Blog Archives

Want to pass notes in class? Use Google Docs!

I took my Spanish class to the computer lab to use an awesome resource called Yabla.

Yabla is “online immersion television,” where kids can watch lessons or listen to authentic music, which has been organized by musical style, country of origin, and ease of understanding on a scale of 1-5.  As they watch the videos, a translator box appears at the bottom of the screen which shows them the spoken content  in both Spanish and English text.  Cool!

I have a few boys in my class who are great, but I do need to pay a little extra attention to make sure they are on-task.  About 10 minutes into the period, I heard two of them share a laugh.

“Uh-oh,” I thought, “surely they’re fooling around.”

I could see from a distance that they both had a Google doc open and the green and pink cursors told me they were sharing a conversation on each other’s screens.

“Well, that’s an ingenious way to pass notes,” I thought and crept up behind them for a closer view of exactly what they were sharing.  Gossip?  Intrigue?  Bad language?

Shock of all shocks, they were actually on-task!  They were using the shared document so they could compare notes on the video they both were watching.

I had not instructed them to do this, so I approached them to ask what they were up to. They pulled off their headphones and told me about the scene in the video and how it was just like something that had happened to them this morning.

Google docs allow multiple users to type simultaneously on the same, shared document.

I confessed I had doubted their intentions and that I was actually quite pleased to see how they were using a shared document to… well… share!

In fact, it gave me new ideas for collaborative assignments while they are using Yabla, like “compare and contrast pop music from Spain with pop music from Ecuador” and have them type it up while they are watching.

Many of my students are new to Google docs this year, and it is exciting to see them put it to use for their own purposes.

If media fluency involves using the right digital tool for the task, I would say these kids are doing just that: adapting the technology with which they are familiar to meet their needs.

I, for one, am excited to find more tools to add to their toolbox.

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Absent… Present! (via Skype)

One of my students has not been feeling well, and a recent test confirmed he had a common illness that will likely result in him missing a lot of school.  Pobrecito.

His friend suggested he might be willing to have us “chat him in”, or digitally enable him to attend class, so I had him get in touch and get us connected.  Another student had brought her laptop from home (can’t wait for the 1-to-1 laptops next year!) and the sick student Skyped in.

We all said “hola” and wished him well, then we got down to business.  We had a quiz to take, after all.  We placed the laptop on a table facing the SmartBoard so he could see and hear what we were talking about.

After a brief, post-weekend refresher on the material, everyone felt ready to take on the dreaded reading comprehension assessment.

I asked the student, who had been able to prep right along with us, if he would like to take the quiz as well, since he was ready.  “Sure,” he said.

I hopped on my laptop, uploaded the quiz as a Google doc, and shared it with him.  “Got it,” we heard him say almost immediately.

As the students turned in their quizzes they all waved to him again on the screen and said hi, and we invited him to stay on while we watched a few videos for the last few minutes of class.  He did.

If he keeps it up, he won’t miss a thing!

Collaboration Fluency

In their book Literacy is Not Enough: 21st Century Fluencies for the Digital Age, Crockett, et.al defines and explains the importance of collaboration fluency:

“More and more, working, playing, and learning in today’s digital world involves working with others. It is the spirit of collaboration that will stimulate progress in our global marketplace, in our social networks, and in our ability to create products of value and substance. Collaboration fluency is the ability to successfully work and interact with virtual and real partners. The 5 Es of Collaboration fluency are: 

  • Establish the collective, and determine the best role for each team member by pinpointing each team member’s personal strengths and expertise, establishing norms, and the signing of a group contract that indicates both a collective working agreement and an acceptance of the individual responsibilities and accountability of each team member.
  • Envision the outcome, examining the issue, challenge, and goal as a group.
  • Engineer a workable plan to achieve the goal.
  • Execute by putting the plan into action and managing the process.
  • Examine the process and the end result for areas of constructive improvement.”


At the beginning of the year, to get my freshmen warmed up to writing essays (a scary task for most students, especially since it is their first essay of their first high school English class!) I had my students write a collaborative essay using google docs. Before we jumped into the writing portion though, we first brainstormed our ideas about our topic (**ENVISION**)  through a Harkness discussion in which I and another student took notes on what was said by everyone at the table. Then I sifted through the notes and the next day showed the students the notes and we talked about what ideas they seemed to focus on more than others. From our discussion and notes, we mapped out an outline,(**ENVISION**) then divided up the labor (**ENGINEER**), assigning three to four students responsible for writing each body paragraph, intro, conclusion because we found that there was too much lag time if everyone tried to type on the same part of the essay at the same time.

By sharing the document with everyone in the class, all students could see what others were writing and respond to the writing by using the chat box feature. (**EXECUTE & ENVISION**) The chat box feature was the best part of this experience. Before the lesson, we talked about what constituted appropriate comments. Students had to understand that this task was different than texting friends or posting a comment on twitter. (**ESTABLISH**) I was delightfully surprised by how well they handled this chat box. I wish I had saved some of their comments, but I can sum them up and categorize them as follows:

1. Students demonstrated awareness of an essay’s requirements before we had even talked about such things with posts such as: “We still don’t have a topic sentence yet? Can someone help write that?” or “This paragraph is only four sentences. It needs to be longer.”  (**ESTABLISH**)

2. They also demonstrated they knew their strengths and weaknesses (**ESTABLISH**).  One student would post something along the lines of: “Can someone help me proofread this? I don’t know why but it sounds wrong.” Another student would respond “I can proofread it for you.”

3. They were also really encouraging of other’s ideas and helped each other find support for points made or push each other farther with posts such as: “Great example Sue! Can I add the part about the TV too?”; “What about the end of the book? That doesn’t fit what you just said.” ( **ESTABLISH**)

What I find by reflecting back on the experiencing now with the knowledge of the five Es of collaboration in mind, is that we don’t move through these steps linearly. Collaboration requires us to continually circle back and establish or reestablish our accountability to and  acceptance of others in the groups. In the process, we find we may have to re-envision and re-engineer as well, taking into consideration new found variables and skills present in our group members and in the task itself.

What I liked about using Google docs was not only that it was a safe way for kids to ease back into writing at the beginning of the school year, but it also promoted the kind of community building skills that I value in my classroom and that Heritage Hall values as a school. It dovetailed nicely into the Harkness method I use for class discussions, because we were able to use our discussion of what is appropriate communication skills to have online to what is appropriate communication skills to demonstrate in class person to person. (**EXAMINE**)