and application.

Important Note

It’s key to remember these models aren’t saying every single thing you teach must be at the top of the framework. Students need to memorize, summarize, and identify as part of learning. We just don’t want them to only be doing those tasks.

So, just pick a ladder and go up it.

Revising for Rigor

Here are some commonly used practices and ideas for how to revise for rigor, all which can be accomplished in a remote environment:

  • True/False and Multiple Choice Questions: State what makes the incorrect answers wrong. Rewrite false questions to make them true. Make more than one answer correct, or no answers correct and have students tell you why.
  • Completing a Chart: Mix up where on the chart students have to provide an answer. Make sure they are being asked to not only provide solutions, but look at solutions and come up with the question.
  • Copying Vocabulary Definitions: Students learn vocabulary in context, not by copying definitions. Have students write the definition in their own words, then also add: what it isn’t, draw a symbol that represents it, give examples and non-examples of the word or term, and find a real life example.
  • A Single Text or Source of Information: Compare and contrast with multiple sources, and I don’t just mean another text: challenge students to find news articles, videos, conduct interviews with adults, even TikTok (yes, I said it) to synthesize with ideas in the text. Challenge students to find facts that contradict the information and evaluate author bias.
  • Closed Lecture Questions: How you ask your questions is as important as what you ask. Think about how many questions you pose to your class that really only have one correct answer. Some of my favorite questions for just about anything are: How do you know? Can you prove it? What’s it related to in the world? What would have to change to make your answer incorrect?
  • One Right Answer or Process: Rarely in life is there ever one single solution or answer. Students who can approach a task from multiple angles are exercising their critical thinking and problem solving muscles. Once they’ve solved it one way, ask: What’s another way to solve it? Who would have a different perspective?
  • Copying Your Notes Verbatim: I mean, I’m just not a big fan of having students copy anything. But class notes are far more rigorous when students interact and respond to them. See ideas for powerful note taking in my blog post here.
  • Summarize the Chapter: Summarizing is an important skill. But after students write their summaries, there are so many ways to synthesize and connect learning. I love the RAFT strategy for providing engagement, choice, and rigor all at the same time.
  • Give Your Opinion: Our students are overflowing with opinions. (Believe me, I have a teenager, I know.) But once they’ve given theirs, turn the tables and make them argue the other side.
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Remote Learning A-Z: Q is for Quizzes

Remote Learning A-Z: Q is for Quizzes

Teachers have been giving quizzes in Google Forms for quite a while. But Google being Google, they are always coming out with new features to improve this experience. For any classroom environment (remote or otherwise) I love two features especially: their self-grading option, and their ability to attach feedback at multiple points in the process. Also, I just discovered a super hack to password protect your form quizzes.

But First: Remember the Why

Before we get to the how-to, I have to get on my little soapbox about assessment. Remember, the fundamental purpose of assessment is to provide actionable feedback on learning, both to you and to your students. Often in assessment we forget about the actionable part. Assessment data, especially given the advantages to analyze it with technology, must be used to give teachers insight on where students are struggling and succeeding. On the other side of that coin, once we get data we need to act on it by modifying our practice for student needs. Otherwise, the information is just stagnant and you’ve missed a prime learning opportunity.

Ok, rant over. Let’s get to the cool features!

So Many Question Types

Google has really ramped up their selection of question types available for forms. The traditional types have always been available: multiple choice, true false, short answer.

Their checkbox feature allows more than one correct answer , which is a huge game-changer in crafting quizzes that move away from just choosing C.

Short answers have the ability be self graded, but can be a little tricky to anticipate for spelling and random capitalization errors so you have to check them over.

Long answers and essay questions are also possible, but those need to be self-graded. However, think of all the time you’ll save only grading the essay questions because Google will do the rest!

Feedback Options

Google Form Quizzes provide multiple opportunities for real-time and timely feedback to students. In addition to allowing students to view their scores as soon as the test is complete, you can also attach immediate feedback to any test question.

