This year we started with our campus-wide adoption of Enterprise Level Schoology. We’ve done a great job at providing our teachers with a wide range of professional development options–both during the school day through department and faculty meetings, as well as after school trainings–to get the basics of how to operate the Schoology platform.

Teachers know how to login, navigate to different pages, create pages, assignments, quizzes, rubrics.

Yet, it feels like in many ways we’re still falling short. Teachers struggle to apply. We hear, “I know how to do it, but I don’t know how to do it in my classroom.” In speaking with my technology-integration colleagues, we know that we have to emphasize how to organize courses.

One of the challenges of using a tool like Schoology is that the approach to use is highly individualized. Users have to consider their teaching styles, a plan for how they’ll use Schoology, their level of technology access (1-to-1, computer-labs and carts, nothing). Working from the answers to these questions, then they can think about how Schoology will best work for them.

Below, I’ve outlined three broad-stroke ways that a teacher might use Schoology, and begin to organize their course content.  After several years of experience, there are three models that I’d suggest for people.

Use the LMS as a replacement for your webpage

Some of the uninitiated into the potentials of learning management systems, such as Schoology, ask “Is this something that I really need to use?” or “How would I make use of this?”

Have you ever had a kid say, ‘I can’t find that assignment?” or ‘Do you have an extra copy of that worksheet?’ Or, have you ever had a parent ask to be kept updated on your course, or ask for copies of materials to be made available? It’s for these reasons that using Schoology makes sense.

In most schools, districts provide platforms for teachers to have a webpage or web-presence. On these pages teachers typically provide copies of files, resources to access, perhaps a calendar of due dates for parents, links to your syllabus. It’s primarily, then, an information driven resource so that the public and those you serve, have materials they need to be successful. Once those materials are put on the web, students and parents have access to them.

In this model, teachers will use Schoology as a home-base for resources. Either by using pages or attaching files, the coursework  is now available to students whenever they have web-access. When students ask for a copy of a misplaced worksheet or parents ask to have access to assignments so that they can help at home, they can be pointed to your Schoology course.

This is a great option for teachers and schools that don’t have 1-to-1 access to technology or some other limited form of technology access. Additionally, teachers who use a lot of direct instruction and maintain a traditional, teacher-centered approach to their classrooms, will still gain a lot of power of the Schoology platform.

Use the LMS to parallel your classes.

For most teachers, this is the way that Schoology will have the most power and value in their instruction.

Let’s say that your classroom looks similar to the following description: You’ve set up routines with your students where they come to class and do some kind of warm-up for the day while you are taking attendance or checking homework, then move into a vocabulary session, and then the lesson for the day.

In this model, use Schoology to follow along with your lesson. Create a warm-up folder that students know to access. Get them in the routine of accessing this folder when they come to class, organize that folder by date or some system. Or, using the tools in Schoology, turn warm-ups on and off as they are needed.

Have a folder for vocabulary or homework check. And then have folders for the units you are teaching. Turn the folder on for access while you are in the unit and off when you’ve finished it.

Use the LMS as a complete blended-learning environment

I don’t work in a 1-to-1 environment, yet. However, I’ve got my units and projects planned so that I know when I’m going to be in need of computers, so I sign-out the computer labs. Each of my projects is broken down into a series of steps. I place these steps as either assignments or pages (a discussion of how and why I do this can happen at another time). All I then have to do with my students is tell them what steps they should be working on during class. I might say, “By Friday, you’ll need to be through step number three,” or “Today you should finish step number 2.” You’ll see from the pictures below, not only am I organizing by step, I’m also explicit in my instructions about what to do and how to proceed through the unit, how they can show completion of the steps.

I have used Schoology’s “Completion Rules” on the folders, and this is a helpful tool to keep track of student progress, as well as keeping students moving through the unit in a way that helps them to consume course content in a manageable and purposeful fashion.

Below, I have an example of the step and its directions. For each step, explicit directions tell students how to complete the step and if any submission is required.

