ACTEM 2012: Answers to Customized Learning on the Cheap Part 1

This is Part 1 in a series of responses to questions posed during ACTEM 2012’s “Customized Learning on the Cheap” Sessions

All of the questions can be seen at:

Q: How do you manage customized learning record keeping for students?
Q: How do we reconcile the student needs with Standards?  How do we keep track without being overwhelmed by paperwork?

I wish I could point to a single tool — and it’s what I hoped Lore would provide until it changed.  Our district uses PowerSchool and PowerGrade and there’s quite a bit of functionality there if you use the commenting.
But that’s not cheap.
So what IS cheap?  Google spreadsheets.
What were are putting together right now are individual Google spreadsheets for each student. Within each spreadsheet, we are creating four workbooks — one for each discipline.  Along the left side, we have each standard.  Then across the top, as they complete work that relates to that standard, they can document it with the name of the assignment.  As teachers, we can indicate then whether they exceeded, met, partially met or not yet met the standard.  We can use a color coding system for the cell.  And through comments, we can have a back and forth with the students.

What else is cheap? And way more fun?  Trello.  And this is what I think will be best. Each student has a Trello board and within that individual board they have a grand total of sixteen columns.

English Partially Met Met Exceeded

Repeat for each discipline.  Make cards for each standard.  Then go in and add comments as they meet them.

Really, Trello allows you to organize the problem/project in a way that best suits your brain and your students’ brains.  And that’s what we are really talking about here: problem solving.  Tracking standards is a problem that needs a solution.

And how do we find that balance?  Well, that’s a huge, massive, essential question with which most of us grapple.  I’ve found that the two need not be mutually exclusive if we adopt principles of project-based learning, enabling and guiding students toward finding creative, self-actuated means of demonstrating the standards.  It’s challenging.  It can take a lot of time.  And I think it’s worth.  (Then again, I teach high school English — and really?  That’s probably the most malleable, adaptable, customizable  curriculum in the universe, making that side of my job just a little easier.)

Q: How have administrators responded?

I’m assuming this is about the PACE group.  Overwhelmingly supportive administration from building to district to school board.  I think it is because it didn’t come from me — it came from the kids.  I simply guided them along the process and gave them every chance to bail out if they lost their passion for it.  And here we are.

Q: How do you have time to do this?

It takes some front loading, for certain.  And I find, in the long run, it saves me tons of time.  I am able to give more specific, more timely feedback by commenting on a Google doc, by adding information to a Trello, to annotating on Diigo.

And my handwriting is a horror show.  I can have meaningful conversations with students about their work rather than decipher sessions.

And I had to start at the beginning like everyone else.  I am in a state of constant flux, trying to move to a delightful state of homeostasis where everything works elegantly and seamlessly together.  Where I find one home to do it all and need not jump from tool to tool.

But that’s not the reality of technology.  It changes and I have had to change with it.
Right now I’m trying to find the best tool for a particular purpose — treat my classroom like a component stereo — add a piece that does a single job and does it very well.

Trello: Project Management
Google Drive: Document distribution
Diigo: Links
WordPress: Blogging and home
PowerGrade: Grades & Feedback

About Dan Ryder

Dan Ryder & Jeff Bailey, co-founders of Wicked Decent Learning, a blog, podcast, Twitter feed and who-knows-what-all-else devoted to teaching and learning in Vacationland and beyond. Teachers, dads, actors, writers, geeks, buds.

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