“If the computer can grade it, it should” — Alice Keeler
I used to attend the Michigan high school basketball finals. I was always struck by how many assistant coaches these high schools had sitting on the bench. One school, a perennial power that happened to be a private academy, had six assistants. They had seven coaches for a team of 15 kids. Imagine what we could do in our classrooms with that many caring, knowledgeable adults willing to donate their time and energy to helping kids learn.
I’ll avoid a digression here about the value our society places on sports over the value they place on education, and just say this: Most teachers would love to have even one assistant teacher in the room. One of them could teach the lesson while the other worked with those who needed more intensive help. One could instruct while the other monitored behavior. One could grade math tests while the other lectured.
Thanks to technology, teachers can do exactly that. They can clone themselves. Flipped lessons make you a double. They save you time.
If your teaching is anything like mine, a lesson that should take 20 minutes often takes 30. I stop to redirect students. I repeat things that I know students missed. I’m interrupted by the damn intercom.
There are other problems with whole group instruction. I’m never sure if I’m going too fast for students. I don’t always know when I need to hit an important point again. A kid asks to use the restroom right in the middle of a lecture, and despite knowing he’s going to miss important information, I let him go because it’s far, far worse to risk him having an accident in his seat.
All of those problems are solved with video lessons. I never have to stop teaching. Students can rewatch parts that are confusing. If their neighbor is distracting them, they can hit pause, move somewhere else, and replay the parts they missed. They can stop the video while they go to the bathroom, or get a Kleenex, or sharpen a pencil. They can even be absent and not miss anything upon their return.
And while you’ll need to invest some time up-front to make the videos, you’ll save it on the back end. While students watch the video, you are freed up to do other elements of your job. Meet with a small group. Pull students back one at a time to discuss a math concept they’re struggling with or to conference about their writing. Take care of a few administrative tasks while they’re busy learning from your digital clone. Assign some work in Google Classroom. Grade a few tests. Provide digital feedback on work they’ve submitted. Since you’re not physically teaching, you’ve created time that never existed before.
Making instructional videos is my favorite way to leverage technology to save time and get other things done, but it’s far from the only one. If you’re fortunate enough to have a class set of devices, you might also consider trying some of these three other ways I use technology to save time:
I still see the value in the printed word, so my students do their brainstorming, planning, and drafting in a journal. But once they’ve put their ideas on paper, I have them type their work in a Google Doc. I do this within Google Classroom so I can look at their work at any time. In fact, once the mini-lesson for the day is over, that’s what I do. I stand at my computer and try to get through 10 students’ writing in a 20-30 minute writing period. I provide feedback, both good and bad, and I try to limit the number of comments I leave because no one needs 10 things to work on. In this manner, I save time because commenting digitally is much faster than meeting with students. There are a number of other advantages to having students write in Google Docs. I’ll talk more about this in part 9 of this series, “On Writing.”
Ask a Question in Google Classroom
I love Google Classroom. It serves as the central hub for my resources and students complete most of their assignments inside of it. One of my favorite features is “Ask a Question.” Instead of reading and then answering comprehension questions, students read or listen to selections from our reading program and then answer a question I pose in Google Classroom. This is where I have students practice responding with text evidence. Once they’re done, they’re required to give three classmates feedback on their answers. I also try to provide feedback on each answer (and I usually can, something that would be difficult on paper), but even if I don’t, I know that they’ll hear from a number of their classmates. In the past, I would have had a stack of papers to take home. Now, as they write their answers, I sit with my Chromebook open and read their responses as they come in. If they need to fix something, they know within minutes based on the feedback they get from me and their classmates. I’ll write more about other uses of the Ask a Question feature in another post. There are lots of applications.
I no longer grade any math except the paper tests I give students 12 times each year. That’s because Alice Keeler is right. If the computer can grade it, it should. Most of the math students do is practice. They need to know whether or not they’re doing it right, and I need to know who needs more help. Our district-adopted math program has daily practice aligned with each day’s lesson in digital form. After the “I do, we do,” part of the lesson, students work independently and the program provides instant feedback. There are also resources that allow students to understand and correct their mistakes. When students are done with their daily work, they have a number of other online options for extra math practice. I use Prodigy, Xtra Math, and Multiplication.com. All give students feedback that would take hours (if not days) for me to provide were they doing everything on paper. The reports I can generate also let me know very quickly who gets it and who needs reteaching and extra practice.
One criticism of technology in the classroom is that it’s sometimes unnecessary. Having students do what amounts to a digital worksheet is no better than doing a paper worksheet. That’s true. Except when it comes to my time. Copying a paper worksheet and then taking a stack home to review takes much longer than assigning one in Google Classroom and having the ability to pull up each student’s work with a click or two. While technology can be used to improve instruction and to engage students, it can also benefit teachers by streamlining processes and creating time where it didn’t exist before.
There are, of course, a ton of ways to use technology in the classroom. Two of my favorite go-to people are Matt Miller and Alice Keeler. Follow them on Twitter and you’ll get a steady stream of ideas. Look for those that benefit kids but also help you by freeing up your time so that you have less work to take home at night.
Other Articles in this Series: