10 ways I use Google Forms in my tablet classroom

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This is my second blogpost for the Oxford University Press ELT Blog. It is about using Google Forms in the tablet/iPad classroom.

Oxford University Press

Mohamed El-Ashiry takes a look at ways of using Google Forms in the classroom.

I am one of Google Forms‘ biggest fans! I have many reasons to love the service, and I use it in many different ways.

While there have been many other advantages, the biggest advantage of using Google Forms in my classroom is being able to give students immediate feedback. I often connect my tablet to the projector, and hide the column displaying the names of students submitting their responses (whether they are responding to a test, or self-assessment or peer-assessment, etc.). The students like to see the spreadsheet being populated by all their submissions. We use this as an evaluation and feedback exercise after a test or quiz, for example: we look at each question and together agree on the most accurate and well-written responses. This is also a very useful literacy-building exercise because we…

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Edmodo + Evernote = my ideal iPad-classroom workflow!

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I have been teaching in iPad classrooms for nearly 18 months now. During the first few months, the biggest obstacle I faced was creating an efficient workflow between myself and the students. By ‘workflow‘ I am referring to a system that enables the teacher to easily distribute tasks to the students, collect that work back from students, and efficiently give them feedback on their learning. Initially, I would e-mail the students the task sheet, then they would download it and open it in another ‘app’ that allows them to work on it. Once finished, the students would e-mail me the work back. Lots of e-mails got lost, or my e-mail became too hard to organise and manage. Also, students could not e-mail big files like videos they’ve been working on. Additionally, having to e-mail all feedback to students was not fun. Basically, an iPad workflow that relies mostly on e-mail can be a big headache (in my opinion, at least).

Towards the end of 2012, Edmodo introduced a wonderful new feature to their iPad app: the ability to import a document from any iPad app into Edmodo, and hence upload it to your Edmodo Library. This was a great update, and many teachers got excited about it. This meant that now I can use my iPad to upload handouts/task-sheets and then attach them to an ‘assignment‘ post on Edmodo. It also meant that students could download these task-sheets/handouts, work on them in another app, then upload them back onto Edmodo to submit for an ‘assignment’ post. I quickly started using Edmodo in that manner with my year 8 Humanities class. It was great!

All minor tasks and major assessments were assigned through Edmodo, whereby the students would download the task-sheet, work on the assignment in the designated app (Pages, Keynote, iMovie, Notability and Skitch are the most popular in my classroom), then submit their finished product back on Edmodo. Once all assignments are submitted, I then download each student’s submission, mark/grade their work and give them the numerical grade and feedback comment all on Edmodo. The same applies for Edmodo Quizzes: the students can solve them on Edmodo, and view their answers and marks/feedback on Edmodo. In short, Edmodo offers a very efficient, manageable and free workflow system for teachers in an iPad classroom: teachers can easily distribute work to students, collect work back, mark/grade it and give feedback all on the one platform! Below are some annotated screenshots of all the great things Edmodo helps me accomplish in my classroom:

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However, I quickly realized that I also wanted my students to collect all that work they’re doing into one easily accessible ‘portfolio’, as opposed to it just being on the other apps, and then submitted on Edmodo. This is where Evernote has been a great help. Any student-created Keynote presentations, Pages documents, annotated PDFs, and annotated photos that the students submit on Edmodo, they can also export to Evernote (in their ‘notebook’ which they ‘share’ with me). I always ask my students to export and submit everything in PDF-format as it preserves the formatting of the document. Once I mark the assignment on Edmodo, the students take a screenshot of the feedback comment and the numerical grade. These screenshots are then added into the same note on Evernote where they attached their work in PDF format. An example of this is shown below:

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Since the students had free accounts on Evernote, I could view everything they added into their ‘Shared Notebook’, but I could not modify or edit any notes. Therefore, by the end of the first term of this year, I decided to trial having a premium account. I created a notebook per student, and shared it with them. Since mine was a premium account, that allowed the both of us to edit and modify notes. We continued to use both Edmodo and Evernote in the same way, however I could now leave my feedback directly in their Evernote notebook for the minor activities finished in class, and use the Edmodo ‘Assignment’ feature for the major assessments. One way by which these shared Evernote notebooks have also been a great help is how I use them to give feedback on quizzes completed on Google Forms. I often create quizzes and tests on Google Forms for my students to complete. The students would access the quiz/test through the URL that I post on Edmodo, and take a screenshot of their filled-in forms before clicking ‘Submit’. I would then open the form responses in  spreadsheet-format, copy each student’s ‘row’ of responses and the row of questions, and paste both into their workbook along with my feedback and mark. Here is an example:

