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Using Google Drive in the Adult English Language Learner Classroom

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Google Drive has been the foundation of my adult English Language Learner classroom. It’s been key to fostering student independence, collaboration and digital literacy skills. Check out how I use it in my class as well as my key learnings along the way.

It’s the beginning of a new year and my new class of adult English Language Learners are poised with Microsoft Word and their USBs. They’re keen on worksheets and being told how to do everything, step by step. 

Let’s take a different path, I think to myself, imagining a class of independent learners, who collaborate and support each other, confident in their use of cloud-based technology tools to publish and share their work. 

Let’s use Google Drive, I decide. 

It’s a huge challenge though, getting students on board with Google Drive, along with the different teaching process involved. It’s a challenge that sees me (and them) frustrated on many occasions, questioning whether I need to wind back my expectations.

Looking back now at the end of the year however, I’m pleased that I stayed the course. Google Drive was a favourite among students in their end of year Tech reviews. 

So how did I use Google Drive in my classroom, and what were my key learnings? That’s what I’ll detail in this post.

What is Google Drive?

It’s perhaps best to think of Google Drive as an overarching container (or house). Inside it are Google Docs (like Microsoft Word), Google Sheets (like Microsoft Excel), Google Slides (like Powerpoint), Google Sites (which enables you to create simple websites), and Google Forms (excellent for assessment, quizzes, and gathering info). 

The beauty of Google Drive is that it’s readily available wherever you are – on all your devices – if you’ve installed the Google Drive app.

All materials created in Google Drive can also be shared. This enables others to VIEW (but not edit) or EDIT your documents or materials. 

To get started with Google Drive, everyone in your class needs to have a gmail account. I set up a personal account specifically for the class that I’m teaching. Each account is allocated 15 gigabyte for storage which has been plenty for me even with the video and audio I store in my Google Drive. 

My Google Drive Set-Up

Once my students have created a gmail account, I ask them to go to Google Drive. 

Then I ask them to create a folder in Google Drive, and to give it their name and class abbreviation (i.e. Greg Curran C3). Then I ask them to share this folder with me (giving me Edit access, so I can correct and conference their work). Anything that is now placed in this folder will be automatically shared with me.

Inside that main folder, students create sub-folders. Each folder corresponds to a Learning Module, along with other key teaching areas. Students are then expected to keep their work organised in these folders.

Teaching with Google Drive

Teacher Organisation

I explicitly link each piece of class work to our Learning Modules so that students know which folder it belongs in. By mid-year, students were asking, ‘which folder does this go in?’ if I forgot to label it or tell them where it belonged. 

I create a Google Site (website) for each class that I teach, and house all our teaching materials on it. Google Sites makes it easy to insert such materials especially if they’re already housed in your Google Drive, or you can upload them from another location. 

In terms of website organisation, I create a webpage for each Learning Module and key teaching areas. 

It’s important to note, that anything on your website will be publicly available, unless you apply restrictions. That’s what I do, and here’s how I do it. 

Firstly I create a website folder in Google Drive which I share with my class gmail list (See Sharing below for how to create a class list). Next, I put each resource and document – that I’m going to share on my class website – into the shared website folder. This way, only my students will see the materials on my website. Should others stumble across my website, they’ll see blank pages only. 

Be aware however, that any text directly entered onto the site will be visible to the public. Should you wish to keep any text private, enter it into a Google Doc that you only share with your students. Then insert that shared document onto your class website. 

Student Organisation

My students are expected to keep all the materials they create in Google Drive, whether they’re documents, photographs, slideshows, videos or audio materials. In respect to the latter, students immediately upload them from their mobile devices to the appropriate Google Drive folder once they’ve been created and/or finalised.

Sharing

Sharing with your class is easiest if you create a class list. Here’s how to do it. 

Log into Google Drive. Then do a Google search for Google Contacts. Here you can create a class contact list based on your students’ gmail addresses. Once you’ve created a class list, you can share each piece of work or resource with the list. 

