Jennifer Cronk is a New York-based instructional technologist and the creator of the Transparently Teaching blog, where she shares stories, tips and inspiration related to education technology. Jennifer's more recent experience has centered around working with special ed students.
Earlier this week, we sat down with Jennifer and spoke about how she uses Screencastify to save time, deliver feedback, and keep meaningful human relationships alive in an increasingly digital classroom.
Screencastify: Thanks for joining us, Jennifer!
Jennifer: Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity, I really appreciate it.
Screencastify: You do a lot of incredible work with special ed students and teachers. What do you look for when discovering new technologies to improve their learning?
Jennifer: Ease of use. It just has to be dead simple - that's the most important thing. And then flexibility. One of the things I like about Screencastify, for example, is that you can very easily publish to YouTube, Google Drive, Google Classroom or share a link and give it to anybody.
I need simplicity when I'm dealing with students - and I need simplicity for myself! If I’m going to recommend a new technology as a turnkey solution for teachers and students it has to be something they're going to be able to pick up and use right away.
Screencastify: How do you primarily use Screencastify with you teachers and students?
Jennifer: One thing that’s really crucial for me is simplifying my workflow and those of the people I work with. Screencastify has totally streamlined the way that I give feedback, both to students and to teachers.
When I first go through a student’s assignment, I don’t leave any major feedback or itemize corrections anymore. I just flag errors very quickly. I’ll highlight a paragraph at a time and mention that there are a couple errors in that paragraph. The student then has to be the one to go into that paragraph and find those errors.
"Students feel picked apart by written feedback, but they feel coached by our voices."
Then, I'll open up Screencastify and start a tab recording (so I have my annotation tools available). Then I’ll go through the paper talking directly to the student. I’ll call out the things that I think need to improve, what parts I really liked, what parts need to change, etc. What I’m really doing is coaching them now. Students feel picked apart by written feedback, but they feel coached by our voices.
Next, I'll take that recording link and I'll drop it in a comment in their Google Doc. Now they can listen to or watch that video as many times as they need. They hear me and they have a relationship with my voice, not with my annotations.
This is a much more effective way of communicating with them. Especially when you're dealing with students that might have reading disabilities, or other issues that might impede their ability to understand what you mean when you're annotating their document.
Screencastify: You mentioned that you use Screencastify to give feedback to teachers as well. How does that work, and how do the teachers respond?
Jennifer: Yes, I often use a similar feedback to review my teachers’ class websites. The response from them has been overwhelming. They've been so excited to get a video of me talking to them about their website as I'm working through their website.
"Relationships are what students thrive on. If a student knows that you care about them, they are going to work their best for you."
Screencastify: What other edtech tools (gasp!) do you love to use?
Jennifer: When I'm not using Screencastify, I'll use Talk and Comment for similar feedback to leave voice comments for my students.
I also love to use SpeakIt! and other text-to-speech screen readers. I actually use that personally. I often like text to be read to me because I myself have a reading disability and it's very easy for me to miss things in context.
Lastly, I use tools that restrict my reading vision like Visor, so I can read better digitally. Reading digitally for me is much more difficult that reading in an analog process. And I'm somebody that was tutored at an early age to be able to make modifications to my disability. So I can't imagine how children that have not been diagnosed or aren't receiving these services function in an ever-increasing digital world.
Separately, I like to customize common tools to make my life easier. One of the things I'll do in Google Docs is make custom “autocorrects” that automatically expand to larger paragraphs or sentence starters. A lot of our special ed kids - if you just give them a sentence starter - they’ll know what to do with it from that point. Sometimes just starting is so difficult that a small prompt is what actually frees them up. So I’ll type a few letters that will expand to "The author is suggesting that..." or something.
That reminds me of another reason I like Screencastify. If I give students a document with a set of instructions, it's so easy for me to link out to a video of me reading those instructions to the students. Or if I want to make sure they have prior knowledge I'll link out to a video of me discussing what we did in the class before. It really boosts comprehension for students with learning disabilities.
Screencastify: Last question. Most of the conversation around edtech focuses on the benefits it can bring to the classroom. What can edtech not do?
Jennifer: No amount of technology will ever replace a teacher. Technology can never replace relationships.
And that's one more thing I like about Screencastify. If I make a video for my students, I'm carrying the relationship we have in the classroom beyond the classroom. I’m offering support to that student, whenever they choose to consume that feedback.
Relationships are what students thrive on. If a student knows that you care about them, they are going to work their best for you. And even if they're a student that struggles, even if they're a student that has a lot of obstacles, no matter how they perform in school, they're always going to remember that relationship.
Teachers change lives. Technology can help improve the quality of a life, But a teacher, in my mind, has the greatest impact.