Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Increasing Accessibility with Google Read and Write

Misty is our occupational therapist. In her role, she helps our students with disabilities in a variety of ways. She provides sensory regulation support such as exercises, weighted vests, and focusing techniques. She helps student develop fine motor skills, and also provides flexible seating options like wiggle cushions and yoga balls for students needing movement.
Misty also provides technology support for our students with disabilities to make our standards-based curriculum more accessible.

With an increase in accessibility to the web, our students are becoming extreme consumers of content. They can connect to the web and easily read or watch infinite sources of information. While many teachers are beginning to rely more on digital texts, there is a great extension for Google Chrome that can make reading and writing more accessible for our students with special needs.

I’ve been using Google Read and Write for the last few years with my students. Until recently, I was only using the basic reading and writing features. After chatting with Misty, though, I’ve learned some other great features of this extension that will be so helpful for my students.


In its simplest form, Google Read and Write will read any web-based text aloud. You can even control the rate at which it reads. Readers just click where they want to start reading, press the play button on the toolbar, and the program will highlight each sentence as it reads. Students can pause or replay at anytime.

Google Read and Write also has a tool called the Screenshot Reader. It’s intention is to read any text on a student’s screen once they draw a box around it. This allows students to access text in images, PDFs, and online textbooks. Misty has been working to get this feature available for our students, but due to a glitch on our end, we are unable to use it at this time. Instead, Misty has been using Snapverter to convert PDFs into a format that will work with Google Read and Write. Unfortunately, it takes a bit of time to do all the converting for students, so we are still hoping to get Screenshot Reader to work soon.

The read aloud feature is such a powerful tool for students who struggle with reading because they can still access online text, even when a teacher is unavailable to read aloud to them. This tool allows students to build independence and gain confidence in their online reading comprehension.


It also provides word prediction for writing. Students who are using this feature can begin to type words, and the extension will automatically provide word choices for the students. This is especially helpful for students who struggle with spelling.
Google Read and Write predicting words

Google Read and Write also has a speech-to-text tool, allowing students to use a microphone to create written text by simply speaking. The tool automatically converts the speech into text, including punctuation. Students can stop at any time and use the reading tool to check their work.
"I like using [the speech tool] because it helps me get ideas
out. When I write, my words get stuck sometimes."

So Much More

Google Read and Write also has some great research tools. While reading online, students can highlight text that they find important. When finished, students can choose to collect their highlights. This feature pulls all of the highlighted text into a new Google Doc. If the reader chose to highlight in various colors, perhaps to signify which text they found the information in or what main idea the information supports, then Google Read and Write will sort the highlights by color in the Google Doc. How awesome is that?

One other feature that I just learned about is Voice Notes. It’s similar to making comments in a Google Doc. Rather than typing a comment or note, the user can leave an verbal note. Instead of translating into text, Voice Notes remain in audio format, allowing the listener to easily hear comments and notes. I really like the idea of this feature for leaving specific feedback for my students. In the past I sometimes hesitate to write comments for some of my students because I know they will struggle to read my feedback. Voice Notes solves that problem. Students can even respond with their own voice note to form a running conversation of questions or comments.

As you can imagine, these features of Google Read and Write are a game changer for my students with disabilities. They can access text online and write much more fluently. Organizing notes from research is quick and effortless, and students can understand teacher feedback through voice notes. What a great tool!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Upgrading Literature Circles

Hayley is a sixth grade teacher. She has been using literature circles with her students as a way to encourage student discussion of independent reading. In the past, she has used tech-free literature circles, but this year she has made a few changes to incorporate technology in order to increase learning, organization, and accountability.

Building Background Knowledge

Some of the typical roles that students take on in Hayley’s literature circles involve explaining key vocabulary, making connections, summarizing the text, and directing the discussion. In the past, she has also had an investigator. This student would choose a topic related to the reading to research and share with the group. Unfortunately, students seemed to get in a rut in which they would only choose to research the author week after week-defeating the purpose of building background knowledge and increasing comprehension.

To address this issue, Hayley has chosen to incorporate webquests into her literature circles. Students will spend time each week investigating a teacher-chosen webquest that relates to the story they are reading, building their background knowledge in meaningful ways while being guided by the webquest. Hayley is choosing webquests to deepen understanding of themes, settings, and social issues faced by main characters.

This student is exploring a webquest about dyslexia in connection with his book, Fish in a Tree. When asked why he was learning about dyslexia, he said, “The main character has a learning problem. Reading about dyslexia helps me to understand the character better. Then I understand why she does what she does.” That sounds like effective background knowledge to me!

Another student was using a webquest to learn about Arizona, the setting for his literature circle book, Stargirl. He is shown here searching the web for images to show the land features in Arizona. Meanwhile, another student was completing a webquest to build background knowledge relating to fairy tales for her chapter book. While their tasks and content were very different, all three students were engaged in meaningful learning that will extend their understanding of their chapter books.

Managing the Paperwork

I’m really impressed with Hayley’s overall organization of her literature circles. Students follow a set monthly calendar, showing reading assignments and roles for each week. All the calendars are shared with students through Google Classroom, so students always have a clear reading goal for the day.

Providing copies of role sheets and managing completed student was a challenge in the past. Students were turning in multiple pages of work per week for Hayley to organize, assess, and provide feedback. This year she has moved all of her documents to digital folders. Teaching her students how to make a copy of the role sheets they need was a quick fix to increase organization. They never run out of paper copies, students can’t misplace their work, and Hayley can access digital student work anytime, even before they turn it in.

