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One of the biggest challenges I faced as a teacher in an AP social studies course was managing writing.  We need our students to write because it is a majority of the end-of-the-year summative exam offered by College Board, but the time required for the teacher (instruction, grading, providing useful feedback, etc) can be exhausting.


I taught four sections of 30+ students in each course (I know, right).  I had PILES of paper.  I was also a huge Canvas user (ask me on a later post about how much time Canvas saved me by helping me manage submissions, activities, post objectives, what-have-you), but because AP has students hand write on the exam, I had my students hand write.  Thus, PILES of paper. 


As an instructor, I had to find ways around using rubrics (printed and stapled... more time), providing feedback (quick writing on the margins... that students rarely read), and helping students track their progress (many students would lose returned essays within minutes of their return).  Lets not even talk about my ability to get papers passed back quickly or track student progress!


So I got creative with Canvas.  Here is how I solved the problem of the piles of paper and providing meaningful feedback for my students.  I include them both in this blog post because they are interconnected!


Problem 1: Student submissions and grading... Paper v Canvas

Solution 1:  BOTH.

  1. Assign AP writing assignments 
  2. Students use the Canvas Student App... which means they can scan their handwritten assignments into a PDF creation app (I prefer Adobe Scan, but there are MANY for all different platforms).  I prefer the PDF version because it can create one solid document instead of multiple .jpg uploads through which I have to navigate on SpeedGrader.
  3. Once they have the PDF, they can submit it straight from their cellular devices and you now have their work (and a paper trail), and they KEEP the originals.  Or they lose them, as the case may be... but you HAVE SUBMISSIONS.
  4. Picture this... especially if you have a laptop or tablet (and a stylus is even better):  The only thing you need to grade is a device!  All of your students' work is neatly organized in a Canvas assignment that you grade using all of the cool feedback features on SpeedGrader!  Your students get faster feedback and you do not need to take up class time to hand back papers.


Problem 2:  Effective Tracking of Student Progress.

  1. Rubrics will be your life saver, especially if you want to give your students feedback based on the AP writing rubric that we use at the annual grading event (Nerd Fest!).  Consider building a Rubric based on the AP Writing Rubric:
  2. Let me suggest one step up on that!  Hopefully, you are familiar with Canvas' use of Outcomes (usually State Standards), but you might be less familiar with the fact that YOU can create your own Outcomes and use the Mastery Gradebook to track your OWN outcomes!  (Before you build your own, use my work and go from there (yes, that is a link to my Outcomes... just Upload them to your Course!)
    1. Create Outcomes for each section of the AP Rubric:       
    2. For student reference, use the explanations provided by College Board.
    3. I prefer setting Mastery at "Meets Expectations," or what I feel would be enough to earn the student the point at the official AP reading.  You can customize Mastery and point value depending on how you want to use the Outcomes for feedback and/or grading.
    4. I also prefer setting the Calculation at a Decaying Average to get a longer picture of the student's progress, not just the most recent or an average.  Students may struggle for months but we want to recognize the ultimate goal!
    5. Build a Rubric with Outcomes and other elements you may use to assess your students. Note:  If you create outcomes for elements of AP writing, you can add them to your rubric and NOT have them count in your student grade.  You can Find an Outcome as you build the rubric and deselect "Use this Criterion for Scoring."  Then add your own expectations to have a rubric that tracks the AP standards AND grades according to your standards.  YOU KNOW YOUR STUDENTS best.
    6. Assign writing assignments, attach the Rubric, and grade a few. 
    7. Once you have a few graded, go check out your Mastery Gradebook (accessible in New Gradebook) and see how your students are doing (none of the students in the image provided below are real).
    8. See where your class is struggling collectively, or how your students are doing individually.  If your class is doing well on Thesis statements, then you know that you can spend less time providing direct instruction on Thesis statements and move on to helping students in the areas that they truly need! 