Another example of directions and submission requirements.

You’ll see in the image above, I’ve got each of the steps set as assignments. This way, the assignments show up in the calendar and in the “upcoming” list of to-dos. Also, each assignment acts as a check point or piece of formative assessment.

Regardless of the model you might embrace, here are some standard practices that will make it easier for your students and your parents to navigate your course:

  1. Organize materials into folders, label the folders, and if possible, as it is in Schoology, color-code the folders.
  2. Number the materials inside of the folder.
  3. Meta-teach. Instruct your students on how you’ve organized, and how you want them to use Schoology in your course. The way you do this will change, and that’s not a bad thing, but organic to teaching and learning Schoology. If you change the way that you do it, just tell your students.
  4. Because many of my assignments incorporate choice in both the kinds of products that students can create, as well as the modes of creation–text-based, audio, video, image–I have page of resources that students can access for digital making. Such a page allows students to gain access to tools such as Adobe Spark, Canva, Screencastify as resources for.

I’ll be honest, making the jump to working in Schoology is a commitment. You have to get your stuff there, and then make kids access what you’ve put there. For me, getting to this point has been a multi-year process. Most of what I’ve shared above has come through trial and error, experience, and really listening to my students. 

I full expect that next year, in a 1-to-1 environment, pushing my teaching to further work with blended learning, having students be able to access materials from their Chromebooks all the time, as well as having parents have access will continue to allow my work with Schoology to evolve.

Infographics: One Genre with Multiple Uses in the Writing Classroom

A year ago, I wrote a blog on my first foray into having students create infographics in one of my courses, and the benefits of those texts as part of synthesizing sources before writing longer, source-based essays.

A year later, I’m back in and kicking it to the next level. Since then, I’m coming back having done some further reading and work on teaching this text. In terms of research to prepare for this, here’s what I read:

In these sources, the authors put forth a convincing case for the power of using infographics for their malleability to a variety of writing situations and purposes. I would highly recommend them, and I say this as I am quickly shredding my copies from overuse.

Back to English 101:

For several weeks, students are reading and watching sources on food systems in the United States in preparation for writing an essay with the purpose of informing. I use the infographic as one step in a process–it brings students to synthesize their sources around a focused topic.

Returning to this assignment for the second year, I made several upgrades to the assignment. First, students would ultimately produce these digitally. Second, I used our LMS, Schoology, to create a page of resources and suggested process for my students.

On this page, I included a mentor study with accompanying texts, Youtube videos on design principles and using PowerPoint to create these texts, as well as links to other free web tools for designing. The page breaks the creation of the infographic into (suggested) discrete steps, with check-in points at each stage so I could monitor student progress. I made a significant design change to this page, which I’ll discuss later.

screenshot-2016-12-15-at-12-16-51-pm
My Schoology page for Infographics

 

We spent a little less than a week working through the creation of these texts. Here are some of the products:

infographics

illegal-immigration-

101obesity-101

Moving on:

I was pretty pleased with the assignment, the process I laid out, the resources students were accessing to help them.

I decided to assign this as a task in my elective, Media Maker, as one part of an unit on the Role of Technology in education. Students had already written blogs on their ideas of the value of on-line classes and coursework, engaged in creating various media texts on this subject. However, I wanted them to keep going, and to have them re-purpose their largely text-based writing into new a new form. The infographic would push them to think about how to convey information visually.

However, in this class, students got quickly lost in the steps laid out on my Schoology page. Quick fix: I turned each step into an assignment in Schoology, with something concrete to submit. I also added one element to the student assignment. Because we’re a class that functions completely digitally, we created survey questions, and used student’s social media to distribute the questions, collect responses, and create drafts of the graphics in Google Slides.

What I’m seeing in working with infographics as a student-produced text is that we can use them at any part of a writing process. They can be a formative tool used to synthesize information before turned to more in-depth, formal essays. Or, we can really see them as a valid summative assessment tool that students produce at the end of research, or a way for students to repurpose or re-genre their work.

