Use Google Classroom to break away from fixed-ability thinking

Fixed-ability thinking in the classroom hinders learning and can define what a child believes they are capable of.

These are key take-aways from the book Learning without Limits, published in 2012 and co-written by Dame Alison Peacock, and the work of the project of the same name run by the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of Education. Between them, they have helped reignite debate amongst educators in recent years around the impact of determinist beliefs about children’s ability.

However, you don’t need to look far to find examples that prove this labelling of children according to their perceived ability is still rife in schools. Lesson planning makes explicit differentiation of activities and resources for so-called ‘low-ability’, ‘core’ and ‘more able’ groups. In some classrooms, children are seated according to ability – a physical manifestation of fixed-ability thinking that does nothing to open up educational opportunity to all.

This results in what Italian educationalist Loris Malaguzzi termed ‘prophetic pedagogy’. If the child is told that they are of ‘low ability’ and is exposed only to the sort of learning, discussion and resources deemed appropriate for children of ‘low ability’, their potential to succeed is not only capped by the expectations of those around them but is also stunted by their own developing perception of what they are capable of.

And this is not just a question of semantics. Some schools have banned staff from talking about ‘low ability’, ‘core’ or ‘more able’ pupils. But staffroom conversation falls back upon a new shorthand – ‘lower attaining’, ‘those at risk of falling behind’ – that still embodies the same preconceptions.

Writing in the TES at the start of the school year, education commentator Nancy Gedge, highlighted the benefits to all children of inclusive classroom practises that seek to promote collaboration and the collective learning of children irrespective of educational need. And you need only spend a short time in a classroom of a school that has abandoned ability grouping and allowed children to self-select the appropriate level of challenge in their learning to see how learning and progress flourish.

Digital learning environments such as Google Classroom offer huge potential to level the playing field for all learners while giving teachers control of formative assessment tools that enable them to monitor understanding and progress, and set next-steps for each child. Here are three quick ways you can use Google Classroom to move beyond fixed-ability thinking:

1. Use Stream to promote collaborative leaning

Allow all children to learn from each other in Stream. Use a video with high-quality audio or an animation with a useful audio commentary as the basis for discussion rather than a text. By reducing the reading load of the resource, more of your students will be able to access the content independently and participate in the discussion.

2. Provide a range of different resources

Make available to all learners a range of resources in different formats (video, audio, text, animation) but with the same educational content and let them self-select the resource they are more confident using. If you make these available before a lesson or before you start a unit of learning, students can use the resources as a pre-study tool to give them the foundations they will need to participate in learning in the physical classroom.

3. Allow the child to select the right level of challenge

Instead of setting different tasks or activities for different ‘ability groups’, set one activity for all with different levels of challenge built in for children to select. Google Classroom allows you to give personalised feedback to individual children, which can include targeted questions to further their learning and set next steps. Using a formative assessment tool such as StudyBee, which can be used to assign customised learning objectives to every Google Classroom assignment, helps you to stay on top of this highly personalised dialogue with your students about their learning.

Download a free trial today and see how StudyBee could transform your interaction with your students.


Three fast ways to prepare for Parents’ Evening in Google Classroom

The appointments are made, your marking is up to date and this time you’ve stocked up on snacks to get you through to the bitter end. Yes – Parents’ Evening is just around the corner.

In addition to the pressures on the evening itself of keeping conversations on-track, getting your message across in the allotted time and greeting the very last parent as warmly as you greeted the first, there’s also the small matter of preparing for the appointments themselves.

The impact on learning of open dialogue between home and school are well-recognised and Parents’ Evening can be a valuable tool for communicating effectively with parents. In order to make the most of the face-to-face time with parents, it’s useful to do your homework first and decide exactly what you want to say. But this can be time-consuming. Half termly or end-of-unit attainment data is easily collated, but how can you gather together quickly the other information that gives a more rounded view of your students?

For those using Google Classroom, here are our top tips:

  1. Encourage students to reflect on their learning skills

Pose a question in Google Classroom to find out which skills the students feel they have used in their learning or feel they have developed since September. Even better, ask a short series of questions about strategies they have used to tackle tricky areas in their learning. How resilient do they feel they have been? What could they do to improve their learning strategies? This will help gather information about the way your students see themselves as learners. Whether you agree with their self-evaluation or not, this is important information to share with parents so they can support their child’s progress.  

  1. Identify areas of learning a student needs to revisit

Create a quiz in Google Forms about your students’ learning over the last half term or in a specific unit then share the link in Google Classroom. If you opt to have responses automatically collated in a Google Forms spreadsheet, you’ll have a quick overview of any misunderstandings or gaps in each student’s knowledge and any areas in which a student’s knowledge and understanding excels.

  1. Get a snapshot of attainment in different tasks

If you’ve been using a formative assessment tool such as StudyBee, which sits inside Google Classroom, use the information in the Course Progress pane to get a quick overview of the child’s attainment in different tasks. Was there an activity they struggled with? Or one in which they flew? Check back on the feedback you gave and consider how well the student responded.

StudyBee allows you to track a student’s level of attainment in different tasks and assignments in just a few clicks, allowing you to plan effectively for their next steps. With this level of control, it’s easy to make your planning and teaching as responsive to the needs of your students as it can be.  Download a free trial today and see how StudyBee could transform your formative assessment and save you time.