Posts

LE’s Back-to-School Series: Organization Hacks

To say that back-to-school season is hectic would be an understatement—at times it can feel like downright madness. Students are excited, but anxious; teachers are enthused, but overwhelmed; and parents are relieved, yet frantic at the same time. Going back to school can leave everyone feeling a little (or a lot) stressed. However, like with many other challenges, PRIOR PLANNING PREVENTS POOR PERFORMANCE. With a little organization, these tips and tricks from Learning Essentials will help parents and students get back into the swing of things like never before!

 

  • Create a back-to-school shopping list after browsing your child’s school website and any course information that might be posted online. You can also reach out to content-specific department heads, also listed on every school’s website, with specific questions about course needs and necessary materials. For instance, if you are unsure of the allowable calculator for an advanced algebra course, reach out to the school’s math content specialist. Of course, additional needs may pop up later, but it’s good to have an idea of the basic needs to get your child through the first week.

 

  • Consider purchasing a label maker or using a Sharpie to add initials to personal items. Between new lockers, class changes, confusing schedules, and everyday chaos, newly purchased back-to-school swag tends to get lost—quickly. Adding initials or labels to items such as bookbags, lunch boxes, water bottles, jackets, pencil pouches, and coats will help to ensure that misplaced items have a better chance of being returned.

 

  • Make a quick “to-do” reference sheet near the door so that children can begin the process of self-checking before and after school. For visual learners, use photos to represent the “must haves” before children run out the door in the morning. Depending on age and ability, reminders might include brushing teeth, making the bed, packing clothes for P.E., grabbing the lunch box, and putting the homework folder in the bookbag.

 

  • If parents want children to take more initiative when getting home after school, use an afterschool checklist with specific time frames so that kids know how long a typical task should take and at what time parents expect each task to be completed. To motivate kids who are new to an accountability process, consider incentivizing task completion.

 

  • Photocopy your child’s course schedule and keep it somewhere handy around the house and/or at work. This allows parents to quickly refer to class times to find the least disruptive window when determining doctors appointments, early dismissals, etc. 

 

  • Do a “practice walk/ride” to and from school before the first day so that anxious children feel more comfortable about exactly how they’ll be getting to and from school. Make a point to talk about traffic patterns and crosswalks, especially for new bike riders or families that may have just moved into the community. 
  • For young bikers, consider getting a combination lock that uses letters instead of numbers. One word is often much easier for children to remember than typical numeric combinations.

 

  • Designate a folder or file for any paperwork, permission slips, or forms that parents need to sign. This will avoid the lastminute chaos of trying to find the crumpled sheets in the bottom of a book bag during rush hour. 

 

  • Set up a whiteboard calendar in a highly-frequented area of the house to post major academic or extracurricular events and their times/locations. Consider color coding the calendar so that each family member’s itinerary is written in a specific color. Take a photo of the calendar and send a group text on Sunday so that everyone is aware of each person’s obligations and whereabouts.

Label a hanging cubby organizer with days of the week so that children can begin to plan their school outfits for the week in advance. There is nothing worse than running late and rummaging through the hamper in a fury to find a specific article of clothing. With a labeled cubby hanging in the closet, children can learn to plan ahead and build autonomy by sorting everything they need for each day’s outfit in advance—no more ransacking the drawers to find matching socks at the last minute!

Learning Essentials Back-to-School Series: Studying Hacks

Heading back to school is exciting for many, but some students begin to feel the stress of their studies right from the start. In addition to getting organized for a smooth back-to-school transition, families can promote strong study habits and learning strategies to help ease the pressures of school. Make a note of some of the best practices that strong students employ and encourage your child to set up successful study habits right from the start.

One of the most important skills to master is note taking:

Make note of the terms or concepts that your teacher uses frequently during instruction. If she continues to speak about “tone in writing” or “GDP” [What is this? Will readers know?] jot them down and explore those concepts thoroughly on your own. Extend that knowledge by intentionally investigating what those terms mean in different scenarios. Curiosity can help move short-term memories to long-term, which means you will be more likely to not only remember those concepts, but also use them to build connections to other concepts down the line.

