One of the struggles that I’ve always had as a teacher is differentiating instruction in my room.
The truth is that while I believe in targeting instruction towards student needs and allowing students to work at their own pace through my required curriculum, pulling those behaviors off on a consistent basis is a heck of a lot harder than it looks. Working in a classroom where some students need direct instruction, some need quick review, and some need extensions and enrichment all at the same time can really stretch a teacher thin.
A trick that I picked up years ago from Carol Ann Tomlinson was to record sets of directions for stations that students could use to get themselves started.
Tomlinson’s thinking is that differentiation efforts stall when teachers are constantly interrupted by students who are looking for the answers to simple procedural questions. Recordings — which can be replayed time and time again — build instructional momentum for everyone and leave teachers confident that they can facilitate classrooms where groups of students are working on different tasks at different times.
For a long while, I was using YouTube’s now defunct My Webcam feature — which allowed users to record video content directly from their computers and post it to the site — for this work. I’ve also experimented with screencasting tools like Screenr (also defunct) and Screencast-o-Matic — which allow users to capture their desktops or the content in their web browsers, too — for quick tutorials on how to navigate apps or software programs that kids in my class often use when working in stations.
In many ways, Screencastify does the same things that YouTube’s My Webcam, Screenr and Screencast-o-Matic do. Users can create recordings — either directly from their webcam, of their desktop, or of tabs in their browsers. When recording desktops or tabs, users can also embed their webcam in the bottom right corner of their video — allowing viewers to see both the desktop AND the presenter at the same time.
What makes Screencastify unique, however, is that it is an extension for Google’s Chrome browser — so after installing a browser button, you are one click away from creating a recording no matter what computer you happen to be using. What’s more, Screencastify saves your recordings straight to your Google Drive and makes it easy for you to upload those videos directly to YouTube.
Combine that feature set with Screencastify’s seamless integration with Google’s core products — Chrome, Drive and YouTube — and it becomes the perfect tool for teachers who are working to make collections of tutorials to use in differentiated classrooms. There’s literally NO struggle to create and post polished final products — whether you are simply recording yourself giving directions to students or whether you want to create a “flipped video” that provides more formal instruction to students on concepts in the required curriculum.
That seamless integration with Google’s core products also makes Screencastify the perfect product for schools rolling out Chromebooks as a primary tool in 1:1 environments. Given that there is almost never any significant storage on a Chromebook, Screencastify’s decision to post final products directly to Drive is a fantastic workaround.
Screencastify has both a free and a paid version.
While the free version is probably sufficient for most classroom teachers — it enables the recording of videos that are less than 10 minutes long but adds a Screencastify logo to every video — I REALLY want you to consider investing in the paid version. For $22, you can get a lifetime membership. That $22 doesn’t get you a ton of new features that you’ll need, but I’m a big believer that we need to invest in good tools if we want those tools to stick around. The reason our favorite #eduproducts disappear is that we never want to pony up the cash to make the #edumarket viable for developers.
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