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In Google Classroom, you can offer students choices for how to meet a particular learning outcome.

According to Merriam-Webster to think outside the box is “to explore ideas that are creative and unusual and that are not limited or controlled by rules or tradition.” For some, using a new digital platform such as Google Classroom fits that bill. For others it goes beyond that. Approaching teaching with a different mindset and a new perspective is what “out of the box thinking” means. It is with this in mind that I share with you more creative, unconventional uses for Google Classroom.

Highlight student exemplars

Pushing out assignments and content is the most common use for Classroom, however, it is also an excellent platform to highlight student work. For example, if you assign a project with a rubric, you can post an exemplar along with it for students to have an idea of what they are striving for. Sometimes a visual representation of what a rubric is talking about is helpful for students. Sharing student work via the Stream and allowing peers to provide feedback to each other is also a valuable use for Classroom.

Showcase and celebrate students

Similarly, the Google Classroom Stream is a great place to celebrate students. It is very common in elementary schools to have a Student of the Week or Student of the Month. Teachers can post pictures of the honored student in the Stream, along with samples of the work or other actions that led to the honor. In this way, Google Classroom can be a digital bulletin board. If the teacher changes the setting within Classroom on the Students tab to allow students to post and comment, classmates can post kind words about the Student of the Week/Month.

Students can also celebrate themselves by posting pictures and other things that represent them. The new Classroom feature of labeling posts with “topics” is very useful here. By labeling the posts as “Student of the Month,” your students will be able to easily search for that topic among all the other posts in the Stream.

Of course, it is important to teach about responsible digital citizenship before you allow your students the privilege of posting or commenting.  This is an excellent opportunity for students to practice and learn what it is to be a part of a digital community. Keep in mind teachers can always “mute” individual students if necessary.

Provide students with choices

We have different types of learners in our classrooms. Doesn’t it make sense to provide some options when creating assignments to best align with that diversity? Google Classroom does not have an option to group students within a Classroom, but you can provide choices in your assignments. In the example on the next page, the learning outcome is the same for all students, however, they are provided with choices as to the way in which they go about meeting that outcome.

Allow students to edit

The ability to “make a copy for each student” is a favorite feature for teachers. On the flip side, many steer clear of the “students can edit file” option when assigning tasks. I have heard many educators say it can get very messy when all of your students have access to the same Doc or Slide at the same time. My take on this is that there is a time and a place for everything. Here are some suggestions as to how to use the “students can edit” feature in Google Classroom.

First, it can be used for collaborative notetaking. Designate one or two students in your class to be the notetakers. Their job is to take notes during a lecture, while the class watches a video, has a discussion, or engages in other classwide “noteworthy” activities. This allows other students to focus on the teacher or the interactions taking place during the lesson. I suggest rotating this role.

Every student will have access to the notes and can add to them after the lesson or later that evening when reviewing the day’s lesson. If you use a lot of visuals while teaching, such as drawing diagrams on the board, you can have a student in charge of taking pictures and uploading them to the Doc or Slides in addition to the linear notes the other students are taking.

Another way to use the “students can edit” feature is for brainstorming ideas. In science, students can share ideas for experiments when the annual science fair rolls around. In an English language arts class, classmates can use one Doc to brainstorm ideas for writing by suggesting possible characters, settings and plots. There is always a student in your class that gets stuck and has those moments when he or she cannot think of anything to get started. We’ve all been there! This will help such students over that obstacle.

Getting questions answered

We often think we have left no possible question unanswered when teaching our lessons. Or, conversely, perhaps our lessons have generated many exciting questions. Sometimes those questions come when we are not around. Here are a few ideas to help your students get their questions answered.

When I first started teaching 24 years ago my mentor taught me the saying, “Ask 3 Before You Ask Me.” Back then it was used to mean to ask your classmates before you asked the teacher. In an effort to empower students to explore and discover on their own, many teachers today still use the same saying but with a slight twist. In many classes, “Ask 3” now means to use Google and YouTube to try to find what you need. After that, if you still need assistance, ask a classmate or a teacher.

Your students will be surprised how many of their questions are answered quickly and efficiently by using both of these search engines. Yes, I referred to YouTube as a search engine.  I teach my students and anyone in my professional development trainings that you can find a video on just about anything on YouTube. I find that videos are one of the best ways to get questions answered and to learn how to do almost anything. I make sure to share this idea with my students and their parents at the beginning of every school year. I hang the mini poster around my room and post it in the About section of Classroom as a reminder.

You need not be the keeper of all the knowledge in your classroom. There are students who are very capable of helping each other out. I call them the TNTs in my classroom (Teachers in Training). They are my go-to helpers when I am working with a small group or conferring with a student.

This can work virtually as well. Explain to your students that they can help each other. Make sure that you allow your students to comment in the Google Classroom Stream. That way they can ask their questions and other students can answer them. The teacher should monitor the Stream, but students will be the ones to answer any questions that arise. It’s a great way to empower your students and make your classroom more student-focused.

Finally, for those students who are not comfortable asking questions publicly in the Stream, there is the private comment feature in Classroom. This allows for students to ask questions directly of the teacher. When students use this feature the teacher will receive an email notification. At the suggestion of Alice Keeler, a Google Classroom guru, teachers should create a hashtag for students to use when leaving a private comment in Classroom.  For example, #needsreview, #updated and #needhelp will allow a teacher to create a filter in Gmail in order to easily find these notifications.

So there you have it: lots of creative ways to use Google Classroom this school year. I hope you have enjoyed this series. How have you been using Google Classroom with your students? Have you tried out anything new this year? Feel free to reach out and share your experiences and ideas.

Chrissy Romano Arrabito is a third-grade teacher at Nellie K. Parker School in Hackensack. She is a Google for Education Certified Trainer who tweets at @TheConnectedEdu and blogs at www.TheConnectedEducator.com. She can be reached at cromano223@gmail.com.