Using Outcomes and the associated data can also help you target study sessions, help sessions, instructional priorities, and group work (groups created by instructor) to the needs of your students.  Obviously, the AP writing Outcomes will not be added automatically, but taking the time to enter this information changed the way I approached my own instruction and made me better!


Before you build your own, use my work and go from there (yes, that is a link to my Outcomes... just Upload them to your Course!

Many of us have spent HOURS providing constructive feedback on student assessments.  Personally, I have used both hand written feedback AND online feedback in an effort to have my students use the feedback I meticulously provide to actually improve their work.


I love Speedgrader on Canvas specifically because it does make feedback accessible and impossible for students to lose in their backpacks!


I read an article published on NCTE's blog titled: Commenting on Comments: Getting Students to Read and Understand Feedback by Anne Mooney and created this assignment (with rubric and links to applicable Canvas Guides) to help turn my students back to my feedback.


The assignment (and rubric) is available on the Canvas Commons and you are welcome to adapt it to your needs:

As a humanities teacher, I love using the RSS feed for Announcements.  There are some phenomenal news feeds and podcasts that support a variety of my course content and it was awesome to have the announcements automatically appear in my Canvas courses.


My biggest frustration, though, was when I found great resources while navigating the internet that I wanted to make available for my students.  I would copy the address, open my Canvas instance, navigate to the particular course, open an announcement, embed the URL with an explanation for my students, and publish it to my course.


What if you're on your phone and find a great link while navigating social media?  The steps to posting can be prohibitive.  You can set up an external feed and "clip" articles to it!


There are two different methods (that we know of): Evernote Webclipper and OneNote Webclipper. This post will address Evernote, but the steps are similar for OneNote!


Steps for Creating a Customized RSS Feed using Evernote:

  1. Download and explore Evernote here.
  2. Create a specific Notebook that will be dedicated to your RSS feed.
  3. Download and install the Evernote Webclipper here.
  4. Create a free account with Zapier.  Note: You can create 5 free "Zaps."  If you are creating a feed or two, the free option will cover all of your basic needs!
  5. Begin a New Zap: Make a Zap
  6. Follow the prompts to create a "Trigger Event" (the action that starts the Zap process):
    1. Choose App: Evernote
    2. Choose Trigger Event: New Note
    3. Evernote Account: sign in to your Evernote Account to link it to Zapier
    4. When asked to Customize Note, select the Notebook that you created specifically for your feed.
  7. Follow the prompts to create an "Action" (the result of the Trigger event created above):
    1. Create the action (this :  When asked, Choose App: RSS by Zapier
    2. Choose action Event: Create Item in Feed.
    3. Customize Item: Create a unique FeedURL 
      1. Make sure to Copy to Clipboard your full Feed URL to use as you set up your Canvas RSS Announcement Feed.
    4. You do not need to enter anything under "Max Records"
    5. Set your Item Title: 
    6. Set your Source URL: 
    7. Provide a brief description of your Feed: 
    8. The remaining options (Author Name, Email, Link, etc) can be left blank.
    9. Select "Continue"
    10. Select "Test and Continue"
  8. Use the web clipper to start the process!
    1. Navigate to any website that you would like to add to an RSS Feed
    2. Use your web clipper and "Save Clip" to the pre-determined Evernote Folder that you established specifically for your RSS feed.


NOTE:  There will be a delay between when you clip an article and when it appears in your Announcement feed.  Most of my tests are delayed a few hours, but I have seen shorter and longer!


Enjoy customizing your own RSS feed!!

Free External Tools

Our teachers are beginning to feel more confident with the not so basic “basics” of using the learning management system, Canvas. Viewing this confidence has inspired me to look for App integration options (LTI tools) for Canvas courses.

If you want to see what Apps are available to embed in Canvas courses:

  1. Go into your Canvas course
  2. Click on “Settings” at the bottom of your vertical course navigation list.
  3. Click the tab that says “Apps”
  4. On the “External App” page you can see “All” apps but right above that word is a link that says “See some LTI tools that work great with Canvas.” You can filter this page to see what works with Canvas and what is free.
  5. You can then go back to the “External App” page and add the app to work within your course as an external tool when creating assignments. (In most cases you will need to set up your account in the third party app in order for this to work seamlessly.

