Increasing the reach of your comments on student work

Feedback is important – there are some ways we can allow feedback to reach more that one student. This also allows the comments to become a more “renewable” use of teacher time.

An open and collaborative classroom culture and skilful use of ICT can mean you get more “bang for bucks” for your investment of time in writing comments on student work. Lemov’s “Show Call” technique increases the reach of individual feedback to the whole class. While “Show Call” is usually used in class, it can be extended using technology.

Organise your students to submit work in Google docs. Comment on the work online. Share your comments with the whole class. This way more than one student benefits from your hard work.

Saving a good example of student work with your annotations for use in subsequent years makes a non renewable resource that would benefit one student into something that could benefit many students for many years.


This document was shared with the whole class so all students could benefit from the feedback given.

Classcraft Review and the search for the GUSITS

Teachers should try something new every term. With the plethora of IT related products out there in the education industry now, this is not a difficult proposition.

This term I have been trying Classcraft.

classc7Classcraft is a game that helps you establish and reinforce a positive classroom environment. You sign up your class. The students log in at take on a character in the game. Some are warriors, some are healers and some are mages.

My initial difficulty with Classcraft is my lack of knowledge of games. What is a Mage ? I didn’t know the value of experience points, activity points, health points and gold pieces but as usual, often your best resource to learn from is a student in your class. A couple of my students were hardcore gamers and they came to my rescue. I may even hand control of the game over to them at some stage.

You use the game to establish classroom routines and expectations initially. When students are in class ready to work before the bell they are given gold pieces or reward points in the game. This allows them to do different things like move up a level or earn rewards both game based and real life ones. These include the ability to change the appearance of their character in the game or to ask a question during a test. Some of the preset rewards in the game, such as “You can listen to music in class”, I deleted.



You can also be punitive and take health points away from students who do the wrong thing.

The behaviours lists, both positive and negative,  are completely customisable. One of my “pet peeves” is students packing up early. I added this one to my Remove HP list. I also added “Non charged netbook” for students who don’t have their computer charged to avoid the risk of falling over a chord.


There is a great phone app so when you are teaching you can easily allocate points from your phone or from your computer.

Another feature that I use regularly is the impressively named “Wheel of Destiny”. It is just a random generator of student names but it is great for cold calling students. Students can see you are not picking on anyone and they know their name will be drawn at random eventually to answer a question. There is no escaping “The Wheel of Destiny”. Eventually a question is coming your way.


There are other features that I have not made much use of yet. The site has a built in class countdown timer for timed activities and a stopwatch.

You can start your lesson with a random Classcraft event that is sometimes funny and other times just lame. The other day a student had to sing a song for 20 gold pieces. One of her teammates took on the challenge when she refused. The team aspect of classcraft does appeal to students.

Classcraft also has a quiz module for class quizzes. It also looks like developing into a Learning Content Management System. You can put assignments and quizzes into class craft and make the results of these part of the game as well.

Here is where I begin to hesitate: So often in education I see IT applications developing what in the IT industry is known as “scope creep”. A system designed to do one thing well starts to try and do other things too. The scope of the applications creeps ever outwards.

We already use Moodle as our content management system and as our gradebook. We don’t want Classcraft doing that but we love the slick game like interface that Classcraft brings with it. Quizlet and Kahoot are amazing apps for quizzes. I want Classcraft to be able to use a quiz from Kahoot rather than have to write my own quiz in Classcraft. I want it to integrate with Moodle as well so I don’t have gradebooks in two places.

In Science we have searched for the GUT; the Grand Unified Theory. The theory of everything. The theory that unifies quantum mechanics and classical physics. In education we need the Grand Unified School Information Technology Solution (GUSITS); a school system that includes timetable, attendance, student behaviour management tracking, markbook, learning content management, reporting and assessment including quizzes and online testing, . The system would be online and open to students and parents 24/7. It would have built into it “gamification” elements just like Classcraft is doing. A school IT system that does everything? Such systems are developing. We use Sentral to do some of these things. Many Victorian schools use Compass. These systems lack any gamification elements at the moment and they fall short of the GUSITS we seek. The ultimate GUSITS would incorporate some gamificaton and these system designers could look at Classcraft and borrow some ideas from it.

There is great potential in Classcraft. The interface is slick. It is easy to use. The behaviour management aspect of the program is great. You are quickly and easily able to identify and reward positive behaviours for students. This explicit recognition and acknowledgment of positive classroom interactions has a powerful motivating effect on most students.

Reward systems only motive students if they are motivated by the reward. Some of my students are not motivated by the game at all. They could not care less about being able to change the appearance of their character or being able to ask me the answer to a question in a test but they still respond to being recognised for positive classroom contributions.