In terms of student sharing, as stated earlier, students need to place each of their work-items, in the relevant Learning Module folder. That work is then automatically shared with me – if they’ve created an overarching folder that’s shared with me. 

The sharing function within Google Drive is also beneficial for group projects or tasks, and for gaining feedback from peers in class.

Timetabling

On the front page of my Google Site, I include a weekly timetable that contains hyper-links for each lesson across the day. That way, students have ready access to all teaching materials whether they’re in class or not.

I can also readily change the class timetable (via the original Google Doc) and students can automatically see the latest version on the website – if they refresh the page.

Conferencing

Google Docs enables you to read and make SUGGESTIONS in student work. I don’t find this function especially useful however as students often ‘accept all’ changes without reviewing their work.

Google Docs also enables you to make comments. I find this function useful for annotating texts – as a class. I can highlight meanings of words, detail the purpose of particular sentences, link to other relevant information that help understand the text. Students can also make a copy of the text, and add their own annotations.

I also use the comments function to add questions and suggestions to student work, and encourage students to get peer feedback as well. 

When I conference with students, I copy their existing work within the document they’ve submitted to me. I name it, ‘ XXXXX corrected version’. As we discuss their work, I encourage students to type in questions, things to attend to or to follow up, and also to make changes.

Early on, I lead this conferencing process and assume more control of the keyboard. My goal however, is that students take on more and more responsibility so that they’re in control of the keyboard and the editing process.

Some of my students then compare the two versions of their document (the first draft, and the corrected version) identifying common grammar and spelling errors, as well as structural issues that they investigate for homework. 

Assessment

One of our common learning modules involves filling in forms and that’s where Google Forms comes in handy. It’s easy to create forms and share them with students. Google Forms then creates handy spreadsheets that summarise the data gathered. This aspect can be useful in respect to student responses in assessment tasks (if they’ve been created in Google Forms). 

Student Portfolios

As students became more familiar with Google Sites through our class website, I encouraged them to build their own websites showcasing their best work across the semester. Many of my students never thought they could create a website. Google Sites made it relatively easy for them to do so.

We then had a End of Term Showcase Day and invited senior managers to visit. Students loved being able to show what they’d created, and talking through their creative/work process. It was a form of conversation that they weren’t used to having as students, where they were seen as having much more agency than usual.

Screencasts and Peer Tutoring

When teaching with new technology tools like Google Sites, there’s often lots of questions and things can go awry. As much as possible, I encourage students to problem solve themselves, or if they learn something – to teach someone else. 

I have also created Screencasts of common tech tasks (ie. how to add a video or audio file to Google Sites). A screencast is a video recording of your computer screen as you go through a process step by step.

There are a number of free screencast tools. I use Screencastify. Once you’ve created some screencast videos, make use of them. Refer students to them when they have a question, and don’t get trapped into explaining the process once more. I think it’s also useful to encourage students to create their own ‘how to’ videos.

I’ve become especially mindful this year, of student skill (or lack thereof) in relation to teaching their peers. Often it tends towards, ‘here let me do it for you.’ As part of a Volunteer Tutor Training Program my class has been involved in, we’ve been teaching students tutoring techniques.

As teachers we modelled tutoring techniques. Then students had a go, which we videoed. Watching back the videos with them, we were able to identify their strengths as well as aspects to improve. Students then had another go based on the feedback given to them, leading to significantly improved performances.

This approach of training English Language Learners (ELL) to support their peers is something that I think would be beneficial in more of our ELL classrooms. 

Teaching with Technology Tools

I’m passionate about building the digital literacy and citizenship skills of my English Language Learners, and have written many posts about such. 

  • Check out my Digital Literacy posts here;
  • Check out my Teaching English Language Learner posts here;
  • Check out my Using Seesaw with English Language Learners (a THREE PART SERIES).

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I host and produce the podcast, Pushing The Edge with Greg Curran. I talk to educators and community workers who are passionate about social justice, inclusion and innovation. Listen in iTunes, Spotify or your favourite podcast app.

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