In nearly 40 years of teaching, Tammy Stephens has learned to appreciate the value of time.
Stephens loves any additional time she can create in her day to have meaningful interactions with her students. She always looks for more time to enhance her teaching methods rather than stick with the status quo. And she obviously treasures having increased time away from school to enjoy hobbies with her retired husband.
That’s among many reasons why Stephens was excited when Bear Lake High School in Montpelier, Idaho, partnered with Summit Learning for the 2018-19 school year. Stephens could tell the research-based program was designed to make each moment of the day more impactful and that has come to fruition for her school.
In particular, Stephens has enjoyed watching students in her English Language Arts classes grow as learners in Notebooks, an online workspace that is integrated directly within the Summit Learning platform.
“The way the world is, where they can learn wherever they are, is very exciting to me,” Stephens said. “They’re learning how to learn. They’re learning their strengths. They’re learning that they can persevere. And I think that’s going to make a huge difference in our future.”
Notebooks, which was designed to help teachers understand their students’ progress and individual needs, has been a noticeable time-saver for Stephens. The online workspace allows her to efficiently provide targeted feedback to students about their work without as many back-and-forth messages.
“It’s making a phenomenal difference,” Stephens said. “I’m finding that I don’t have to make quite as many comments because the kids know right away where it is that they need to revise.”
Stephens especially appreciates the new “Comment Revision” feature in Notebooks that lets teachers easily communicate to students about the exact areas of their work that needs to be improved. This feature improves the feedback loop by reducing student confusion around how to respond to their teachers.
“I’m getting a lot less resubmissions without revisions and I’m not returning them as often because of that,” Stephens said. “I do remember a day when I was thinking, ‘Wow, I’m not having to return for the third or fourth time as often as I used to.’
“I just went and asked a couple students, ‘How come you’re getting this the first time I return it?’ (And they said), ‘Well, because this button here tells me I need to revise it so I know exactly what I need to do.’”
Connecting cognitive skills with comments
Students are also able to better understand feedback because of a new feature in Notebooks that provides teachers with a way to tag key cognitive skills to their comments.
Courtney Steggall, an instructional coach at Dr. Howard Fuller Collegiate Academy in Milwaukee, Wis., said that connecting a cognitive skill with a comment from a teacher gives “even more ownership to students.”
“It’s really allowed us to shift even more of the cognitive lift to students, as far as thinking about the revision process,” said Steggall, who previously taught social studies and history. “It’s also helping teachers to identify patterns that they’re seeing in their feedback. It’s helping them to plan more meaningful revision sessions … and it’s helping teachers to really utilize their time more effectively with students. They can pick out examples to show during class that connects with the most students who need to revise a similar (cog) skill.”
Anita Hart-McNair, a fifth-grade English and history teacher at Capital City Lighthouse Charter School in North Little Rock, Ark., said tagging one cognitive skill helps her students concentrate on a specific part of learning before moving on. It also allows Hart-McNair to establish an individual connection with both her in-person and remote students, who she teaches concurrently through the use of cameras in her classroom.
“Using that feature has allowed me to help them hyper-focus in on a specific skill as opposed to getting overwhelmed by looking at all of their skills at one time,” Hart-McNair said. “It’s allowed me to tell them, ‘On this portion of your assignment, you are doing well at this skill, but I would like to see you grow with this skill.’ So it’s been really beneficial for both of us.
“It’s saving me a lot of time and it’s helped them boost their confidence.”
Learning through version history
Another time-saving new feature in Notebooks is the ability to easily restore previous versions and clearly see what edits were made in each version. This allows teachers the ability to better identify how a student’s project has evolved over time.
“I’ve used the version history pretty much every time that I’m checking student work,” said Willie Vang, an 8th-grade English teacher at Tioga Middle School in Fresno, Calif.
If a student has an assignment accidentally get deleted or altered, Vang enjoys how easy it is to restore a previous version. But more than practical use, Vang said the version history and grouped edits helps him better understand how his students work through projects.
“It definitely adds another layer of assessment for teachers to make sense of how students are developing their written work,” Vang said. “If you look through the version history, you can see, ‘OK, they took my feedback, they changed this sentence, or maybe they didn’t do anything at all.’ So being able to see that history has been valuable.”
Erika Etchison, a middle school science teacher at Achieve Charter School of Paradise, Calif., said the version history also helps students assess themselves in a similar way.
“It’s really helped our students learn,” Etchison said. “We’ve been able to show them, ‘This is what you originally said and this is what we’re looking for.’ It’s giving kids a place to backtrack and look at their thoughts previously.”
Tyler Sarlouis, a fifth-grade teacher at Greater Johnstown Middle School in Johnstown, Pa., said the enhanced features in Notebooks have come at an opportune time given the unpredictability of this school year. Sarlouis appreciates the consistency that Notebooks has provided his classroom when it comes to instructive comments and impactful revisions – no matter the time of day or the learning environment.
“The kids are starting to understand the guiding process; not us giving them the answers, but guiding them along the way,” Sarlouis said. “If someone wants to have their work done at 10 o’clock (at night), I’m up at about 3 o’ clock every morning and I’m able to send feedback. It’s that constant conversation. It’s really helpful for connecting to the digital world (and) I can see the kids are relating to it very well.
“So the learning ultimately never stops.”