Essential Virtual Tools for ELA Teachers
Updated: Jul 5, 2021
Many schools will start remote learning this fall, and everyone is scrambling to find the best and easiest tools to make life easier. I know my daughters and son will be home as well, so I’ll need to use my time efficiently. I created an online lecture in my course PD for Secondary ELA Teachers that will talk about some of the following tools on a screen recording. Also, here's a free unit on James Joyce's collection of short stories, Dubliners. The text is online if your students don't have another novel to read, and the stories are very short, so they're easy to cover.
Text and Images
Most online classrooms, including Google and Microsoft, allow students to submit text and files privately or publicly to their classmates. Google documents and online presentations allow individual students, groups of students, or an entire class to work together. A single Google Slides presentation shared with the entire class allows students to insert audio or video files that explain their interpretation to the rest of the class (you can also record a video for one slide). Google drawings allow students (individually or as a class) to create graphic organizers with quotes and interpretation. Be sure to enlarge the file (go to file - page setup) so that students have enough space to work. Students can conduct close readings of a passage with annotations by copying the text (if it’s online) into a shared document. My students love Canva too. TurnItIn allows you to provide feedback on formal essays, and allows teachers to provide audio feedback, similar to a conference. I plan on allowing them to upload more creative assignments done by hand by uploading a picture they take with their phone.
It’s also super easy for students and teachers to record and upload an audio recording using their phone or computer. Airdrop or Bluetooth allows instant downloading from your phone (Voice Memos on iPhone or Voice Recorder) to your computer and then to your website. For many assignments, I’ll allow students to either post a typed paragraph or a one- or two-minute audio recording. This imitates a real classroom where students raise their hand to speak or work in groups or pairs to speak to each other one on one. I will assign a simple podcast, where a student can interview a family member or friend. Podcasts can also replace traditional essays or informational texts. For one of my first assignments next week, I recorded an introduction to the two novels we just started and then read and interpreted a few important passages like I normally would in class. I’m trying to remember to crack jokes and be myself. Also, the Mote extension for Chrome allows you to upload an audio comment on shared Google documents and in Google Classroom. Pear Deck allows students to submit a response to a question on a Google slide.
Screen recordings are the next step up. Using QuickTime or other screen recorders allows you to open a video of yourself and then walk your students through a PowerPoint or handout. You can also create a screen recording using just your voice. These files can be large, even if they’re only ten minutes long, so reduce the resolution when you save or export the file, but don’t reduce it if you have a normal Word document or small text. You can upload the file to your Google Drive or One Drive account to clear up space on your computer and share the file or upload it to YouTube (with a private link) so your students don’t need to download the file. YouTube videos can't be longer than 15 minutes long. Don’t forget that you could encourage them to call each other on the phone. You may also use your phone as a document camera by connecting it to your computer and opening QuickTime. I will most likely print out poems and create marginal notes in a screen recording this way.
There's live video chats - Microsoft Teams, Google hangouts, Zoom and (not live) FlipGrid. Live video chats might be hard, especially if students have to share a computer with their siblings (or parents working from home) or don’t have a great space in their house to meet online because they share a room. I tried a live Google hangouts chat recently, and it was very easy. They allow you to share your screen with your students and record the entire conversation in case some students can't make it. The file of the recording automatically downloads to your Google drive, so you can easily share the link. With Google Meet, students can also meet in groups online on their own, without you there. They can record the video conversation and then share the link with you. Just like in class, you can pop in to see what they're discussing without sitting through the entire conversation.
I will still assign my video essay assignment where seniors talk about how it feels to graduate using WeVideo. I know science teachers who use Doceri and I just used Google Jamboard for screen recordings with marginal notes. In Jamboard, you need to convert the text from Word to a .pdf to a .jpeg file. I created a screencast using QuickTime so I could go back and forth from highlighting the text to a video of me speaking. You can edit .pdfs with PDF Candy.
I keep one calendar in a Google document with simple directions for each day. These directions tell students where they can find the assignment (with lengthier directions attached and a recording of my voice) and when it's due,
I’m trying to remember that not everything in reality, like a class discussion, gets a grade. My rule of thumb: if I don't have the time to grade it, I'm probably assigning too much work. We still want to spend most of our time lesson planning and teaching, not grading. I'm also planning a "just for fun" section of my webpage with links to podcasts, articles, Motion Poems, American Portrait, and Poetry Foundation.
I recently listened to a 7-minute audio recording from one of my students that compared a few passages in Great Expectations to an episode from the podcast Serial, Season 3. That's the kind of thing that might not happen in class because a student might be shy, or not comfortable enough to speak for that long in front of their peers. I'm sad to be away from the classroom, but I get so excited when something like that happens. Good luck, we'll all need it!
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