Use highlighters to organize your notes and study guides. For instance, for an American history exam, you may want to highlight important dates and events in yellow, key people or places in green, and vocabulary terms in pink. Whatever method you decide to use, keep the color coordinating consistent from test to test and class to class. Color coding your notes helps in several different ways. Firstly, the colors trigger visual memory, which helps with your recall during testing. Secondly, purposefully categorizing your notes by topic or concept helps to build knowledge of how certain items are related or linked throughout history. If “assassin” is a pink vocab term, it will help to remember its meaning by relating it to a green-highlighted John Wilkes Booth. Finally, highlighting helps to visually streamline your notes. When highlighting, you are identifying the crucial information and distinguishing it from the superfluous details.

Rewriting your notes by hand is a less popular study hack. It sounds like a mundane and redundant task; however, studies indicate that copying information by hand solidifies memory and recall. The key to this practice is taking time to chunk and rewrite notes a little bit at a time to make the process less tedious.

There are also several other strategies that strong students use to help them study:

Mnemonic devices are also a lifesaver when it comes to memorizing information that seems more arbitrary or random. I would definitely struggle to list the Great Lakes without the help of HOMES—Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior. Another example that still helps me today is “Raven,” which reminds me of when to use affect (verb) and effect (noun). [Do most readers know this one? Does it require brief explanation? I don’t know it.] Wordplay helps with spelling as well—like this popular saying, “I before E except after C or when sounding like ‘hay’ as in neighbor or weigh.”

Another option for checking your knowledge before an assessment is to teach someone else. If you have a major math test next week, try to teach those specific math concepts and processes to a parent or sibling. In doing this, you are essentially performing a self-check of the information. Additionally, explaining an abstract concept, such as square root, to someone else allows you to really reason with and explore the process—you have to know the ins and outs of something before you can instruct someone else.

The memory palace technique is especially helpful when studying for a foreign language exam. The secret is to visualize a familiar setting, like your house or favorite grocery store. Then, when memorizing the terms in another language, you visualize where that item would go in your familiar location. For instance, in the morning I jump out of la cama and go to la cocina for breakfast.

End of School Year Activities to Promote Reflection

The end of the school year brings a lot of excitement. It is a time for celebrating students’ growth, achievements, perseverance, and accomplishments. While students often spend those last few weeks of school looking ahead—to summer, to vacations, to the next step in their education— teachers will find it beneficial to encourage students to look back on their year and reflect.

Reflection as a process
To reflect on something, in the general sense, means to look back on and consider a past occurrence. However, in the educational realm, reflection can be more of a structured process.

A student:
1) learns something or absorbs information,
2) assesses prior knowledge of the topic,
3) considers the new information,
4) uses or practices the new skill or information, and then
5) examines how he or she can utilize the skill/info for further learning and growth.

With this cyclical process in mind, teachers can promote contemplation and metacognition at the end of the year by asking students to ponder what they have learned, revisit the difficult moments/skills, make connections to how this knowledge can serve them in the future, and consider additional learning opportunities.

Benefits of reflective practices

  • Reflection promotes retroactive problem-solving skills. Students have an opportunity to look back on their work and consider in what other ways they could have approached a task or completed a project. If forces them to examine the steps that they took and how they could improve on that same task the next time.
  • Reflection gives students a stronger sense of responsibility and ownership over their work. By revisiting completed work or writing from earlier in the year, students are reminded of the fact that, while they earn a grade from the teacher, every decision that they make regarding an assignment is what contributes to that grade—they hold the keys to their success or failure.
  • They get to know themselves as learners when examining their academic strengths and weaknesses. This level of self-examination encourages students to capitalize on their strong points and consider how they can improve on their weaker areas.
  • Reflection also promotes creativity. During the process, students consider alternate ways that a goal or task could have been accomplished. In asking themselves how they would approach a similar task next time based on what they know now, students automatically brainstorm new approaches, strategies, and techniques to expand their understanding for the next opportunity.