Forms even allows you to customize feedback based on the response. If the student answers correctly, you can give them a virtual pat on the back.

Opportunities for Review

If one of our goals is the mastery of subject material, giving students the ability to review answer and try again is key. That’s why I love the incorrect answer feedback! The buttons at the bottom of the window (yellow) allow you to attach a link or a video. If the student gets the question wrong, they can watch a video or read through a text and try again!

Automatic Grading!

Google Forms allow you to create an answer key and set point values (even for long answers), and then it will grade the answers for you. Once students submit the quiz, you get all the responses in not only a handy spreadsheet, but in a host of charts that break down each question. Details are in our help doc.

This little trick will save you a lot of time in the long run, as well as provide some incredibly useful data for by whole class, by question, and by individual student. Now you can quickly identify where students are struggling and where to target your teaching!

Review Questions Quickly

I don’t know how new this feature is, but I was delighted to discover you can now select a question and see all student responses for that one question. With essay questions, this is great because you can read each one, check a box to assign credit, and add feedback right there.

Sometimes Kids Can Be Turkeys

One of the biggest challenges in secondary teaching has always been creating quizzes that are cheat-proof. In a remote world, this problem has grown new challenges. In a classroom, it’s far easier to walk around the room and see if a student has their phone out. Over a Zoom meeting, this is much more difficult.

Teachers have made great leaps in practice over the years in developing assessment tasks and questions that are non-Google-able in a Google-able world, which is one of the best strategies to prevent cheating. But even so, students can always find inventive ways around even our best methods for locking things down.

Creating Password Protection

The brilliant Samantha Groess, responsible for our help docs on Google Docs and Online Explorations, also shared asolution to add passwords to Google Form Quizzes. I mean, really. It’s so much genius I can’t stand it!

Sam wanted to be able to post her quizzes on Google Classroom, but didn’t want students to be able to access or see the quizzes until it was time to take them. So these are the steps she took to password protect them:

Create Question #1

For your first quiz question, ask for a password.

In order for this to work, your question type can only be short answer, checkboxes, or a paragraph. (Usually for a password you want it to be short answer.)

Add Response Validation

Click the three dots on your question and select Response Validation. A dropdown menu will appear under your question. This is where you make the rule for your password.

Set the Rule

I chose to make the password a number, and selected equal to in the dropdown so there is only one password. I entered the unbreakable password of 12345, and added a message if someone gets it wrong.

See more about making rules here.

Add a New Section

Click the equal sign that hovers to the right and a new section will be created. You can see my first question is now Section 1 of 2, and my Quiz Questions are all located in Section 2.

That’s it! You are password protected!

A Note

A feature of Google Forms is the ability to shuffle the question order, which was useful when students were sitting next to each other taking quizzes. If you use the password hack, you can’t shuffle question order because then your password will be buried somewhere in your quiz.

What a Student Sees

Now, if a student enters the incorrect password, they get my error message. If they enter the right password, they are taken to the next section and can start the quiz!

A Few More Tips

There are many videos readily available on locking down Google Form Quizzes to prevent students from sharing test questions and answers. Here are a few other suggestions:

  • Create slightly different forms for each class period. Yes, this is a bit of a pain, but Google does make it a little faster if you make a copy and modify the questions.
  • Set (reasonable) time limits. This can prevent students from looking up information in another screen or on their phones.
  • Add the answer key AFTER the test results have been submitted. You can create a quiz and send it out to students. Once the results are submitted, enter in the answer keys and release the scores.

The Help Doc

We hope this helps you save time, something we know is always a commodity for teachers, but especially now. If you want more details about how to do any of these things, try our help doc here. If you have a tip for using Google Form quizzes, please leave it in the comments below!

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Remote Learning A to Z: P is for Practice Slides

Remote Learning A to Z: P is for Practice Slides

One of the many interactive activities in our new remote curriculum are sets of drag-and-drop practice created in Google Slides. These slides are an engaging way to deliver skill building and change things up a little. The best part: if you share a forced-copy link with your students, they will have their own copy to complete and return to you digitally!