 

 

Schoology: The First Two Weeks

I was inspired to write this post after reading Rich Colosi’s blog article, “Six Tips for Starting Your Schoology Course.” For those who are new to using a Learning Management System (LMS), such as Schoology, you’ll find his tips on getting your classes set up and running helpful. Also, people should read Dylan Rodger’s blog, which offers solid ways that units can be organized. You may find it helpful to read these article before continuing into this post.

This is at least my third year starting with an LMS; however, it’s a first for me to be a paid subscriber and to have the full Enterprise version of Schoology with the capability to be used by all students and teachers at Canandaigua Academy. While the set up of my classes wasn’t impacted by this, the results long-term impacts of this integration building wide are, for me,

I’ve found that setting up my classes in Schoology isn’t a whole lot different from the moves that I make when setting up a regular classroom. It takes some planning foresight, logical organization, and a committment to creating working long-term program.

Here are some things that I do:

  1. Build it and they will come. It’s important that when bringing students to an LMS, there has to be content there for them to work with, and there’s purpose for why students are there. Make sure you have either a calendar populated, folders with course content in them, even if it’s as repository system, an assignment to turn in, a quiz to take, a discussion to contribute to.

Without it, where’s the rationale for using the tool. So, it means that the teacher needs to have  some reasons to use Schoology. What I recommend is to pick one way that you can use it, do it, and then add other purposes as the year goes on.

2. Like what Colossi suggests, organize by folders and create a numbering system. Can’t agree more. However, content is organized, work to give students a guide. When I go into Schoology the first time with my students, we open the folder for the first unit, I direct them to the first page in the folder. It’s a unit plan or outline to follow, and each item in the unit is given a task, goal or quest number. See below:

screenshot-2016-09-18-at-7-54-13-am

Each of these items is then linked to the assignment, video, link that they need to accomplish. What I’ve found is that students can independently move through the tasks, I can assist where necessary, as well as give target dates on where they should be in the module, and spend class time in conferences with students. An ordering system like this also makes it easy for kids who weren’t in class to figure out what they need to accomplish.

While I don’t share it here with students, simply to try to keep it streamlined, I have each of these tasks linked to a Common Core standard.

3. No substitutions. One of my fears when starting to use a LMS was that students would have problems with the technology or wouldn’t be able to find materials, or that they just wouldn’t work. When students came to me and said, ” I couldn’t find this,” or “It didn’t work,” I was pretty accommodating and took things in paper, made extra paper copies, and allowed excuses.

As I’ve grown more comfortable, I’ve stopped that enabling. Once it’s made clear that this is the mode by which business will be conducted, these problems disappear. Teachers shouldn’t have to apologize for their planning, how they give resources, or the integration of technology into the classroom. Additionally, at all levels we need to stop rationalizing, privileging and normalizing the idea that “Computers don’t like me.”

4. Model. With the above in mind, I realized that anything I wanted to do in Schoology, I had to teach and model. Once I showed them how to submit an assignment, I knew they could do it, and then there were no excuses. We do this with other things, so why not with this? Link students with the Schoology help menu, which is rich in resources for how to do things. Teaching students to use help menus is a valuable skill in terms of self-reliance in a 21st century world.

5. Reward. In trying to gamify the first module in one of my courses, I reward students with 24 hour extensions for completing groups of tasks, which I call levels. This has been an inexpensive means to reinforce routines, procedures and tools that we’ll be using. Kids want the small tokens I give them and the badges I developed. Schoology let me monitor and keep this system organized.

My strategy in working with cool new tools and strategies has always been to jump in and see what happens. After the class ends, assess the fall-out and then make it better. If you take this approach, and you’re jumping into Schoology, just keep going, building, and making it better for you and your students.

For those who move with more caution, then, consider the above, and then just start, go slow, figure out how it will work for you.

Either way, keep going and making the classroom better for you and your students.