Activities to try

  • Ask students to evaluate the class using a Google form: What was interesting, boring, repetitive, beneficial, etc.? What improvements would they like to see if they had to complete the class over again? What advice would they offer to next year’s students? What unit, project, or topic was the most enlightening? What information or knowledge will they be most likely to take with them moving forward through their education?
  • Ask students to use Padlet or another form of whole group sharing platform to provide advice for future students.
  • Use a day of class to host the “Academy (Academic) Awards” in which students are recognized for their various strengths: BEST PUNCTUALITY, BEST PARTICIPATOR, BIGGEST HELPER, BEST QUESTIONS, BEST CREATIVE INFLUENCE, etc.
  • Make a Rose & Thorn or top 10 list. Ask students to consider their best memories or experiences during the school year. Encourage them to talk about what made that memory great.
  • Portfolios, especially for arts and English courses, allow students to have a physical “scrapbook” of their progress and achievements from throughout the year. For teachers, this will take a little bit of prep work early on, but the data that can be gathered from these portfolios is beneficial to our own professional growth and reflection as well!

Summer Slide, Part II

Incentivizing reading can be a great way to jumpstart young learners’ motivation during the summer. Of course, the larger goal is for children and teens to garner intrinsic motivation for reading and learning down the line, but until that point, parents can encourage the practice with small, consistent incentives.

Here are a few examples to get you started with incentivizing young learners this summer:

  • Set up a tally or sticker chart to track that your child reads something every day. Whatever that “something” might be could vary from child to child. Perhaps it’s the comics in the morning paper, or a cupcake recipe for an upcoming family reunion, or the closed captioning or subtitles of their favorite TV show. Whatever the stipulations may be, holding children accountable for tracking their reading is a good way to begin combatting the summer slide.
  • Camouflage research skills by asking for your child’s help. Depending on age, the research questions can begin very simply, such as, “What is the weather going to look like later tonight during your baseball game?” Or, “What are the showtimes for the movie that you want to see this weekend? Are there better options for showtimes at a different theater nearby?” For older learners, parents can encourage middle and high schoolers to research places to visit, local attractions, events, or summer festivals, or even long-weekend options for a mini-family vacation. Guide their research by providing some critical guiding questions and reputable websites for perusal.
  • Research free educational events, activities, or programs in the area over the summer. In addition to many school-sponsored events and resources, the internet has a plethora of free educational websites that allow students to access digital games, tools, and practices from their living room. School and local library websites are great places to start when combing through reputable online educational resources. Many sites, like Scholastic, Flocabulary, NewsELA, ReadWriteThink, and Edutopia allow students to filter the materials based on interests, grade level, Lexile level, text length, etc. Virtual field trips also provide students with opportunities to see and experience locations that may otherwise be inaccessible.
  • Take learning outdoors to utilize the summer weather and natural surroundings. Simple activities such as planting flowers or herbs, visiting a state park or zoo, or starting a neighborhood initiative is a great way to show children that learning takes place everywhere—not just within the classroom. This also allows learners to take an active role in their learning, instead of the typical passive learning that we often see in schools. For older children and teens, parents can encourage financial competency and budgeting by helping middle and high schoolers begin a neighborhood dog walking, lawn mowing, yard sale, or recycling project. In doing this, children a practicing essential skills and strategies, while gaining a sense of independence and responsibility as well. The cash flow is always a great incentive, too!
  • Encourage literacy skills by providing your child with a photo journal for summer activities and travels. Children might use a smartphone or Polaroid camera to capture important memories or events over the summer. Then they can provide written captions, reflections, and other personal insights to accompany the photos. The photo journal also acts as a great memento for looking back on summer memories.

Behavior Management Strategies Taken from the Teacher’s Playbook

If asked about observations pertaining to student trends over time, teachers, administrators, and any other school personnel will likely tell you how the culture of behavior in schools has drastically changed, even in just the last decade. While this is a generalized observationnot necessarily one that rings true for every child in every school across Americaprofessionals working in the realm of education report an overwhelmingly recognizable shift in behavior and behavior-related challenges in schools.

