Software Review: Google Classroom

Guest post by Andrew from Match Next

Here’s a problem we haven’t really solved yet: 

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When we want to get kids reading, the easiest and best thing is: a book (sometimes on a Kindle, sometimes paper), a set of comprehension questions, and writing tasks.

The questions and writing tasks we give students are put into a packet, printed, copied, then handed out. We haven’t found anything online that’s been consistently better than what we can produce ourselves. There are a few gems here and there and some pockets of good stuff, but no materials that would provide an entire year’s worth of stuff with all the books, questions, and writing tasks packaged together in one place for us to easily use. So, we end up creating most things ourselves, picking and choosing and borrowing and tweaking everything we use in our classes. 

We’re just at the beginning of really trying to digitize all these question and writing tasks. Previously, kids were so slow at typing that it was more efficient to just have them write by hand to fill out the packets rather than type out their answers. Now, just about every kid is a faster typer than writer. So we’re experimenting with putting our literacy classwork onto Google Classroom.

So what is Google Classroom and how do we rate it?

It’s a program that helps classrooms go paperless. Teachers can use it to distribute and grade assignments, send digital resources like links to videos or websites, and make announcements by posting messages to students. 

I’d rate it a 7 out of 10. We’re just starting to assign work for kids to do digitally. So far, it’s done ~80% of what we want it to. It’s very early, though, so I may revise my opinion as we use it more. 

So what’re we doing with it?

Right now, we’re probably only using like 50% of what Google Classroom has to offer. Here’s how we use it:

  1. Create a worksheet/packet using Google Docs, and put it on Google Classroom. 
  2. “Assign it” to every student using Google Classroom. You can have the program provide each student with their own version of the worksheet/packet to work on. More details on this later. 
  3. Students work on the assignment directly on the Google Doc. We can see everything the kid does on the doc, and we never worry about losing it because it’s all stored on Google Drive. 

The other 50% of features we’re not using now may come in handy for us in the future. 

There’s a “turn in” option we haven’t really tested. Students can “submit” the assignment, and you can see what total number of assignments you’ve “collected.” There’s also a nifty grading feature, where you can use to give grades directly on Google Classroom. These go directly into a spreadsheet that collects all the data. 

What each step actually looks like

1.  Creating the worksheet/packet

You create whatever assignment you want your students to complete using Google Docs. For our trial one, we made a packet of questions for our students to answer about the fiction novel they’re currently reading, Esperanza Rising. Here’s what a section of that packet looked like:

2.  Assign it on Google Classroom

You do this on the Google Classroom page for your class. You just give it a name and due date, choose the packet you want them working on, then assign it. Here’s what the page looks like: 

3.  Students get to work

Students complete the assignment directly on Google Docs. We typed the questions in blue font, and told kids they needed to type the answers directly in empty box below the question (more on this later). Here’s an example of what a student did for one part of a packet we assigned: 


So where is everything stored?

All the documents live in the cloud. Specifically, in Google Drive. 
When you sign up for Google Classroom and create a class, the program will automatically create a folder (called “Classroom”) in your Google Drive where all your documents are stored. Here’s what that looks like:

 

Inside the “Classroom” folder, each assignment is given a folder where all your students’ responses live for that particular assignment. If you gave each student a copy of the assignment, then you’ll see one file for each student. Here’s an example of that:


You can access each kid’s file, made edits, suggestions, changes, etc. You can also change the settings so that a student can stop having editing capabilities. 


The good

If used right, no more paper. Seriously. No more having to print and make copies, no more having to hand out papers in a class, and no more worrying about losing students’ work. 

Another bonus for us has been giving students more of an opportunity to take ownership of the work. By putting everything online, including resources and other relevant documents, there’s less of a need for an adult in the room running the whole show. Like I said earlier, though, more on this in a later blog. 


The bad

One big problem with the program. When you create an assignment and allow students to edit it, they can edit every single part of the assignment. Meaning, they can even delete the questions they need to answer. Even if a kid isn’t doing this on purpose, any accidental deletions could cause serious headaches. Google needs to find a way for teachers to create a document with parts students cannot edit, and parts they can edit. 

We tried a pretty simple workaround. It’s by no means fool-proof, but it’s worked out so far okay. We just do our best to make it so clear what is a question, and what is a space for answer that question. Here’s a piece of the Esperanza Rising assignment we made for them. Questions are in bold blue letters, and they need to type their responses in the boxes only: 


We’re just starting to use this and it’s gone well so far. My guess is that we’ll get hooked and start transferring all of our classwork onto Google Classroom as possible. But I’ve thought that about tech products before, and three months in we stop using it. I’ll let you know how this one shakes out. 
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if you’d like to talk shop: andrew.jeong@matcheducation.org