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I have also previously written feedback notes in the students’ shared notebooks where I would attach a PDF rubric, and an audio-note along with the numerical marks. I usually do that at the end of every term. Here is an example of that:

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To conclude, Edmodo and Evernote together have really helped me setup an efficient and manageable workflow for my iPad classroom. All tasks can be distributed through Edmodo, downloaded by students from Edmodo into other apps, submitted or ‘turned-in’ through Edmodo, marked/graded on Edmodo, and students can even receive feedback on Edmodo. I would definitely direct any teacher interested in finding out more about it to the ‘Edmodo Help-Centre‘. Furthermore, Evernote has been a great help in allowing the students to collect all this work (along with the feedback received on it) into the one place in the form of a portfolio. Below are some screencasts explaining certain how-tos associated with my workflow, and a screencast giving a tour of my one of my students’ shared notebooks.

iCollaborate: making the most of collaborative learning in an iPad classroom?

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I started my teaching career at an international school in Egypt. This school had a very structured curriculum and used standardized testing very often. I learned a lot from working there, I have to admit. But one thing I found rather displeasing about the curriculum was that it only encouraged and facilitated individual learning. There weren’t many opportunities for group work or collaborative learning.

When I moved to Australia, I took up a job at an IB school in Melbourne. I am still working there as an MYP Performing Arts, English/ESL and Humanities teacher. I noticed that some teachers shy away from group work. To be fair, group work does pose challenges that may not necessarily be present in individual tasks. One of the biggest challenges of group work is how to assess each student’s contribution to the final product.

I believe the benefits of collaborative learning far outweigh the challenges (I recommend reading this article to find out more about the benefits of collaborative learning and how to make the most of it). I also believe that, when utilized correctly, mobile technologies (like the iPad) can facilitate collaborative learning and make it easier to assess, as well as document evidence of every step of the learning process.

This it what I do in my classroom to make the most of a collaborative learning process that incorporates the iPad (i.e. to minimize distractions, maximize group engagement in the collaborative process, and to manage the classroom more effectively):

    1- Use a ‘group work log’ on Google Forms: I divide my class into ‘theatre companies’ which is the fancy name I give to the groups. Before every task, I create copies of this google form, one copy per theatre company/group, and I share the URL with them (or give them QR codes). The students are required to fill out this group-work log after every lesson spent on the task (for example, if the task is spanned over three lessons, then each group member has to have submitted three entries). The advantage is that all entries have a date/time stamp, and this form allows the documentation and evaluation of, and reflection on, every step of the collaborative learning process.

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    2- Break the task into mini-tasks or steps and assign each student a mini-task/step: this is very similar to assigning group roles, such as group encourager, group reader, group writer etc… I have found that breaking the task into steps and assigning each student a step (or allowing them to divide the steps between them) gives the students more ownership over their part of the process. These mini-tasks can be independent of each other or built on one another. For example, in a drama assessment task, I would ask the group to give each member the responsibility of documenting evidence of a different part of the drama process: one member is responsible for documenting brainstorms, another for documenting the script-writing process, another for documenting the storyboarding phase, another for documenting the rehearsal phase etc… I would normally setup and use a shared notebook with the students on Evernote to help with this process of documentation. It is important to mention and explain to the students that even though each student is responsible for documenting evidence of each step of the process, they still have to all work together and collaborate through all steps. Here’s a screenshot of an Evernote portfolio/shared-notebook for students to document evidence of each step of the drama process.

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    3- Allow one-iPad-at-a-time per group: one of the most common ways of assessing group work and documenting evidence is guided and systematic teacher observation. However, in a class full of 25 students, and each on their own iPad, this might be difficult. I prefer to allow only one group member on an iPad at-a-time, while the others are using some other medium to continue with their work. This means I only observe 4-5 students on iPads at-a-time (as I usually have 4-5 theatre companies per class). For example, maybe in the brainstorming phase, the group could draw a mind map on poster paper, while one group member copies it into their iPad on a brainstorming app (here are two examples, one involving a google form, and another involving a typewith.me pad). To make my observations more meaningful, I often use a quick checklist of the ‘behaviors and attitudes to group-work‘ (which have been taught in the classroom) to guide my observations, and also to keep a record of them (I have the checklist as a picture in my camera roll and I just import it into ‘Skitch‘, which syncs automatically with Evernote). You might decide to share the checklist with the observed student/s but I prefer to just conference with them quietly and give them oral feedback based on my observations.