In a previous post, I shared our interactive games in Google Slides. Our Practice Slides operate on the same idea of creating a Slide presentation where most of the background is a locked image.

Sample Slides from Our Remote Math Units

But don’t be fooled…these slides are not limited to math! A format like this is perfect for Cloze reading activities, matching sight words, vocabulary in any subject, timelines…basically anything you can think of that can be dragged and dropped!

The How-To

Do you want to make your own activities? The steps are summarized below. A step-by-step is also included here.

Create the Background

In this example, I’m making a math matching activity for primary students.

Create your background with anything you don’t want to move when students use it. Basically, you want everything in the image other than the pieces that move or places where students will type.

I create the background image in a Word document and set the paper size legal and the orientation to landscape. Then I snip the whole page and save it as a JPEG or PNG. Now it’s ready to upload into Slides!

Insert into Google Slides

You can upload your image as a background right in the window where you create slides, but I personally like to use the Edit Master feature. It allows me to have all my different backgrounds in one place.

To access this, go to Slide –> Edit Master. Then duplicate a blank slide, upload your background, and it’s ready to go!

Return to the main screen of the presentation. Click the plus sign to add a new slide, you you will see your layout there. Now you have a slide of your background!

Create the Images

Create a separate image for every item that moves. I usually create them in Word and snip each one, then paste it into the slide. If you want to get really fancy, you can upload it to a transparent editor like LunaPic to get rid of the white border around the snip.

You also don’t need to worry about the pieces you make fitting exactly into the spaces you created, because you will resize them in the presentation.

In some of our Practice Slides we have text boxes where students type instead of images to move around. In this case, you don’t need to create any images and can simply add in a text box wherever you want a student response.

Add Images and Resize

Drop all the images into the slide, and resize them if needed. You can see in this picture the original size of the image I pasted, and then the resized image of fourteen.

I have found it’s better to make the original snips/images bigger because the resolution when pasted into the slide is better.

The Finished Product

Set up your images in the format you want your students to see them. Test by dragging and dropping to make sure everything works.

Your slide is now ready to go!

Share Your Slides!

You will need to share the slides with students as editors, or they won’t be able to move anything around.

The easiest way to do this is to share a forced-copy link with students via Google Classroom or your LMS. Students will then make their own copy, complete the activities, and share it with you finished. Check out how to make a forced-copy link here.

Hope this helps make your teaching and learning more interactive!

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Remote Learning A-Z: O is for Opinion of a Student

Remote Learning A-Z: O is for Opinion of a Student

What better way to know what works and doesn’t in remote teaching but ask students? Our Complete Curriculum Intern has contributed today’s post for us. Like most of us, she was thrust into remote learning this Spring, and thoughtfully shares her experience to help educators everywhere.

My Remote Learning Experience

by Emeline Tu

Sophomore, UC Santa Barbara

As we all prepare to return to instruction for the fall term, I’d like to share with you my experience with distanced learning and what worked and didn’t work for me as a college freshman this past spring.  I do have higher and more optimistic expectations for the preparedness of my classes and instructors and will provide a few general items that can be applied at all education levels and that, in my humble, non-educator opinion, should contribute to remote education running as smoothly as possible.

What to Keep Doing

Maintain Empathy

One of the things I appreciated the most from my professors during spring quarter was the empathy they maintained for us. I was lucky in that my instructors were all quite aware of different circumstances students were facing at home, whether it was international time zones, unreliable internet access, taking care of relatives, other personal family matters, or lack of a quiet space to work. This may seem like a no-brainer for most educators, but I’d still like to maintain it as a gentle reminder. Please be compassionate.

Obviously, educators are dealing with these same issues as they attempt to figure out the best ways to hold their classes, and I do hope my peers and fellow students will recognize this as well. Thus, I think one of the most important ways to ensure the best circumstances possible is to be aware and understanding that each of us has our own personal matters that have intruded on the academic environment, and that these matters may sometimes have to come before school. 

