When I began using Schoology last year, I wasn’t a big fan of the “assignment” feature. I preferred to share my resources individually, and I always posted homework as updates, not assignments. This year, I have realized how versatile they can be, and it has changed the way I have shared resources and collected student work. Here are a few reasons why I love Schoology assignments.
Reason #1: The Formatting Options
Have you taken time to explore all of the formatting when you create a new assignment? There are so many options! When you write the description for your assignment, you can format the text like you would in Microsoft Word or a similar program, but you can also insert tables, mathematical equations, web links, images, and video directly in the instructions. If you click on the “Switch to HTML” tab, you can even edit the HTML code to embed just about anything with an embed code. It’s like creating a website just for your assignment.
Reason #2: The Attachments
You may or may not already know that you can attach website links, files, and audio/video resources to your assignments. Last year, I used to create a folder for my science labs. Inside the folder, I added the various resources students would need to successfully complete the lab. Now, I attach all of those resources directly to the assignment itself. It makes it much easier for students because they know everything they need is right in the assignment.
Some of the resources I have shared this year with my assignments include:
- The handout itself (usually a PDF to be annotated in Notability)
- The rubric (even if you created a grading rubric, it’s hard for students to read on an iPad.)
- PDF versions of reading articles to extend learning
- Links to websites, simulations, and my own blog posts with further explanations
- Links to a Google spreadsheet with class data tables
- Links to Google forms (useful for student feedback or when students have to sign up for a project topic)
Reason #3: Allowing for Multiple Submissions
Most of the time, you probably only want students to submit an assignment once. However, there are times when multiple submissions are useful. When some of my students were revisiting measurement skills earlier this year, I created an assignment where they could provide evidence of their learning. If they made more errors, I left comments for them and prompted them to measure a different item and resubmit.
There are other times when you may want students to submit different artifacts to the same assignment. For example, I will be creating a “test retake” assignment for my unit test later this week. In order to retake the written test, students will make test corrections, work on an additional review question for the specific concept(s) they wish to revisit, and have their parents sign a retake contract. Different students will need to pass in different things, depending on what they want to retake. This “test retake” assignment will be the digital dropbox for all of these things. I will be able to read through all of their materials and provide feedback at my leisure, opposed to having to get it all done during class or lunch.
Reason #4: Individually Assign
I admittedly have never used this feature, but I see it being very helpful for teachers. It allows you to share an assignment with a smaller subset of students. The assignment can be shared with individual students by typing their name(s) into the “Assign to” field, or you can type in the name of a grading group you created to share it with all students in that group. I have four grading groups (G, O, L, and D) that represent my four science classes. As you can see below, this assignment is currently being assigned to just my “G” class.
If you have students who receive modified assignments for one reason or another, this would be a great way of sharing the assignments with just those students. It’s seamless and private. It would also be useful for a class like Honors Biology with Research Methods. Since there are days when some students in the class are working on a Biology assignment while others are working on their science fair project, the teacher could create a grading group for just the science fair students and use it to give them their assignments.
Like most other middle school teams in Shrewsbury, this is our first year using Schoology as our main portal for students and parents. We have spent many prep periods discussing our individual practices and streamlining our efforts to make things more consistent for students and parents.
As we had our discussions, there were a few things that really stood out to us because we were doing things differently. We usually came to a consensus and agreed on a common practice, but there were also times when it made sense to continue doing things differently.
Do you post homework as an update, an assignment, or both?
Update or assignment? That seems to be the big question. There are definitely pros and cons to both methods.
All updates appear on a student’s home screen. If needed, they can scroll down in a course as far back as needed to find an earlier post from a teacher. The big drawback though is the updates do not appear in the student’s calendar.
Assignments are automatically added to the student’s calendar (assuming you give it a due date) so they can see what is due tomorrow, in a few days, next week, etc. Assignments are also automatically added to your grade book (assuming you assign a point value). The big drawback to assignments is once the deadline passes, they are no longer shown in a student’s upcoming calendar. If a student is absent, they would need to look at their actual calendar to see what was missed. However, with the “course materials overdue” notification enabled, this becomes less of a concern.
The Verdict: We agreed that posting homework as an assignment makes more sense. A few of us have recently started to post homework as both an assignment and an update.
What is included in your Schoology gradebook?
The grade book feature in Schoology has caused some stress among teachers. As a reminder, every graded assignment in Schoology is entered into your grade book. Like it or not, students and their parents can see those grades.
Teachers seem to be divided into two categories:
- Schoology is your only grade book. It includes all of your grades for homework, quizzes, tests, etc.
- Schoology is not your main grade book. You only use it to keep track of assignments collected in Schoology, and you have a separate grade book for all of your other grades.
The Verdict: As a four-person team, two of us fall into Category 1 and the other two fall into Category 2. We agreed that it makes sense for us to use the grade book differently to meet our own needs, and it didn’t make sense to force us all to use it the same way. For example, Derek uses Google Classroom for a lot of grading in his ELA classroom. Many middle school teachers use Google Classroom for collecting and grading work. Others prefer to keep their grades in Excel, Google Spreadsheets, or a number of other tools. Use whatever works for you!
However, you should communicate with parents exactly which grades will and will not viewable in Schoology so they do not have an skewed understanding of their child’s grades in your class.