Listening to Student-Led Discussions

Student led discussions can be so powerful! They can also get off topic pretty quickly. One struggle for any teacher is ensuring on-task learning while students are working without a teacher. In Hayley’s class, students participate in literature circle discussions while Hayley is teaching small group lessons, meaning that she is usually unavailable to really listen in to every conversation.

This year Hayley is planning to use the video recording feature in our learning hub to record group conversations. Not only will students have increased accountability, it will also help Hayley to have a clear idea of how to best support the learning of various groups and students. She can better plan her small group instruction and correct misconceptions to make her literature circles as meaningful as possible.

Overall, Hayley’s shift to digital literature circles has allowed her guided reading time to become more efficient and effective. Thanks for these great ideas, Hayley!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Student Interviews with Flipgrid

Student interviews are a great way to get a clear idea of what your students know. Many teachers use these informal assessments to inform their instruction. Unfortunately, they take a considerable amount of time. As a teacher, I rarely use interviews as an assessment, despite the benefits, because I can’t justify the time it takes to sit with each of my students on a regular basis.

Kamaren Cross is a third grade teacher at my school. She is starting her second year of teaching, and she has found a great solution to the biggest drawback of using student interviews. Rather than sitting with each student during class hours, she is multiplying her time by having her class create video summaries of their learning using Flipgrid.

These short videos are a great way for Kamaren to check each student’s understanding without eating up lots of class time. She can even set a time limit for students so that each video is a reasonable amount of time. Students are highly motivated to create meaningful videos because they enjoy producing original content for their peers and teacher to view. Another benefit is that each student gets to have a voice in the conversation. Everyone is included and has a chance to explain what they think.

Flipgrid allows teachers to create a free classroom account. After students join using the class code, they can begin creating videos to answer the prompt that Kamaren has posted. The flipgrid interface is very visual- making it extremely easy for students of all ages to navigate. After only two days of using flipgrid, Kamaren found that most of her students could use the site independently to respond to her prompts. During my visit, each student used Flipgrid to record their learning within a 10 minute window.

While Kamaren’s third graders are nearly proficient at using Flipgrid, their first experience took a considerable amount of time. Providing appropriate modeling, examples and non-examples, along with adequate support to create initial videos took more time than she initially expected. Kamaren also had to problem solve when it came to the noise level when having all her students recording at the same time. Her solution is to have students tuck themselves away in small spaces around the room, such as under desks or near their cubby, to provide a bit of space.

Here’s what Kamaren’s students have to say about using Flipgrid:
“I like it because everyone can see my work.”

“I’m nervous when I have to answer in front of the class, but when I’m making a video I can do my recording over if I make a mistake.”

“It’s easier to explain what I’m learning when I’m talking.”

“I like adding stickers to make my video fun. It can look unique like me!”

“It’s fun hearing what my classmates say.”

Kamaren isn’t the only teacher in our building using verbal responses. A number of my colleagues from grades Kindergarten through sixth are are beginning to use this method through Flipgrid and our learning hub to allow students to respond to questions, create projects, and reflect on their learning. Students are excited to create video content, and they are accountable for their work because they have a genuine audience.

So far, Kamaren has used Flipgrid video responses for reading and writing lessons. She’s looking forward to trying it out with math content as well. She also plans to have students begin to collaborate by responding to peer videos, and in time, she hopes to have students pose their own questions for the class to answer.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Technology and Differentiation: Meeting Instructional Needs

This is my teammate, Toby. One of the things that most impresses me about his teaching style is that he is always willing to try something new to make his classroom run smoother. He is forever challenging his fourth graders to think critically and flexibly. Over the past year, he has discovered a really smart way to use technology to better meet the needs of his students.

Our fourth graders review prerequisites and previously taught skills for both math and language arts each day. Typically, students practice independently and then review with the whole class. This sort of repetitive practice allows students to maintain their math and language skills. As you can imagine, some students need more support than others with these skills. While some kids are truly reviewing previously mastered content, others need to be retaught. This is difficult to do in only about ten minutes in each subject, so Toby thought of a new way to review with his class.

Differentiation Through Technology

Toby's students have about 30 minutes of independent work time each day during math. During that time, they are given a variety of review tasks to complete including correcting their math and language review, practicing multiplication math facts with Xtramath, and reviewing recent math skills through IXL. During this independent time, Toby is using technology to meet the needs of his students.

Toby takes about ten minutes a day during his prep to record himself using his document camera. He solves each math problem and reviews the language concepts for the day. Students who need to simply check their work access his Youtube video through Google Classroom and follow along. They can pause it to correct their own work or watch parts multiple times to ensure they understand each question. They can also access these videos from home to review with their parents before the weekly quiz.

Students are also encouraged to use the comment feature on Youtube to ask questions about problems they do not understand. This helps Toby know who may need more help face-to-face. This year he is also thinking about encouraging students to answer the questions that their peers asked through comments, allowing students to help one another as well.

While the majority of the class is reviewing online, Toby is able to work with a small group of students and reteach the skills they are struggling with the most. He sees an average of about 8 students each day for intense reteaching. At times, students choose if they need help, and other times he calls up specific students.

The major drawback of this system, according to Toby, is that he must be very conscious of each student’s progress so that students don’t slip through the cracks. To do this he uses weekly quiz results and weekly reports through IXL to determine who needs help with specific skills.

The benefit of his system is that he can meet each student’s specific needs, while also promoting independence. He has essentially used technology to clone himself and teach two groups at once, providing differentiated instruction to meet the needs of his students. How cool is that? Thanks for sharing this great idea, Toby!