For parents that are struggling to manage behaviors at home, the stress can be all-encompassing. As teachers and parents may witness, when these behaviors go unaddressed, there is a tendency for actions or attitudes to escalate. While educators certainly do not have all of the answers, what they do have is plenty of experience with a wide range of personalities and demeanors.

Maintain consistency and stay strong

As teachers well know, adolescents and even young children can be masters of persuasion. Whether begging, throwing fits, crying, or pitting parents against one another, a child’s aim is typically the same when it comes to these strategiesthey are trying to break you. The reason that they attempt these methods is probably because they have seen it work before, either among siblings, at a friend’s house, or maybe they’ve even worked you over in this way before. The point is, when children are used to getting what they want when they want it, they will go to great lengths to achieve or receive.

Therefore, if you have already said “no,” do not falter; do not waiver or go back on your word. In doing this, you are showing your child that they can convince you to change your mind. Will it be embarrassing when your child throws a tantrum in public? Yes. Will they likely stop immediately if you cave in? Yes. But will they remember their success rate from throwing this fit? Absolutely. It may make your life easy in that moment, but going back on your word just to stifle a temper tantrum will inevitablely backfire because you are essentially reinforcing that negative behavior.

Ditch empty threats

Just as a teacher would not give detention and then “let it slide,” parents must follow through. If you impose a consequence, you must be ready to deliver that consequence. Empty threats or punishments that never come to fruition are just other examples of adults reinforcing negative behavior. Your child will remember how the “week without screen time” turned into just one night without the iPad before bed. In dropping the ball on the original consequence, your child will be less inclined to take those warnings seriously.

Put the child in control of the outcome

Teachers typically spend a great deal of time setting the expectations for their classroom environment, assignment protocol, and behavior. The point of setting the stage so specifically and deliberately is that students are made aware not only of the expectations, but also the subsequent consequences if those expectations are not met. Students know in advance that they will lose a certain percentage if work is submitted late. They also know that unkind words or behavior will result in lunch detention or a phone call home. Because of these known repercussions, students are careful to adhere to the rules.

It’s the same at home. Parents should calmly remind children of the expectation and the consequence that their child will be choosing if the behavior continues. This puts children in the driver seat by reminding them that they are in control of their behavior and how that behavior will play out. Explain to them that they “are choosing a consequence by behaving this way.” Children will be less inclined to continue the behavior when they know that this behavior would essentially mean that they’re imposing a punishment on themselves.

Proactive Steps for Transitioning within or between Schools

For parents with school-aged children, the idea of transitioning with or between entirely new schools can be anxiety-producing. How will my child handle the change of environment, schedule, routine and peers? How can I get a head start on making the transition as smooth as possible? What if things do not go smoothly? Who can I turn to for guidance? All of these questions are not only typical, but valid as well. Below are suggestions and ideas for parents whose children are transferring to a different school, or who will be experiencing a major transition within the current school.

Attitude is everything: For children who are just beginning preschool, Pre-K, or kindergarten, the initial transition from home life to school life can be challenging on many different levels. To ease the process right from the start, parents should be cognizant of how they react to the transition, as well as deliberate in how they portray their own attitude towards school. Parents and older siblings should intentionally speak of school as a positive, exciting new experience. A positive attitude towards school promotes the idea that this is a beneficial change in the child’s lifeit allows young children to become excited about the “newness” of the experience, as opposed to becoming frightened of the unknown. Discuss some of the new things that he or she will get to learn and participate in. Talk about the new friends they will make. Shed plenty of light on the great adventures that school providesperhaps start a countdown to encourage excitement about the transition, instead of dread.

Even for older students, attitude is completely contagious. If children and teens sense stress or anxiety coming from you about the school changes, they are certainly more likely to internalize those emotions. Therefore, if your middle or high schooler is experiencing a transfer or major schedule change, their first line of support and initial dose of positivity should come from you, the parents. Validate their concerns by listening and not dismissing their feelings, but be ready to put a positive spin on their concerns and provide solutions to their perceived worries.  