When a student misses an assignment, do you leave the grade blank or give them a zero?
During one of our discussions, we noticed some of us gave students a zero for missing homework while others left it blank. Again, there are some pros and cons to both.
The grade book in Schoology has an overall grade column, which factors in all of a student’s assignments to calculate an average grade out of 100%. It’s not an accurate representation of their actual grade by any means due to our standards-based grading system, but it does seem to be a motivating factor for some. When we add a zero for missing homework, their overall grade decreases. Some students will be motivated to pass work in late in order to improve that overall score.
There are two main drawbacks to adding the zero though. One is that the student is no longer notified that they have an overdue assignment. Also, if you have ever graded an assignment in Schoology, you have probably noticed that you can sort student submissions. For example, you can view just the assignments submitted on time or just the ones that were submitted late. You can also view just the submissions that need to be graded. If you give a student a zero, Schoology considers it a graded assignment. When the student does pass it in late, it will not appear under “Needs to be graded”.
The Verdict: We came to the conclusion that it made more sense to leave missing assignments, homework or otherwise, as ungraded. The drawbacks to this is missing assignments do not have an immediate negative impact on that “overall score” column in the grade book, and parents may misinterpret it when viewing the grade book. Since they don’t see a zero, they may not recognize that the assignment is late. However, we felt it made grading late assignments easier for us, plus it was important for students to receive notifications that they have an overdue assignment that still needs to be submitted.
If you have any thoughts on these three topics, start up a discussion on your school’s staff Schoology group! We would love to hear how other teams are using the various features in Schoology.
If you haven’t had students look at their notification settings in Schoology yet, it’s definitely worth doing at some point. The image below is a screen shot from one of our students. As you can see, there are two types of notifications: Email and Mobile. Email notifications obviously send the student an email while the mobile notifications appear on their iPad. In Schoology, there are course, group, school, and personal notifications. We focused on just the course and group settings.
We decided to have all students enable notifications for three different actions:
Most students were already receiving a notification when a new course or group update was posted. However, none of them received an alert when coursework was overdue, and we felt this was an extremely useful thing to add. Now, as soon as a student misses a deadline for an assignment, they will receive an alert reminding them to submit! As you can see above, we left all other notifications up to the students.
“Allow Notifications” must be turned on. We also had them enable “Badge App Icon” and “Show on Lock Screen”. This will ensure students know how many notifications await them. It’s up to you what type of “alert style” you want students to use. I prefer “Banners” because they are not as obtrusive as “Alerts”. All notifications can be viewed in their Notification Center as well, which is accessed by swiping down from the top of the screen.
There appears to be some confusion over what parents can and cannot see in Schoology. I’m hoping this blog post clarifies things a bit. Keep in mind though, different schools (elementary vs middle vs high school) may have different settings. When in doubt, talk with your school administrators.
Viewing parents who have joined your course or group
As we move forward with Schoology as the official LMS (learning management system” for Shrewsbury, our goal is to ultimately get all parents to register. Like some other middle school teams this year, we are transitioning away from our trusty team website and putting all of resources in Schoology. Since we want all parents to see these resources, it’s important to know just how many of them have registered with their child’s access code, which is found in PowerSchool.
The easiest way to do this is to view the members in your Schoology course or group. When looking at the student names, you hopefully notice that some of them have a small gray name listed below. This is their parent. If there are two names, then both parents have registered. If there are no names listed below the student, neither parent has registered.
What Parents CANNOT See
Before I explain what parents can see in Schoology, it’s probably easier if I start with what they do not have access to view. This is slightly different in courses vs groups.
Schoology groups: Parents are not able to view names, photos, or comments of any student other than their own child. If there is a discussion thread, they can view comments made by the teacher and their child only. All other student names and comments are blurred out.
Schoology courses: Parents are not able to view names or photos of any student other than their own child. If there is a discussion thread, they can view comments made by the teacher and their child, as well as other students in the class. All other student names are blurred out.
What Parents CAN See
Parents can see everything you and their child post in Schoology:
The important piece here is the Gradebook. Parents can view all assignment grades, whether you want parents to be able to view them or not. (This may not be true for the high school.) Whenever you give students a graded assignment that is submitted into Schoology, that assignment gets added to your gradebook.
This has caused some confusion for teachers and parents at the middle school level because some teachers are not using Schoology as their official gradebook. It contains some grades but not all. When parents view the gradebook, they assume those are all of their child’s grades. To add to the confusion, the Schoology gradebook defaults to showing an overall average grade column, which makes no sense in our standards-based grading system. Parents and students see this overall percentage grade and get an inaccurate perception of their child’s grade, especially if not all grades are recorded in Schoology.
In order to change this setting and remove the overall grade column (and I recommend you do), follow these steps:
Gradebook -> Grade Setup -> Final Grade Settings -> “Hide overall grade from student reports.”
Parent Email Digest and Overdue Notifications Email
Rather than having parents log in to Schoology to see information on their child, they can now have information sent to them! Once parents register for Schoology, they can update their notification settings in order to receive automated emails. Parents can receive an email every time their child has an overdue assignment. They can also choose to receive a parent email digest, either every day or once per week, that summarizes their child’s activity in Schoology.
Here are two great YouTube videos created by Elin Dolen!