Mike Sammartano

Google Tools for Tracking Reading

One of the more exciting and enjoyable projects I have been working on over the last two years has been an initiative to carefully track the reading that is taking place in our middle school. Literacy has become the main instructional focus for all students in my district and this has been one of many initiatives aimed at better understanding the barriers to independent reading, and how to overcome them. When several administrators approached me looking for an intuitive, user-friendly, but powerful tool for collecting and analyzing large amounts of data, I immediately turned to G Suite - little did I know at the time that this project would keep getting bigger and bigger, and necessitate the use of nearly half a dozen web apps. Here's how it all came together.

The first step was to collect the data. For this task, I turned to Google Forms, one of my favorite apps in the Google catalogue. We went back and forth on the number of questions to ask, how to word them, how to best identify the respondents and other important considerations. I was able to add my colleagues as collaborators so we could perfect the form both in person, and from our respective offices. After several iterations, we finalized the form. Feel free to take a look at this copy of the form to see what we asked. For the active form, I enabled the domain restrictions so that only district users could access it, and I had it collect respondent email addresses so that we could avoid the need to have student enter their names each time. It was tricky to get the form just right - long enough to capture the valuable data we were after, but accessible and brief enough for students to easily log everything they're reading. Teachers shared a link to the form in the "About" section of their Google Classrooms so that students could easily access it throughout the year.

Now, on to the data. Clearly, we are getting lots of responses, in fact we broke 2,00 books logged within 10 days of launching! So using Google Forms' built-in reporting tools will just not do, we had to send the responses to a Google Sheet so we could really dig into the numbers. But of course, this brought up some other issues. Teachers and students rightfully wanted to be able to access the data. It made me a bit nervous simply sharing the link to the Google Sheet with them, so I decided that I needed to build some sort of front end, where students and teachers could easily navigate all of the entires. After a bit of research, I decided Awesome Table was the way to go. Awesome Table allows you to build customizable web apps powered by data within a Google Sheet. I've used it before for various database projects, so I knew it was the perfect tool for this application. Awesome Table can be a bit tricky at first, especially if you don't have any coding experience, but the support pages and forums are hugely helpful and it's ultimately not too tricky to get things up and running. So I built a teacher view of the data which allows all faculty to search by student name or other keyword and sort by team, period, teacher, grade, etc. This allows teachers to filter the data to see how an individual student is progressing, to compare students in a class, or even explore progress over multiple grades. I'd share the link with you, but it's full of private student data, so it wouldn't be appropriate. The table is accessible only to district faculty, using a link posted on the teacher dashboard of our district website. It seems to be working out well thus far.

Now, a bigger challenge was allowing students to view the data. For privacy reasons, we didn't want them to be able to see each others entries, only their own. We set up the form so that they get an email receipt every time they submit, however this is clunky and not easy for review purposes. So I built another Awesome Table. This time, I incorporated some Google Script which authenticates the user, only allowing them to view the table when logged in, and only showing them their entires. I have to admit, I was a bit worried about getting this up and running, but it was surprisingly easy and it works like a charm. I loaded both the form and the student view into a nice new Google Site so that kids could both add entries and review them from the same place.

My next goal is to dive deeper into the data and use it to help teachers inform their instruction. We can use the numbers to guide purchasing, intervene with struggling students, and even offer suggestions for next selections to students.We are also working on implementing alerts when students report that they have abandoned a book, so that we can intervene and make sure they get up and reading again as soon as possible. We may even try and geotag the data to see which neighborhoods are reading the most and the least and try and level the playing field.

Data is powerful, and exciting, and the Google tools have made it easier than ever to work with.