Web Communication: Online Grading and Classroom Websites
- Grades: 3–5
Technology has certainly changed the way we operate in our classrooms. With frozen computer screens, programs that won't open, and finicky ELMOs, it can sometimes feel as though technology is failing us. So we have to take the good with the bad when it comes to these newer components of our teaching lives. Two good things for me have been online grading and my classroom Web site. In this post, I'm going to share how these things have benefited my students, their family members, and me this year.
Photo: A snapshot of my classroom website
I realize that some schools have a specific program that must be used to record and report grades. Our district, currently, does not. This has allowed me to research various online grading options. I liked the idea of parents and students being able to access their grades at any time, and technology makes that possible.
In the past, I used a free program called Engrade. Given that it's free, I was impressed with the number of options and the amount of customization. There are a few other programs that are also free, such as Grade Connect, but I do not have experience using them. This year I made the switch to a paid for program that was recommended, and I am really happy I did. SnapGrades has both free and subscription-based accounts. Using school account money, I opted for the subscription version, which has more bells and whistles — namely more security options — in place.
Using online grade books means there are no surprises. When a grade is recorded, I can easily attach the assignment if I have it in a Word doc or PDF. Each assignment has a general note for students and families to see, in addition to a personal comment box. From the "Way to go!" to "Let's work on 'X' skill," students and parents can get immediate feedback from any computer at any time. Here are some of the pros and cons of online grade books:
Pros of Online Grade Books
There is no need for parents to ask about averages. You can view online activity, seeing when both students and parents log on. SnapGrade allows up to three accounts, including one for the student. There is an option to include behavior and homework reports as well, which you can use instead of email. This way you know for sure if your report was received and viewed. Online grade books offer accessibility from any computer, at any time. Parents can update their contact information and choose the settings for notifications and emails. For instance, they may decide to receive an email when a missing assignment or a grade under a set number is recorded, or to get an automatic report on a given day of the week. Averages are automatically computed, removing the stress of doing progress report cards and report cards. Some students really thrive when they're able to see the impact of higher or lower grades each week. Students and parents can assist with possible errors or oversights.
Limitations of Online Grade Books
Parents and students may come to expect grades to be reported shortly after an assessment is given. This expectation can be eliminated by informing your class that you will have grades reported online by a certain date each week. Students that have make-up work or missing work will also want to see their new work reflected online. I tell my students up front that it can be as long as a week before the new grades will be reflected online. I tend to put late work in a file and grade it in one sitting before the weekly grades go out. Possible security concerns. This is one of the reasons that I opted for the subscription version. SnapGrade recognizes computers that typically log in. When an unknown address logs in, a notification is sent and the password can be changed. For legal and precautionary purposes, it makes sense to keep paper grades as well. Depending on the program you use, this may require you to record grades twice. SnapGrade does have several printing options, including a format that looks like a typical grade book. It can be printed weekly and kept in your grade book. Some families don't have Internet access at home, although a printable report for specific students can solve this problem.
Classroom Web Sites
I have a rather large classroom Web site. I have had a few teachers tell me that they would like to do something like this, but they don't have the time. The funny thing is, my Web site has saved me and my students and families so much time. Everything's online, and once it is posted, it can remain there for years to come.
From weekly newsletters, podcasts, and spelling lists to a Google Calendar that can be synched to a parent's phone for upcoming dates, the possibilities for a classroom Web site are endless. I love that my work has built over time, giving an impression that I spend many hours online updating it. The truth is that I spend fewer than twenty minutes each week, usually one morning before school, adding our weekly newsletter, and updating the calendar, homework, and spelling lists. Most of this simply requires uploading a file I would have created with or without a Web site.
If you don't have a classroom Web site, there are many free programs available, including a free one through Scholastic. To start, you may want to read your district's guidelines on Web sites. When I worked elsewhere, the school only allowed us to use a specific program they funded. I currently use Dreamweaver to create and update my site, and Bluehost for the domain rights to www.mrsbunyi.com. With unlimited space, my site can continue to grow each year with no worries.
Between a class site and an online grade book, most everything you do in the class can be viewed online by your class's family members. The Web offers such a rich opportunity to communicate with your students and parents, and I hope you will consider one or both of these for your classroom this year.
Do you have an online grade book you'd like to share? There are so many out there, and I don't know them all. How about free or easy-to-use classroom Web site resources? Please share what you use and your experiences having a classroom Web site.