Thursday, October 20, 2011

Goalbook

Goalbook is one of my new favorite sites -- not least of all because their customer service is OUTSTANDING!!  If you are a reader of my Changing My Realm of Control blog, then you may have already read my parallel post there (more theory, less techie).  You probably also know that I have gone from dabbling to diving headfirst into personalizing instruction for my eighth grade French students (and I'm having the time of my life!)

Here's how my journey began.  Faced with the highest percentage of students with special needs I have ever taught, I simply could not bring myself to "teach the curriculum" knowing that some, perhaps many, would be left in the dust while I moved forward with the students who learn at the prescribed pace.  I just couldn't do it again.  So without even consciously deciding to do it, although I had certainly mulled over different scenarios and strategies, I found my classes separating themselves into flexible groupings based on topics students were working on at the moment.  Believe it or not, it just sort of happened.  The kids responded VERY positively, and it was far more manageable (if you like chaos) than I had imagined it could be.

So the question became, as each class divided into more and more groups based on student pacing, how do I make sure each student knows what they are "supposed to be" doing during a given class period?  My initial solution was Evernote.  I created a note for each day of the week. Each day I would grade the assessments that came in (not too overwhelming at first, since there was never a full class set of assessments to grade at any one time, due to self-pacing, and assessments were very short, due to beginning language limitations), and then assign each student to review, progress, or assess in a list in that day's note.

Don't get me wrong, I love Evernote, and will dedicate a future post to it's glory, but I knew from the beginning that my system was flawed, and that students needed to take more of a role in planning for themselves.  I just didn't know where to begin.

I first encountered Goalbook via a blog called Beta Classroom.  I backburnered it, because I just had too many other pots on the stove.  I revisited it this week, and the magical CLICK happened.  Part of my hesitation was the thought of  adding yet another piece of daily-use tech to the kids plates (some of them are really resistant to new accounts, and have extreme difficulty remembering passwords), but the more I researched and let the idea percolate, the more sure I became that this was an essential piece that would reap benefits far outweighing the whines.

When I began setting up the account...Tuesday evening, a chatbox popped up and a tech support person offered their unsolicited help.  When I regained consciousness and came out of shock I thanked him...in French.  He responded....in French!  Although I correctly guessed Google Translator was involved (students, if you're reading this, yes, you will get caught!!) the effort was appreciated almost as much as his sense of humor when I called him on it.  How refreshing!

My initial thought was to have all of the students use my login information so they didn't have to remember new information of their own.  But within a couple of hours of students creating their initial goals yesterday (I kid you not) the happy chatbox reappeared offering to solve all my problems -- and the offer was sincere, because they adjusted my account to allow for students to create subaccounts under my domain before the end of the day yesterday. (Shortly after 4PM for the sake of accuracy).  Unbelievable!! 


Yes, we are still working through some very minor glitches (Suzy is unhappy with her green alien avatar and can't seem to change it to a purple sparkly unicorn) but when I say WE are working through it, I really feel that is true, and if that's not a 21st Century skill we are teaching -- to be able to give your customers that feeling -- then it should be.

Read my parallel post if you want to know more about how I feel about setting goals with students, but if you're ready to jump in and give it a try, Goalbook is a great place to start.

What do you think?

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