The Google Classroom environment offers easy access for teachers who wish to collaborate on the development instructional materials to be shared among colleagues. This increasingly pervasive virtual workspace offers a unique opportunity for teacher candidates to work together on the creation of materials which meet the needs of a variety of learners.
The Read & Write (R&W) google extension from Texthelp is free for teachers. This is a simple but powerful assistive technology application in which a variety of tools can be utilized to offer full access to print materials for learners who would benefit from read-aloud, translation, and other learning supports. The combination of R&W and Google Classroom seemed a perfect marriage for a signature assignment in our course, Access to Learning SS/SPED 560, a course taken by all Education Specialist and Single Subject credential candidates.
The reality of our public school classrooms is that students with learning differences- whether disability, English language learners, or gifted in an area- are going to be in classes together and teachers will need to adjust instruction and assessment accordingly. By using Google Classroom as the basis of our signature assignment, we hoped to provide a tool through which future teachers conceptualize the presentation of content for students with diverse learning needs and collaborate among peers to create related assignments and assessments targeted to address the diversity of our communities’ classrooms.
Not surprisingly, students were skeptical at first. Skeptical of us as instructors, of each other working in groups of general and special education candidates and of the task presented. We were open about our novice knowledge and experience with Google Classroom but also were open about our perceptions of the direction of education in our county, state, and nation and that we believe the Google Classroom can provide teachers the tools needed to diversify instruction and assessment in a way we had never taught before.
The road from start to finish was not without bumps. Some of those bumps were more like small mountains that had seen deep snowfall and not easily traversed. At one point, we thought that we might never use Google Classroom again as a signature assignment but, we prevailed and the students, to our great relief and surprise, came together as groups, tapped into their own strengths and talents, and emerged victorious on the last night of class as they presented their classrooms to their colleagues. We could see the pride students had in their work. The conversations they led as presenters had grown from content specific instruction to conversation about how to enable all students access to that content…through the Google Classroom.
Student feedback on the project was elicited and the results have encouraged us to push forward in the coming years with an iteration of this signature assignment. As it turns out, students want more- more resources, more time to collaborate, more opportunities to see and toy with their colleagues’ final projects. Most students said that the most valuable aspect of this class was exposure and practice with the Google Classroom as a means to learn about and practice differentiation and tend to students’ various learning needs and styles. A wonderful byproduct is that many students noted that as a result of the collaborative group efforts, they had a better understanding of the special and general education teacher roles and realize that the two must work in concert to best support all students in their classrooms on and offline. A few students expressed concerns regarding the project, but like any teacher would, we collected those concerns and will address them in the future by making changes to enhance the student experience.
This project truly took us out of our comfort zone, but then again, it clearly also took most students out of theirs. The end results are stunning and beyond our expectation. We have learned so much from our students simply by providing a vision and a few tools to accomplish the goal of creating an accessible virtual classroom. Their feedback indicates all that they took from this experience and our response is one of gratitude as it has given us the information we need to pursue this into the future. We learned, our students learned, and in a few short months, our students’ students will reap the benefit.