Do your research: To remove the intimidating shroud of the unknown, encourage any orientation, meet-and-greet, playdate, school tour, or mentorship that the new school might offer. For older students, check to see if their clubs, organizations, or extracurricular activities from the previous school exist at the new school. If so, get a jumpstart on registration, forms, and physicals for athletics. If your child or teen functions best when they know what is coming down the pike, ask the school about seeing your child’s class schedule or possibly meeting teachers in advance of the start date.

Guidance counselors are always a go-to for parent support, but networking through the PTA is another great resource. Members of the PTA are obviously involved in the school and in tune with the goings on in the school community. Fundraisers, parent meetings, and social events provide an opportunity for new parents to get involved, ask questions, and thus provide a sense of comfort to their child as “the new kid.” As much as information is power, parents new to a school’s community should be somewhat wary of the rumor mill, as this can paint facets of the school in a negative or incorrect light. Remember that any sort of listserv, blog post, or review could be biased or wholly untrue.

Focus on what’s important: Especially for middle and high schoolers, a transfer or transition to another program or school can mean a sharp learning curve, or even an initial decline in grades. Remind your student that anything new or unfamiliar is going to present its share of challenges, but this should not create discouragement. If grades slip or stress builds, reinforce your teen’s sense of self-worth by placing the focus on their other strengths. Remind him or her that a grade is simply one measure of their learningit is not indicative of one’s intelligence or capabilities.

Set aside time to acknowledge small wins or slight victories as a means of boosting self-esteem. Remind your child of the potential for growth that comes with challenges and obstacles. Then, encourage your teen to put the emphasis on gradual growth and improvementnot a solitary grade or score.   

Cultural Competency in the Classroom

A beneficial, yet challenging, factor of education today involves the increasing diversity in our schools. Because of the ever-growing demographics, teaching cultural competency has become a major focus in the classroom, especially for a public school system as vast and diverse as Montgomery County. It’s not only students that are getting instruction on cultural competency. These lessons start at the top with administration, curriculum writers, and educators all participating in this movement in favor of cultural awareness and appreciation.

Because culture involves a deeply personal, ingrained set of beliefs, behaviors, practices, and values, most people are at least somewhat unaware of cultures to which they do not prescribe. This is especially the case for young children who are just beginning to explore the world around them. Culturally-responsive instruction truly begins with a look at one’s self through reflection—it isn’t until we truly understand ourselves that we can begin to understand others around us.

Build a classroom environment founded in cultural appreciation by abolishing the word “normal.” Just because a behavior or characteristic might be our cultural norm, this does not mean that it is the “normal” or “right” way. Likewise, just because a behavior or trait may be unfamiliar to us, this does not mean that it is weird, wrong, or abnormal. Remind children that, just as we are all unique beings, our beliefs and values may cause us to speak, dress, and behave differently. Reinforce the mindset that cultural diversity provides learning opportunities that a culturally-homogeneous classroom would not necessarily have. Because each student comes from a different upbringing, with different customs, traditions, family structures, etc., the perspectives that we can gain by embracing our peers’ cultures are limitless. If we hold one another’s culture in high esteem by valuing it as a chance to gain knowledge about something new, we no longer see our peers as “odd” or “different.” Instead, children learn to place the emphasis on the fact that a peer’s culture has provided them with information and knowledge that they would not have known otherwise.

Beef up the classroom library with culturally diverse options for students to explore. Keep in mind that a culturally-relevant text does not receive its credit simply from the author’s culture. A novel about a child growing up during British imperialist India could provide plenty of opportunities for culturally-rich discussion—or it could oversimplify a culture or lack an important perspective all together. The key is to explore an abundance of different styles of texts, by many different authors, on a plethora of different subjects and themes. After doing plenty of research, and taking your students’ cultures into account, set up a culturally competent classroom library.  

Encourage courageous conversations surrounding cultural norms and where they originate. For instance, when examining the protagonist throughout the course of a novel, prompt the class to ask analytical questions about the character’s motivations, thoughts, and decisions. What do we know about this character’s values, background, upbringing, family structure, etc.? How are our lives similar or different because of our own cultures? How might our own beliefs impact the way that we view or characterize the protagonist? What more would we need to know or discover about the main character in order to fully understand why she behaves a certain way?

