Over these first two years of my teaching career, I’ve devoted a lot of my time to Google Classroom. Looking back at the time I spent unit and lesson planning as an undergrad, it’s a wonder I ever planned anything that didn’t involve the platform. I’ve vouched for the awesomeness of Classroom at conferences and workshops and just in casual technology chit chat, but it wasn’t until a few days ago I realized the reason behind my commitment. Google Classroom is my physical classroom.
As a special education teacher, I’m aware of the classroom issues that this area of education faces. More specifically, the lack of your own physical space. As special educators, we’re likely to share rooms (sometimes with 3 other people: shout out to my awesome roommates). For me, I’m fortunate that my resource room periods are taught within my home space, the room where my desk is located. For others, who organize their classroom on a cart, it’s not so easy.
The act of shifting teachers in an out of a room can be difficult. It means setting up desks in a neutral position for the different teaching personas of the people in your room. It means you can’t write down your day’s agenda, Do Nows, or homework assignments on the board. Even things like greeting students at the door as they enter can be taken for granted because you’re racing around the school. I’m thankful for the days I arrive a second before the final bell rings.
But Google Classroom changed that. It provided me with a digital space to act as my physical classroom.
No Physical Classroom Problem: Can’t Leave Work on the Board
For awhile I was obsessed with those creative and interesting Do-Now or Start Up activities. The ones where the teacher draws a design and pictures on the board and prompts the students to get thinking as soon as they walk into the room---but in a nontraditional way. I love the ones like “Way back Wednesday: What’s your favorite thing we’ve done so far this year.” They’re adorable but hard to do when you don’t have a board to draw on in the morning.
Google Classroom Solution: Digital Warm-Ups
Either I have something ready to go as soon as the students enter the room, or the rest of the period is total chaos. The problem is I’m not there to get them started. I needed a solution or a way for me to be there without really being there. So, I started using daily warm-ups, or daily challenges, to give the students something to do...on the computer. My class was expected to come in, get on a laptop, and complete the question or activity on Google Classroom, even if I wasn’t in the room yet. Last year it really took off and became a part of our daily procedure.
No Physical Classroom Problem: Minimal Classroom Resources
When you’re on a cart, or share a room, you’re limited in terms of space. You can’t have a section of the room where students look for absent work or a place to write down the homework. And sure, you can make some accommodations, like how I hung a whiteboard near the clock on our classroom wall to put my daily objective and homework assignments, but it doesn’t take away the fact that there are things in the room you will not have. And for the teachers in more than one classroom, this issue is even more apparent.
Google Classroom Solution: About Section
The About section of each Google Classroom is a fantastic--yet often underutilized--feature. I remember the first time I asked my students to refer to it at the beginning of this year. I was met with a lot of “I didn’t even know this existed!” But it’s actually proven to be very useful for classroom procedures as a replacement for physical classroom space. For my gamified classes, it’s their place to check out the leaderboard, look at their gaming profiles and badges, and track their badge opportunities. It’s where they sign out books from the classroom library. It’s also where they find links, attachments, and templates for things we always use. Anything I’d put around the room for frequent easy access is automatically uploaded into this section. And the students know exactly where to go. Furthermore, as far as the “absentee area” goes, Google Classroom’s stream itself is where my students go to find all the work they’ve missed.
No Physical Classroom Problem: Cleaning Up After Class
Running off when the students do (or a few minutes after) means there’s not much time to disassemble things, tidy up papers, and put things back in order before leaving for your next class. When you’re using someone else’s room, you’re rushing to put things back the way you found them and if you’re one of those teachers that’s into flexible seating and collaboration (like me), you have to stop class earlier than usual to bring the desk back to functional order. In that panic of moving and running, things get lost. Papers get jammed into my bag and things likely get lost in the shuffle.
Google Classroom Solution: Log Off the Computer
It could also be a valid argument for going digital-- nothing to clean up. Essentially with Google Classroom, you close that laptop and you’re all set. There’s no papers to collect. No worrying if I misplaced any student work as I leave the room. Everything is saved neatly in my Google Classroom for that class period and there’s absolutely no chance of misplacing it. I hear there’s a great art to organizing a cart: developing specific places for different resources and materials. But with Google Classroom, the organization is already done for you.
No Physical Classroom Problem: Losing Positive Environment and Atmosphere
Let’s face it. One of the most important aspects of the classroom is the atmosphere. Without a teacher’s touch, a classroom is just bare walls and empty desks. It takes a teacher to put decorations on the walls and create an accepting environment. But the problem persists: if it’s not your room, how do you make it your own? How can you get the class to mimic your teaching style? How can you get the students to feel comfortable and relaxed?
Google Classroom Solution: Create a Welcoming Space
The immediate assumption about your Google Classroom is that it has to be cold and unfeeling. “It’s just a place to distribute assignments and share resources, right?” No. It can be colorful and exciting and embracing. A movement has been going around where people make their class header a picture of their students or even one “Student of the Week” each week of the year. That within itself creates a welcoming image. I like to mix up the academic work with personal accomplishments and praise. A Do Now question doesn’t have to be academic. It can simply be a chance for students to share what they did over the long weekend and then comment on each other’s posts. I post exceptional student work and give them praise for their accomplishment. Other students will chime in and add a comment praising the student, too. You’d be surprised how much students like to give each other positive feedback. In ELA it can be so “negative” with revisions that it gives the students the chance to genuinely be proud of each other. This allows your Google Classroom to have a positive feel, where students feel comfortable making mistakes and learning from them or where they embrace taking risks. If a particular student earns a special badge, I’ll post the badge as an announcement and celebrate the student. In addition, now that Google Classroom has the differentiation component, I can push out individual praise to each and every student. I can pop on their stream on a random day with a little motivator if they’re having a rough time with something. It’s personal, it’s private but it promotes the idea of a positive learning space...all without decorations on the walls.
Although it goes without saying, it takes a teacher to build a classroom, not technology. But it definitely doesn’t hurt to have Google Classroom on my side to act as my physical space when I need it.