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    4- Ask students to document the group-work process using various forms of media: I always tell my students “it’s all about the evidence”. Luckily, the iPad is a camera, voice recorder, interactive whiteboard (or can be) and typewriter all rolled into one device. I always encourage the students to take photos/screenshots of their group work as documentation, record audio notes of their group discussions, create screencasts of their group brainstorms, take video footage of their rehearsals, or even jot down simple anecdotes of group work. I also encourage them to vary the forms of evidence and choose that which caters the most to their preferred learning style. This evidence can all be added to one note in their shared notebook, which they can call “evidence of group work” or anything similar.

    5- Emphasize the process more than the product: collaborative learning should be more about the process of learning and working together, as opposed to creating a finished product to submit to the teacher. I prefer incorporating student reflection and student self-assessment during every phase/step of the process, as opposed to just using a rubric to assess a final product that the students submit. I also constantly remind my students that we learn a lot from the process itself, and that their main aim should not just be to finish and submit a finished product.

How do you make the most of group work in your iPad classrooms? Please feel free to share your ideas, tips, experiences and suggestions in the comments below. Happy iCollaborating!

iClassroom iManagement – tips for managing an iPad classroom

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So, every school now is rolling out their own BYOD and 1-to-1 programs. Mobile learning (mLearning) is the new black! Whether it is just a fad or not, mobile devices change the way the class runs, and they change the way students learn. Many teachers, from my experience, cite too many problems with using iPads in their classroom, most of them related to classroom management. As an eLearning leader, I get a lot of questions like ‘how do I guarantee the students are on-task?’, or ‘how do I make sure they don’t play games?’, or ‘how do I make sure I can maintain their attention when I need it?’. Reality is, these devices can be very distracting to adults even, let alone school-aged kids and teens. I have gathered a bunch of tricks throughout my teaching experience that I would like to share:

1- Set clear expectations: a lot of classroom management challenges can easily be overcome by setting clear guidelines and expectations for iPad use. Regularly remind your students of the school’s mobile learning policies and ‘acceptable use’ policies. Communicate your expectations about iPad-use at the beginning of every task. Simply saying ‘I expect you to be working on this app until you submit the work and receive my feedback’ will keep most students on-task. Also, talk to them about trust and how you ‘trust’ that they know what they should be doing. I would also advise teaching a clear non-verbal signal that means ‘put your iPads down and give me your full attention’. Ringing a bell three times, for example, is the signal I use.

2- Let go of control: mobile devices can be distracting and they can empower students to do many things, and that challenges the traditional role of the teacher as the centre of the students’ attention and the main source of knowledge and information. Introducing personal learning devices like the iPad can make learning messier and noisier, but that does not mean that the learning is not happening. Fact is, education shouldn’t be about teacher-control anymore, teachers need to embrace their roles as ‘facilitators’ and ‘managers’ more.

3- Differentiate the task: if a student is disengaged from a task and seems to be easily distracted, ask them for reasons. It might be that he/she doesn’t want to type an essay using Pages, but rather prepare a screencast using ShowMe? It might be that they prefer using another app that accomplishes the same thing you requested, not the app you recommended? Give the students options and choices about how they can go about and demonstrate their learning.

4- Explore gaming: see how you can bring gaming into the classroom. Students often feel like school content can be very disconnected from their lives. Lots of teachers talk about gaming as just a waste of time, but fact is there is research that proves the value of bringing gaming into the classroom. Use different characters in games and their voices/body language to get students thinking about characterization in drama, and the elements of a narrative (as a lot of games are based on a story). Think about how ‘Angry Birds’ can be used to teach some concepts in physics. Use scrabble-like games in English classes. Whatever the subject, I’m sure you can find one or two games to relate. Additionally, those games need not take up the whole lesson, they could just be quick warm-ups or even rewards for students who finish early but still produce high-quality work (i.e. whose work is not just rushed so they can play games).