Be Flexible

An additional example of my professors showing empathy was their flexibility with deadlines. Of course, I don’t reasonably expect teachers to simply not require any deadlines for assignments. One of my classes offered pretty generous extensions for our term and final paper deadlines, while also making it clear that the later the assignments were submitted, the later they would be graded. This, to me, seemed like a fair exchange, and provides a good example of the compromises students and teachers must make with each other during this time. 

Balance Online and Offline

When it came to asynchronous versus synchronous lecture formats, this was a bit of a toss up in terms of preference for me. In some situations, having the professor explaining and speaking to the class live simulated the back-and-forth of a classroom environment and helped with answering questions as they arose.

However, many students would be better served by being able to adjust course times to manage internet availability and stability, living in different time zones, working part- or full-time jobs, or just needing to have more flexibility in their schedules. Pre-recorded lecture videos also allow students to go back and hear something they missed or study for exams later in the term. Thus, it is difficult for me as a student to recommend either format separately, because I benefited from both. I will say that a mix of the two is probably the most helpful option for students; for instance, posting lecture material as a recording, but holding optional meeting times or office hours for students to ask questions or get more assistance. 

Communicate

Another major element to consider for remote learning is the importance of communication (as if this weren’t already a super important part of…life). I felt most confident in classes where the professor and/or TA was communicative and available, whether it was through Zoom office hours, email, or even other online messaging mediums.

Unlike the days of in-person lectures, students can no longer easily approach instructors after a lesson for a quick question or clarification. Especially when it comes to asynchronous, or pre-recorded, lecture videos, gaining extra help in the moment isn’t as simple as raising your hand anymore. For classes that were held in real-time video meetings, it was definitely helpful when instructors offered to stick around or stay on the line for a few minutes after lecturing just to answer any follow-up questions. 

Keep to Schedules

Amid this ever-changing public health crisis, there are many situations we can’t control in our lives. Having a detailed and logical weekly routine in each of my classes was extremely helpful for my stress levels and sanity. Professors provided certain times and days when they would post lecture content, as well as had regularly scheduled meetings or office hours.

Knowing when my homework was going to be due each week, and even having an outline in the syllabus of what material would be covered allowed me to plan my daily schedule efficiently. Students really do need the flexibility to make these situations work for them, the same way teachers do. Both parties ultimately benefit from knowing when and where they need to submit, post, or meet. At this point, I think we all would really like to have as few surprises as possible.

What to Consider

With all the rapid changes that occurred at the end of winter quarter and the beginning of spring quarter this past school year, instructors suddenly had about a week to shift all curriculum, assignments, tests, lectures, etc. to an online format. I can only imagine that most professors and TAs spent the majority of their spring breaks frantically scrambling to figure out how this was all going to work.

So needless to say, spring quarter itself was a challenge, and I think this lack of prep time was one of the main reasons. Because of the short notice, syllabi were late being updated, professors unfamiliar with streaming and PowerPoint presentations had to make do with holding up pieces of paper to their webcams, pets interrupted lectures (which, honestly, I did not mind), and communication among professors, TAs, and students was immensely stunted.

As much as I appreciate how generous and lenient my professors have been, I would like to touch upon a few things that didn’t work as well during this time (keeping in mind, of course, that all of this was new and involved quite a bit of rushed planning).

Camera Rules

First, when it came to video meetings, I wasn’t a huge fan of being required to have my video camera on throughout the class. I understand the desire to ensure that students are paying attention and not just tuned into the call while sleeping in front of their disabled camera.

Believe me, I’ve heard about plenty of students who have done something of the sort. However, I think it shows more compassion to encourage cameras to be on, but also allow students the option not to have to display their living conditions to their peers

I am very fortunate to have my own workspace and didn’t have a big personal issue with keeping my camera on (other than the weird feeling of rolling out of bed and joining a call five minutes later). However, I know that many of my fellow students have different housing or living situations that they may simply not want to broadcast via video camera. Thus, I hope that teachers holding live video meetings with their students will be as flexible as possible on the camera-on policy.

Grading Policies

Grading Policies

Something that added unnecessary stress to the online learning experience was a lack of transparency when it came to grading or the class syllabus. In several of my classes last term, the grade weighting was unclear for the majority of the quarter, making it difficult to gauge how well I was really doing in the class.

One instructor even eliminated the grading scale entirely, and made the grading much more vague and subjective. For example, “great effort” would earn an A, while “average effort” would earn a C, and so on. The reasoning for this was to alleviate stress of concentrating on grades and numbers. Personally, it caused me to worry more about whether my standard of “average” or “great” was really aligned with that of the professor and TAs.

Of course, I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to adapt an entire course to an online format within the span of a week before our spring quarter had started, so I recognize that this could simply have been a product of the lack of sufficient prep time for professors and instructors. Going forward, however, I would ask that teachers make their grading policies as clear as possible from the beginning. 

Approaching A New Year

The school year has yet to begin for me, but I am anticipating once again becoming immersed in my academic life very soon. I plan to have as positive an attitude as possible about the conditions that surround all of us, and have touched all of us. I hope that on the other side of the pandemic and disruptions we’ve faced, we will have learned even better ways of communicating, working together, and making the education experience a valuable one for all. 

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Remote Learning A-Z: N is for Note Taking

Remote Learning A-Z: N is for Note Taking

You know what happens the first time you give a third grader a highlighter and a text to highlight? 95-100% of the text comes back highlighted. The reason for this is third graders loooovve to use highlighters. And many third graders don’t know what in the world they should be highlighting. This same phenomena also translates to high school: just because the teacher said “take notes,” doesn’t mean the student knows what those notes should be about or how to take them.

From about fifth grade onward, we start expecting our students to take notes, either on what we say or what they read. But many students have never been explicitly taught the point of note taking, or what makes a good set of notes. Note-taking is a skill we have to teach if we expect it to be done well, like just about everything else.

Why Take Notes?

My son was so thrilled when he found out he could bring one index card to his tests in science last year. He would spend hours painstakingly condensing everything from the unit in microscopic print on that teensy card. What he didn’t realize was that the act of rereading his material and figuring out what to include was helping it all stick in his brain.

The purpose of taking notes is to have a reference for the information you want to ultimately stick in your brain. Notes should be the most important points of something, but they should also be a way to process and synthesize new information. For so many students, they act stops at the writing and never gets to the synthesizing part. Many students take copious notes, but either they aren’t reviewed, or they are so dense that when they are reviewed, it’s just like reading the whole book once more.

What Makes Notes More Powerful?

Cult of Pedagogy has a great podcast and research roundup about note-taking. To summarize them (and others), here are some key ideas to remember about powerful note taking:

  • Note taking helps: just the act of listening and writing helps things stick in our long term memory.
  • More is actually more: even though we call it a “note,” the more complete they are, the better.
  • Teach note-taking strategies: I said that! (see above)
  • Add visuals: if you ever wondered why you like Pinterest so much, it’s because of visuals make a difference. Visuals help us access parts of our brain that we don’t thought traditional note-taking.
  • Revising, reviewing, and reflecting on notes makes them more powerful: this is a crucial piece often missing from notes, but it’s so important to make notes stick.
  • Scaffolding is important: Providing students with a template or outline helps not only teach students how to take notes effectively, but in the retention of information.
  • Handwriting beats digital, but…: the research is still sparse about this one, but what seems to ring true is it’s about whatever note-taking system works for the learner.

Read With a Pencil

This is a skill students can learn even at a young age. Reading with a pencil is essentially annotating a passage to create connections and meaning. It forces us to attend to the text (and not only an English text: this works for math too!) instead of skimming. There are tons of versions of this strategy out there, with different symbols and ideas. For young students, just circling confusing words or underlining one idea they like is enough.

Graphic Organizers

For another note-taking strategy that spans all ages, I really do love me some graphic organizers. When done right, graphic organizers are an amazing scaffold for supporting student processing of information.

