Google Groups, How I Love Thee (as a Teaching Tool)

Sometimes as teachers you have those days where you wonder what in the hell just happened.

You teach a lesson to one class.

It goes well.

You teach the lesson to another class…

and it completely falls apart.

Then, as you sigh, gather your materials from the day, try to contain the frustration/exhaustion/elation at the moments that did go well,  the reflection begins.

Why is it that the same EXACT lesson can have such different results? Is it the time of day (I always hate having to teach right after lunch, for example), the personalities in the class, or just The Mighty Hormones raging?

With the classes I teach this year it’s an easy answer: one class has a larger English Language Learner population and more struggling readers than the other. Thus, I need to differentiate in different ways for the two classes (i.e., ability level vs. interest).

In one of my English classes, kids were struggling to identify if the main character was a male or a female. They had fundamental questions about the setting, the plot, and how the characters were related.

They had so many questions it concerned me because this is my first time teaching a book where some of the text is read in class while other parts are assigned for homework.

Why? It’s the first school I’ve worked at where there are enough books for all the students to take home and read. In the past, we had to read everything in class because there simply wasn’t enough to go around.

Yet how was I supposed to increase classroom discussion about a text (versus class reading of a text) if students could not understand the text without me nearby to explain confusing (which is a relative word in and of itself) passages to them?

The answer resides in a Google Group. I started this group so that kids could post questions and complete Kylene Beers’ Say Something during-reading strategy (make a comment, make a connection, ask  a question, make a prediction, or clarify something you had misunderstood) whenever they read at home. I hoped the digital forum would help kids to process and understand the text even when outside of class.

Not even two weeks into the group launch, I am loving the results. Students are posting questions, responding, correcting each other when they get sequences out of order, discussing their inferences and predictions, and beginning to truly delve into literary analysis.

The best part is is that they’re doing all of this without me saying a word.

I read all comments in order to notice patterns to discuss in the next day’s lesson, but I leave the processing up to them.

And processing they are.

Any and all suggestions for other classroom strategies are welcome!

**It is important to note that at my school there is a culture of e-mail contact between students and teachers. At my old school this was strongly discouraged, so please check with your school/district policy concerning this matter before beginning such a group. The Google Group is private to protect kids’ information on the internet as well.

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