It’s the beginning of a new school year and that often means the start of a new classroom management strategy, trying a new technology tool, or putting a twist on a tried and true procedure. This year, Mrs. Caroline Dwyer-Sanik has taken the dive into Teams and Class Notebook for the first time and I had the opportunity to witness her wade into the unknown.
Caroline shares that she was motived to try the Microsoft platforms because she “wants to go paperless if at all possible – I’ve used Seesaw in the past and found that when things are done digitally, it’s easier and quicker to grade, give better and more feedback, and track missing assignments than when it’s all done on paper.”
She also shares why going digital makes teaching more efficient sharing how “Teams make assignments really easy. Class Notebook lets me save paper and not make nearly as many photocopies, and it also allows kids to stay more organized.”
But getting there took some planning. She took the time to get to know the Teams and Class Notebook environment prior to implementing it into her class. We worked together on setting up the Class Notebooks from the recently uploaded Teams roster. Some of the initial hurdles to overcome were matching classes (they were named from Skyward). We made sure to update the names of the classes before creating the Class Notebooks because as any OneNote user will tell you, changing the name after the fact is not easy and can cause syncing errors.
Once the Class Notebooks were created via Teams, she really began to think about how she would differentiate between the two workspaces. For Teams, her favorite feature is the ability to input a rubric for grading and to add feedback. Whereas for Class Notebook she likes how she can distribute a page for kids to add their own notes, which avoids the hustle for paper and deciphering of middle school hieroglyphics. I asked her if she likes one more than the other and she shares, “I like using both in conjunction with each other – I’d rather not choose one. If I had to, I suppose I’d go with Class Notebook, but really both are best because they’re different things, and dovetail really nicely with one another. Teams is best for tracking assignments, and Class Notebook is best for tracking daily classwork and giving out guides for note-taking and thought processing.”
Getting started with new technology can be a challenge and Caroline dove right in within the first week of school working on getting students logged into the computers for the first time, Classlink, and then Teams. She shares some of the problems that have arisen trying something new this year, “Login issues were definitely a problem, and there were a couple syncing issues that have cropped up, but are mostly resolved. If I take care of things the day before instead of the day of, it all works out well. And I should probably be doing that anyway, so it helps me form good habits!”
Overall, it has been making a positive impact in her classroom. She has noticed that “students are great adapters, problem-solvers, and team-players. Kids work together when there’s a problem to solve and get things taken care of/handed in/completed. If one kid can’t figure it out, they’re good about asking for help, and a surprising number of their classmates are willing to help them solve their issue before I get the chance.”
Taking this dive has also given her the opportunity to try other classroom strategies combined with technology. She shares, “My greatest accomplishment so far has been combining a GLAD strategy with technology – we did “picture” notes – where you take notes and draw goofy accompanying cartoon-y pictures to go along with them to help connect information and increase understanding – and we did them on anchor charts, and then took our own notes off of those on our laptops. So the kids got the benefit of the goofy pictures that help them connect the information and lock it in in their minds, and they also get the organization and structure and permanence and easy access to their notes that comes from the technology.”
Of course, it almost goes without saying how the implementation of technology can have a positive impact in other ways. Caroline notes that “It makes it easier to see which kids are falling behind and not taking notes, too – definitely helps me track the kids who need extra help. I can access their drafts and their notes easily to check for progress and understanding.” In addition, she notes that it is “weirdly quiet in my classroom when it’s computer work time.”
Teams and Class Notebook offer great tools and resources for students to become better organized, but as a teacher, it can support the sometimes overwhelming pile of paper that seems to accumulate as time goes on. Caroline shares, “my grading is entirely digital now. And that is so much easier – no more stacks of papers to grade cluttering my desk, I can’t lose a student’s assignment, I know exactly who’s handed stuff in and I know it immediately, and I can touch base with anyone who’s behind or owes me work at a moment’s notice. It helps me enormously in tracking kids who are falling behind or who need extra attention, too, so I feel like I’m a better more aware teacher because of this technology.”
Caroline’s positivity is an inspiration for any teacher looking to try something new in their classroom. She offers some advice for those looking to try Teams or Class Notebook (or both!). She says, “Dive in. Take risks, and try new things – the worst that happens is that you learn how to do it better next time.”