Tag Archives: writing

Visual Thinking

I’m kind of a New York Times (NYT) junkie. A few years ago, we bought a subscription to the Sunday Times at home, which additionally provided us unlimited digital access. I signed up for news alerts and a few news digests, like “Education” and “Tests and Assessments,” so I’m sent short abstracts of articles that pertain to those categories.

It was in one of these digests, recently, that I encountered the headline: “40 Intriguing Photos to Make Students Think.” Not the catchiest of titles, but the photo accompanying it piqued my interest:screen-shot-2016-10-04-at-9-27-02-pmSo, I clicked. That’s where I was reminded of another great service The Times offers: The Learning Network. In essence, they deliver education resources like lesson plans, news quizzes and the like all based on NYT articles, photos, graphics and more. Better yet, you can access the Network’s many features without a digital subscription.

Back to what brought me to The Learning Network in the first place: the above picture. It’s part of a weekly feature called, “What’s Going On in This Picture?” Readers are asked three standard questions about a visual text:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?

Then, they are encouraged to acutely observe (a.k.a. closely read) the image, find evidence, and post and respond to comments of others online. Partners, Visual Thinking Strategies facilitate the online discussion Mondays between 9a – 2p Eastern Time (6a-11a Pacific). On Thursday afternoons, Learning Network writers reveal a caption and backstory below the photo on the site.  Check out this week’s photo below (week of October 17):


As for classroom applications, I immediately thought of a warm-up. Whether you participate live through the Learning Network or want to spark an in-class dialog, there are images that relate to nearly any subject are. Five minutes at the beginning of class is plenty to take in the photo and respond, turn to a partner and compare perceptions. Cogs are turning, awareness is heightened and students are engaged in analysis–great practice for getting into the day’s content. And, what a great way to build a community of inquiry, teacher included!

In 21st Century literacy, when we hear or say text, we need to be mindful of the myriad forms that word may conjure. Our students are consuming these many texts in record numbers, daily. Teaching the tools to become informed about what they consume doesn’t get more real.



Providing Feedback: Saving Time in the Classroom

Blogging awhile back, I revealed I am not an early adopter of much, but I’m not stupid either. If someone introduces me to a tool that can make my professional life a little easier, I’m all ears! In several posts this year, we’ve been talking about Feedback. As we’ve shared, the most effective feedback (that which helps students make the most significant academic gains) is specific, corrective, and timely. A word on that last part: timely.

We all know giving effective feedback can be time consuming, particularly on formal assignments involving writing. With the overcrowded classrooms we are currently faced with, the hope of timely feedback for such products is even more fleeting. I’m not gonna lie; the tools I am about to share with you take time to set up, but in the long run, they will save you time.

Enter Doctopus (a Google Apps for Educators add-on) and Goobric (a Google Apps for Educators extension).


Colleague Dan Mangan, Clear Creek Team Phoenix & ELA Lead brought both of these tools (which work in tandem) to my attention, so I asked if I could sit down with him for a little tutorial, and happily, he agreed. Our 1:1 happened last week, and while it’s mostly fresh in my mind, I’m going to try to synthesize my learning for you.

Let’s start with a Screencast showing you how to capture these two tools:

  • Once installed, go back to that Spreadsheet you created in Google Drive. This will be the basis of your class assignment.
  • Click on the “Add-Ons” tab again.
  • Scroll to Doctopus and click on “Launch,” which will bring up step-by-step instructions in the right margin.
  • Some of you reading this may be savvy enough to follow these written instructions and go for it; if so, carry on!
  • Dan also recommended these tutorial videos for both Doctopus and Goobric. They do a better job visually walking you through the steps than I could  in writing.
    • Scroll down the page to find them on the website.

To help fill in a few holes in my understanding, I asked Dan to clarify. Here are a few “helpful hints”:

Rosters. The first step in Doctopus is to create one with first and last name, as well as the email address for each student. Dan noted there is no easy way build a roster as of yet, although once created, you can select any roster for all future assignments. Other than typing the information for every student by hand, Dan had a couple of ideas.

  1. Go to Synergy; if you choose this route but you’re unfamiliar with the process, contact your building Synergy trainer.
  2. If you have or can gain access to student login information for your school, you can make a copy of that spreadsheet, sort it for the information you need, and copy-paste that into the Doctopus spreadsheet fields.

A bit further into the Doctopus set-up, you’ll be asked to select an Assignment Template, which you create for your students, providing them instructions and a place to do their work. A template may be as simple as a “blank sheet” document with a heading and assignment name on it, to something much more complex. You’ll create your assignment in Google Drive as a Document, Sheet, or other compatible file type. This template will then be copied through Doctopus and distributed to your selected roster of students who will open their individual copy, work on it, and resubmit it.   Here is a sample Dan created for his 6th grade Narrative Writing Assignment.

When you’ve completed the Doctopus set-up, you’ll have some options to choose from, including to Add a Goobric. When you click on this button in the right margin, you’ll be taken through the process of adding a rubric of your design or to copy-paste a rubric (like the State Writing Scoring Guide) into the fields. Because Goobric and Doctopus work in tandem, once the Goobric is made, you can attach it to the assignment you developed, score and/or comment on student work, and return it to them–all electronically! Here’s Dan’s Narrative Essay Rubric as an example.

Doctopus and Goobric no doubt take set-up time. For those of us new to Google Add-Ons and Extensions, it’s a lot to take in, but as The Little Engine that Could reminds us: I think I can, I think I can; I know if I can, you can, too! If you’re looking for support, please contact us to help you through the process. Ultimately, the goal of sharing these tools is to help you save time without compromising quality feedback.