Using Google Classroom to support differentiation in distance learning
On 24th April 2020, the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) published an evidence-based report designed for school leaders and teachers to share what the evidence suggests on effective distance and online learning approaches. Their report derived a number of key conclusions:
- Teaching quality is more important than how lessons are delivered
- Ensuring access to technology is key, especially for disadvantaged pupils
- Peer interactions can provide motivation and improve learning outcomes
- Supporting pupils to work independently can improve learning outcomes
- Different approaches to remote learning suit different types of content and pupils
Considering the fifth point further, without appropriate differentiation and personalisation, school closures are likely to widen the attainment gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged children. The annual “learning loss” experienced by pupils each summer is evidence for this. The vast majority of children decline academically over the long summer break, but for disadvantaged children the effect is particularly pronounced. Recent evidence suggests that the summer holidays might account for almost two thirds of the attainment gap between disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged at age 14 (Stewart et al., 2018).
Google Classroom, the backbone of our Virtual Learning Curriculum being delivered throughout school closure, can be a powerful tool to differentiate and personalise learning. Jennie Magiera, Google’s Global Head of Education Impact, has put together a 50 minute webinar with a focus on differentiated instruction and student experiences within a distance learning framework. Key ideas from this video are broken down into manageable chunks below. Each of the links provided plays the video from the relevant point of the webinar. The full version can be accessed via this link .
Presenting with captions on Google Slides
The closed captions feature is available when presenting in Google Slides. It uses your computer’s microphone to detect your spoken presentation, then transcribes—in real time—what you say as captions on the slides you’re presenting. As you start speaking into your device’s microphone, automated captions will appear at the bottom of your screen for your audience to see.
This feature is great for students who may be working in a busy household without a dedicated place to study where background noise may hinder their engagement and progress. For SEND and EAL students, having written words alongside verbal communication can help to bolster understanding.
Assigning work by ability or to groups of students in Classroom
By default, an assignment posts to all students in a class. However, you can post an assignment to individual students. The webinar clip shows how to set tasks for different students and suggests some ideas about how this feature could be utilised to support learning. In addition, here are some other ideas you could try:
- Group activities — Assign an activity to an individual group. Then, all the group members are all together in one place. You won’t have to check and double check who is in which group.
- Levelling activities — Differentiate an activity by creating multiple different versions of it. A more basic version of the activity has less steps, less detail or less rigor. A more advanced version has more steps, detail or rigor. Add one or two versions in the middle and you have several levels to challenge a variety of students. Assign as needed.
- Providing extra practice — From research evidence, we know that practice and regular recall of information is key. If some students are struggling and could use some extra work — or some suggested sites for practice — assign it just to those students.
- Rotating activities — If you have stations or a set of activities students will do over a period of lessons or weeks, keep assignments simple by assigning just the one that group is working on. If students will rotate through various different activities, assign one group an individual activity to work upon. Once completed, then assign the next one. The “reuse post” feature will make this quick and easy once you’ve assigned all of the activities once. This approach could also reduce time spent planning and resource making.
Building student autonomy and choice into learning activities
Designing activities that foster learner independence is essential because they invite students to engage more thoughtfully with the content. Student choice can be driven through many means. Google Classroom allows for teachers to post a wide variety of materials of differing types and mediums. There is also a feature to easily create rubrics which you can assess students against – this is a useful tool for setting expectations (e.g. “must do” tasks) as well as adding stretching and challenging activities (e.g. challenge tasks).
Differentiated assessment using Google Forms
Google Forms are a powerful tool for assessment. Branching in Google Forms is a way to send a respondent to a different page or question based on how they answer. This provides a useful mechanism for building progressive challenge or providing students with supporting materials should they answer a question incorrectly. The self-marking nature of Google Forms makes them workload friendly during a time where planning, teaching and marking may be more time consuming than usual.
Visualisation of branching in a Google Form
Targeted small group Google Meets using Jamboards
Instead of whole class Google Meets you may want to consider scheduling smaller meets with targeted groups of students. This may be particularly useful for exam classes when reviewing project work or group tasks. Within a Meet, Google Jamboards are a powerful tool for idea and content sharing. Not only can it be used simply as a virtual whiteboard which can be annotated, but it can be shared with students who can also annotate and add their own content such as images, sticky notes or links.