Earlier in the year I was asked by a group of kindergarten teachers how they might be able to streamline the process of organizing the notes from their student conferences about their reading. Like many teachers, they had been using notebooks with their students and wanted a system that would be more user-friendly and digital. We looked at a variety of strategies, and as we talked, it became clear that one of the things that was most important for them was to be able to do this work collaboratively. They had tried the Confer app for the iPad and Android tablets, but any notes they took were dedicated to a single device, and if something happened to that device, they would lose everything for their classes. We needed a web-based solution that would allow for multiple people to conference with students and to share their notes without having to hand a notebook off after each conference.
They had worked out what they were looking for with each conference and the form that they wanted to use so they got the right information; they just needed the platform. Taking their template, look-fors, and strategies, I devised a system of folders inside Google Drive to make the process collaborative and easily shared with a variety of people. At the same time, the structure supported teachers by having the ability to sort the students based on reading level and reading strategies so that they could quickly group kids for minilessons and conferences.
The first piece had to be the template for the reading conference log. There were many ways to do this, but we decided to create a document template in Google Drive that they would copy for each student in their class and share with anyone who might work with that student. Each time any adult (teacher, teacher assistant, librarian, special education teacher, etc.) conferred with that student, they would pull up that student’s document inside Google Drive and record the following information:
- Conferring teacher:
- Current reading level:
- Title of book:
- Based on conference, move to next reading level Y | N
- Notes and Teaching Points:
Because Google Drive automatically saves in real time, everyone always has the most recent version of that student’s reading progress and can access it from any device they choose as long as there is an Internet connection. This means that information can flow freely from the teacher to other adults who are working with that student. For instance, suppose the classroom teacher has a conference with a student and has worked on a specific skill or comprehension strategy, and then that student goes to the library to check out a book. If the teacher has shared the student’s Google Drive document with the librarian, the librarian can open up that student’s file and see the details of the student and classroom teacher’s conference. This information allows the librarian to be more intentional about helping that student pick out a book that will help them meet their reading goals, and keeps everyone on the same page without having to physically meet about each student.
The second piece of this project is simply organizational. In my district we use the Fountas and Pinnell system to determine a student’s reading level. To easily group kids for teachers, we went through the process of creating and sharing a series of folders inside Google Drive. One folder was labeled “Reading Level” and had folders labeled A through Z nested inside. Each student’s Google Drive document was placed inside the current recorded reading level so that whoever was working with that student could quickly get a list of all the kids in that classroom at a specific reading level just by opening the appropriate folder.
Although this was a nice organizational piece, it really didn’t drive instruction for the teachers. It allowed them to put kids into groups, but what we quickly realized is that reading strategies were far more important for creating opportunities for grouping kids for minilessons and other instruction. The same structure was created for reading strategies that all teachers at that grade level had agreed upon. A “Strategies” folder was created with additional folders inside labeled with each strategy. Again this allowed teachers to quickly create groups to work with students on specific strategies and more direct conversations about their needs. What teachers liked most was that the system was fluid and they didn’t have to work inside a preset list; instead, they could add and remove strategies to meet the needs of individual kids.
What made this possible was the collaborative nature of Google Drive as well as the ability to put the same document in multiple folders. The process is simple, but it does take changing the way you think about folders in traditional computer systems. In Google Drive, folders are actually just tags or categories that you use to organize your documents, which means that you can put that same document in a “Reading Level” folder as well as a “Strategies” folder, allowing you to sort kids in different ways. Getting started with this organizational structure is simple.
1. Inside Google Drive, create the folder structure that you want by clicking on the “Create” button in the upper left of the Google Drive interface. Select “Folder” and create whatever structure you need.
2. Open up the Google Drive document for the student you want to place in a folder. There is a small folder icon on the top left-hand side of the page. Clicking on that icon will bring up a menu with all of your folders listed.
3. Just like you would on a computer, navigate to the appropriate folder labeled with a student’s reading level (“B” for instance).
4. Before clicking “Move," hold down the Control key (Command on a Mac) and select the appropriate reading strategy folder. A check mark will appear in front of these folders.
5. Click “Move” and that document will now be found in both of the folders on Google Drive.
When a student changes their reading level or needs to be in a new strategies group, go back through that process and, while holding down the Control/Command key, uncheck the folder that is no longer needed and select the new level or strategy.
Through this simple structure, multiple teachers were able to more effectively conference with students, and the technique quickly spread to other schools and grade levels. The collaborative nature of this strategy was crucial in helping to meet the needs of a variety of kids at a variety of levels.
To see how this is set up, go to http://youtu.be/Le7kKTMaocs for a more detailed, step-by-step tutorial.