Friday, March 11, 2016

Keeping Track of Student Work in Gmail

This blog post is part of a 10-day blogging initiative started by @tina_zita back in January. I saw some amazing blog posts from many colleagues during the initial challenge, but wasn't able to contribute, myself... until now! This is blog post number 1/10.

This school year, our board made the transition to using Google Apps for Education (GAFE). Though a couple of us within the board had experimented with trial classes last year, this was the first time all teachers had access to Google Classroom, and all students had access to their new board Gmail accounts. 

The assignment feature in Google Classroom is wonderful - it is easy to provide handouts, videos, or other resources right there so that all students can access materials at any time, and I love that it can make copies of Google Docs so that each student can work on his or her own document, at his or her own pace. Submitting work is a breeze, and the Google Calendar integration is a great organizational tool. 

This semester's classes in Google Classroom

However, in classes where the students have options of what they complete in order to demonstrate their knowledge, using the assignment feature becomes a bit cumbersome. Since not every student is expected to complete every assignment, it's not feasible to create digital announcements for EVERYTHING, and I see the tracking of assignments that don't necessarily need to be completed becoming a bit overwhelming.

So the majority of my students' completed assignments are shared (if they are Google Docs, Slides or Sheets), or sent to me via board Gmail. 

While you might cringe a little to think about keeping track of all these assignments coming in through email (as I did initially), it is actually quite easy in Gmail to stay organized.

I started by creating a label for each class. This will give me a place to sort work once it arrives:

Label menu

When a student email arrives - either with an attached file or a notification that a Doc was shared with me - the first thing I do is select it, "star it" (to denote that it needs to be marked), and then move it into the proper label. I do this before even reading it (or if I do read it, I then mark it as unread so that it remains bold and easy to locate later).

After that, I have a number of ways to go about finding work that needs to be assessed. I can:
  • Click on the name of the label from the main list to access ALL the work in that course, already sorted by date;
  • Search for all starred work by typing "label: starred" into the search bar;
  • Search for all emails by a particular student;
  • Search for all starred emails by a particular student;
  • Search within a label for starred messages containing a key word from the assignment.
This is an easy way for me to search for all unassessed work by a particular student

The Google search engine is pretty powerful, too (no surprise there!) - simply by typing a key word or two into the search bar, it will comb through not only your emails (subject field and content), but also attachments or embedded files. It also checks your trashed messages, and displays those separately.

Once a piece of student work is accessed and assessed, I remove the star from the email. That way I can keep the message for future reference, but avoid having it come up if I'm only searching for work that needs to be marked.

A search for just the student's name within a label instantly shows me all communication, as well as highlights what still needs to be assessed (name redacted).
I've learned to be smart in my searches, too, both in how to narrow a search down to find a particular email, as well as in how to be broad enough to locate all emails sent for a given assignment or between within a certain time period. The advanced search has lots of options to track down exactly what you are looking to find.

And because we have unlimited storage as a GAFE school, I don't have to worry about deleting emails in order to save space - I can keep a complete record (or portfolio, if you will!) for each student. Great for reporting progress to parents.

Overall, I've been pleasantly surprised with how easy it is to organize, store, and search for student work within Gmail. It is quick and efficient, and it's great to have all student work in one place. I'm always looking for tips and tricks to help stay on top of things - please share if you have additional ideas!

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