Just over one year ago, an assistant principal (Yousef Fouda) invited me to his office. As a perceived early adopter, he wanted to share the world of Google with me. I didn’t want it to be shared. It felt like it was to become something on my already bulging to do list. I couldn’t see how I would use it and I certainly didn’t have time to be learning something new unless I was certain it would have a hugely positive impact on students’ learning.

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Oh, how fickle I am! Before long, I was a Google preacher (sorry Yousef! A little too late for you to see it). If you’ve never met one, you’re probably very lucky: we’re very annoying! If anyone asks me about how they might approach homework, projects or making their students more independent, Google is always the answer. I don’t THINK I’ve become part of some cult that has somehow blinded my vision of the truth. I honestly believe that Google provides teachers with so many answers that it’s difficult to ignore. It didn’t happen overnight but after many colleagues talking to me about what they were doing and reading more and more online about aspects of Google. I started small and slowly started to try new things.
One of the greatest aspects of Google is that all aspects of my work are all contained in one place. This makes for ease of use both in and out of work: my mail, my communication with students, my resources and planning materials, my YouTube videos and playlists, my calendar, student blog sites and my VLE sites are all in one location behind a single login. Of course, it has most definitely helped that the College have supported the use of Google with the creation of student and staff accounts, as well as promoting its use far more with a ‘Going Google’ strategy for the new academic year.
google+Google Communities
These, as part of Google Plus, are very much like Facebook. You can have circles of people that you interact with, you can share all kinds of content and you can sign up to particular groups/pages. A Google Community functions much as a Facebook group/page might. Students are able to share links, comments, ideas, documents and pictures with one another within an ‘invite only’ environment. The biggest advantage over Facebook is that students only find out about it when I introduce it. As a result, they have not yet flooded the space with their personal lives; sharing things that none of us need to know! We are able to shape a community based solely around AS/A2 English: no motivational messages about cats or pictures of nights out in sight. Colleagues are worried that given time, it will go the same way as Facebook but these concerns don’t even enter my mind. Facebook provides an arena for students’ social lives already and it’s very well established. This community will be like our classroom; it will have certain rules and expectations surrounding it to ensure it’s a safe learning environment. There’s no reason why it can’t remain that way if it’s well managed. This is a guide that was put together for students using Google Plus for the first time.
Colleagues of mine have experienced huge success with their communities; with students posting sharing photos of notes and revision documents that might help their peers, even late at night. As I move forward with my use of this learning space, I don’t want to post too often on the communities but watch the learning from afar; it is a space for students to learn with one another, not from me. However, because I’m connected to the community and each student, it is also a really easy way for them to share things directly with me or ask any questions they might have. One of the biggest possibilities it presents is old students remaining part of the community to share their continued English related experiences from well beyond the classroom. I’m also planning to create a community for my students’ parents so that they can ask any questions about the course and their sons/daughters. I’ll also be inviting them all in in the first couple of weeks to get them familiar with the course and Google itself.
Events can be created on Google+ and is great for the CPD part of my role as well as special events for students: reminders go to all those invited at regular intervals before the event so there’s less chance of them ‘forgetting’ to attend. Obviously, because it’s Google, any event that is created, is automatically added to my calendar too, which is great for organisation!
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Google Sites and Google Drive
These, along with the more informal learning community, open the door for lots of independent learning as well as collaboration in and out of the classroom. I am aiming for a much more flipped classroom this year and although the internet doesn’t have to be used to achieve such an effect, why ignore its power? These Google tools offer such huge potential for students to share their learning with one another; something that has become such a critical aspect of my own learning. I don’t want students to suffer the challenges of A level English alone; I want them to share with others and learn from their peers.
Google docs, slides and sheets can be shared with teachers and peers alike for feedback and comments, which can be added, replied to as well as resolved and a history of comments viewed later too. The documents don’t need to be saved as they save automatically and it means a piece of work or a collaborative document doesn’t need to be shared after every update but shared just once.
The creation of Google forms has revolutionised the way I give quizzes to students and gather feedback. They’re quickly and easily created as well as shared and all of the responses are gathered in one spreadsheet that can then be easily analysed. I’d love them to provide more designs for these though!
An account comes with 30GB of free storage on Drive, which makes it very difficult for all space to be exhausted.
You can find out more of how I’ve used Google sites in the creation of my AS English ‘VLE’ here.
Sites can also be shared with others so that you can have multiple editors. I created a site which my A2 students could all add to, with some research on poets and poetry for their coursework. This meant that students could edit and add to the collective notes outside of College and all students would have access to a larger set of notes than what they may have been able to create on their own. You can also get analytics on Google sites, which is excellent for getting to know how your sites are being accessed.
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Blogger
This is a blogging site that can be used very easily and is preferable (although slightly less professional) to WordPress in many respects. I have created a ‘Top Teacher Blogs and Books‘ site (to be added to this Summer) on here as part of my CPD role at the College. I have also used it with the creative writing group and will be continuing its use from September.
Blogger can also work in a collaborative way, with the ability to share it with other authors. I’ve decided to experiment with the use of these this year for students to maintain their own blogs.
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Google and iPad
It has been essential for me to be able to do my work outside of College- more so than ever before with my new train commute. Google have improved their apps and now have the central drive, as well as one for docs and sheets separately, which enable the editing of documents offline more easily. There are apps for Google+, GMail and Blogger too.

My hope is that this year, these online aspects to my course will continue to mean that learning can take place whenever a student feels ready for it and not just in their timetabled session. After all, how many of us learn when forced to? I know I don’t. My learning takes place after the pace of my day has slowed, there is peace in my brain and I can enter the world of teaching blogs, self reflection and Twitter. My students will enter the world of Google when they’re ready for it; I just hope they cotton onto its goodness far quicker than I did! I promise it’s not a cult, honestly. It’s just a way of working that is better than any I’ve known before. Too dramatic? Why not try it for yourself!

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