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Are You Using Google Tools the Smartest Way Possible?

Are You Using Google Tools the Smartest Way Possible?

In decades past, educators had trouble properly implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. Sure, it would have been wonderful to offer multiple pathways of representation, expression, and engagement for each student, but there was simply not enough time in the day for it and never enough technology.

Fast forward to today. Technology advancements have made technology cheaper and more available. Chromebooks and bring your own device (BYOD) initiatives have made it easier than ever for teachers to implement UDL principles in their classrooms, and students are better able to develop their own unique learning styles that work for them.

The Power of Google Classroom

Google Classroom is one of the leaders of this educational revolution. It’s a secure, technology-rich way to make your classroom responsive and meet the specific needs of each of your students. The Google toolkit makes learning collaborative, it handles subjects like Math, Science, Reading, Writing, and Computer Science, and (hallelujah!) it drastically simplifies the creation, distribution, and grading of assignments on your end.

Note: If you’d like to read an in-depth Google Classroom review, this UMass article does a nice job.

It’s a remarkably powerful and comprehensive suite of tools. But as every artist and craftsman will tell you, tools are only as good as the people wielding them. So our question to you: Are you really using these modular Google Classroom tools the best way you can?

Go Beyond Google Classroom

As you’ll find out, when you use Google Classroom in conjunction with other tools like Snap&Read and Co:Writer, you get unique advantages that set you apart. No matter how much technology they have at their disposal, students will always need flexible resources that help them focus, learn, and draw upon their unique learning styles. 

This article will cover four topics that will help you properly harness Google Classroom, then go beyond it:

  1. Cleaning the Clutter

  2. Cultivating Collaboration

  3. Using Extensions

  4. A Better Way to Learn

Let’s get started.

1. Cleaning the Clutter with Google Classroom

You got into this profession to teach, not to navigate endless paperwork. That paperwork doesn’t simply adorn your classroom, either. As you know, it quickly overpowers the kitchen table, living room, and bedroom. Not fun.

One of Classroom’s greatest perks for educators is the way it streamlines the simple acts of passing out, collecting, and grading assignments. Through a combination of Gmail, Drive, and Docs, grading and feedback is done in real-time. That means you spend less time grading in solitude and more time actually teaching your students.

When Google Classroom launched in 2014, it was backed by feedback and insight from thousands of educators ranging from grade school to college. It was quickly discovered that paperwork headaches could be alleviated by Classroom technology, and the rest is history.

2. Cultivating Collaboration with Google Classroom

We used the word “revolution” earlier, and for good reason. Talk to any educator about how collaborative tools like Google Docs and Google Drive have changed their classroom and it’s one of the first words out of their mouths. Take writing, for example. The way students create and the way they review each other’s work has completely changed.

Tips to spark collaboration between students

 

  1. Throw a bad idea out there. If you ask a group of office workers where they want to go for lunch, they’ll usually stay quiet. But if you suggest McDonald’s, they suddenly come alive with other meal options. Kids and adults are equally afraid of embarrassing themselves in front of their peers, but if you swallow your pride and shout out your bad idea, they’ll quickly come up with better ones now that the embarrassment is out of the way. This also reinforces the notion that there are no bad ideas in brainstorming, because the bad ideas eventually lead to good ones.

 

  1. Use Google Docs’ real-time editing to facilitate teamwork. Docs is perfect for getting a ton of ideas on paper in a hurry while ping-ponging thoughts back and forth in real time. Your students could play Title & Logline, where one student thinks up the name of a book or movie and the other student gives a one-sentence summary of it, or Name & Trait, where one student names a character and the other student gives a character trait.

 

  1. As the teacher, remember both sides of the coin. Keep your students on task but encourage them to go wild and embrace any idea. Give them their space, but if they’re stuck, feel free to jump in and get the ball rolling again. The dynamics of student groups change constantly, so be ready to adapt and trust your educational instincts.

 

It’s obvious that digital tools help students team up and improve their skills together, but arguably more important is the teacher-student collaboration that Docs and Drive foster so effortlessly. Make no mistake. You are the one your students will collaborate with more than any other. When you provide your feedback electronically within an electronic document instead of via red pen, your students have actionable, clear, and legible advice.

 

Tip for assigning group work in Google Classroom:

Google has a relatively new feature called Individual Assignments, and you can use it to easily create group projects. Once you create an assignment, simply click and deselect the “All Students” dropdown, then manually select the students who should receive the assignment. Not only can you do this for assignments, but questions and announcements as well. Hooray for collaboration!

 

Bonus tip: How you name those group assignments, questions, and announcements is key. Add detail to make the various groups perfectly clear to both to you and your students.

3. Essential Chrome Extensions for Google Classroom

Chrome is the most popular Internet browser in the country thanks to its Google backing, but don’t discount the appeal of extensions. One of the most powerful innovations of Chrome is customizing the experience through extensions. But in education, some are better than others.

Here’s a quick list of our recommendations.

  1. AdBlock – The most popular Chrome extension for a reason. Ads take up valuable class time, and they easily distract from the subject at hand. AdBlock snuffs out display and video ads all over the Web, including on YouTube. It means less revenue for the websites who run ads, but it also means more focus for your class and more time saved for you.

  2. Screencastify – An intuitive screen recorder. Capture, edit, and share videos instantly.

  3. Kami –  100% compatible with Google Classroom, so that’s a plus. Kami lets you annotate and mark-up online documents and PDFs with ease.

  4. Snap&Read and Co:Writer – You probably figured these two would be on the list. Both Snap&Read and Co:Writer partner with Google tools to foster breakthrough learning in your classroom. In fact, these two extensions deserve their own section.

4. A Better Way to Learn with Snap&Read and Co:Writer

Snap&Read is the ultimate reading wingman, and Co:Writer is a writing psychic and sidekick. The two do different things, but both do something essential: They simplify the complex.

Whether a student reads below grade level, struggles with recall and organization, or is trying to master the English language, Snap&Read can help.

It reads text aloud, simplifies vocabulary, and translates text—anywhere online! Doesn’t matter if it’s website text, a PDF, Flash-based text, Google Doc, or an ebook. Snap&Read makes it easier to comprehend and learn.

Animation shows Snap and Read read aloud ability
Co:Writer pull down menu. Turn on speak feature

And Co:Writer? It unlocks the words that lead to true creative expression by predicting, displaying, and reading what students might want to write next. With over four million topic-specific dictionaries, the predictive text is smart, relevant, and endlessly helpful. Words don’t always come easily to students, but with Co:Writer, it’s a different story.

You can try both Snap&Read and Co:Writer for free. Give our next generation reading and writing tools a try and see what you think.

 

Article written by: Luke Trayser