To get your freebie PDF of this graphic organizer, CLICK HERE.

An important thing to remember is that not all graphic organizers fit all purposes. Before you assign one, always think about the purpose of the lesson: is it to summarize, reflect, or respond? Do I want to know what students know, or do I want to support them in making deeper meaning?

Then, think about the easiest way to achieve that goal. Sometimes an elaborate story map or flowchart can end up being more busywork than learning. In some cases, it might be an index card (virtual or not) with a sentence response.

Return Often

Notes aren’t very useful if we only take them. Writing the words down is only the first step: we actually have to return to them to make meaning and get it to stick!

Color Coding Helps!

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love to color code. Everything. But even if you aren’t like me, having a color coding system for your student to review their notes can help identify what the know, don’t know, and questions they have. Read on for a Google Doc template that can help you with color coding!

Add Visuals

As a Bullet Journal devotee, I love sketchnotes, and it’s not just because I like buying pens and washi tape. The images below are not mine; I could never do anything so beautiful. They belong to the amazingly talented Amy. I find these so inspirational in their beauty and organization. I try every month to be like her, but I’m just not.

There’s something so pleasing about these notes! My son, who hates artistic endeavors in any form, also dislikes sketchnotes. But again, it’s all about what works for the note taker. I will say this: the act of creating a symbolic representation of ideas tickles a different part of your brain and makes you think differently. Even if you don’t consider yourself an artist, encourage your students to try it. Not one has to look at them but you!

If you’ve been taking effective notes along the way, you may have noticed I haven’t provided any remote tools in a blog series on remote teaching. Remember, since notes are for the note taker, handwritten notes might give our screen-overloaded students a moment of offline time. But for anyone who’d like some resources for teaching note taking to students, here they are!

Notes in Google Docs

Google Docs is a great standby for note taking. It’s quick and easy to use, easy to share, and has all the word processing features you may need. But remember, a blank document is intimidating for anyone. Providing a template to scaffold students as they learn to take effective notes helps immensely!

This template in Google Docs takes students through the note-taking process and requires them to re-read their notes to summarize, color code, and comment with questions or confusions. The more they use this template, the more their note taking skills will improve.

Do you want a copy of this template? Of course you do! CLICK HERE.

Google Keep

Google Keep is a task management/note taking program that you may not know about, at least for student note taking. It’s available by clicking what we used to call “the waffle” in your account (the nine dots). It’s the one with the light bulb icon. There are quite a few ways it can be used for students, outlined in this article from Shake Up Learning. Here is a sample set of notes I took on story structure from the astoundingly brilliant Tim Storm.

Here are a bunch of things I love about using Keep for notes:

  • Easy : Just start typing and your notes appear!
  • Color coded: Need I say more?
  • Interactive: Students can upload images and files to annotate and add notes.
  • Visual: It’s visually pleasing, and also allows uploading of images, creating your own drawings, linking sources.
  • Reflective: Keep’s structure lends itself to review of notes, which we have already learned is key. You can go back and add more notes to anything, add any number of labels to help with organization, color code for things that are important or confusing.
  • Collaborative: in an area where Google is king, Keep also lets you share notes and collaborate with others. So many possibilities!
  • Organized: You can create as many labels as you want and then sort by those labels to only see them. In the example images below, you can see where I’ve labeled some things “Connections,” and others “Story Structure.” When I click on the label, it automatically only shows me the Story Structure Notes. Students could potentially take notes for all classes in one spot, then seen only those things by clicking the label. And when you’re finished with a set of notes, archive them!

Google Jamboard

In an earlier post I focused on Google Jamboard, the interactive whiteboard program. Jamboard is also a great option for quick close reads and notes! Simply drop in an image of the excerpt you want students to read, and let them go to town with the highlighter and stickies. And if you want to add visuals, this is the perfect place to do it!

Here’s a sample Jamboard annotation from Tim’s article:

CLICK HERE to see a PDF of this Jamboard.

We hope this helps your students make things stick! Let us know how it goes by leaving a comment below.

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