5- Assign group roles: the iPad is meant to encourage collaboration, and I am a big proponent of collaborative learning. When I run a lesson that requires the iPad, I design the task so that only one group member needs their iPad, then I would rotate that group member in consecutive tasks (so that other students also get to use their iPad). For example, in a brainstorm task, I would give the questions to the group and ask them to brainstorm on a poster paper (to be hung up in class) while one group member is responsible for reporting the group’s findings on a typewith.me pad or Google Form. Additionally, you can pick another group member to visualize the brainstorm on a mind-mapping app. It’s easier to manage an iPad classroom when only a few students are holding the iPad at a time, not the whole class.
See if you can design tasks where all group members can work on different stages using their iPads. For example, one group member brainstorms with the group using their iPad. The next group member is responsible for taking photos and documenting rehearsal. The following group member is responsible for shooting video of the performance and uploading it on the class YouTube channel, and so on. Each group member is also responsible for uploading or embedding the evidence they collect onto the group’s shared blog or Evernote shared notebook, or any other form of group portfolio, so that they can all have the same evidence to document their learning. Also, you can design the task so students each work on a part and pass one iPad around, while doing something else when they are not holding the iPad. I have found that it is easier to manage the class and ensure that they are on-task when I can only see five or six iPads around the room at a time (in a class of 25 students).

6- Circulate around the room: I have seen many teachers who like to teach from their desk. I personally believe this cannot be done with iPads in the classroom. I believe the teacher must walk around the classroom and circulate often when students are working individually. That gives the students the idea of ‘teacher-with-it-ness’ and encourages them to be on-task. Also, arrange the classroom in a way that allows all or most devices to be in view.

7- Prepare backup plans: last semester, I designed a really cool rubric using Numbers (the spreadsheet app). The students were to use this rubric to assess themselves. I uploaded the file on Edmodo, shared it with the class and thought everything was under control. However, many students couldn’t open it because it required the latest version of Numbers, which many of them didn’t have (students don’t always regularly update their apps and their iOS software either). Luckily, I had a few printed copies. Technology does let us down sometimes. The most important thing is: don’t panic in front of students and relax, show them that you control the technology, not the other way around.

8- Use games as an incentive: many teachers I meet disagree with this approach, but I still firmly believe in it. We have to teach our students that there is a time for work and and a time for play, and we need to model that in our classrooms. I always tell my students that they can have free-time to spend on their iPad when they finish their work and it is of ‘high quality’. That ‘high quality’ disclaimer is to encourage them not to rush to finish the task, and it reserves room for your judgment on the quality of their work. I often try to find one or two things they can do to improve their work first before allowing them that free time on the iPad, or even nicely asking the student who finished to help another struggling student for a few minutes first before getting free time.

9- Teach responsibility: ultimately, we need to teach students to be responsible for their own learning. Mobile devices empower the students with a lot of tools that can be useful for learning, but at the end of the day, they have to make the choice of learning or not. I constantly remind my students that ‘I’m responsible for my own teaching, you are responsible for your own learning’. Talk to them about making choices and the consequences of these choices. If they allow themselves to get distracted, ask them to give suggestions for helping them stay on-task, so they feel they have more responsibility over the situation.

10- Use ‘Guided Access’: I have never used ‘Guided Access’ in my class because it is the last resort in my arsenal of strategies. Basically, ‘Guided Access’ is a feature that came with the iOS 6 update where you can disable certain hardware buttons on the student’s iPad (like the home button and lock button for example), and also keep the student focused on one app or one part of the screen. I would advise that you only resort to this strategy when all else fails, and only with the most challenging student/s who just can not stay on-task (keep in mind that this strategy does not teach responsibility and trust). You can also disable the touch-screen through ‘Guided Access’ if you just want the student to focus on reading. Remember to always give a warning first to the student before you resort to ‘Guided Access’. A lot of students fear losing full control over their iPad when you warn them that you will resort to ‘Guided Access’ if they do not stay on-task. Here is a screencast explaining how to use ‘Guided Access’:

To conclude, managing a classroom that uses iPads or other mobile devices presents challenges that are different to traditional classroom challenges. I am constantly seeking suggestions, ideas, and practical tips from other teachers, so please feel free to leave a comment. Happy iPad-ing!

To reward or to punish?

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For someone who has had the pleasure of teaching a wide variety of subjects (namely: economics, business studies, statistics, humanities, English/ESL and Drama), I believe classroom management in a drama classroom is a bigger challenge than the others. Firstly, the environment is a lot more open and students are not seated on desks and chairs, which can be an intimidating factor for a lot of teachers. Secondly, drama activities and processes are often noisy and require teachers that are comfortable with noisy classrooms and know how to handle them. Thirdly, drama activities often push students to a level of self-awareness that they do not experience often and this can make a lot of them uncomfortable, which often translates in them playing up in an attempt to hide their self-consciousness.

