Monday, February 24, 2014

Google Drive - a Teacher's Experience

     During the first quarter of this school year, I kept my grades in an Excel file on a USB Flash drive. I made some copies on my hard-drive, but at one point I became complacent, and only saved on the USB drive. I was given a Macbook Pro to use, as part of the Technology program at my school. One day, I unplugged the USB drive while the computer was sleeping (without  closing out of the drive first). Quite a few of the USB files, including the ones I had been saving grades on became corrupted, and I could not access them again. Fortunately, I did not lose all of my grades.
    Meanwhile, I had begun using my district provided Gmail account exclusively. I also began using Google Drive, especially for students Specifically, I had students type up documents on their district-provided Google drive accounts, so that I did not have to teach them how to Save files and retrieve them. I like that Google automatically saved the students' work. Plus, I could see and retrieve the "Revision History" for students' work. I had one student who was really upset (in tears), because he could not find his file. Fortunately, he typed it in Google drive, and everything was found and restored.
   At the end of the first quarter, I decided to start saving my grades on Google drive, in a spreadsheet. It has done all of the math that I would expect from an Excel file. The great thing is, I don't have to worry about corrupted files or losing work. There was one day when Google experienced some outages, but none of my documents were affected.
   Overall, I have really enjoyed using Google Drive this year. I have expanded to incorporate 2 scripts that make using Drive as a teacher ever easier, and more manageable: gClassFolders and Doctopus. I can create assignments for students (similar to making copies for each student). Plus, any file students create in their Assignment folder is automatically shared with me.
   The people who enjoy Google Drive even more than I have, is my students. They want to type up their writing. They treat the Comment feature as Chat, which is neat for me, as I can monitor these statements. A few of my students have discovered the Presentations aspect of Google of their own.
   Now, I am beginning to thinking of sharing the action based research I have been doing about Spelling Tests. I am thinking that it's time for me to check out Google Drive Presentations for this. Maybe I need to have my students teach me how to use this :).
   I am going to see if Google Spreadsheets have the ability to create Frequency Tables and Line Plots to share the data I've collected. I'm off to check that out...

Spelling Research Update

     By Christmas break, I realized students were not increasing their spelling levels simply by studying words without the pressure of a weekly spelling test. My research showed that students were actually beginning to LOSE spelling skills that they had previously mastered- misspelling words they had previously gotten right. Something needed to change. I did not want to continue my research, or lack of spelling tests, as I began to feel this was detrimental to the students' learning.
    At the same time, I was beginning to lose faith in the Words Their Way Spelling program. I like the concept overall of sorting words and teaching students spelling patterns. However, I think when I grouped students according to their spelling ability, I was putting the students who were my most struggling spellers at a disadvantage, because I was not exposing them to grade-level words. Instead, this "smacked of tracking." The students who came in low would continue to be lower than their counterparts, even if they were exposed to spelling patterns and even if they improved their personal best score.
   I decided to implement Spelling pre-tests and post-tests using lists provided in the Storytown curriculum. One thing I like about the Storytown curriculum is that it does group the words by pattern, and includes a sorting activity each week. For about a month now, I have been doing the pre-tests and post-tests, but I have not been doing the sorting activity. I have been integrating the use of Spelling City for about half an hour each week as well.
   Already, I can see an increase in my students' spelling abilities, between the pre-test and post-test each week. The first week I implemented a pre-test, one of my students came up to me crying because she missed 22 words, out of 25. I encouraged her and said that if she studied, by the end of the week, she would get the words all right. It's been almost two months now, and that same student just got 24 out of 25 words right on the recent post-test. She is invested in studying the words for homework, and it is paying off in her spelling in context as well.
   A few of the parents were really excited when I said I was not doing weekly spelling tests. Others were wary of the idea and had their children take spelling tests at home as part of their homework assignment. My biggest revelation is that students who consistently do their homework and have supportive parents pushing them, achieve better spelling scores and perform better in school overall.
Alas, not all of our students come from supportive homes, therefore we must push them as teachers.
   That is another change I have implemented in the last two months- students who do not complete their spelling homework for the previous week must stay in from recess and write the NEW spelling words 3 times each. Holding students accountable is a priority in helping them succeed.