If we take steps to expose students to diverse cultures and guide their exploration of different customs, traditions and perspectives, they will learn to embrace new ideas and better navigate our world.

 

Change What Your Child Thinks About Studying

For those of us not blessed with a photographic memory, study skills are essential to our ability to grasp and retain information and concepts. We often think of studying as something that students do in preparation for a test—and while this is often the case, we want to set different expectations for studying. We want young learners to recognize the study skills that benefit them the best and to discover that studying is more than just a test-prep practice.

For elementary schoolers, studying, like many other aspects of education, is a new concept. Because they are just beginning to form their understanding of how to study and why, the elementary grades offer a great opportunity to put positive studying routines into place.
Teach elementary schoolers that studying is for more than just preparing for assessments. Studying should be introduced as a regular routine for reviewing and solidifying all content, not just test topics. By viewing a studying routine as a consistent homework practice, there is less pressure put on students when it comes to studying for an exam. They will be used to the process and aware of the strategies that help them the best.

To introduce this regular homework routine, at first devote a small amount of time to the practice. Begin by reviewing the night’s completed homework assignment or material from school that day. Encourage rereading as a friendly method to get the process started. Explain to your child that rereading helps to cement information and allows him or her to memorize key details. Prompt them to mark and look up any terms or phrases that they do not recognize or remember from class. This shows them how to be active readers and take initiative if they do not know something.

A studying practice should not be made to feel like an additional homework assignment; if elementary schoolers see it as extra work, they are likely to avoid it. Use maybe 5-10 minutes of homework time to “review” important concepts from the day. Ask your child to summarize the reading material or math steps that s/he focused on during the assignment. You can also ask your child to “teach” you how to do one of the math problems that s/he practiced for homework. Encourage them to jot down any questions that they may want to ask their teacher tomorrow, or circle any concepts that they found to be confusing while practicing on their own.

Use the “peak/pit” conversation to get your elementary schooler to think critically about what s/he learned today. Ask your child to say his or her favorite and least favorite part of the school day. Then ask him or her to explain why something was especially interesting or boring. This allows them to truly reflect on new concepts that they are grasping, while providing you with some insight into their budding interests. Remember to share your own “peak/pit” with your child. This helps to demonstrate that learning is a life-long process—we adults may be through our schooling, but we haven’t stopped learning new things.

If your elementary schooler seems particularly interested in a certain topic, try to find age-appropriate magazine articles, books, or documentaries about related topics. Playing off of a child’s interests will make learning feel less like work and more like a hobby.

Testing Accommodations

Testing accommodations should help students two-fold. Accommodations should provide support for students to access material and demonstrate mastery, and they should also foster a sense of confidence and boost students’ ability to advocate for themselves. When students feel successful, especially on an assessment, that confidence is magnified and motivates students that may have been discouraged by their learning differences. It is likely that students who struggle with a learning disability look unfavorably at their ability to test well. This does not have to be the case. With testing accommodations, students can reach their full potential and truly thrive.

Executive Functions Disorder:

Of course, accommodations should be tailored to each learner’s specific needs—that is why plans are called IEPs, or individualized education programs. These tools are tailored to each individual student, as there are certain accommodations that are known to assist certain styles of learners better than others. For students with executive function difficulties, testing accommodations can changes testing woes into wins.

Because students with executive functioning disorder struggle specifically with tasks involving higher-level thinking skills, testing accommodations remove unnecessary obstacles so that students can demonstrate an accurate picture of their knowledge. For example, some students may lack confidence when it comes to multiple choice questions. It is not that he/she lacks the knowledge or skills to arrive at the correct answer, it is simply that the ability to eliminate incorrect answers becomes a major distraction.

Provide students with three answer options as opposed to four—this makes the task of elimination less daunting.

Prompt students to physically cross or scratch out the answers that they know are incorrect; reminding them of this test-taking strategy can sometimes be all the help students need.

Allow students to mark or bubble their options right on the test booklet, as opposed to transferring them to a Scantron or bubble sheet. This eliminates the possibility that they will bubble the wrong answer or unintentionally skip questions.