An added challenge for me is the fact that drama is only timetabled as one double-period for every class per week, and we are expected to assess every criterion at least twice during a semester. When the teacher factors in the periods that will be lost due to excursions or public holidays or school events, or even absences, in the end you are left with approximately 16 double-periods per class per semester (each double-period is about 90 minutes long). Also, assessments should be carried out prior to writing reports which is during the sixth and seventh weeks of the term. Therefore, I often feel like I am racing to teach the content and skills, get the students to practice and apply those skills enough times, and then assess the drama process, and classroom management can often slow that down drastically and makes it more challenging.

Over my teaching experience, I have come to learn, adapt and create a number of classroom rules and procedures to make classroom- (and behavior-) management more ‘manageable’. I have learned to keep the rules simple and easy to remember. I have read that rules should be no more than five. I have come to know that rules should tell students what to do as opposed to what not to do, so instead of saying ‘don’t hit, kick or punch other classmates’, apparently it’s better to say ‘keep hands and feet to yourself’. I took every bit of advice I came across and I tried to adapt it in my classroom. I can say I am pleased with my ability to manage my classroom now, however, it still is a challenge that never ends.

For me, one of the most challenging aspects of classroom management is what behaviors to reward, when and how, and what behaviors to punish, when and how. In a class of 25 students, it is hard to keep track of positive and negative behaviors and to respond to every one of them. Of course, as humans, we tend to notice negative behaviors more than we do the positive ones, so teachers must be conscious and careful of that tendency. I have come to devise a few positive consequences for good behavior, and negative consequences for bad behavior.

Positive consequences for good behavior

1- Verbal Praise: simple, kind words of recognition for a student’s work or behavior go a very long way.
2- Using the Whiteboard: I have found that writing a list of students who are ‘on-task’ or ‘appear to be working well’ on the whiteboard can accomplish a lot. Students notice when others receive this recognition and try to imitate their behavior in order to get their names written up on the whiteboard. I also occasionally review and revise this list throughout the lesson to add more students or remove students who may have started to get distracted or off-task.
3- Merit Points: since I teach middle schoolers now, this system seems to work very well. I always inform my students what sort of behaviors will warrant a merit point at the end of the lesson, and tell them that they will be assigned during the last couple of minutes before the bell.
4- Merit Certificates: I try to keep a track of the upcoming year-level assemblies and prepare some merit certificates for the best students, usually they are the ones that have gathered the most merit points in the classes. These certificates are signed by the year-level coordinator and so that adds more recognition to them.
5- Stickers: sounds cliche, but yes it still works! I had my year 10s begging me for stickers last year.

I generally do not like to give material prizes like candy or stationary because I believe in intrinsic motivation, and I aim to build that in my students. Also, there are so many food allergies now, so one has to be very careful about any food brought into the classroom.

Negative consequences to correct certain behaviors

Behavior regulation chart: I have a poster chart on the whiteboard with six columns: name, warning, time-out, behavior-reflection form, behavior-checklist sent home, detention. It looks something like this:

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This chart is printed, laminated and hung up on the whiteboard top-right corner. The students are taught early on, and constantly reminded of, what sort of behaviors are acceptable and what sort of behaviors are not. The teacher can just write the name of the student and then tick the appropriate column. It’s best to start with a warning, and quietly inform the student what behavior you are warning against (make it short and simple, and so as not to embarrass the student, do it quietly between you two only). If the student does not self-correct, you can then choose the most appropriate consequence depending on the behavior. It’s very important to practice consistency: if talking-out-of-turn warrants a warning followed by a behavior reflection survey, then stick to it with all other students. This can be quite challenging as you will have some days where you might be more anxious or tense, but always try to be consistent and fair.

It is also very important to always have a quiet one-on-one chat with the student at a time when his/her peers are not around, where you can question the student to probe the reasons behind him/her choosing to behave that way. Keep this chat friendly but firm, and do not let it turn into an interrogation. You want the student to know that you have nothing against them personally, but it’s rather their behavior that you want to change or correct.

The behavior-reflection form was an idea I got from lauracandler.com and it looks like this:

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Not all incidents will require getting a parent’s signature. When I need a parent’s signature (which is usually the next step if the behavior continues) I often send home a behavior-checklist that looks like this:

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I still haven’t decided what is the best way to use this behavior regulation chart, is it best to make it progressive, where students take a step up the punishment ladder every time the behavior continues? Or can I reserve the right to choose the consequence to my judgment (after giving the warning of-course)? Richard Curwin wrote a very nice article about how the progressive system isn’t always fair.

What other positive and negative consequences do you use with your classes to reinforce positive behavior and correct negative behavior? What strategies do you use to stay consistent with your classes and to manage their behaviors?