No More Copies

In my last post, I shared some easy tips for keeping track of notes and other written assignments. In today’s post, I’m going to show you an easy way to go paperless by using Adobe Reader (a free app) in just 4 steps.

In my class, I typically type cloze notes (notes with fill-in-the-blanks), make 80-100 copies, and distribute them to my students. I then teach a lesson while the students follow along filling in the blanks.

Here is one way I am able to use Evernote without having to change the way I have my students take notes or without having to completely change the way I teach! (And, hey, it may even save a few trees along the way.)

1. Share the notes

I have a class notebook (titled “8th Grade English”) that I share with my students when they first create an Evernote account. In addition to making a copy of the notes for each student each day, I also save the notes as a PDF file in the class notebook. So, instead of distributing 30 pieces of paper to my students, I may have several students who would rather use their iPhones, iPod touches, iPads, or Kindle Fires, and they simply open PDF file from the class notebook.

2. Open in Adobe Reader

By clicking on the arrow in the top right corner, open the PDF file in Adobe Reader.

3. Adding Documentation

By using Adobe Reader, students are able to add notes, highlight, underline, write notes (I recommend a stylus for this), and add any other comments, diagrams, or figures.

4. Save in Evernote

Once the notes are completed, there are two easy ways to save them in Evernote. By clicking the arrow in the top menu bar, you are given the option to email the document (using your Evernote email address) or open the document in Evernote (which saves it directly to Evernote).

Email

Open in Evernote

It may take a few times for students to get acclimated with this process, but like everything else relating to classroom management, once the system is in place, students will get the hang of it.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

How might Evernote have changed things for you in junior high?

Comment below.

I Lost My Notes!

One of the most basic and essential exercises for a student is taking notes. Students sit in desks, pencils ready (or pens if they’re allowed), eyes up front. The teacher goes through the notes telling students exactly what to write and the students follow along. When the notes are finished, some students meticulously place the notes in their notebooks while others shove their notes in their notebooks, fold them up and put them in their pockets, or worse, they accidentally leave them in the desk.

So what good is taking notes if they are lost and/or never used?

Enter Evernote

There are several ways to upload handwritten notes into Evernote, but one great iPhone app is JotNot Pro. After taking notes, students can simply snap a JotNot picture and send it an Evernote notebook.

Once a note is in an Evernote notebook, it will always be available.

Then let’s say a student is working on an assignment and needs to refer to the notes to find something specific. By simply searching the term in Evernote (like “Coordinate Adjectives“), the notes will instantly appear.

Evernote will also search handwriting to find key words. In the example below, I searched “informal” and was able to quickly find the notes for informal letter writing.

Taking good notes is an essential skill students need to master, but only if those notes are organized and are easy to use. Since introducing my students to Evernote, I still find notes left in desks– but now I wonder if they were left accidentally or on purpose.

Evernote Portfolios

Every year I expect my students to maintain an orderly notebook (3-ring binder) with all of their notes, journal thoughts, article summaries, writing assignments (all drafts), tests, and other class activities. (“Orderly” is a stretch and very few maintain and actually utilize the notebook. Remember, I teach 8th grade English.)

When we reach the end of the year, I stare at their bulging notebooks with a sense of pride, accomplishment, and awe– kind of like when I sit on my deck and look at my yard after I just mowed it. The hard work is finally over. I’ve done my job. It’s beautiful.

Most students don’t understand it and they just think I’m weird, so they quickly bring me back to reality by asking, “Can I throw away my notebook now?”

All my vain attempts to have students keep a portfolio abandoned at the first sight of a trashcan! Tracking progress is vital to student growth, but it’s never gone as planned for me.

This past week I read Clark Aldrich’s book Unschooling Rules. Aldrich makes several bold, thought-provoking, and– at times– sad observations about our education system, but he doesn’t leave his audience hopeless. Below is an excerpt regarding using portfolios as opposed to traditional grades and transcripts:

“The future is student portfolios. Portfolios are skimmable but dense collections of media that show off a person’s capabilities and passions. They can exist in both electronic and paper form.

Many students at graduate levels, as well as professionals, already use portfolios, of course. Artists, architects, and producers, as just a few examples, all have portfolios that they shape over time and present to potential partners or customers.

The best student portfolios must feature these attributes, among others, if they are to be of most value:

  • The collections of work will cover years, even decades. Only over time can the threads of passions and other themes be drawn. 
  • They will be multimedia, using words, photographs, and video clips. 
  • They will include external validation, where appropriate. This may include awards, references in local papers, and letters of thanks from recipients.”

Using portfolios to document student growth is not a new concept. The way it’s done just hasn’t worked. Evernote is  one  the solution. (Of course it’s the solution– this blog is called “Evernote for Students”!)

While I am certainly not (yet) an expert on using Evernote in the classroom, there are some pioneers blazing the trail. Rob van Nood is one educator who has been using Evernote for portfolios and it seems as if his students are soaring (follow his blog here http://evernotefolios.wordpress.com/).

The more I’ve thought about this, the more excited I get. If a student kept all major works from an entire school year (or school career) in a portfolio, that student, his teacher, and his parents would be able to see regular progress with documentation and artifacts rather than depending on an arbitrary letter-grade sent home every 9 weeks. Traditional grading does not show actual growth; updated and maintained portfolios do.

A student’s portfolio should include several of the following artifacts:

  • Writing pieces (all drafts with revisions noted)
  • Book reviews
  • Reading Notations and Documentation
  • Fluency (student audio recordings)
  • New Vocabulary
  • Article Summaries (with attached articles)
  • 3-D projects (pictures)
  • Multimedia presentations (PowerPoint, video, recorded speeches)
  • Rubrics
  • Daily Journal Entries
  • Personal Academic Goals (and daily updates)
  • Daily Reading Log
  • Cool web clippings (current events, articles of interest, pictures, etc.)
  • Class notes showing understanding (in student’s own words)
  • Collaborative Projects
  • Awards and Recognition

When the first full year of using Evernote in my classroom comes to a close next May, I’ll be certain of three things:

  1. I will still look at my students’ notebooks with that same sense of pride and accomplishment (like after mowing my lawn).
  2. My students will still think I’m weird.
  3. We won’t need to wheel in the “big” trashcan.