Whether or not you’re using the ILP or some of its individual strategies, approaching learning through inquiry can be time consuming. This is especially true in the beginning stages as students learn how to go through the process and overcome challenges and frustrations. But in order for students to progress in their inquiry, we need to provide timely feedback on activities and reflections which can be overwhelming, particularly when a teacher has 100 students all turning in about an activity a day. That’s not to say that the responsibility should rest solely on the teacher’s shoulders; there are strategies for peer assessment and even group or self-assessment that should be used to prevent the teacher from being overloaded and unable to provide timely feedback. However, when kids need their teacher’s expertise, there are several technology tools that can make this part of the process much more manageable and efficient while also providing easy ways to document student progress.
Whenever possible, students in our classes maintain their activities and reflections in Google Drive. An online tool which allows users to see edits to a document as it’s being updated, Google Drive offers excellent tutorials for teachers and students who are new to the system, making it a relatively easy and beneficial tool to incorporate. We require that students give us and any co-teachers (like librarians or in-class support teachers) editing access which allows for us to see whenever something in the document has been updated. One of the best parts of Drive is its “revision history” feature, which gives an automatically updated log of every entry and every revision students make. So, for example, if a teacher creates a folder for each class that contains the plans of each student, she can sort the documents by “last modified.” Whenever that teacher opens the folder, she will immediately see which docs might need feedback, and it’s also easy to see which students might not be progressing, either because they are not producing work or because they are stuck. Those students might need conferences, where the newly updated docs might only require written commentary.
Written feedback is also made easier through Google Drive, especially with Google Docs. Comments appear like chat boxes next to a highlighted section of text, and students have an option to reply or resolve the comment. In the same way that teachers can easily see updates to documents, students can receive notices that their plans have received comments. Furthermore, if a student replies, the teacher gets a notification. This allows for more timely feedback, but it also allows for discussion about the feedback. Drive also currently has a “suggesting” feature, which lets teachers or students make changes to a document, which the owner can then accept or reject.
For classes using the ILP, students can even copy and paste rubrics into their activities as well. By doing this, they have a standard’s requirements next to the activity that strives to meet them. Students can then self-assess their work and/or teachers can assess the activities by highlighting the sections of the rubrics that accurately describe the work. Taking advantage of this option creates a record of assessment and progress, and everything stays in one place.
This technology option also cuts back on the amount of paper classes produce, which means limiting environmental impact and reducing the literal weight of student work that teachers bring home. Additionally, all records are easily searchable, so this also saves teachers and students time when they need to refer back to previous work. Perhaps the best part, in the eyes of the students, is Google Drive automatically saves all work, and the users can always revert back to previous versions of the document. So, for example, if a student accidentally deletes half of the document, it’s easily undoable; if a student closes out of the program without manually saving, none of the work is lost.
There are additional sharing options to invite parents and peers into the document for even more accountability and feedback. This is especially helpful to communicate progress and learning goals to parents for each individual student.
Surveys and polls are a great tool to gather student feedback throughout the year in order to increase efficacy. These can be done more traditionally with paper and pencil surveys, but tools like Survey Monkey and Google Forms make these processes much easier. After a teacher creates a survey with either tool, it can be revised, saved, and shared. Both tools will gather students’ responses, summarize the data, and produce analyses of the information. This allows the teacher to review and sort the student feedback instantly and share the findings with students, parents, administrators, and other teachers.
We should also mention here a limitation of Survey Monkey. It only allows for 100 responses to any survey in a free account. This did become an issue for us as we tried to survey all sections of a single course. However, Survey Monkey does allow for replication of any survey, which means that a teacher could potentially give the same survey multiple times (one for each section of a course), but the results would also be separated by section— an option that could be desirable or not, depending on the teacher’s information need.
In much the same way that teachers can use survey tools to gather information from their classes, students can use technology to gather and record information from members of their community. As a junior, reflecting on her sophomore experience, Bria noted that one of the most important things she learned was to look at everyday conversations as resources: “having a conversation with generations of my family gave me a new outlook. It may not have come from the New York Times, but it still impacted my process. You can gain different answers to your questions just by talking to people around you.” Students like Bria who want to record information they gather from their family members or other members of their communities could either write while they listen and likely paraphrase most of the conversation, or they could use a tool like Audacity to record while they listen and participate in a conversation. This allows them to go back later and transcribe exact quotes and listen again and again, if necessary, to fully understand the information provided by each source.
Evernote is a tool that allows users to maintain and share notebooks of images, website links, and text. Users can also sync the notebooks to online calendars and email so that notes can be aligned to events in the calendar. Although HCRHS Design and Technology teacher Michael McFadden does not use the ILP template, he does have students track their learning by entering reflections, pictures of artifacts (while learning is in progress), and goals into shared Evernote notebooks. In addition to promoting healthy pause points for students to process their learning each day, these entries also provide a record for Michael in which students explain what they accomplished over the course of each class period.
Traditionally it is solely teachers that maintain records of progress, mostly through recorded grades. They may also try to keep notes on progress or challenges that students face beyond what the grades represent. This provides little room for the student and leaves the recording of progress for many students up to one person, the teacher. However, using a tool like Evernote enables students and teachers to track learning together rather than rely solely on the grades in a gradebook. Because these records include information from both the teacher and the student, they provide more detail and accuracy than teachers alone. It documents student progress in a way that grades do not by giving an easily sharable and cooperatively created record of progress and challenges from both the teacher and the student. As a result, they can each refer to these records when discussing growth and areas for improvement with parents, other teachers, and administration.