I would like to try Classcraft with a teacher who is struggling to maintain a positive classroom environment. I am the Assistant Principal who teaches one class a semester and students do tend to respond to positional authority. “They are very good in my class.” is something no teacher who is struggling with a student wants to hear. I would like to see if Classcraft would make a difference to the battling first or second year out teacher who has a challenging Year 8 class.

My other hesitation with Classcraft is the investment of time in playing the game. You do need to devote five or so minutes of class time a couple of times a week to it. Every minute counts in the classroom. Is this too much time out of the regular teaching and learning program? It could easily be argued that investing five minutes a lesson on establishing and maintaining a positive and engaging classroom environment is time well spent. It could also be argued that this is equivalent to four hours of instructional time lost over the course of a semester to playing a game. This time could have been better spent on covering the curriculum.

I will continue my trial and let you know how it goes after a full semester.

So many toys. So little time to play with them all.




My three favourite classroom IT applications from 2015

The best thing about being a teacher who likes using ICT is the seemingly never ending array of new applications you can try each year.

There are ample opportunities to try new things.

My favourite IT products I used 2015 were:

  1. Kahoot

There is nothing new under the sun. Kahoot is really just a quiz program. It does multiple choice and true and false questions but it does them in an amazingly engaging fashion. It is so rare that a program is engaging enough for students to request a practice quiz. “Can we do a Kahoot?” The beauty of Kahoot is it is so easy to use and set up. With little investment of your time you are up and running. Create a free account, search for the topic, use someone’s quiz, get students too log in. They don’t require user names or passwords. Kahoot has the gamification aspects that work perfectly embedded; Leaderboards, Instant Feedback, Competition, Interaction and Challenge. Students can play on their computer or on their phones.

I looked into a digital clicker system a few years ago that would have cost thousands of dollars. Kahoot does it for free.

If you are not using Kahoot with your classes they are missing out.


My tips for Kahoot:

  • You need the music on.
  • Get students to use their real names. Do this by “kicking them out” of the login screen when they put in silly names. The reason for this is for your formative assessment. You need to know who does and does not understand a concept.
  • Offer a small prize for the winner. Our school has ARCC awards which are positive behaviour notifications. I give n ARCC award to the top 3 on the leaderboard at the end of the quiz. This keeps the students motivated.
  • Between 10 and 15 questions is plenty.
  1. Quizlet

Once again an old idea with a new front end. Quizlet, at its most basic level, does flashcards of vocabulary. Word on one side of the card, definition on the other. I used to tell my Year 12 Chem students to make flashcards in 1989 when I first taught the subject.

Students can use these digital flashcards on both their computers and their phones. Where quizlet is great though is that once your vocab list is in place students can test themselves with spelling quizzes, multiple choice quizzes and games. Once again it is free and is so easy to use.


My tips for Quizlet:

  • Keep your word list fairly small. Better to have two wordlists with 10 words in each rather than one with 20.
  • The paid account really does not give you much more than the free account.
  • Encourage students to install the Quizlet app on their phones. It is a great app. Ask them to do a word list game on the bus or the train each night. Spaced practice made convenient.
  1. Shared Google Docs for group work

I made extensive use of shared google docs in group work. My science classes had to write up prac reports in groups of 3. One prac report between 3 students. This made collaboration essential and Google Docs makes collaboration easy. Three students would all working on the same report at the same time. Students would often divide up the report. “You do the Aim and Method, I’ll do the Results section, and you do the Questions and the Conclusion.” They would then, with some suggesting (read insisting) from me, check each other’s work to improve the quality. The quality of reports was significantly better than when students worked individually. I had 24 students in the class so I only needed to give feedback on 8 reports. This reduced my workload too.  I would use the comments and edit function of google docs to give feedback on a draft for each group. I could see from the Editing History of the google doc which students had done what and who actually responded to my feedback. Google docs solve many of the issues associated with group work. How often in the past have we had the situation where a group of students would be stopped in their tracks when on Monday a group member was absent? “Billy’s got our results and he’s away” or “Our report is on Billy’s computer.” This is not a problem when students are using Google Docs. We even had the situation where Billy was at home sick but was still able to contribute to the write up from there.


My Tips for Google Docs:

  • When giving students feedback click on the Editing Button and change it to “Suggesting”. This means students are easily able to see your suggestions.
  • Use the Comment Function to give feedback as well.
  • Ask students to submit a link rather than submit a file. This means your server and computer don’t fill up with large files.
  • Use the Revision History to see what and when students contributed to the group report.


I’ve already picked out three programs to try in 2016. I’ll tell you about them next week.