Encourage students to highlight, underline, or mark certain parts of the question or answer options that stand out as crucial to the question. For example, if a question asks “What is not one of the author’s purposes for writing the text?” prompt students to recognize and mark the word not to reinforce the fact that they are looking for a non-answer.

Practice explicit, direct instruction of common testing terms such as analyze, organize, complete, develop, process, etc. These concepts are difficult for all students in the sense that they require abstract thinking. However, for students with executive functioning disorder, these types of cognitive skills are the precise functions that they struggle with specifically. If a test question asks them to “assess the use of the term” consider rewording the question or providing a footnote to explain what you mean by assess.

If students are asked to organize a paragraph in response to a prompt, provide them with a graphic organizer. This small modification helps students to get the ball rolling when constructing their response. They are still tasked with writing the response; however, the intimidation factor is eased by the fact that they have a scaffold form which to work.

Similarly, providing students with sentence frames in addition to a graphic organizer can help ease the stress of a written response. Since executive function disorder is often marked by the inability to or difficulty with organizing thoughts and conveying them in written form, sentence frames provide students with a starting point and allow them to show that they have mastered the concept without the cognitive output interfering.

Digital Tools in the Classroom

Especially now, with the rise of technology in the classroom, teachers have practically unlimited methods for teaching, assigning, and grading student work. Features within forums such as Google Classroom, Flocabulary, Read180 Universal, PowToon, NewsELA, etc., allow for student choice, engagement, and differentiation. While the options and methods are seemingly unlimited, there are a few things to consider when it comes to utilizing classroom technology effectively.  

To ensure that the digital classroom is an asset, instead of an obstacle, for students and parents, educators will want to address the following concerns before planning and implementing:

  • Is the technology adding to the student’s understanding of the material, or is it simply technology for technology’s sake? If teachers cannot readily identify how the digital tool is adding a layer of complexity, relevance, choice, or differentiation, then the tool may be better utilized for another task. What we do not want is for the learning to be secondary to the digital forum. For example, if students are using PowToon or Prezi for an assignment, then the objective should be something related to summarizing, paraphrasing, simulating cause and effect, etc., since those are skills that the digital tools support. Those two particular digital tools are more geared towards public speaking or presenting, so an objective for speaking and listening should be a component, as well. 
  • How much scaffolding or frontloading will the technology involve? As teachers, we know that time is limited, as we are constantly moving students from one skill to the next. A worst-case scenario would be for the digital tool to become a “time-suck” in the unit. More than anything, the technology should be comprehensive and user-friendly, so that it does not become an obstacle for students to demonstrate mastery.
  • How much of the student’s grade will be determined by the proper use of the technology? Again, if the objective is for students to relay research that they have gathered in a focused and organized way, then the technology feature is simply a small aspect of that task. Consequently, if the objective is for students to construct a timeline of a story and present the animation, then the technology becomes more of a vital component. 
  • Can the use of the digital tool be optional? Another recommendation when considering student choice is to provide the option to not use the technology to demonstrate mastery. For some students, technology can be scary because of their unfamiliarity with it. For others, computer or internet access at home may not be a possibility. Teachers should be wary of only using digital creations or submissions, as this would mean that some students can only work on an assignment or project in the classroom—not at home. 
  • Are my digital posts, grades, and assignments easy to access and displayed clearly? When using a digital classroom like Google Classroom, teachers should be sure to make their digital forum as accessible and transparent as possible. At open house or parent conferences, teachers should consider inviting parents to sign up to the virtual classroom. This provides parents with their own means of logging into and monitoring the virtual classroom. Guardian access also allows parents to set email alerts anytime a new announcement, assignment, or grade is posted. This means that parents receive notifications in real time, as opposed to having to wait for their child to bring home the new assignment or rubric. Guardian access also allows teachers to post entire lessons, documents, and reading to the classroom. This type of transparency provides parents with a peek inside the day’s activities and lessons. With documents posted, there will also be a backup option for parents if their child has lost or forgotten the paper copy.