cross-posted at cheryloakes.com
Recently, I was asked
about how I was using Google apps with students who have special needs. I
thought about it and decided to document what I have seen this
year.(Shout out to Penny in Australia, for her question.) I am teaching
in a high school, using google apps with students who have a difficult
time completing classroom assignments, organizational challenges and missing paper
By using Google docs,
spreadsheets and presentation applications, my students always have
evidence that they have turned in their work because they can always
share the items with their teachers. This may not seem like a huge
learning expectation, but I can tell you that at least 50% of student
worksheets are completed, yet they find their way to the bottom of the
backpack and, without an adult intervening, the work is not turned in
and graded. (Note to self and others, put your work assignments in a
collaborative google document and your students are more likely to
complete and turn them in for grading.)
The best part about
using Google apps with special needs students, for me, has to be
collaborative editing of student work. When a student gets an
assignment, the first thing that happens is that the student begins the
document, presentation or spreadsheet and immediately shares the work
with a teacher. Within moments of receiving the email notification for
the shared item, I reply to the student and begin my coaching. I like to
comment on the title, the thesis or question that the students start
with, I ask about the due date, the rubric and then begin breaking the
assignment down, differentiating for each student.
I like using the
revision history and sharing this option with the student. This is where
we have a discussion about work expectations and the ability to see how
much time the student has put into the work. This is going to be an
important part of work and employment accountability in the future and
thus a life long skill.
So far, the information I have shared could
be used with all students. However, the editing part of google apps is
the best and most meaningful part for special needs learners. When
students share their document with a teacher, the editing part can
become a very creative and meaningful process. Often I use the insert
menu and the drop down comment tool.This allows me to leave a place mark
in the body of the document, while leaving an entire comment off to the
side of the document. Using this process I can leave suggestions,
comments, and notes for the student to improve the existing paper. The
student then has the option to reply to me in the comments, or to delete
the comment when the “fix” has been completed. I use the insert
comment, I can highlight, change the color of text and otherwise be
creative with edits and suggestions. No longer do the edited comments
need to stay in the red mode. I can use colors, fonts, bold, italics
and more to set the text aside for instructional purposes. The best
part, none of my students have reacted badly to the edits in their
work. It almost seems like with the comments as part of the documents,
the student focuses more on fixing the edits as a next step in the
process, rather than an attack on their ego, their writing or their
learning, or even that this is additional work when addressing the
Often, I will sit side
by side with the student as they work. We are logged into two different
computers, and both have the document or presentation up on our
screens. We can be working on different parts of the assignment.This
helps to demonstrate that we can work together in the same room or miles
apart. As soon as an edit is posted, the student gets to work and I
keep processing the rest of the paper. I have edited with students in
the same room, same building, same town and even miles away when I went
to a conference and the student was back at school. An added advantage
is that I am able to edit any time or place when my students use google
apps and the sharing tools. We don’t have to wait until the next day
when the student is available to come work during support study.
Finally, working with
google apps is an efficient way to collaborate with all students, the
benefits of doing this work with challenged learners is that the
coaching and support happens without the judging that some students feel
when working face to face with their teachers on their written
assignments. Below is an example of an edited assignment recently turned
in for World Studies.
I know this is an effective way to work with
students since a few of my students open a document and begin sharing
before they begin writing. Here are some important steps I follow.
Share your successes
here in the comments!
- Start with a school
google account for teachers and students.
- Give assignments in
shared google docs, presentations or spreadsheets.
- Begin coaching during
the editing process of the assignments.
- Always leave
instructional comments for the students to act on.
- Always leave comments
about parts of the assignment that you like.
- Be the cheerleader!
Cheer that student on towards success!