Below, I am sharing just a few free third party apps that I can’t wait for our teachers to take a look at for integrating into their Canvas courses:

  • Scootpad — Create an administrator or teacher account and access pre-made Math, ELA, English, Spelling, eBooks, and Writing lessons, assessments, practice, remediation, or intervention from students in grades k-8. We do NWEA testing, and teachers can enter NWEA MAP RIT Scores and generate personalized learning paths for students aligned to their MAP Goal Performance Areas! We talk about the benefit of data often but this puts testing data to practical work.
  • Merlot — Are you looking for information or an article on a topic that you would like your students to have access to? An Open Education Resource (OER) that “The MERLOT collection consists of tens of thousands of discipline-specific learning materials, learning exercises, and Content Builder webpages, together with associated comments, and bookmark collections, all intended to enhance the teaching experience of using a learning material. All of these items have been contributed by the MERLOT member community, who have either authored the materials themselves, or who have discovered the materials, found them useful, and wished to share their enthusiasm for the materials with others in the teaching and learning community. All the materials in MERLOT are reviewed for suitability for retention in the collection. Many undergo the more extensive “peer review” for which MERLOT is famous. MERLOT presents annual awards for various categories of materials added to or used in the collection. As described in Material Link Checking and Removal, all material URL’s in the collection are reviewed frequently for [sustainability.]” (
  • Screencast O’Matic — “Record, edit and share video to connect with students, parents and faculty.” ( This is a great tool to screen record explanations of steps in accessing something on the web or annotating of math problems! The possibilities are endless. Anytime you feel the need to show students your desktop, use Screencast O’Matic to do so. It embeds seamlessly into assignments in Canvas.
  • Quizlet — is a free website providing learning tools for students, including flashcards, study and game modes ( Create flashcards for your students to use or have students create flashcards and share them with you. Either way, Quizlet is a great tool for test prep and integrates well with Canvas.
  • Flipgrid — “…is simple. Engage and empower every voice in your classroom or community by recording and sharing short, awesome videos … together!” Flipgrid is my absolute favorite! Today I watched foreign language teachers create Flipgrid prompts for their classrooms seamlessly in Canvas. This integration is a great way for foreign language students to not only practice fluency but to hear themselves and others. Flipgrid has created this handy tool to help you set up your integration.

It had been over a year since I had really spent time looking at the external tools list available to Canvas. What I learned this week is that it makes sense to visit the site occasionally to see what new offerings are available for Canvas users. The beauty is that there are often free integrations that make your classroom experience more seamless because they can be integrated inside of Canvas. These integrations make it easier on both the teacher and the student for access and grading. There are plenty of apps out there, the above are ones that I am currently looking at more deeply for our school. Check out the list yourself and search for Canvas platform to see what might work for you!

Recently Craig Nicholls and I collaborated using the Canvas Free for Teacher instance. As we are from different states it just seemed easier that way. Although Free For Teachers didn’t have the usual bells and whistles we are used to in our own instances it served our purpose well. 


Craig and I had never met in person before, had only interacted in the APAC group and ‘seen’ each other about in the Canvas Community. But we had found a shared Canvas K-6 passion and wanted to spread the word at Canvas Con Sydney 2019. Our education worlds are totally different really, but we share the same curriculum and see the huge potential that Canvas offers our learners, even the little guys.  


Over a couple of weeks we developed our Canvas course to showcase the challenges and celebrations of Canvas K-6. We kept it simple and have made it accessible to participants of CanvasCon Sydney, then in Canvas Commons. Not bad for a couple of strangers. 


Eventually meeting in person, just before our presentation, was just so easy. Even doing a quick practice on the sidewalk of Darling Harbour seemed quite normal.  Craig Nicholls Thank You you were a star to work with. 


Why let all that work end in Australia? Here’s your self-enrol link to share the challenges and celebrations too. 

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